Pioneer Women's Memorial and Garden

This garden and its sculpture form a meaningful and peaceful art installation.

The Pioneer Women’s Memorial Trust was set up in 1935. It was given this space behind Government House for a site to honour South Australian women pioneers. The garden is modelled on the 1935 memorial garden in Melbourne, Victoria.

Melbourne sculptor Ola Cohn created the memorial sculpture. She carved the female figure from a three-ton block of Waikerie limestone over 18 months. Despite its material, the sculpture seems fluid. It is an organic representation of a woman, and womanhood generally. With its gentle gaze and calm stance, the figure has a peaceful presence. Its monumental nature recalls the work of British sculptor Henry Moore, whom Cohn had worked with in London. Moore’s work appears later in the trail.

The statue was not well received, however. It was criticised as lacking femininity, and for its “unladylike” stance and hands. Cohn argued that it represented strength and “the spirit of womanhood capable of giving birth to a nation”. 

In 1941, designer Elsie Cornish began creating a garden around the sculpture. She planned a restrained layout to tie in with the statue. Cornish meant the beds to contain symbolic plants such as lilac, representing memory, and holly oak, myrtle and honeysuckle for protection and love. Over time, however, maintenance costs have seen many her designs changed many times.

The Governor’s wife, Lady Muriel Barclay-Harvey, opened the garden on April 19, 1941. Within the sculpture’s base is a time capsule containing plans for the sculpture and messages for the women of the future. It is to be opened in 2036.