am 61 now, and I think those womyn of my generation who have been fortunate
enough to have been an adult through the 1970's and were able to take
an active part in the Women's Liberation Movement, have not only had our
lives enriched immeasurably but the feminist revolution undoubtedly saved
I was born in Melbourne
in 1944 and raised in Mildura. My father got a soldier settlement block
growing and drying sultanas when he returned from the war. I was in seventh
heaven when I returned to Melbourne because I was out of a small country
town environment and back in the city.
I was pregnant at
17 and married at 18 and moved to Melbourne then. It was a struggle in
the 1960's, we had nothing. The 1960's were very harsh in terms of working
class people struggling with kids. I had three children but the third
child died - extremely sad at the time.
It wasn't until the
late 1960's, when my children started school that I went back to school
myself. I studied for my Matriculation at the Council of Adult Education
(CAE) with a view to going to university and perhaps getting a better
job. I was waitressing at that stage. It suited me, as the kids were at
school and I could waitress in the evenings when my husband (who has since
died) was home and could look after the kids. There was no childcare or
anything like that in those days.
In 1969, by the time that
Zelda D'Aprano chained herself to Commonwealth Building and then three weeks later when Zelda D'Aprano, Thelma Solomon and Alva Geike chained themselves to
the Arbitration Court I'd already
started studying. Not only were women deciding to take radical action
like those women did, but there was also news coming from the United States
about political actions there.
There was a whole
social upheaval. Women were starting to realize we needed to do something
and I took advantage of this. Going into the 1970's I was hearing about
the Women's Action Committee and the radical actions they were taking,
like only paying a percentage of the fare on trams to highlight the need
for equal pay for women and protesting at the Miss Teenage Quests. I was
excited to hear about all of that, but I was not at that stage prepared
to do anything about it.
I was absolutely
rapt when I was accepted into La Trobe University in 1972. It was marvelous
- even though I was really aiming to go to Melbourne University, as it
it just down the road. I had no idea where La Trobe University was!
I loved it. It was
a new university and thereforemuch more radical and there was a lot of
political stuff happening and I got caught up in all of that. At the end
of 1972 I joined a Women's Liberation Consciousness Raising Group in Brunswick
and that was the start of my involvement in the Women's Liberation Movement.
I remember the first
meeting. I was sitting in a room with women I didn't know. I was explaining
something, as we all took turns around the circle to speak, and women
were nodding - agreeing with what I was saying. That was a very different
experience, because I was normally seen as a bit of a radical, a woman
going to university, which was still unusual for a woman to be doing at
There were middle-aged
women, whose kids had grown up, going back to education, but I was going
back earlier than that - at age 27 - but later than the teenagers straight
from school. It was a very vibrant, exciting, dynamic time for me personally
as well as politically.
From the moment I
joined the Brunswick CR Group I was completely involved. The Women's Liberation
Centre was set up then, with a telephone for information and support and
also as a meeting place for the unfunded activist groups. I started doing
roster there. The Centre was basically a large meeting space at 16 Little
La Trobe Street.
So women could either
drop in, if they were in the city, and pick up the latest position paper
for 20¢ or so, or subsribe to the Women's Liberation Newsletter or they
could ring up and find out information.
Vashti's Voice, another
Victorian WL publication, started then as well and there were interstate
and international magazines such as Ms from the United States, Broadsheet
from Aotearoa (NZ), and Spare Rib from the UK. So much was being published
and written about and women were ringing in about all sorts of things.
Domestic violence was rife and by the mid-1970s referrals to refuges became
crucially important. Some women wanted a sympathetic lawyer.
Many women were looking
for a sympathetic doctor so they could have an abortion and the Women's
Abortion Action Campaign (WAAC) was set up in 1972 to campaign for the
repeal of the anti-abortion laws and freely available contraception. Because
Dr Wainer had opened his Fertility Control Clinic in Melbourne, and because
of the Menhennitt ruling, at that stage women were able to get abortions
at a reasonably affordable price and without fear of being arrested, but
abortions were and still are illegal under the law.
We encouraged women
to let us know what their experience had been when we referred them, so
we could have a resource file of doctors who could do abortions or other
medical procedures or consultations in a sympathetic way. In the same
way we also had a file on doctors who were less than sympathetic or downright
incompetent and dangerous.
We were challenging
sexist attitudes and ways of looking at the world. Doctors and other professionals
were often quite sexist and wouldn't give women information, so we were
encouraging women to ask their doctor questions to find out what was happening
From this women started
to be involved in their own health care, in ways we hadn't previously.
