Buddhists started arriving in Australia in large numbers during the mid-1800s, and the first Buddhist societies and centres began to be formed in the mid-late 1900s. This paper examines the role of women in bringing Buddhism to and establishing it in Australia. Women have featured prominently in a small amount of scholarship, including Paul Croucher’s (1989) Buddhism in Australia: 1848–1988
and Cristina Rocha and Michelle Barker’s (eds. 2011) edited volume on Buddhism in Australia: Traditions in Change
. This paper draws on these sources, but primarily on more recent digital oral histories of prominent Buddhist women and men in Australia, recorded as part of the first stage of the Buddhist Life Stories of Australia project in 2014–2015. These first-hand accounts bring the early female pioneers of Buddhism in Australia to life and provide a rich re-telling of this history with emphasis on women’s contributions to it. We also argue that these women’s experiences can best be understood through a framework of ‘ultramodern Buddhism,’ built upon theories of modern and post-modern Buddhism, as many of these women were trailblazers bridging dualisms of tradition and modernity, Asia and the West, and adhering to both feminist and Buddhist principles.
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