Lesbian feminist in 1990s Melbourne: An interview with my mum

I understood my mum ended up being homosexual. Whenever I had been around 12 yrs . old, I would personally run around the playing field boasting to my schoolmates.

“My mum’s a lesbian!” I’d shout.

My personal reasoning had been that it forced me to much more fascinating. Or perhaps my personal mum had drilled it into me that becoming a lesbian should-be a source of pride, and I also got that extremely literally.

20 years later, i came across myself performing a PhD on cultural reputation for Melbourne’s internal urban countercultures throughout the sixties and seventies. I happened to be choosing those who had lived in Carlton and Fitzroy throughout these years, as I was thinking about learning much more about the modern metropolitan culture that We was raised in.

During this time period, folks in these areas pursued a freer, more libertarian way of living. They certainly were consistently checking out their particular sex, imagination, activism and intellectualism.

These communities happened to be especially considerable for females staying in share-houses or with pals; it actually was getting common and recognized for ladies to live on their own of family or marital house.

Image: Molly Mckew’s mom, taken by the author


letter 1990, after divorcing my father, my personal mum transferred to Brunswick aged 30. Right here, she experienced feminist politics and lesbian activism. She begun to develop into the woman creativeness and intellectualism after spending most of her 20s getting a married mummy.

Inspired by my PhD interviews, I made the decision to inquire about this lady about it. I hoped to reconcile her recollections using my own memories for this time. I additionally planned to get a fuller image of in which feminism and activism is at in 1990s Melbourne; a neglected ten years in records of lgbt activism.

During this period, Brunswick had been an ever more fashionable area that has been close enough to my mum’s exterior suburbs university without getting a suburban hellscape. We lived-in a poky terrace house on Albert Street, close to a milk club where we invested my regular 10c pocket-money on two tasty Strawberries & lotion lollies.

Nearby Sydney path ended up being dotted with Greek and Turkish cafes, in which my personal mum would sometimes buy united states hot drinks and desserts. We largely consumed incredibly bland food from nearby health food retailers – there’s nothing quite like becoming gaslit by carob on Easter Sunday.


s somebody who is afflicted with FOMO (concern with getting left behind), I was curious about whether my personal mum found it depressed relocating to a fresh destination in which she understood no person. My mum laughs aloud.

“I became never lonely!” she claims. “It actually was the eve of a revolution! Women planned to collect and discuss their unique tales of oppression from males together with patriarchy.”

And she was glad not to end up being around men. “I did not build relationships any males for decades.”

The epicentre of her activist world was Los Angeles Trobe college. There is a passionate ladies Officer, including a ladies’ Room inside the Student Union, in which my mum spent some her time preparing presentations and sharing tales.

She glows about the activist scene at Los Angeles Trobe.

“It felt like a change involved to happen and in addition we must transform our life and get section of it. Women happened to be coming-out and marriages had been becoming busted.”

The ladies she found were sharing encounters they would never ever had the opportunity to environment before.

“The women’s scientific studies program I was doing had been more like a difficult, conscious-raising class,” she says.


y mum recalls the Ebony Cat cafe in Fitzroy fondly, a still-operating cafe that started in 1981. It absolutely was one of the first on Brunswick Street; it actually was “where everyone moved”. She in addition frequented Friends on the planet in Collingwood, where lots of rallies were prepared.

There was clearly a lesbian available home in Fitzroy and a lesbian mom’s class in Northcote. The mother’s team supplied an area to fairly share such things as coming out towards children, associates visiting school occasions and “the real-life outcomes to be gay in a society that would not shield homosexual people”.

That which was the aim of feminist activism back then? My personal mum informs me it absolutely was quite similar as now – set up a baseline battle for equivalence.

“We wished lots of useful change. We talked many about equal pay, childcare, and common societal equivalence; like females getting permitted in bars and being corresponding to men in every respect.”


the guy “personal is actually political” ended up being the content and “women got this actually seriously”.