This led, for example, to the Women's Health Centre which opened in in
Johnston Street, Collingwood in 1974 and after that closed down in 1976,
Bon Hull's book, IN OUR OWN HANDS - A Women's Health Manual, was published
by Hyland House in 1980.
I found it all extremely
exciting. I wasn't one of the so-called 'heavies' there, I was a woman
from the suburbs, Brunswick, who was learning at a rate of knots. I loved
being at university. I loved being at the Women's Centre, finding out
things, even though I wasn't one of those who spoke out very much.
At that stage I wasn't
a lesbian but I was aware many women there were and I admired the lesbians
who seemed at the radical cutting-edge of feminism with groups like the
Radicalesbians who organised the first Lesbian Conference in Sorrento
and the first women-only dance in 1973. I went to the meetings and was
blown out by everything that was going on. Then there were the refuges.
The Women's Liberation
Halfway House started in 1974 and I became involved in roster work when
it was at Ormond. That was amazing too. I had no idea, really, what I
was doing. I went along because some of in the Brunswick C-R Group volunteered
at a public meeting to become members of a committee to set up a women's
refuge in our area and we needed to know how to go about doing that.
But it was very difficult
to get funding because the Government wasn't funding refuges at that stage.
We just kept putting in submissions.
I also joined the
WL Group at La Trobe Uni in 1973. That was quite exciting and I met Thelma
Solomon, Susan Hawthorne and others there. It was good group. We put on
forums and dances, especially at Orientation Week and held regular weekly
meetings at lunchtime.
The 1970's were a
vibrant, exciting and dynamic time. Our consciousnesses were being raised
all the time about a whole heap of things. In a sense nothing was sacred.
Everything was questioned and challenged. It was not as if we just went
to meeting, did our work then went home again.
Our whole lives were
changing. I went back to using my birth name and I left my husband. We
had grown apart, I was a different woman from the person he'd married,
stepping out and being myself, and I think he felt a bit threatened. It
was an O.K. separation - there was no hostility. I had my tubes tied at
I went overseas with
money I'd saved from working at La Trobe Uni, and when I came back in
1978, money was available for refuges. All those years of trying to get
money from the government suddenly came to fruition.
Oddly enough, it
was Fraser's Liberal Government who set up a national refuge program.
Any refuge that was up and running was included and we were funded on
the basis of our submissions and I applied for and got one of the Coordinator
jobs. I was being paid to be a political activist! It was only part time
pay but being paid for what we had been doing for years was quite an added
thing. We did much more than we were paid to do, of course.
Within two years
there were 16 fully funded refuges for women in Victoria. The Women's
Liberation Centre closed at the end of 1978 and in 1979 the Women's Cultural
This was the forerunner
of the Women's Liberation Buildings - they served a similar function as
the WL Centre by providing a meeting space for collectives, but when women
got together for meetings they didn't act as the central authority for
the Women's Liberation Movement anymore. The days of the old General Meetings
where you worked out, for example, what to do on International Women's
Day or a policy on Wages for Housework, for example, were gone. If you
wanted to organise the International Women's Day activities now, you just
got a collective together and did it.
Before, the Women's
Liberation Movement would take that on and say what could and what could
not be done. For example, under the old WL Centre there was a huge debate
about whether catering for May Day to raise money for Women's Liberation
was an ideologically sound thing to do or not. There were many acrimonious
arguments about various ideological stand points.
It was felt that
if you were doing something in the name of Women's Liberation it had to
be debated and agreed upon. There was never any card carrying or platform
like the Communist Party and to all intents and purposes the new building
ran the same as the WL Centre, but there was an unspoken understanding
at the Centre that there were things you could or could not do in the
name of the WLM. Not everybody agreed, of course, so when the new building
opened that central policy making stopped.
There was a fundamental
shift in the way things were done. Collectives like:
the WL Newsletter;
Women Against Rape;
the Lesbian Action Group;
Women Against Nuclear Energy; and
Women Against Rape
were now completely autonomous.
I was a founding
member of the Women's Liberation Switchboard in the new building. Having
a telephone for referral, information and support and a building in which
to meet were always two of main ingredients for the feminist revolution.
like the Women's Refuge Referrals Service became funded, so operated independently.
A lot of the womyn's services we now take for granted started with Women's
Liberation energy and unfunded groups. They started with unpaid work and
the energy of many, many women who set up refuges and referral services,
legal and medical services, rape crisis centres and activist collectives
around a whole range of issues.
