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Awarded for service to Government
Entered on roll: 2005
This is the first occasion upon which a woman has addressed this House. For that reason, it is an occasion which, for every woman in the Commonwealth, marks in some degree a turning point in history. I am well aware that as I acquit myself in the work that I have undertaken for the next three years, so shall I either prejudice or enhance the prospects of those women who may wish to follow me in public service in the years to come. (Maiden Speech, House of Representatives 1943)
Enid Lyons was born in a remote timber camp in the far North-West of Tasmania. In 1915, at the age of 17 and already working as a teacher, she married Joseph Lyons, then State Treasurer and Minister for Education and Railways. Enid had an active political role from the earliest days of their marriage, delivering her first political speech in 1920. Her intention was to attract the support of women to encourage them to take an active interest in public affairs.
Joe Lyons was Premier of Tasmania from 1923 until 1928. Both Enid, by then the mother of seven children, and her mother stood for the ALP in the 1925 State election. In 1929, Joe entered Federal Parliament becoming Prime Minister in 1932. Enid’s twelfth child was born in 1933. Enid took on a busy role as the Prime Minister’s wife with her family spread across three states – The Lodge, Home Hill in Devonport and at school in Melbourne.
In 1937, Enid accompanied Joe to England for the coronation of George VI and was made a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire. Joe Lyons died in office in April 1939.
In 1943, Enid Lyons was elected as the Federal member for the Tasmanian seat of Darwin. Her policy interests included encouraging women’s participation in politics, improving maternity care, family welfare, and addressing employment discrimination.
Enid became the first woman in Cabinet when she was appointed Vice-President of the Executive Council in the Menzies Government in 1949. Her achievements in office included the extension of child endowment in 1950, increases to the allowances paid to returned servicewomen, and ensuring that women who married foreigners retained their nationality and citizenship. Increasing ill health forced her retirement from politics in 1951.
Enid continued to be active in public life working as a newspaper columnist, chairing the Jubilee Women’s Convention (1951) and as a Member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (1951-62). She was a longstanding member of the Victoria League (1913-81), Liberal Party (1944-1981), the Housewives Association and the Country Women’s League.
Enid published two autobiographical volumes entitled So We Take Comfort (1965) and Among the Carrion Crows (1972). In 1980, she was awarded the Dame of the Order of Australia. Home Hill is managed by the National Trust and contains many mementos of Enid’s political life.