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The last 'boys' own' club?

By Elizabeth Warren - posted Thursday, 29 November 2007

The times of rural fire-fighters in southern states is rapidly changing. Mixing with the beards, deep voices and muscles is perfume, softer hair and smaller work boots as women take their rightful place alongside men.

But not in Queensland.

Elsewhere in the world fire-fighting agencies are actively encouraging women to become active fire-fighters and have developed specific policies, strategies and standards to recruit and keep women.


But not in Queensland.

It is women’s properties, homes, children households, livestock, pets, jobs, livelihood, personal effects, as much as men’s that are at risk. So why are they treated so dismissively by Queensland Rural Fire Service? And not only by the men they are trying to take their rightful place beside, but by the hierarchy, who, while paying lip-service to the proposition of gender equity, are doing far too little to ensure its introduction.

In other areas of the world figures of women’s active fire-fighting participation can be quite high. In some areas of India and Africa, for example, it is up to 100 per cent, while some parts of Europe have between 60 per cent to 80 per cent, and parts of USA and Britain have about 50 per cent. Southern states of Australia have around 30 per cent. Many of these areas actively work to influence equity in these services.

But not in Queensland.

What is the rate in the Sunshine State? Statistical indicators show an overall rate of 13.33 per cent of active female fire-fighters. Further, it appears Queensland is not demonstrating any practical interest in building on these numbers, which explains the lack of research.

Research from other agencies indicate that as the population changes and laws are set in place to prevent discrimination, in practice limitations still apply in a way that should be causing alarm in Queensland. For example, some men in the Queensland Rural Fire Service have stated openly that they will not work with women. Nor train with them. Yet nothing has been done to address this anachronistic attitude. Complaints fall on deaf ears.


During World War II women made up the majority of fire-fighters and brigades in all states, including Queensland, and discharged their duties efficiently and competently. They did this with almost no training. The moment the war ended however the women were ousted back to the home. Sixty two years later has seen no forward movement in the matter of gender equity in Queensland.

Despite having voted in a woman as Premier, women, while clearly demonstrating an equal ability are nevertheless prevented from taking equal part in life. The Premier has broken the glass ceiling here, but it remains to be seen whether government agencies will pay more than lip service to encourage and employ strategies to attract efficient and capable women into hierarchies.

At a time when a woman realistically has a good chance to take over the top job in the world as President of the USA, the glass ceiling that holds back women in that country will now shatter. It has been cracking for some time in that and other countries. This country already enjoys almost 50 per cent participation in many areas, including the fire-fighting structures.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Warren trained as a nurse, then a teacher, before completing a degree in Journalism. She has been in and out of this profession for 30 years, given that her then husband followed a military path with many postings. Elizabeth is currently writing a book on Australia's early history from a woman's point of view. She has lived in rural areas most of her life and witnessed the devastation from many fires, including Canberra's.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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