Women Against Rape (WAR), for example, were extremely important in the
1970's. Collective members would go with women to hospitals and courts
and doctors for support when they wanted us to. Women were supported whatever
decision they made - whether to report it to the cops or not.
It wasn't until the
1980's that these services became consolidated and, often, funded. Or
took off independently, such as:
Women's Refuge Referrals Service;
Women's Health Resource Collective and
Healthsharing Women which amalgamated and later became Women's Health
Domestic Violence and Incest Resource Centre;
Women's Information Support and Housing in the North (WISHIN);
Women's Legal Resource Group (WLRG);
Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) House; and
Women's Information and Referral Exchange (WIRE)
Even though some
collectives folded, there were still unfunded activist collectives such
as Women for Survival and the Queen Victoria Women's Centre Campaign.
And other women's groups such as the Union of Australian Women (UAW),
Women's Electoral Lobby (WEL) and Council for Single Mothers and Their
Children (CSMC) were still going.
By the end of 1979,
I decided to put my sexuality where my politics were and came out as a
dyke. I was absolutely delighted to find I was sexually attracted to women,
so it wasn't just a political choice. I had raised my kids and they were
independent, so I divided my time between being a lesbian feminist political
activist and being a writer. I still am, although I've slowed down a bit.
Through the 1980's
I was involved in the Women's Liberation Archives, I went back to Matilda
Refuge as an unpaid worker, rejoined the Women's Liberation Switchboard
collective, started the Purple Parrots, a lesbian feminist performing
group, self-published my writing as Dykebooks and then there were various
actions such as International Women's Day, Reclaim the Night, the National
10/40 Conferences (for feminists over 40) to attend.
Unpaid work as an
activist freed me up to do what I wanted to do. But when I was paid, for
12 months as a full-time worker on WL Switchboard at the Women's Liberation
Building in Victoria Street, that was exciting too.
Women for Survival
was around then, organising actions at Pine Gap, NT, Cockburn Sound, WA,
the refuges were challenging the government about more funding, the socialist
feminists were holding conferences and starting groups such as the Women's
Social and Political Coalition (WSPC) and the Council of Action for Equal
Pay (CAEP). A lot was going on.
It was really not
until, in my reckoning, the late 1980's that the Women's Liberation Movement
- as started in the 1970's and continued into the 1980's, started to die
down. By that time more and more feminists were working as paid workers
in refuges and in CASA Houses, women's health centres were being funded,
and there were a lot of other womyn's services funded, and a lot of women
were in paid work in the bureaucracy, as femocrats and in the universities
Because a lot of
women were in the paid workforce and there weren't as many unpaid activists
around, it was quite a different era. By the late 1980's there were very
few activist collectives, as we had known them in the 1970's. Most services
We ran the Women's
Balls for the next 4 years to raise the money to keep the WL Building
in Gertrude Street open, but by the middle of the 1992 it was obvious
that the WL Building, as it had been going since 1979 as an extension
of the Women's Liberation Centre since 1972, had to close.
After 20 years there
were no more women-only spaces anymore. The Victorian Women's Liberation
and Lesbian Feminist Archives came to my house for the next eight years
then was eventually housed in the University of Melbourne Archives. The
material is available to everyone for research and other purposes through
the Baillieu Library.
The other major area
I was involved in was the Aboriginal Rights Solidarity Group that started
up in 1986. I was a founding member and we did a lot of actions under
the direction of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community here
in Victoria. I am also a member of the Koorie Heritage Trust and have
continued this as a way to look at and challenge the racism inherent in
I am appalled at
the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in this country
and I feel I need to do something. By the way, even though I think Howard
ought to have said sorry about the Stolen Generations, perhaps one of
the positive aspects about his cowardice is that the rest of us had to
do something. Not only did we individually sign 'sorry' books but local
councils, churches and the whole of Australia had to get up and say sorry
about the children being taken from their families and communities, about
the massacres, the land being stolen and a whole host of brutal and demoralising
Over these past fifteen
years, I have continued writing and have enjoyed attending lesbian events
such as the National Lesbian Festivals and Conferences round Australia.
I joined the Women's Circus in 1991, started the Performing Older Women's
Circus in 1995 and continued to attend events for lesbians over 40.
Despite the recent
challenge from the MTF tranny who dobbed us into the Equal Opportunity
Commission for daring to advertise our exclusively lesbian events we still
manage to privately get together on occasions to affirm our lesbian culture
I am 61 now, and
I think those womyn of my generation who have been fortunate enough to
have been an adult through the 1970's and were able to take an active
part in the WLM, have not only had our lives enriched immeasurably but
the feminist revolution undoubtedly saved us.