From the first time I met Edna in the 1970s, I was struck by her total commitment to the cause of women’s equality in the workplace. I was then on the Arbitration Commission, and every time I met Edna she would outline a new approach to the argument for women’s equality in the award structure or in industrial legislation. And she never gave up on this or on her broader commitment to social equality. Even in the last few years, after Edna had moved to Canberra, there would be another letter with yet another idea to make sure women did not miss out in the new system of industrial relations, including enterprise bargaining. Impossible not to be drawn in.
Edna’s overflowing energy and enthusiasm also found its outlet in her books and writings, which were the product of many months of detailed research. And not content with writing on the history of women and work, she also turned her hand in her eighties to writing her own drama, when many others her age might well have relaxed with someone else’s book to read. Never afraid to tackle something new, she also applied herself to learning how to use a computer leaving many of her juniors to shame. What a role model for the rest of us.
I used to enjoy especially Edna’s stories about the Labor party in the days when my family was heavily involved in politics. She generously made time for my daughter, then a high school student, to help her with a history project about the depression years. I hope we still have the tape.
What she gave to me and many others was a sense of belief that it could be done, that a fair and equal out come for women was possible. All that was needed was to find the right arguments and insist that the right people listened. Now we can no longer listen to Edna. She will be missed, but her work lives on to benefit many thousands of women and her example will sustain us in the continuing struggle.
Elizabeth Evatt, 11 February 1997 (published in WEL NSW newsletter)