Founded in 1983 by a small team of volunteers, and housed at UMA since 2000, the Victorian Women’s Liberation and Lesbian Feminist Archive (VWLLFA) is a rich documentation of the 1970s-1980s and beyond. It comprises at least 128 collections listed according to the donor: individual women, community groups and organisations.
The material in the VWLLFA shows that the Women’s Liberation Movement and Gay (and Lesbian) Liberation Movement were identity-based movements and both forged new politics of sexuality. For example, situated in Drummond St, near the University campus, the newly established AUS Women’s Department (AUSWD) auspiced the First National Homosexual Conference, which was held at the University of Melbourne in 1975. At the time, the AUSWD Officer circulated a position paper, saying, “lesbians are oppressed as women in a sexist society and lesbians in a heterosexist society” (see the Australian Union of Students Women's Department collection).
Initially anxious to avoid homophobia, lesbians welcomed the universality and connectedness of the women’s movement and (many but not all) believed certain steps could be taken to overthrow patriarchal heterosexism. Over time, lesbians became aware of their marginalisation within the Gay Liberation Movement and lack of recognition within the Women’s Liberation Movement. As concerns for lesbian visibility intensified, liberation came to politically involve - at least for radical feminists - the necessary abandonment of heterosexuality. In Victoria, the inaugural conference of the Melbourne Radicalesbians was held in 1973 at the Whitehall Guest House at Sorrento (see Dianne Otto collection, Box 4).
In Australia, same sex attracted lesbians have not been legally criminalised. Yet throughout society, they have been and continue to be subjected to the persuasive effects of prejudice and punitive forms of stigmatisation and discrimination: losing jobs, suffering censorship, family estrangement, mental health and so on. In 1974, Penny Short was judged ‘medically unfit’ after she came out as a lesbian. She lost her NSW teacher’s scholarship and despite appeals and public protest the decision was not reversed (see Diane Otto collection, Box 12).
Second wave feminists argued that power is situated in gender. On that model, the necessary questions about women’s legal and social position focused on women’s lack of power. However, many lesbian/feminist women who challenged the traditional, heteronormative family structure lost custody of their children, as (male dominated) courts judged them on the basis of sexuality not fit for motherhood. More recently, in the state of Victoria, this type of discrimination has been successfully removed from the law through the work of communities and state government justice groups.
The collection donated to the VWLLFA by Melbourne Law School Professor Dianne Otto covers 1971-1996. The collection includes a homosexual resource guide from 1974 for tertiary students. Box 4 contains papers on prostitution and a media release that indicates the Victorian Government’s intention in 1978 to increase penalties for loitering under the offensive behaviour law. The Summary Offences Act and offensive behaviour law applied equally to men and to women into the 1980s. However, this is often overlooked in historical narratives about lesbians.
To view all of the VWLLFA collection, search the online catalogue. Selections from the collection relating specifically to activities at the University of Melbourne are below.
Selections from the VWLLFA collection
To view the catalogue entry for each collection, click on the link under collection title. The catalogue entries also contain links to order material. Please note that some collections are restricted access, and permission must be sought via the University of Melbourne Archives.
Collection Reference Number
Unit number (where applicable)
Notes by Dr Kathy Sport
Box contains interesting material produced by women’s liberation & gay liberation – leaflets, broadsheets, graphics, pamphlets, personal writing poems and so on – some of the material is stamped with AUS Resource Centre (collected and disseminated on campus). For example, Women’s Lib and You, Orgasm For Women, A Woman’s Place is Everywhere, Women’s Health, CR Groups. ‘Loving Another Woman’ interview with Anne Koedt.
UM Women’s Department is concerned with reflecting the principles of WLM and issues such as sexism, women and education, careers, childcare, sexual harassment, abortion, rape and domestic violence.
(1) AUS Women’s Officer Report circa 1975 (distributed by UM Women’s Dept)
The AUS Women’s Officer Report argues for women students to unite in struggle against their oppression “since tertiary institutions reflect and reinforce the oppressive nature of capitalist racist patriarchal society … AUS recognises that women’s oppression on and off campus will only be challenged by working towards the overthrow of patriarchy, capitalism and racism”.
