Singleton women’s script

floating wall Singleton Women’s Script

Three 1m x 1m found photographs, pins, embroidered teapot cosy and cassette recorder.

Transmission phases of the secret women’s script that originated in the Singleton district are hallmarked by a dominant mode of exchange. Panel One shows houses that in 1867 made cards and letters with the script.

_48A4208Panel Two shows houses that in 1930 made handkerchiefs, doilies and tea cosies incorporating the script. Panel Three shows localities around 1953 where women and girls met to sing their rhymes and participate in other physical activities to assist with learning the script.

The tape recording provides a cultural anthropologist’s analysis of the research including the way the script was written in a whispy style and the language was spoken in a nasal manner.



Audio interview with researching anthropologist, photographic maps, artefacts Dubbo Regional Art Gallery Dubbo, 2001

Singleton Women’s Script  is a longitudinal representation of the key findings on the secret script language of Singleton women. Houses in 1867 that produced embroidered script handkerchiefs & doilies are shown in panel one. Panel two shows houses in 1930 known to have produced script written cards & letters. Panel three shows localities in 1953 where girls met to sing rhymes & participate in other script learning activities.

Secret Script is a Private Linguistic Space

The secret script enabled these women to share thoughts & swap experiences at a time when most of them were illiterate & often denied identities apart from men. Confined to their home, the women transformed objects of their daily life into tools for greater intellectual independence. They copied down their writings in letters & embroidered them in handkerchiefs. They circulated their texts among close companions who formed small groups that became crucial female support networks. Grandmothers taught granddaughters while they worked together at home: spinning, sewing, cooking & singing. Occasionally, elite families hired tutors.

Characteristics of the Script

As the script was never codified, no precise count exists of the number of characters invented over the years. Known secret script characters are pronounced phonetically & are represented visually in a wispy & curvy way, & written at a slant. One 87 year old woman participating in the study was able to recite a poem, but could not remember how to sing it as a melody:

Beside a well one does not thirst
Beside a sister one does not despair

Sydney Morning Herald article from which work was drawn.