Australian feminist media production began with a radical 19th-century feminist journal, the Dawn: A Journal for Australian Women (1888–1905) and its publisher, Louisa Lawson. Her didactic feminist editorials sought to revolutionise women’s lives, and she controlled the entire publishing process from writing and editing through to printing, subscriptions and distribution. One of the longest-running journals of its era, Dawn far exceeded the lifespan of other early feminist periodicals, including Maybanke Wolstenholme’s Woman’s Voice (1894–95) and Vida Goldstein’s Woman’s Sphere (1900–05).
While Australia’s first-wave feminists sought the vote and better social conditions for women, the Australian women’s liberation movement, which began in the late 1960s and reached its peak in the 1970s, used various media to focus on issues such as family planning, abortion, childcare, domestic violence, rape and child sexual assault. The Women’s Electoral Lobby, with its focus on political engagement and reforming electoral processes, was established in 1972, alongside women’s liberation groups in most Australian capital cities. Women’s liberation focussed on revolution, not reform, and sought to overthrow the patriarchy, not join it.
The activism, energy and excitement of the women’s liberation movement (WLM) generated a plethora of feminist journals and book publishing ventures. The first feminist periodicals, Shrew and Hetaera, appeared in Brisbane in 1970. In Sydney, the first issue of women’s liberation newspaper Mejane (1971–74) featured articles on 18th century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the history of women’s liberation. Other newsletters in 1971 included Liberation (Adelaide) and Sisterhood (University of Adelaide). The long-lived Refractory Girl (1972–99) grew out of the conflict between a growing feminist consciousness and academic traditions. Other feminist periodicals in the early 1970s included Hobart’s Liberaction (1972–75), Melbourne’s Vashti (1973–81), Darwin’s Apron Strings (1974), Perth’s Sybil (1974–83) and Sydney’s Womanspeak (1974–94).
The year 1975 was declared International Women’s Year in recognition of sexism as the source of women’s oppression. The second equal pay case (1972), the supporting mother’s benefit (1973), and ‘no-fault divorce’ under the Family Law Act 1975 had paved the way for women to enter the public sphere. In 1975, too, Joyce Stevens wrote her inspiring account of the reasons for joining the WLM. First published as an International Women’s Day broadsheet, this has been reprinted hundreds of times since. International Women’s Year inspired more feminist periodicals and journals: Cauldron (1975–77), Mabel: Australian Feminist Newspaper (1975– 77), Scarlet Women (1975–92), Hecate: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Women’s Liberation (1975– ) and Lip (1976–83). The Black Women’s Action Committee in Sydney produced the first Indigenous feminist journal, Koori Bina (1976–79), while Girls Own (1981–85) devoted two special issues to the concerns of black and immigrant women and women from developing countries (number 10) and Aboriginal women (number 12). Hecate, which set out to ‘employ a feminist, Marxist or other radical methodology’, is today Australia’s longest surviving feminist journal. Other academic journals include Lilith: A Feminist History Journal (1984– ), Australian Feminist Studies (1986– ), Australian Women’s Book Review (1989– ), the Australian Feminist Law Journal (1993– ) and Outskirts (1996– ).
Feminist journals were precursors to the feminist presses founded in the mid-1970s, which then printed these same feminist journals. Some feminist presses provided much needed printing services unmediated by the male-dominated print industry. In order to run their presses and publish books and journals, those women who possessed editing, design, layout, typesetting and production skills shared their expertise with others. Some also bought printing presses and taught themselves and others how to use them.
Feminism ranges politically from conservative to radical, and so does feminist media. In 1974, in response to concerns about sexism in children’s literature, the Women’s Movement Children’s Literature Co-operative (later Sugar and Snails Press) was established in Melbourne, producing the first non-sexist children’s books published in Australia. In 1976, two collectives—Everywoman Press in Sydney and Sybylla Co-operative Press in Melbourne—established feminist printeries. Sybylla Press became the longest surviving feminist press in Australia. Sisters Publishing (1978–85) pursued a feminist vision of publishing women’s poetry and fiction in Melbourne, simultaneously establishing Australia’s first feminist mail-order book business, Sisters Book Club. Feminist co-operative, Women’s Redress Press in Sydney (1983–96), acquired a membership of almost 300 women and published a diverse feminist list, including anthologies that gave voice to migrant women and their daughters, while Tantrum Press (1987–94) in Adelaide featured reading performances as well as anthologies of locally produced women’s plays. Australia’s most visible and productive feminist publisher, Spinifex Press (1991– ), has produced a diverse list of 250 titles across a range of genres, selling international and translation rights, and reaching a large feminist readership in the United States.