The Report discusses Lesbianism and Sexuality and says that AUS is committed to promoting lesbian rights.
The AUS women’s department produces a poster and circulates paper on politics of lesbianism that says:
“AUS recognises that the victimisation of and discrimination against lesbians and homosexual men with respect to their right – employment parenting personal safety – is control mechanism used to deter lesbians and homosexual men from becoming visible in society”.
(2) Rouge (this issue, n.d, circa 1979)
In Victoria, the newly introduced Summary Offences Act covers ‘offensive’ behaviour, such as same-sex kissing, and applies to both lesbians and gay men. Thus, two men and two women could be arrested for alleged soliciting, making lesbians, male homosexuals and prostitutes the main victims of the Act. Discusses the Terry Stokes case
(3) Women’s Working Group Report, July 1975
Research funding for report via Assembly of MU. The report presents findings on the position of women (students and staff) on campus and discusses issues related to equal opportunities.
(4) Equal Opportunity Forum 1980 – 1982 (published monographs)
No. 11 Dec 1982 (pp. 21-22), ‘Discrimination and Homosexuality’, about the intention of the Victorian government to amend the Equal Opportunity Act to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of homosexuality or other sexual preference, which was announced at a seminar on sexual discrimination held by MU Students Rep Council (MUSRC).
(5) National U Gay Lib, Volume 10 No. 5 July 15 1974 (published by AUS, Drummond St office)
Relevant articles in the issue:
‘LaTrobe Gay-iety’by Bill Morely (p.2)
‘The Word is Lesbian’ by Laurie Bebbington (p.4)
Discusses stigma attached to the word ‘lesbian’. Bebbington says that lesbians are condemned even though there are no laws against them – lesbians live with a ‘conspiracy of silence’.
‘Gay Rights Now – A Manifesto’ (p.5)
Article by Melbourne Radicalesbians in National U Gay Lib that seeks to dispel myths about lesbians (i.e. lesbians don’t have abnormal chromosomes, a dominating mother or haven’t yet met the right man).
(6) Faggots and Marxists (Sydney Uni publication), pamphlet develops theory on Marxism, capitalism, family, sexuality written by David Fernbach 1973.
(7) Media Release written after the First National Homosexual Conference, 1975. The A4 flyer lists recommendations from the conference including healthy atmosphere for gays to raise children, commemoration for the murder of Dr Duncan, callout for another Homosexual Conference and papers from the conference to be submitted to Royal Commission on Human Relationships.
(8) ‘Homosexual Law Reform Imminent? Your Help is Needed 1980’ (Pamphlet, author not cited - maybe Homosexual Law Reform Coalition)
The pamphlet discusses: (a) legal acts between consenting adults in private and (b) legal equality and the application of homo behaviour using exactly the same laws as hetero behaviour. Suggests that the first (a) option reaffirms the inferior status of gays in the eyes of the law. Whereas the second (b) option makes the legal harassment of gays more difficult and might effect public opinion in a positive way. Equality Law Reform is relevant to all gays, men and women.
1976 – 1979 AUS runs a national campaign in support of gay schoolteacher Greg Weir (in Qld). AUS flyer calls for Homosexual Solidarity and for homosexual groups on campus to organise.
Another issue foregrounded by AUS is the potential isolation for gays on regional smaller campuses.
AUS suggests that institutions are biased and the law, family, education, medical professions are forms of regulating ideas about sexuality, and in turn behaviours. For example, how is the law used to maintain heterosexuality in the community (custody cases), education omits histories of sexuality from learning, and medical professions want to cure homosexuality (continues present day).
(9) Supplement (booklet of papers) to the First National Homosexual Conference, 1975.
