Necessity - the Mother of Invention
Her student days in a support group for the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa lead to working with many different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, marble mine workers in Makrana in Rajasthan India, and more recently in Papua New Guinea on a resource kit for community people who want to take action to address gender-based violence. We caught up with the fascinating inventor of The Travel Bra – Dr Annie Holden to learn more.
Where do you hail from?
I was born in Brisbane and although I have lived and worked all over the world, I still work within a kilometre of the hospital I was born in!
You are the founder of The Travel Bra. Can you tell us the story behind where the idea came from?
I am an anthropologist specialising in the impacts of resource development on Indigenous communities. When I started working in India I often had to travel to remote places where there are no ATMs. So I had to carry a lot of cash to pay field workers and the safest place to do that was in my bra. I really dislike money belts – they are ugly, hot and obvious. I tried to buy a travel bra that would store cash and valuables and to my surprise there was nothing available – so I invented it!
What is The Travel Bra?
It is the most comfortable, full support bra that my bra designer could imagine and it stores your credit card, small jewellery and passport. When the pockets are not in use The Travel Bra looks and feels like any other sports bra.
You are an anthropologist, what was your inspiration behind that career choice?
When I was a student in the late 1970s in Western Australia I was part of a support group for the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa. Our group was approached by some Aboriginal people from the Kimberleys who asked us to help them too so we ran fundraising barbeques and hence the Kimberley Land Council was born. When I decided to do a PhD I asked the head of the KLC, Peter Yu, what he thought would be the most useful thing for Aboriginal people that I could study and he said Indigenous economic development. I worked with three Aboriginal communities in Cape York, Queensland, as case studies. When I graduated, in the early 1990s, the most useful thing for the Cape York mobs was to understand the impact of mining on their communities, so that’s how this become my specialty.
Where has your work taken you, and what has been one of your career highlights?
I have worked all over Australia and been privileged to work with many different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups – desert mobs, rainforest people and salt water people. Every group has been radically different from the next, and it’s been extraordinary to traverse this amazing parallel universe.
Around 2005 I was asked to come to India and work with the marble mine workers in Makrana in Rajasthan. I travelled to India several times doing research and documenting the impacts of mining on women miners and on the families of marble miners. I’ve also worked in Papua New Guinea, most recently on a resource kit for community people who want to take action to address gender-based violence.
There have been many highlights. I could name the negotiation of an agreement with Tjapukai Dance Theatre in Cairns with the Djabugay people. The Theatre was started and owned by some Americans who asked me to help them negotiate a royalty agreement with the dancers. But when I spoke with the community, they didn’t want royalties, they wanted equity. So over a very arduous and at times emotional twelve months we successfully negotiated a great shared ownership deal which worked well for the existing owners and for the Djabugay people.
Working with women in developing countries, what are some of the biggest issues you see for women in these countries?
The power balance between men and women in tribal communities is very sensitive and it does not take much to upset it, particularly during the transition to a cash economy. Mining companies think that because they create jobs this brings benefits to local communities. But often cash coming into the family via men’s employment creates imbalances in power between husband and wife. Increased violence towards women and children, abandonment of the family, but also just abandonment of the usual male family duties, men’s drunkenness and poor health, spread of HIV – these are commonly the impacts for the wives of men who win jobs with mining companies.
Mining companies seem blind to these impacts and need to do more to create employment and small business opportunities for women and to put in place strategies to mitigate potential negative impacts on women and children. For single women, many find themselves less safe because men with cash now have access to alcohol as well as a new-found sense of empowerment. Single women may find themselves in soft prostitution (sex in exchange for alcohol), or as targets for assault and frequently face a less reliable future.
What are some of the key similarities you find that tie us all together?
Great question! All women need economic independence. All women are vulnerable in multiple ways while they are financially dependent.
What is your chosen speed of adventure?
I’m a hiker, backpacker.
Favourite words to live by?
Follow your own inner guidance and don’t listen to what any one else says you can or can’t do.
This article first appeared in print issue #3. Subscribe here.