It may sound familiar, along with not being allowed in taverns (thank god). We ask the girl what feminist culture ended up being like in the past – presuming it actually was most likely very different towards pop-culture driven, referential and irony-addled feminism of 2022.

My mum recalls feminist culture as “loud, out, defiant as well as on the street”. At one of the get back the evening rallies, a night-time march looking to draw awareness of women’s general public safety (or lack of), mum recalls this fury.

“we yelled at some Christians viewing the march that Christ was actually the largest prick of. I found myself upset within patriarchy and [that] the church was all about men in addition to their power.”


y mum was at the lesbian scene, which she experienced through college, Friends for the planet and Shrew – Melbourne’s first feminist bookstore.

I recall this lady having several really kind girlfriends. One I want to watch

Movie Hits

each and every time we moved more than and fed me dizzyingly sweet meals. As a young child, we went to lesbian rallies and assisted to perform stalls selling tapes of Mum’s very own really love tunes and activist anthems.

“Lesbians happened to be seen as lacking and odd and not getting respected,” she says about social perceptions at the time.

“Lesbian women weren’t really noticeable in culture since you could easily get sacked to be homosexual at that time.”

The writer Molly Mckew as a kid at her mom’s industry stall. Photographer unknown, circa 1991


lot of activism at that time was about destigmatising lesbianism by growing the visibility and normalcy – that I guess I also ended up being wanting to perform by informing all my schoolmates.

“The meet older lesbians skilled embarrassment and sometimes violence in their connections – many of them had secret relationships,” Mum tells me.

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

“I was out usually, while not always feeling comfy,” she answers. Discrimination however occurred.

“I was as soon as pulled over by a police because I got a lesbian moms logo on my automobile. There seemed to be absolutely no reason and that I had gotten a warning, the actual fact that I found myselfn’t rushing anyway!”


ike all activist moments, or any world at all, there is unit. There is tension between “newly coming-out lesbians, ‘baby dykes’ and ladies who were area of the homosexual society for a long time”.

Separatism was actually spoken of alot in those days. Sometimes if a lesbian or feminist had a son, or failed to live in a female-only house, it brought about unit.

There are additionally class tensions inside the world, which, although diverse, was still reigned over by middle-class white women. My personal mum determines these tensions since the beginnings of attempts at intersectionality – something which characterises present-day feminist discourse.

“men and women started initially to critique the movement for being exclusionary or classist. When I begun to carry out my personal songs at celebrations and events, certain females confronted myself [about being] a middle-class feminist because we owned a residence and had a motor vehicle. It absolutely was discussed behind my personal straight back that I got gotten money from my personal past commitment with a guy. So was actually I a proper feminist?”

But my personal mum’s intimidating recollections are of a burning collective fuel. She tells me that the woman tracks had been expressions on the principles when it comes to those sectors; justice, openness and addition. “it absolutely was everybody else with each other, shouting for modification”.


hen I found myself about eight, we relocated far from Brunswick and also to a home in Melbourne’s exterior east. My mum largely eliminated herself from the major milieu she’d been in and became even more spirituality focused.

We still decided to go to ladies’ witch groups periodically. I remember the sharp smell of smoke as soon as the group leader’s lengthy black hair caught fire in the center of a forest routine. “Sorry to traumatise you!” my personal mum laughs.

We walk to a nearby cafe and get lunch. The coziness of Mum’s presence breaks myself and I begin to weep about a recent breakup with some guy. But the woman note of just how flexibility is a hard-won liberty and advantage picks myself up again.

I’m reminded that while we cultivate our strength, self-reliance and lots of aspects, there are communities that constantly will keep united states.

Molly Mckew is a writer and artist from Melbourne, which in 2019 completed a PhD regarding the countercultures regarding the sixties and 70s in metropolitan Melbourne. She is been posted within the




but also co-authored a chapter during the collection

Metropolitan Australia and Post-Punk: Discovering Puppies in Space

modified by David Nichols and Sophie Perillo. You’ll be able to follow the lady on Instagram
right here.

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