(10) Gay Bibliography: A Select Partially Annotated Bibliography - resource booklet published by Melbourne Gay Teachers Group Edition 1 October 1976. The introduction is written by Gary Jaynes and Jocelyn Clarke, booklet includes films, articles, books and media and is illustrated with archival photos.
(11) 9th National Conference of Lesbians and Homosexual Men 1983 at LaTrobe University, program
Conference themes: diversity, unity, solidarity, strength intended to encourage that type of dialogue, plus social purpose of conference, networking for gays. The program (glossy cover page booklet) contains info about the conference sessions, including one titled ‘Campus Groups: Their Effectiveness, Future Aims & Problems’. This session was an opportunity for (young and/or new) students and activists to benefit from listening to the stories and experiences of other (older) activists able to pass on methods, advice, such as how to write a press release and so on.
In 1983, GaySoc was given a room at MU in the Union Building and they called it GayRoom. This was the culmination of a successful previous year of activities on campus (sexuality festival and openly gay candidate in Uni elections). Joe was the GaySoc treasurer and says he met some opposition on campus due to the increased visibility of GaySoc. On 27 June 1983, the GayRoom was sprayed with 14 dozen eggs. This occurred after Farrago reported that Maranatha (Christian Group) had infiltrated the room. The role of campus groups are “not only social groups for gay people to meet each other or just symbols of gay presence on campus but they can be active bodies that constantly keep an eye on the welfare of gay students on campus as well as influencing political attitudes”.
Posters (x 2)
Note: the item number 2010.0155 is on the posters to indicate association with previous collection.
(1) Advertises a call out for contributions to Lesbian Reader
(2) School Shakes (1980) educational poster commissioned by General Secretary SAIT (South Australia) illustrated with cartoon and with message “to be a girl is a serious educational disadvantage”.
Women’s News Service Issue No. 1 1975 (Newsletter published by AUS Women’s Department, Drummond St. The newsletter is a national collective effort).
AUS Women’s Department says; “AUS recognises the need to organise amongst women in tertiary institutions”. AUS Women’s Dept introduces a Women’s Officer to coordinate a national campaign, to fight sexism within tertiary institutions, to coordinate with other women’s organisations involved in education and the broader women’s movement, to coordinate campaigns to improve the position of female academics and general staff. Laurie Bebbington is the Women’s Officer and she writes on sexism in education, teachers colleges and universities; role of teachers, sex divisions of labour and so on. Women campaign for childcare on campus.
During International Women’s Year 1975, women (off-campus) use a government grant to run a series of six weekend workshops for lesbians to pinpoint homosexual oppression.
Lesbian Festival, October 1975
Festival held on-campus at Uni Melbourne (theatre, pool comp, music, poems, films, party, papers and discussion). Jill Johnston may have opened this festival (unclear). It was organised by radicalesbians. The festival themes included lesbians in history, family and coming out, bisexuality, relationships, motherhood, lesbians and feminism, political action.
July 26-27, 1975 AUS National Women’s Conference (held at University of Melbourne)
Aug 16-17, 1975 First National Homosexual Conference
Women’s News Service regularly publishes on homosexuality.
Otto’s Adelaide Papers
As the Finding Aid indicates, Box 4 contains publications and papers associated with women’s liberation. Women’s Liberation Newsletter: Foreign Body (all-women band) play at Adelaide Union Bar, 9pm, Friday 15 Jun 1979.
Leaflet (n.d.), FESTIVAL OF GAY FILMS: Uni Melbourne GAYSOC presents an outstanding collection of gay films from Monday 8 August to Saturday 13 August in the Union Theatre, Union Building.
Films (most are short) include: Home Movie (Jan Oxenburgh), Alyse and Chloe, Point of Departure, Adam, Man With the Green Carnation (stars Peter Finch), Pride and Snide (5mins about Adelaide Gay Lib), Coming Out (on transvestism and transsexuality), Flesh (Andy Warhol), Lonesome Cowboys.
Homosexuality: A Film for Discussion, Barbara Creed, 1975 (Melb gays and lesbians talk about their lives and difficulties of growing up in an intolerant society, 16mm, 35mins, b&w).
