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

I always understood my mum had been gay. Once I ended up being around 12 years of age, i might run-around the play ground featuring to my schoolmates.

“My personal mum’s a lesbian!” I would scream.

My personal reasoning ended up being which made me much more interesting. Or even my mum had drilled it into me personally that being a lesbian should always be a supply of pleasure, and I also got that really practically.

20 years afterwards, i discovered myself personally performing a PhD in the cultural reputation for Melbourne’s interior metropolitan countercultures while in the 1960s and seventies. I found myself choosing people that had lived-in Carlton and Fitzroy in these years, when I ended up being interested in learning a little more about the progressive urban tradition that We was raised in.

During this time period, folks in these places pursued a freer, a lot more libertarian way of life. They certainly were regularly discovering their particular sexuality, imagination, activism and intellectualism.

These communities happened to be specifically considerable for ladies surviving in share-houses or with buddies; it actually was becoming common and recognized for ladies to call home by themselves from the family members or marital house.

Image: Molly Mckew’s mom, used because of the author


letter 1990, after divorcing my dad, my mum moved to Brunswick aged 30. Here, she experienced feminist politics and lesbian activism. She started initially to grow into her creativity and intellectualism after investing almost all of the woman 20s becoming a married mother.

Impressed by my personal PhD interviews, I made the decision to inquire about this lady about it. We hoped to get together again her recollections with my very own memories for this time. I also wished to get a fuller picture of in which feminism and activism was at in 1990s Melbourne; a neglected ten years in records of lgbt activism.

During this time, Brunswick ended up being an ever more stylish area that has been near adequate to my mum’s outside suburbs college without having to be a suburban hellscape. We lived-in a poky rooftop home on Albert Street, close to a milk club where we spent my regular 10c pocket-money on two tasty berries & solution lollies.

Nearby Sydney Road was dotted with Greek and Turkish cafes, where my personal mum would occasionally get united states hot products and candies. We mainly ate extremely bland food from nearby health meals retailers – there is nothing that can compare with getting gaslit by carob on Easter Sunday.


s an individual who is afflicted with FOMO (anxiety about getting left behind), I happened to be interested in whether my mum think it is depressed moving to a brand new place where she knew no body. My personal mum laughs out loud.

“I became not at all lonely!” she states. “it absolutely was the eve of a revolution! Women planned to collect and discuss their own tales of oppression from men together with patriarchy.”

And she was happy not to be around men. “I did not build relationships any guys for a long time.”

The epicentre of her activist world had been Los Angeles Trobe college. There is a separate ladies Officer, as well as a ladies’ Room in the Student Union, where my mum spent plenty of her time preparing demonstrations and discussing stories.

She glows in regards to the activist scene at La Trobe.

“It felt like a movement involved to happen and now we must alter our lives and be section of it. Females had been coming-out and marriages happened to be being broken.”

The ladies she met were sharing encounters they’d never ever had the chance to atmosphere before.

“the ladies’s researches program I was performing had been more like a difficult, conscious-raising team,” she claims.


y mum recalls the dark Cat cafe in Fitzroy fondly, a still-operating cafe that opened in 1981. It was one of the primary on Brunswick Street; it was “where everybody moved”. She in addition frequented Friends associated with world in Collingwood, where many rallies happened to be prepared.

There was clearly a lesbian open residence in Fitzroy and a lesbian mom’s class in Northcote. Mom’s team supplied a space to fairly share things such as developing towards young ones, lovers arriving at college events and “the real life effects of being gay in a society that failed to shield homosexual folks”.

That which was the goal of feminist activism in the past? My mum tells me it absolutely was comparable as now – set up a baseline battle for equality.

“We wished a lot of practical change. We chatted a large number about equal pay, childcare, and basic societal equivalence; like women being permitted in bars being corresponding to men in all aspects.”


he “personal is political” was actually the message and “women took this really severely”.

It sounds common, other than not-being enabled in taverns (thank god). I ask their what feminist society ended up being like in the past – presuming it absolutely was most likely different towards the pop-culture driven, referential and irony-addled feminism of 2022.

My personal mum recalls feminist culture as “loud, away, defiant as well as on the road”. At among the Take Back the evening rallies, a night-time march aiming to draw attention to women’s general public safety (or not enough), mum recalls this fury.

“we yelled at some Christians seeing the march that Christ was the biggest prick of. I became resentful from the patriarchy and [that] the chapel ended up being about guys and their energy.”


y mum was at the lesbian world, which she encountered through university, Friends associated with the world and the Shrew – Melbourne’s very first feminist bookstore.

From the their having a couple of very type girlfriends. One allow me to see

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each time I went over and fed me dizzyingly sugary food. As a young child, we went to lesbian rallies and aided to run stalls offering tapes of Mum’s very own really love songs and activist anthems.

“Lesbians had been viewed as lacking and strange rather than as reliable,” she claims about social perceptions at the time.

“Lesbian ladies are not actually apparent in society since you might get sacked for being homosexual at the time.”

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


significant activism during the time involved destigmatising lesbianism by increasing its presence and normalcy – which I suppose I also was trying to carry out by telling all my personal schoolmates.

“The more mature lesbians experienced embarrassment and often assault inside their relationships – quite a few had secret connections,” Mum informs me.

We ask whether she actually practiced stigma or discrimination, or whether her progressive milieu supplied her with mental refuge.

“I became out most of the time, although not always feeling comfortable,” she answers. Discrimination nonetheless took place.

“I happened to be once pulled over by a police because I’d a lesbian moms logo back at my automobile. There seemed to be absolutely no reason and I also had gotten a warning, the actual fact that I becamen’t rushing after all!”


ike all activist views, or any scene anyway, there clearly was unit. There seemed to be stress between “newly coming out lesbians, ‘baby dykes’ and ladies who was in fact area of the gay tradition for a long period”.

Separatism had been mentioned many back then. Often if a lesbian or feminist had a boy, or did not reside in a female-only family, it caused division.

There were also class tensions within scene, which, although varied, had been controlled by middle-class white females. My personal mum identifies these tensions since the starts of attempts at intersectionality – a thing that characterises present-day feminist discourse.

“folks started initially to critique the movement for being exclusionary or classist. When I started initially to execute personal tracks at celebrations and activities, various ladies confronted me personally [about being] a middle-class feminist because we had a property together with a motor vehicle. It was discussed behind my personal back that I’d received money from my personal earlier connection with a person. Therefore was we a real feminist?”

But my mum’s overwhelming recollections tend to be of a burning collective fuel. She informs me that the woman tracks had been expressions on the prices in those circles; fairness, openness and introduction. “it had been every person together, screaming for change”.


hen I happened to be about eight, we relocated from the Brunswick also to a house in Melbourne’s external eastern. My personal mum generally removed herself from the revolutionary milieu she’d been in and turned into even more spirituality concentrated.

We nonetheless decided to go to women’s witch teams periodically. We recall the sharp smell of smoking when the team frontrunner’s extended black locks caught flame in the middle of a forest routine. “Sorry to traumatise you!” my personal mum laughs.

We go to a nearby cafe and get meal. The comfort of Mum’s existence breaks me and I also start to weep about a current break up with men. But the woman reminder of exactly how self-reliance is actually a hard-won independence and privilege selects me personally upwards once more.

I’m reminded that while we cultivate the energy, self-reliance and lots of facets, you can find communities that usually will keep you.

Molly Mckew is actually an author and artist from Melbourne, which in 2019 completed a PhD in the countercultures regarding the 1960s and 1970s in metropolitan Melbourne. She actually is been released within the




plus co-authored a section into the collection

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