State Library Victoria advises that this blog contains information that may be culturally sensitive. It also contains quotations about Australian culture and history that reflect attitudes or language used at the time of publication that would not be considered appropriate today. 

Upon her death in 1978, Victorian woman Anna Fellowes Vroland (1902-1978) was described by a colleague as being ‘one of the ordinary great women of our time’1. Anna was a school teacher, writer,  radio commentator, and political activist in the areas of Aboriginal rights, women’s rights and the peace movement. She held many views that seem entirely contemporary, but were not at all commonplace at the time she aired them. 

Black and white photo of Anna Vroland
Photo of Anna Vroland. Private collection

A prolific writer of letters to the paper, her views and activism can be traced across the 1940s and 50s via her many letters to the Argus, the Age, and the Herald  newspapers.2.  She strongly believed that First Nations Peoples  had a right to manage their own affairs and she aimed to raise the white population’s awareness about the impact European settlement had on Aboriginal communities 3.  

In a letter to the Argus on 7 August 1947 she wrote:   

These people have been deprived by our people of the most elementary human rights – the right to their own social organisation, the right to be self-supporting. Our people have slain, despoiled, and pauperised their dark fellows. And now, too often, people of [A]boriginal blood are blamed because they cannot fit into our society 4

Vroland was an active member of both the New Education Fellowship (NEF) and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).  Her involvement allowed her to make the rights of Australia’s First Peoples a major concern of both organisations. Within the NEF she founded the sub-committee on Aborigines in 1946 5 and at WILPF, with fellow member Doris Blackburn, campaigned against laws that discriminated against Aboriginal Peoples 6.

Photo of women and children outdoors, gathered around a sign reading 'Women's International League for Peace and Freedom'Sunday Nov 6th 1921, Disarmament Sunday, Yarra Park. A photograph of WILPF shortly after their formation; MS9377/PHO2 

She strongly endorsed the right for Aboriginal people to identify as such beyond the colour of their skin and ‘… sought to promote a broader definition of Aboriginality, reliant on self-identification rather than physical appearance or the retention of “traditional” culture.’7.    

While other white activists of the time deemed to know what was best for Aboriginal communities, Vroland’s understanding came directly from her interaction and friendships with Aboriginal women and by asking them what they needed and wanted.8

In 1951 she wrote a book entitled  Their music has roots, an examination of ten songs sung by First Nations Peoples. This was written from an anthropological perspective as she felt that this was the best way to help white people understand different cultures. The songs she presents are accompanied by narratives of those who shared the music with her 9.  

Sitarani Kerin, in her thesis on Vroland and her involvement in Aboriginal rights, explains

Vroland chose music as the medium for exploring the problems of intercultural understanding because she understood the importance of music to her Aboriginal friends and because she firmly believed that change would never occur until Aboriginal people were able to speak and struggle for themselves, and, more importantly, until white people were prepared to listen. As such, her booklet was an attempt to let ‘their voices be heard’. 10

Vroland’s interest in promoting understanding between people was not confined to Australia. Her work with WILPF saw her calling for human and peaceful resolutions to world conflicts without resorting to nuclear weapons or warfare. To the Age on September 29, 1954 she asked: ‘Is it not time to call for the cessation of producing arms and to insist on the use of material and human resources for a large-scale effort on constructive projects to meet humanity’s need, especially where hunger is greatest?’

She was particularly incensed by the nuclear testing that took place in Maralinga in the mid 1950s and the lack of concern shown for the Aboriginal communities living in this area. On 2 October 1956, she wrote in a letter to the Argus:  

In spite of all the assurances of “safety” of nuclear weapons at Maralinga, the scientists have not found it easy to “ensure” that winds would not blow the poisonous cloud to the south-east. But what complete contempt is shown for the [A]boriginal people and the more isolated white settlers of the great areas of the west, north, and north east of the proving ground. We hear that children of the [A]boriginal mission at Warburton Ranges have been taken 400 miles west to comparative safety. What of their parents? What of the effect on the children? Of what use are human rights set down on paper when the military-minded men anywhere retain the decision over life and death of the people of the world, and prepare war while talking peace?

It seems that her relationship with WILPF (on which she served as secretary  from 1950-1957) 11 led to a scandal that all but ended a long and largely successful teaching career 12. 

Anna Vroland's teaching record
Anna Vroland’s teaching record, accessed via Ancestry.