Gay Teachers & Students Group Newsletter
Vol. 2 No. 2 March 1979. Article titled ‘Government Comes Out for Gays’.
‘57 Questions to Premier Neville Wran’, pamphlet by Sydney Gay Solidarity Group, after the Riot 1978.
‘Gay is Good’ by GLF pamphlet: ‘says, ‘I tell you the function of a homosexual is to make you uneasy’.
Report: Sixth National Conference for Lesbians and Homosexual Men, Sydney Uni, August 30-31 1980.
CAMP INK Vol. 3 No. 2 issue on sexism and the Women’s Liberation Movement with the well-known photo on the front page of two naked ladies getting into a vintage car.
Gay Activists Alliance Adelaide 1973 – Leaflet – the first national radicalesbian conference organised by Melbourne’s Gay Women’s Group & held in Sorrento, weekend 6 July, Whitehall Guest House (still there) 231 Ocean Beach Rd $14-50 bed & breakfast.
Newspaper Clipping, The AGE, 10 October 1979 (no page number) article by Tom Jacob, ‘Gays Challenge Law on Kissing’, regarding the Terry Stokes case.
Otto’s papers on prostitution
Media Release, 19 November 1978, ‘Government to Act on Prostitution’
Vic Government moves to increase controls over prostitution. Brian Dixon, Minister for Social Welfare and Member of Parliament for St Kilda, foreshadowed changes, proposed as follows; Steep increases in the maximum fines for ‘street walking’ or soliciting by a prostitute (Amendment to Summary Offences Act, section 18). … Equivalent increases in the penalty for ‘gutter crawling’ or loitering to invite or solicit the services of a prostitute (based on assumption that the ‘general’ community was “unwilling to witness public practices which offended against order and decency and exposed ordinary citizens to behaviour they found offensive” – this applied to homosexuals as well as prostitutes).
General papers associated with women’s liberation movement and its problems, includes politics of housework and papers by Rita Helling on dialectical materialism and the oppression of women, Women’s Studies Conference 1975.
Papers from Fourth National Homosexual Conference, Sydney 1978 at Paddington Town Hall. On the collective: Terry Batterham, Susan Brumby, Sal Colechin, J. Fisher, Denis Altman, Digby Duncan, Robert Lawrie, Michael Fenaughty and others. The collective’s welcome paper reiterates the conference theme of ‘homosexuals at work’. Papers presented at the conference frame ‘homosexual oppression’ and ask what strategies should be used to fight against it. ‘Homosexuality: What Does it Mean to You?’ (Leaflet by Gay Teachers Group).
Copy of Conference Program in CAMPAIGN Edition 35, indicates the Homosexual Law Reform Action Group had a session on the second day of the conference. Other sessions include lobbying as a political tactic & Gay Academics Group.
Newspaper Clipping; Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 28 August 1978, front-page story, ‘Police Arrest 93 as march halted’. The Gay Liberation march was held the previous day and according to the SMH report it was in opposition to a Right To Life Movement rally, which was cancelled.
Newsletter, Fifth National Homosexual Conference No. 3 June 1979, conference theme is Come Out, Be Active, Fight Back, Educate (it is held in Melbourne).
Flyer, Stonewall Anniversary Gay Dance, North Melbourne Town Hall Friday 29 June ’79 (dance for the 5th National Homosexual Conference), all-women band Raylene Citizen and the Outskirts are supported by the Sharin Anderson Band.
Box contains a collection of small books.
Hecate Vol. 1 No. 2, 1975 (collection of creative writing, poems and so on). This issue editorial says;
“There are two major ideological streams within the women’s movement in Australia. The first places emphasis on the individual as the impetus for change, advocates the search for new and positive lifestyles within a women’s culture and stresses personal liberation and the evolution of relationships between women culminating in the reality of sisterhood … The second is a structural analysis of society which concentrates on the transformation of the relations of production as the impetus for change, stressing the importance of economic factors intrinsic to women’s oppression” (p. 4).
