A ‘battle axe’ for Senator Tangney
Dorothy Tangney was elected as Australia’s first female Senator in 1943, representing Western Australia. As one of only two women in federal parliament (Edith Lyons was elected to the House of Representatives in the same election), Senator Tangney was by all accounts a strong personality, not easily cowed by her more numerous male colleagues.
She enjoyed feminine touches in her parliament house office and always took a tablecloth with her everywhere she went. She did, however, have room in her office for something slightly more unorthodox—an object which says much about her position as one of only a handful of women in the Australian parliament of the 1940s. In December 1944 Dorothy Tangney officiated at her first boat launching when she travelled to Maryborough, Queensland, to launch the navy frigate HMAS Shoalhaven. Having smashed the obligatory bottle of champagne against the vessel, she watched as the ship moved slowly down the slip and into the sea. In line with tradition, Dorothy received the remains of the bottle as a souvenir of the day; however in this case the shipbuilder attached the bottle head to a wooden handle, creating a crude type of axe.
Dorothy kept the axe for the rest of her life, displaying it with some pride in her office with the note from the ship builders that read:
‘To Senator Dorothy Tangney. To be used as and when required.’