Pharmacy Guild of Australia (Queensland Branch) International Women’s Day Women in Pharmacy Breakfast
National President, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Mr Trent Twomey, President, Queensland Branch, Mr Chris Owen, Vice President, Ms Amanda Seeto, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the lands on which we gather, the Turrbal and Jagera peoples, and extend greetings to Elders, past, present and emerging.
I am very pleased to be with you for this International Women’s Day Breakfast, celebrating women in pharmacy.
In my previous position as Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, I developed a long and very positive association with the Queensland Branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.
During the COVID-19 pandemic this was greatly strengthened, and I take this opportunity to thank all pharmacists, women and men, as well as their staff for their professional service, patience and dedication during the last two long years.
More than sixty per cent of pharmacists in Australia today are women, but this is a relatively recent phenomenon and on this International Women’s Day, I thought it might be instructive to look back at the experience of women pharmacists in history.
Despite the fact that the Ancient Greek god of healing delegated responsibility for compounding remedies to his female apothecary, the pathway into the profession, historically, has not been easy for women.
One of the first women pharmacists to practise in Queensland was the very enterprising Mrs James Challinor who arrived in Brisbane in 1849 and immediately placed a newspaper advertisement advising that she intended to commence “in the drug business” in Ipswich.
But Mary Challinor was an exception.
It wasn’t until 1900 that it was possible for women to register as pharmacists in Queensland and even then, their success was sometimes announced as exceptional news under the headline “Lady Pharmacists”.
And the restrictions didn’t end there.
Women pharmacists could not serve in the Australian Defence Force until 1942 when Brisbane woman, Lieutenant Gwyneth Richardson, was finally able to enlist.
Why then? Because, with Australia’s involvement in the Pacific War, gender-based restrictions on recruitment were finally abandoned.
One final story is that of Dr Mary Magee.
Mary graduated as a pharmacist in 1955 and by the age of 22, had become the first women to own a pharmacy in Brisbane’s CBD.
This was no mean feat because, as a woman, she needed a male guarantor for her loan, but, that achieved, she applied for and was awarded a pharmaceutical contract with a private hospital.
On her application, she signed her name just “M. Magee”, with no indication that she was a woman – and got the contract. The surprise on the faces of the hospital board when she first appeared on the scene became one of Mary’s favourite stories.
So, to the young pharmacists and students today, grappling with the challenge of how to achieve an equal future in a post-COVID-19 world, I can only say: be confident; be bold; and learn the lessons of history.
It has a lot to teach us.