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The Independent Weekly arts
Solutions from 8
Watch him walk out of the dawn
with the sun a dark hump on his back
already heavy with heat and distance.
Puzzle at where he spends
the interstices of the hours between
and how the grimace of his face was mapped.
Consider the slow cartography of years
that charts this harsh perfection of a life
down to stained fingers of yet another addiction.
See him come back through the yellow grass
a chrome hiatus between building blocks
his gait a hard worked weave of cheap wine.
Understand the anonymity of his kind
to which the day s eye with blind nonchalance
shuts him between welfare and a night shelter.
And pity him in his game and battle lost
with the long legacy of coming last -- sleeping
fitfully and waking in our hearts for a name.
Jeff Guess is a past writer in residence at an
Adelaide secondary college. His ninth collection
of poetry from that residency, The Silent Class-
room, was published in 2008.
Reader unpublished poems to 30 lines can be emailed
with postal address to poetscorner@indepen-
dentweekly.com.au or posted with an SAE to the
Poetry Editor, Independent Weekly, GPO Box 114
Adelaide 5001. A poetry book will be awarded to each
Muriel Lilah Matters grew up
in South Australia at a time
when women were believed
to be too delicate and dim for the cut
and thrust of politics.
But this elocutionist, actress,
journalist and lecturer was no
shrinking violet -- and she was
likely much smarter than many of
the short-sighted men who stood in
The suffragist gained notoriety
in 1908 for chaining herself to
the grille that obscured women s
view of parliamentary debates in
the British House of Commons.
Ironically, when attendants
removed the grille with Muriel
still tied to it, she found herself
technically within the House it was
supposed to keep her from.
As part of the battle to win the
vote for British women, she was
also involved in an attempt to
shower King Edward VIII and the
houses of parliament with pam-
phlets dropped from an airship, but
strong winds stopped her reaching
All this was news to Adelaide
playwright Sheila Duncan when
she was approached to write a show
about the activist.
"I had no idea about her. That s
what was so gobsmacking in a way
... at the time there wasn t a lot of
information on her.
"It s very interesting that Muriel
is very scantily mentioned, even in
British suffragist history, yet she
did some amazing things. She was
an extraordinary woman."
This year marks the centenary
of Muriel s Adelaide Town Hall
address after she returned home
from London, and Duncan says a
descendant had the original idea of
re-enacting the speech.
The concept of a play gained
traction with the support of the
Muriel Matters Society, founded
by local MP Frances Bedford. Why
Murial Matters will have its debut
at the Town Hall this Sunday before
moving to La Boheme as part of the
Duncan, who lectures in media
arts at UniSA and has worked in
theatre, film, TV and radio for more
than 25 years, says Bedford was tire-
less in sourcing information about
the suffragist. Further research was
conducted by Adelaide University
student Steven Anderson.
They discovered that Muriel, who
was born in Bowden in 1877, started
her working life as an elocutionist,
but was also a recitalist and actress.
It is believed she went to the UK
in 1905 to further her career as an
Duncan says Muriel didn t
become a suffragist immediately,
and may have been intimidated
by the campaign led by the feisty
Pankhurst family (Emmeline
Pankhurst is acknowledged as the
leader of the British suffragist
movement). However, when the
movement split in 1908, Muriel
became actively involved and joined
the Women s Freedom League.
"My speculation is that she was
ignored by history because she
didn t like the Pankhursts and they
didn t like her," says Duncan.
From that point, Muriel became a
tireless campaigner, touring south
England for a year in a caravan
handing out "Votes for Women"
flyers. Her Adelaide Town Hall
address was part of a national
tour of Australia during which
she spoke and lectured about
women s rights, and she also helped
achieve an Australian Senate
Resolution advocating women s
rights which was presented to the
British Parliament -- although the
conservative politicians refused to
acknowledge it for six months.
Duncan admits she went from
knowing nothing about her subject
to having too much information.
"In the end it almost became
unwieldy. It became a problem of
selection and arrangement.
"There were still a lot of gaps to
be filled and I did that with fiction
and speculation. As a dramatist
you are looking for the drama and
emotion in the characters.
"My job was to take all the facts
and put them into a dramatic text
which morphed into cabaret."
The result is a multimedia, song
and narrative show that promises
"tremendous true stories, passion-
ate song with live music, caravans
and courage, airships and inspira-
tion, and lashings of bravery and
Teresa De Gennaro plays Muriel
in the show, which includes songs
based on poems she used in her
work as an elocutionist, as well as
original suffragist songs found in
the British Library.
Third-year UniSA student Jessica
Monck wrote some of the music,
which is played by pianist Carol
So does Muriel still matter today?
Duncan, who grew up in the 1980s
when women s rights and equality
were hot topics, believes her
struggle is highly relevant.
"I teach at university and I have
a 21-year-old son," she says. "It s
really obvious to me that the idea
drudgery. That s a concern.
"If you don t realise how difficult
it was to get the vote, then you don t
realise how important it is and what
a great gift it is. There are people in
other countries killing themselves
over this issue."
She believes many of the rights
and values Muriel fought for are
being eroded -- "we just don t make a
big issue about it any more".
"I feel very privileged to have
been asked to write the play. It s
been a fantastic journey."
■ Why Muriel Matters premieres in
the Town Hall this Sunday ahead of
its Adelaide Cabaret Fringe season
from June 16-20 at La Boheme in
POET S CORNER Compiled by John Miles
A matter of importance
Suffragist Muriel Matters spent a year travelling the south of England in a caravan, handing out "Votes for Women" flyers.
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