On radio, The Coming Out Show was produced weekly by the Australian Women’s Broadcasting Co-operative at the ABC to commemorate International Women’s Year in 1975 and continued for 20 years. The Co-operative, which was open to women at the ABC who wanted to learn radio skills, launched the careers of broadcasters Liz Jackson, Penny Lomax, Julie Rigg, Julie McCrossin and Jo Upham. The legacy of The Coming Out Show reappeared in 2013–14 in the Coming Out, Again program produced for International Women’s Day.
Since the 1980s, women have also leveraged the power of community radio to produce and present feminist shows such as Women on the Line (3CR), Burning Down the House (6RTR FM) and Options for Women (City Park Radio, Launceston). Women on the Line, a national women’s community radio program founded to amplify women’s voices and provide a feminist and gender analysis of contemporary issues, celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2006 with an eight-part radio series, On The Record: 20 Years of Women’s Radio. Access to community radio stations also resulted in increased diversity in Australian music content and provided airplay for feminist musicians.
Feminist filmmaking, often supported by the Women’s Film Fund (1976–89), was yet another significant area of feminist cultural production to emerge from the fervor of the WLM. In 1979, Gillian Armstrong directed the Australian feature film My Brilliant Career, after which Australia gained a reputation for providing opportunities for women filmmakers. Filmmaking has diversified since the 1990s with women making arthouse films, short films and documentaries as well as mainstream cinema and television drama.
Women’s liberation in combination with the 1960s sexual revolution also led to the creation of popular magazines Cleo, Cosmopolitan and POL. In 1965, America’s Cosmopolitan (or Cosmo) was transformed into a bestselling magazine for single women when Helen Gurley Brown was appointed editor-in-chief. Cosmopolitan’s rapid commercial success can be directly linked to the emergence of single employed women as a consumer market. POL was founded in 1968 by Gareth Powell Publications, with Richard Walsh as inaugural editor. Germaine Greer appeared as guest editor in 1972. Conceived as a women’s magazine, POL soon targeted everyone interested in Australian culture and was Australia’s best-designed lifestyle magazine in its time. In late 1972, after Australian Consolidated Press lost Australian rights to the revamped Cosmo to rival company John Fairfax & Sons, the Australian women’s magazine Cleo emerged, under founding editor Ita Buttrose, to compete with Cosmo. Cleo successfully packaged women’s liberation together with sexual liberation, and the first issue—with a print run of 105,000— sold out within 48 hours in 1972.
In keeping with Aretha Franklin’s 1985 assertion that ‘sisters are doing it for themselves’, feminist blogs, websites and social media now represent one of the greatest democratic advances in feminist media. Created by individual women and groups seeking to educate, entertain or empower other women, these feminist digital blogs, magazines and websites include Collective Shout, The Dawn Chorus, Discordia, Destroy the Joint, Feminaust, The Fury, Fcollective, Sheilas, the musing tiger, No Place for Sheep, Women’s Agenda and Young Vagabond. Easily accessible social media tools—including text messaging, email, photo and video sharing, and social networking—can now reach receptive audiences with instant precision. In October 2012, the famous ‘misogyny speech’ by Australia’s first woman prime minister, Julia Gillard—overlooked initially by mainstream media—went viral worldwide via social media. Operating in this way outside mainstream networks offers women a powerful way to converse about feminist issues and coordinate collective action.
REFs: L. Poland, ‘Setting the Agenda: Feminist Presses and Publishing Politics in Australia, 1974–2003’ (PhD thesis, 2007); Refractory Girl (eds), Refracting Voices (1993); S. Sheridan, ‘Louisa Lawson, Miles Franklin and Feminist Writing, 1888–1901’, Australian Feminist Studies, 7–8 (1988); Z. Simic, ‘Ita, Kerry and Cleo’, History Australia, 8(2) (2011); M. Spongberg, ‘Australian Women’s History in Australian Feminist Periodicals, 1971–88’, History Australia, 5(3) (2008).