See Finding Aid for full list of publications, calendars, dairies, journals, pamphlets (many with lesbian content) includes;
‘University and Before: A Feminist Perspective’ by Laurie Bebbington (n.d.).
“Universities are seen as a privileged elite and treated as such by Federal Government and the wider community … I’m inclined to believe that sex is as powerful determinant of academic achievement for women as a class … universities are a stop gap for women (before wife and motherhood)”.
Bebbington goes on to provide a gender breakdown of staff and students at UM and her personal view on what it feels like to be a woman at UM.
Women’s Studies papers and essays by Otto.
‘Women’s Studies, the University and the Women’s Movement’ by Ann Curthoys, 1975 (purpose and potential of women’s studies courses). Her view is that women’s studies cannot be revolutionary but can further the aims of the women’s movement – i.e. shock the university into placing greater emphasis on gaining knowledge and understanding of women within societies.
Guide from Flinders University Women’s Studies course, 1974. Assorted papers on young women.
Various gay publications (see Finding Aid).
Gay Information, quarterly journal 1982/83, article titled ‘Homosexuality Re/In/Stated’ by Craig Johnston (pp. 4-18) discusses homosexuality reform in NSW and draws on report titled, ‘Discrimination and Homosexuality’ published by NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, June 1982.
According to Johnston, the Wolfenden Report (1957) distinguished between crime and sin and rejected homosexuality as a disease. Nevertheless, Wolfenden argued that the unspoken preconception was that homosexuality was socially undesirable and recommended the maintenance of criminal sanctions on male homosexuality in public. Johnston (p.4) says; “the problem is the social disapproval of homosexuality and hence those who are known to be homosexual. Discrimination and Homosexuality was a product of context, the discourses and practices concerning (homo) sexuality that have evolved since Stonewall (and prior)”.
Denis Altman’s Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation (1972) sees homosexuality as a variant of sexual expression in a continuum, and thus, it is open to all. See also Altman’s Homo-sexualisation of America: the Americanisation of the Homosexual (1982). Altman believes that anti-discrimination legislation recognises a ‘gay minority’.
Gay Changes Vol. 2, No. 4, (published by Adelaide Homosexual Alliance), papers from 4th National Homosexual Conference, Sydney August 1978. Article, ‘Conditioned Legal Responses to Homosexuality’ by Graham Carbery (pp. 23-28), examines the prejudice within the judiciary, such as the anti-homosexual bias in Family Law.
A Journal of Sexual Politics Jan-Feb 1975, article ‘The Homosexual Movement in America and its Relationship to other American movements’ by Altman.
Gay Information Autumn 1981 (quarterly journal), article ‘From Gay movement to Gay Community’ by Craig Johnston (pp. 6-9, 32, 33). He discuses the discursive and political shift from ideas about a ‘liberation movement’ to ‘gay community’ and poses the question whether ‘community’ focuses on lifestyle rather than human rights and thus de-emphasises activism and (on many occasions) excludes lesbians. Does the term ‘community’ also reflect a decline in our expectations about the possibility of radical social change? Can ‘gay community’ achieve social liberation, for example?
Australian Left Review, No. 107, Oct/Nov 1988, article, ‘Out of the Closet, Into the Nineties’ by Lex Watson and Betty Hounslow (pp. 12-17). Discusses the coalition between gay men and lesbians within the context of AIDS and ‘beyond’. They argue that liberation histories have a trajectory of male, legal, political issue of law reform prior to the gay liberation movement (i.e. before 1969). Liberation broadened the political (and social) agenda beyond law reform. “AIDS created the sense that the community at large and politics at large will never be able to talk about gay men and probably homosexuality in the way they have before”.
Homosexuality: An Action & Resource Guide for Tertiary Students 1974 (published by AUS). Includes extensive bibliography.
Articles in the Guide include the following:
Penny Short’s story [Sydney location and not directly related to Town & Gown]:
TheResource Guide for Tertiary Students 1974 also contains the following: