Gracia Baylor was the first woman to stand for office in Healesville, is a recipient of the Order of Australia Medal, and a member of the Victorian Honour Roll of women..
A lifetime of achievement
It may be commonplace in 2016 to see country women in positions of power in local government, the parliament and in major farming organisations, but when Hilda Gracia Baylor AM decided it was time to take of the male bastions on power in 1966 things were very different.
‘In 1966 I was the first woman to stand for Office in the Shire of Healesville Council and I caused an absolute sensation for even nominating, I had four children and I had people attacking me for “neglecting” them,’ she says. ‘I topped the poll and unseated a Minister in the Hamer Government, Vasey Houghton, who never forgave me.’ Mrs Baylor’s secret to success was that she had identified a need in the community, (the fact that there were no kindergartens in the area), and she campaigned on the issue, drawing votes from both the Liberal and Labor voters in the area. There are now two kindergartens in the Healesville area and one is named after her.
In the early days my fellow Councillors did not quite know how to cope with a woman sitting at the Council table as one of their equals – and not just an office girl in the background taking notes!
Born in 1929 to one of Australia’s great pioneering families, the Parry-Okedens, Baylor grew up on a cattle station in Queensland and knew a thing or two about conservative social attitudes. ‘My father was very Victorian and didn’t believe in women going to university,’ she says, ‘but I always felt that women deserved to have a say in the decision making process of society.’ ‘I loved going back to study at Deakin because I didn’t get the chance when I was young, and now look at Deakin, it’s going from strength to strength with the wonderful innovative research its doing.’
Mrs Baylor went on to be elected the first female President of the Shire of Healesville in 1977 and then she became one of the first two women to be elected to the Victorian Legislative Council in 1979. She held the seat of Boronia for the Liberal Party for six years and her series of ‘firsts’ help shape our Victorian State politics for women. ‘I had a very supportive husband who understood what I was doing and really it was just something I felt I had to do, I didn’t really think of it in terms of being the first woman,’ Mrs Baylor says.
Gaining my degree was firstly a personal satisfaction; but the course at Deakin also opened my eyes to some new worlds of philosophy and literature that I had not pursued before. It was an enriching experience ... and gave me confidence to tackle new challenges in continuing my public life career.
Over the course of her career, Gracia Baylor initiated the council approved baby capsule program which all new parents use to safely carry their infants in cars for the first few months. ‘Before this program, babies were just placed in the back of the car in a bassinet and if there was an accident, they didn’t have a hope,’ she says. Baylor was also instrumental in getting mammograms approved for the Medicare register and she saved the only remaining tower of the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital for women which is now a centre for Women’s Health. Baylor joined the National Council of Women in 1984 serving as President from 1997 to 2000 and, being fluent in French, in 1999, she represented Australia at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women which drafted policy on eliminating all forms of discrimination against women.
Mrs Baylor was made a member of the Order of Australia in 1999 in recognition for her work in Parliament and women’s affairs. In 2003 she was admitted to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women.