Women's Groups 2013 - Karrakatta Club

Karrakatta Club

Purpose of the group

The club’s first constitution stated a single purpose: to bring into one working body the women of the community for mutual improvement and social intercourse.  Early concerns of club members included the guardianship of children, payment of teachers (especially equal pay between male and female teachers), divorce laws, assault and the women’s vote.

The club originally had four departments—literary, artistic, hygiene and legal and educational—and each department had its own members, with an elected chair, and drew up its own rules. A current events department was later established.  The aim of the club was carried out through the work of the departments, for which members prepared and read papers. 

Members were encouraged to speak at meetings to gain confidence.  Social events were held regularly for club members at various locations.  The Karrakatta Club bought a property at 186 St Georges Terrace, Perth, and a hall was built for social events.

The name Karrakatta was recorded in the minutes of the second club meeting as having been chosen from many suggestions for the club name.  It was said to be ‘aboriginal’ for ‘Hill of Fire’, although this meaning was later questioned.  Several unsuccessful attempts were made to change the name over the years. 

Time period

The Karrakatta Club is considered to be one of the first women’s clubs in Australia. In October 1894, a meeting was called by American Dr Emily Ryder to discuss establishing a club similar to women’s clubs being set up across the United States at the time. The Karrakatta Club was formed in 1894 from members of the St George's Reading Circle.

In 1923, it was decided the club’s aims would best be served by aligning with the international movement of Lyceum Clubs. The Karrakatta Club still exists under the banner of the Australian Association of Lyceum Clubs.

Key achievements

Women in WA were granted the vote in 1899 due, in part, to lobbying undertaken by Karrakatta Club members.

Early successes included petitioning for sanitation improvements to prevent the spread of typhoid, collecting money for the maintenance of a bed for women at the Cottesloe Convalescent Home and advocating for a woman on the bench of the Children’s Court.

Original members of the club were responsible for starting the Society for Prevention for Cruelty to Animals.  The founding present’s husband, Sir Alexander Onslow Chief Justice, was able to arrange Royal Patronage of the Society, now known as Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Members of the Karrakatta Club were responsible for founding many other organisations that benefitted women and girls, such as the Women’s Service Guild, the Kindergarten Union and Girl Guides.  The club was also affiliated with the National Council of Women for many years.

The WA Turf Club has a race named the Karrakatta Plate which is still in existence today.  It is now sponsored by an organisation but still called the Karrakatta Plate. 

Key people and positions in the group

  • Inaugural president Madeleine Onslow, succeeded by Emily Hensman.
  • Prominent members Dr Roberta Fergusson-Stewart (Jull), Edith Cowan, Lady Margaret Forrest, Mary Hynes Swanton, Florence Cardell-Oliver, Bessie Rischbieth, Mollie Lukis, Helen Ferguson, Margaret Craig, Miss Best, Miss Nisbet, Mrs Haines, Miss Hilferty and Mrs James.

In a recent historical book written by Susanna de Vries, Queen of the Desert: The life and loves of Daisy Bates, it is mentioned that she frequented the Karrakatta Club.  She was never a member, but was able to ingratiate herself with some of the society women of the day and attend the many Karrakatta Club functions.  It is written that when she was in her role as ‘Queen of the Aborigines’ she brought into the club an aboriginal woman who said to the president at the time, “did you know that I am your landlady?  You are on our land.”


  • Mitchell, Judy. History of the Karrakatta Club, 1894–1994. Perth, WA: The Club. Available from UWA Library (call number 367.99 1994 HIS).
  • Karrakatta Club Incorporated: History 1894–1954. Motto: Spectemur Agendo. Available from the State Library of WA (call number 367.99 KAR).
  • Website: http://www.karrakattaclub.org.au/index.php.
  • Information provided by Wendy Ryan.

Article Index
Women's Groups 2013
Abortion Law Repeal Association/Association for the Legal Right to Abortion (ALRA)
American Women's Club of Perth (AWC)
Association of Civilian Widows of WA Inc
Australian College of Midwives WA Branch (ACM)
Australian Local Government Women’s Association (ALGWA)
Beta Sigma Phi
Business and Professional Women Western Australia (BPW)
Catholic Women’s League of Western Australia (Inc)
Chrysalis House Women's Refuge
Cine-Matrix: Women in Film and Television WA
Cockburn Women’s Peace Camp
Combined Equal Pay Committee/WA Council for Equal Pay and Opportunity
Community Midwifery WA
Country Women’s Association (CWA)
Domestic Violence Action Group (Geraldton)
Emily’s List
Equal Opportunity Law Reform Coalition
Fremantle Women’s Health Centre (FWHC)
Girl Guides WA
Graduate Women Western Australia (GWWA)/Australian Federation of University Women (AFUW) Western Australia
Grapevine/Perth Wimmin’s Collective
Gretel Club of Perth (Inc)
Harvest Guild
Incest Survivors Association (Inc.)
Inner Wheel Australia
Inside Out Project
Ishar Multicultural Women’s Health Centre
Kalgoorlie Auxiliary of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Karrakatta Club
Labor Women’s Association
Lespar Library
Living Child Inc.—Safe Village Births
Lutheran Women WA
Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Women’s Resource Centre
Mining Mums
Modern Women's Club
Mothers’ Union Australia
Movement for the Ordination of Women
Muslim Women’s Support Centre of WA (Inc)
National Council of Women of Western Australia (previously known as West Australian National Council of Women and Western Australian National Council of Women)
National Council of Jewish Women of Australia—WA section (NCJWA)
Nintirri Centre
Older Women’s Network (OWN WA)
Penguin Club
Perth Ionian Club
Polyhymnia Reading Group
Rape Crisis Line
Rural Remote Regional Women’s Network (RRR)
Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC)
Sibyl/University of Western Australia Student Guild Women’s Collective
Society of Women Writers WA
Soroptimist International of Western Australia
Starick Services Inc
Status of Women Committee WA—Australian Labor Party
Tradeswomen on the Move
UN Women Australia (formerly UNIFEM Australia)—Perth Chapter Young UN Women Perth Chapter
Union of Australian Women—WA Branch
V.I.E.W. Western Australia
West Australian Women’s Society of Fine Arts and Crafts
War Widows’ Guild
Warrawee Women’s Refuge
Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL)
West Australian Housewives’ Association (Inc)
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
Women in Media
Women’s Information Referral Exchange (WIRE)
Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of Western Australia
Women in Education Coalition
Women in Mining WA (WIMWA)
Women in Sailing (WIS)
Women in Sport Committee of the Western Australian Sports Council
Women in Technology WA (Inc) (WiTWA)
Women Lawyers of Western Australia (Inc) (WLWA)
Women with Disabilities WA Inc (WWDWA)
Women’s Action Alliance (WAA)
Women’s Advisory Council (WAC)
Women’s Broadcasting Cooperative
Women’s Committee of State School Teachers’ Union WA Executive
Women's Committee of the Waterside Workers Federation
Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services (WA)/Women’s Refuge Group of WA (WRG)
Women’s Health and Family Services/Women’s Health Care House/Perth Women’s Centre/Women’s Health Service
Women’s Information Service (WIS)
Women’s Interest Network
Women in Engineering WA (WIE WA)
Women’s International Zionist Organisation (WIZO)
Women’s Liberation
Women’s Service Guilds
Women’s Studies Group
Yanay Yanma
YWCA of Perth
Zonta International
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