Early in her career, Vroland spent five years working at an experimental primary school in Belgrave. She believed that the purpose of education was to ‘lead out from the deeply hidden self whatever potentially is there.’ 13

Between then and 1960 she worked at a number of different schools and in 1961 she applied for and was accepted in the role of headmistress at Woodstock Presbyterian Girls School in Albury, New South Wales. What was meant to be a two-year appointment, however, lasted only six months, with the school board quickly turning against her. Some say that this was due to her somewhat unorthodox teaching methods but others believe she was shunned largely because her involvement with WILPF led to the erroneous belief that she was a Communist. 14

She was never to learn the truth about her dismissal as the school decided to pay her a settlement for wrongful dismissal rather than acknowledge the reason they were letting her go 15. It is interesting to note, however, that the school’s magazine The Wren featured an editorial denouncing the evils of Communism shortly after Vroland was dismissed 16. Indeed she was sent the magazine with a rather nasty inscription by two of her former students.   

Inside cover of 'The Wren' showing editorial titled 'communism' and handwritten student message.Vroland’s copy of The Wren, 1961, with inscription from two former students. Private collection

Always a woman standing on the periphery with views that were often not shared or understood by those around her, this incident in particular seemed to wound her deeply. Her personal correspondence shows her determination to pursue the truth behind the reason for her dismissal and many cards and letters of shock and sympathy from students and parents show that there remained a great deal of support for her within the Albury community 17

In a letter to the school board addressing her dismissal, she quotes a hymn that her father used to often recite, written by Philip Bliss, and which summarises her life well:   
 
Dare to be a Daniel,   
Dare to stand alone!   
Dare to have a purpose firm!   
Dare to make it known 18

 


More to explore

The Library holds:

Their music has roots by Anna F. Vroland

Papers of Anna Vroland, 1947-1973 [manuscript]

Records of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915-1973 [manuscript].


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  1. WILPF Annual Report, WILPF Papers, National Library of Australia, Canberra, MS 7755, Box 7, Folder 60 cited in Kerin, S. (1999). ‘An attitude of respect’: Anna Vroland and Aboriginal rights: 1947-1957. Monash Publications in History, p.39
  2. The National Library of Australia’s database,  Trove,  has a rich collection of digitised historic Australian newspapers that can be searched by keyword. This can be handy when searching for prominent Victorians or family members. For more information, see the ‘newspapers’ section of our guide to Researching your Victorian ancestors
  3. Kerin, S. (1999). ‘An attitude of respect’: Anna Vroland and Aboriginal rights: 1947-1957. Monash Publications in History
  4. It’s YOUR opinion – Plea for natives. (1947, August 7). The Argus.  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22446755
  5. Kerin, S. (1999). ‘An attitude of respect’: Anna Vroland and Aboriginal rights: 1947-1957. Monash Publications in History
  6. Australian National University. (2002). Vroland, Anna Fellowes (1902-1978). In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved January 25, 2021, from https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/vroland-anna-fellowes-12108
  7. As above
  8. Kerin, S. (1999). ‘An attitude of respect’: Anna Vroland and Aboriginal rights: 1947-1957. Monash Publications in History
  9. Kerin, S. (1999). ‘An attitude of respect’: Anna Vroland and Aboriginal rights: 1947-1957. Monash Publications in History
  10. As above, p.7
  11. Kerin, S. (1999). ‘An attitude of respect’: Anna Vroland and Aboriginal rights: 1947-1957. Monash Publications in History
  12. Ancestry.com. Vroland, Anna, teacher record 32205. Eildon teacher record books in Victoria, Australia, Selected Trial Brief and Correspondence Registers and Other Images, 1837-1993
  13. Australian National University. (2002). Vroland, Anna Fellowes (1902-1978). In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved January 25, 2021, from https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/vroland-anna-fellowes-12108
  14. As above
  15. Vroland, A. (1961). [Various correspondence].  Private collection
  16. Woodstock Presbyterian Girls’ School. (1961). The Wren (Vol. 11). Albury, NSW: Hedges & Bell
  17. Various authors (1961). [Letters and cards to A. Vroland]. Private collection
  18. Vroland, A. (1968, August 8). [Letter to the Woodstock Presbyterian Girls’ School board]. Private collection

This article has 1 comment

  1. An amazing compilation of her life.

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