Lesbian feminist in 1990s Melbourne: a job interview with my mum

by | Nov 9, 2023 | 0 comments

I always realized my mum was homosexual. Whenever I was around 12 yrs . old, i’d run-around the playing field offering to my personal schoolmates.

“My mum’s a lesbian!” I’d shout.

My personal reasoning had been this made me a lot more fascinating. Or perhaps my mum had drilled it into me personally that becoming a lesbian ought to be a supply of pleasure, and I took that very virtually.

twenty years later on, I found myself undertaking a PhD throughout the cultural reputation of Melbourne’s interior urban countercultures through the sixties and 1970s. I happened to be interviewing people who had stayed in Carlton and Fitzroy throughout these many years, as I was actually into studying a little more about the progressive urban tradition that I spent my youth in.

During this time period, people in these places pursued a freer, a lot more libertarian life-style. These people were regularly checking out their own sex, creativity, activism and intellectualism.

These communities happened to be especially considerable for women residing in share-houses or with pals; it had been getting usual and acknowledged for women to live on alone with the household or marital home.

Image: Molly Mckew’s mommy, used by writer


n 1990, after divorcing my dad, my personal mum gone to live in Brunswick old 30. Right here, she encountered feminist politics and lesbian activism. She started initially to grow into her imagination and intellectualism after investing nearly all of the woman 20s getting a married mommy.

Empowered by my PhD interviews, I decided to inquire about the lady everything about it. We hoped to reconcile the woman recollections using my very own thoughts within this time. I also desired to get a fuller image of where feminism and activism was at in 1990s Melbourne; a neglected decade in histories of gay and lesbian activism.

During this period, Brunswick was actually tremendously trendy area which was near sufficient to my personal mum’s outer suburbs college without having to be a residential district hellscape. We stayed in a poky patio residence on Albert Street, near to a milk bar in which I spent my personal once a week 10c pocket money on two tasty Strawberries & lotion lollies.

Nearby Sydney Road had been dotted with Greek and Turkish cafes, where my mum would periodically get you hot beverages and desserts. We largely consumed extremely dull food from regional health food stores – there’s nothing that can compare with becoming gaslit by carob on Easter Sunday.


s somebody who is suffering from FOMO (concern with at a disadvantage), I was interested in whether my personal mum think it is depressed transferring to a unique destination where she understood no person. My mum laughs aloud.

“I was never depressed!” she claims. “It actually was the eve of a revolution! Females planned to assemble and share their particular stories of oppression from men and the patriarchy.”

And she ended up being pleased to not end up being around guys. “I did not engage with any guys for a long time.”

The epicentre of her activist world was actually La Trobe University. There seemed to be a passionate ladies Officer, and additionally a ladies’ place from inside the beginner Union, in which my mum invested countless the woman time preparing presentations and sharing tales.

She glows concerning the activist world at La Trobe.

“It felt like a change involved to happen and we had to change our life and be element of it. Females happened to be coming out and marriages had been becoming busted.”

The women she found had been sharing encounters they would never really had the opportunity to environment before.

“the ladies’s studies program I happened to be undertaking had been similar to an emotional, conscious-raising party,” she states.


y mum remembers the dark Cat cafe in Fitzroy fondly, a still-operating cafe that unwrapped in 1981. It was among the first on Brunswick Street; it was “where everyone else went”. She in addition frequented Friends regarding the Earth in Collingwood, where lots of rallies were arranged.

There is a lesbian open house in Fitzroy and a lesbian mom’s class in Northcote. The caretaker’s team offered a place to speak about things like developing towards young ones, associates coming to school activities and “the real-life effects to be homosexual in a society that couldn’t protect gay men and women”.

The thing that was the goal of feminist activism back then? My personal mum tells me it was comparable as now – a baseline fight for equality.

“We wanted countless useful modification. We spoke loads about equivalent pay, childcare, and basic societal equality; like ladies getting enabled in taverns being add up to males in all respects.”


the guy “personal is actually political” was the content and “women took this actually severely”.

