5 People to Remember during South Australia's History FestivalMay 14, 2014

History may not appeal to everyone, but in South Australia, it's the opposite.

Every month of May, this state celebrates the History Festival. There's a lot to tell about South Australia's past. For one, evidence of human activity dates back to 65,000 years ago, with ceremonial sites and rock art as evidence. The former colony of South Australia is also the cradle of democratic reform, being the first self-governing territory to give women equal franchise on the same terms as it is granted to men. These, and a lot more, are part of the school curriculum, which may not interest many. But organisers of this annual event try to make the learning process enjoyable.

South Australia had also its brush with fame, its well-known residents helped made the state's past fascinating. No doubt that not a few are chuffed. So here they are:

1. Muriel Matters, a native of Adelaide, wasn't renowned for her acting chops. It was rather her involvement in the Women's Freedom League, which put her into trouble. During her time of youth, when she studied music at the University of Adelaide, she was active in the Women's Movement, which gained the then colony a widespread notoriety. This continued in the United Kingdom, where her most unforgettable act was taking to the skies over London, in a huge balloon emblazoned with “Votes For Women’’, equipped with a megaphone, flags, and hundreds of leaflets to drop. It didn't turn her into a heroine back then, but time was on her side.

2. The first Australian actor to break into Hollywood wasn't Mel Gibson. One must go back to the era of the silent films, when a certain J.P. McGowan, who was born in Terowie, acted and directed in features like "The Hazards of Helen". He made a successful transition from silents to talkies, working with the likes of John Wayne. He became the first - and only Aussie - to be a life member of the Screen Directors Guild, later renamed as Directors Guild of America (DGA).

3. NASA Astronaut Andy Thomas, who circumnavigated the Earth on the spacecraft Endeavour in 1996, was born in Adelaide. He received his bachelor degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Adelaide in 1973, completing his doctorate (in mechanical engineering) from the same university five years later. He is the great-great-grandson of Frederick George Waterhouse, a naturalist who made significant contributions to the study of the natural history of Australia.

4. Lionel Logue, who successfully treated King George VI's stammer, was born in College Town. He was successful in speech and language therapy, but when he was young, he was blamed for a fellow's stammer. They were good mates, but this tidbit was overlooked because of his sessions with the king. (This was turned into an Oscar-winning film, "The King's Speech".)

5. Sir Hans Heysen, winner of the Wynne Prize a record nine times, migrated to Adelaide, with his family, at the age of seven. (Wynne Prize is an Australian landscape painting art prize). Born in Hamburg, Germany, the young Heysen was under the tutelage of James Ashton, one of South Australia's influential art educators. Who would have thought that this young lad would become the most acclaimed landscape painter.

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