There was a unique spirit to Emmeline Freda Du Faur, better known as Freda. She did not behave like the stereotypical women of her day and she pushed gender expectations to the limit. This was seen most obviously when she became the first woman to climb New Zealand's tallest mountain Aoraki, or Mount Cook.
Emmeline Freda Du Faur. Courtesy The Legacy Project.
Born in Croydon, Sydney in 1882 Freda grew up exploring the newly named Kuringai Chase National Park, north of Sydney. She became a confident rock climber, fulfilling her love of exploring. She started to train as a nurse but never finished her studies because of her 'sensitive, highly strung nature'.
In a trip to New Zealand in 1906 Freda visited Mount Cook and was enraptured with the presences of the mountain and the snow at its peak. In 1908 on another visit to the area, Peter Graham, a New Zealand guide, agreed to teach her snow and ice craft. By 1909 Freda was attempting a series of difficult climbs with the help of Graham. Freda always climbed wearing a skirt to just below the knee over knickerbockers and long puttees.
Typical garb worn by Freda Du Faur on her record-breaking and record-making climbs. Courtesy George Edward Mannering
Her interest in mountain-climbing continued to grow and under the guidance of her friend and later partner, Muriel Cadogan at the Dupain Institute of Physical Education in Sydney, she underwent three months of physical training before returning to New Zealand. On December 3, 1910 in the company of Peter and Alex Graham, Freda became the first woman to climb the 3760 metres of Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest peak in the record time of the day, six hours.
Her record-breaking feats did not end there. In the same season she climbed Mount De la Beche (2979 meters), Mount Green (2828 metres) and Mount Chudleigh (2944 metres, a first ascent). Freda then went on to conquer a virgin peak now named Mount Du Faur (2389 m), Mount Nazomi (2953 m, also a first ascent), Mount Tasman (3497 m, second ascent), Mount Dampier (3430 m, first ascent), and Mount Lendenfeld (3192 m, second ascent).
Then as if that wasn't not enough, in her final season she made first ascents of Mount Pibrac (2567 m) and Mount Cadogan (2398 m), both of which she named. Then on 4 January 1913 she accomplished the feat with which her name will always be associated.
Freda made the first grand traverse of the three peaks of Mount Cook, with guides Peter Graham and David Thomson. The grand traverse is still regarded as the classic climb of the New Zealand Alps. On 10 February the same party made the first traverse of Mount Sefton (3149 m).
After all these achievements Freda and Muriel moved to England where the mountaineer wrote and published her book The Conquest of Mount Cook and Other Climbs, published in 1915. Sadly Muriel died in June 1929, so Freda returned to Australia and lived at Dee Why.
Freda spent time walking in the bush behind Dee Why and Collaroy and appeared noticeably withdrawn and lonely. Sadly, she committed suicide by carbon-monoxide poisoning in September 1935 and is buried in the Church of England cemetery at Manly.
Plaque honouring Freda Du Faur's achievements in Manly cemetery. Courtesy Monument Australia
Until 2006 her grave had been unmarked, however, a group of New Zealanders provided a memorial stone and plaque commemorating her mountaineering achievements.
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'Freda Du Faur', Wikipedia, accessed on 11th October, 2021, Freda Du Faur - Wikipedia
'Emmeline Freda Du Faur', Monument Australia, accessed 11th October, 2021, Emmeline Freda Du Faur | Monument Australia
E. J. O'Donnell, 'Du Faur, Emmeline Freda (1882–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/du-faur-emmeline-freda-6025/text10297, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 18 October 2021.