It sounds familiar, regardless of not-being allowed in bars (thank god). I ask the girl just what feminist society was like back then – assuming it had been most likely totally different to your pop-culture pushed, referential and irony-addled feminism of 2022.

My mum recalls feminist culture as “loud, away, defiant and on the road”. At one of several Take Back the night time rallies, a night-time march aiming to draw awareness of women’s public safety (or insufficient), mum recalls this fury.

“we yelled at some Christians viewing the march that Christ was actually the most significant prick of most. I became furious at the patriarchy and [that] the church was all about guys as well as their power.”


y mum was at the lesbian world, which she encountered through university, Friends regarding the Earth as well as the Shrew – Melbourne’s very first feminist bookstore.

I remember this lady having a few extremely sort girlfriends. One allow me to view

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each and every time I went more than and fed me personally dizzyingly sugary meals. As a young child, I attended lesbian rallies and aided to run stalls offering tapes of Mum’s own love tracks and activist anthems.

“Lesbians happened to be viewed as lacking and unusual and never to-be trustworthy,” she says about social perceptions at that time.

“Lesbian women weren’t really visible in community because you might get sacked to be gay at that time.”

The author Molly Mckew as a child at the woman mother’s industry stall. Photographer as yet not known, circa 1991


large amount of activism during the time was about destigmatising lesbianism by increasing their visibility and normalcy – that we suppose In addition was actually attempting to do by telling all my schoolmates.

“The meet older lesbians experienced pity and often physical violence in their relationships – most of them had secret relationships,” Mum informs me.

We ask whether she ever practiced stigma or discrimination, or whether her modern milieu supplied her with emotional shelter.

“I found myself out normally, while not always feeling comfortable,” she answers. Discrimination still happened.

“I found myself as soon as pulled over by a police officer because I experienced a lesbian moms representation on my automobile. There seemed to be absolutely no reason and I also had gotten a warning, though I happened to ben’t rushing anyway!”


ike all activist moments, or any scene after all, there was unit. There is tension between “newly being released lesbians, ‘baby dykes’ and women who was an element of the gay tradition for a long time”.

Separatism was talked-about alot in the past. Sometimes if a lesbian or feminist had a boy, or failed to live-in a female-only house, it caused division.

There have been in addition class tensions around the scene, which, although varied, had been reigned over by middle-class white ladies. My personal mum determines these tensions because the starts of efforts at intersectionality – something which characterises present-day feminist discourse.

“men and women started to review the activity for being exclusionary or classist. When I started initially to perform personal tunes at festivals and activities, various ladies confronted me [about getting] a middle-class feminist because I had a home together with a car or truck. It absolutely was discussed behind my personal back that I had received funds from my earlier relationship with men. Thus was actually we an actual feminist?”

But my mum’s daunting recollections tend to be of a consuming collective electricity. She informs me that her tunes had been expressions of this beliefs in those sectors; fairness, openness and inclusion. “It actually was everyone else with each other, yelling for change”.


hen I happened to be about eight, we relocated far from Brunswick and to a residence in Melbourne’s external east. My personal mum mainly eliminated by herself from the revolutionary milieu she’d experienced and turned into more spirituality focused.

We however went to women’s witch teams sometimes. I recall the sharp odor of smoke as soon as the class frontrunner’s lengthy black colored hair caught fire in the center of a forest routine. “Sorry to traumatise you!” my personal mum laughs.

We stroll to a regional cafe and get meal. The comfort of Mum’s presence breaks me personally and I commence to weep about a current breakup with men. But the woman indication of how flexibility is actually a hard-won independence and advantage picks me right up once again.

I’m reminded that although we cultivate our very own strength, liberty and lots of aspects, you’ll find communities that constantly will keep all of us.

Molly Mckew is actually a writer and artist from Melbourne, exactly who in 2019 finished a PhD on countercultures in the 1960s and seventies in metropolitan Melbourne. She is been published in




plus co-authored a chapter in the collection

Metropolitan Australia and Post-Punk: Exploring Canines in Space

edited by David Nichols and Sophie Perillo. You are able to follow this lady on Instagram