Reflection and Reconciliation


I always feel a strong and painful need to apologise to Australia’s Indigenous people, especially when I talk of my own family history. I apologise on my own behalf, but I also feel guilt on behalf of my first ancestor here; about the way he and his British ilk took over Australia. He was on the first fleet as a Lieutenant in the British Navy and does not seem to have been be a character with too many redeeming features. But why does this surprise? Britain would not have wanted to send their best and brightest on an adventure from which they were unlikely to return.

But I feel less need to apologise on behalf of the ancestor that I would like to remember here. John Williams arrived on the second fleet and his life has been well investigated. He was a convict, here unwillingly. We have the records of his Court Martial when he was sent to Australia as punishment as an army deserter. It appears he, 19 years old, was grateful to be spared the death penalty for his second desertion, in 1805, from the British Army that was fighting against Napoleon. If it meant he had to come to a far flung land that he did not know, so be it. And he embraced his life here with enthusiasm.

He married Sarah, the daughter of the first mentioned relative, Lieutenant William Nash. Lieutenant Nash had brought with him, on the voyage, his common law wife Maria and some older children but Sarah was born after his arrival. She was born in Richmond, Australia.

John Williams was emancipated and was given a land grant. He established a sheep station in the Monaro area. He thus supported Sarah and their family for many years and he died in 1854 at the age of 67 by “perishing in the snow” whilst riding home across the plains near Jindabyne.

John and Sarah had a son, Robert Williams, who also ran a sheep farm on the Monaro. He, like his father had done, went on to sire a large family which included another John. That second John Williams was the father of my own grandfather.

A few years before my mother’s younger sister died at the age of ninety she flew across from W.A, where my grandparents had long ago settled, and we took her, at the time of the Bicentenary of the settlement, to a re-enactment of the Nash wedding, the first Colonial wedding ceremony in Sydney. We met a large contingent of the Williams family some of whom are still working on the land in the Monaro district.

Is is easy for me to see how both the feeling of belonging to Australia and my pride in this nation and the positives that have been accomplished, sit uneasily alongside a sense of guilt about our annexation of this land tended for years by the Indigenous people and whose home it still is. And I have a strong feeling of shame about the treatment of those Indigenous people. But six generations of my ancestors lie buried in this soil that I have always called my home. I will be the seventh. It feels like part of my DNA. This is my home too.

And many early Australians were like John Williams. Whether convicts or free men obeying the orders of their masters they had little choice in the matter and just did what they could to survive in a very strange country and then later prosper. I can forgive them for that.

Once here early settlers were fighting for their survival.

Paralleling what we now know about Aboriginal people, my own grandfather had some interesting oral history. He told stories of the trials and tribulations of the settlers including this great grandfather of his. He also recounted some of his own experiences in his youth during the gold rush which he would tell to his amazed children and their children. My grandfather was an extremely kind, generous and accepting person. He was well read. He was a school teacher for many years. But sadly where there was no possible matching of stories from the dreamtime and settler stories was in the strong Christian philosophy which imbued him and had also imbued that settlement with ideas of salvation for all. In this Christianity there was no room for the Aboriginal philosophies.

I can understand how these views formed some of the negative or superior attitudes of settler Australians towards the Aboriginal people well after “colonisation”, “settlement” or “annexation” had occurred. Is that not still a problem in today’s wider society causing major difficulties of understanding between those who deeply believe in different forms of ” eternal salvation”?

In my later working life I was very privileged to work with some indigenous consultants. My experience there leads me to now apologise deeply for my attitudes over the years. Whilst, like my grandfather, I try to be kind, I have not made sufficient effort to understand and redress imbalances. But yet again, much as I admired the consultants and appreciated the insights I was given into their customs and communities, it filled me with sadness. My sadness felt the same as the sadness I was filled with at my beloved grandfather’s lack of insight, except for the fact I recognised and acknowledged the difficulties the consultants had suffered with their customs and practices having been disrespected for so many years. But eventually I realised that, in my sadness, I was doing exactly the same thing from my own undoubtedly flawed perspective. It was not surprising they spoke of a strong wish to laud and return to practices that had never been properly acknowledged or understood and that had sometimes been destroyed by settlers. I was devaluing their views with my own personal emphasis on “scientific method and research”. And here I was talking to descendants of people who, not only have the oldest explanatory legends and myths, but who, we now know, were the earliest culture to use principles of scientific observation.

When communicating and deciding things together we should be looking, not at personal ideologies, but at the things valued by all humanity. These include the care and protection of our young , loyalty to our friends and family – the mob- and love of nature and the country in which we live.

In the spirit of John Williams who would not lie down under the yoke of his masters, and for those first settlers some of whom who were victims almost much as were the Indigenous Australians, I plead for an end to racism, an end to bickering, proper and fulsome recognition of Aboriginal people’s voices in the Australian Constitution and the running of this country. I also want an Australian Republic which removes the taint of British colonisation.

And just a little final personal wish. It has not the huge importance of the above, but wouldn’t it be lovely to have a flag which would genuinely represent every single person who lives in this great southern land? I would personally love a plain, sky blue flag with the southern cross upon it. Each of us lives under that southern cross and can pick it out in our wonderful sky so easily. The Indigenous people have lived under the southern cross for many thousands of years. Many of our families have lived under that cross for many hundred years, and all the newcomers can look up and marvel at its beauty as they get accustom to its presence there above us – looking down on us all as equals in this wide brown land we love.

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Yesterday I put a notice in each of almost 1,000 letter boxes. I would say that about 90% of them sported a sign, “No Junk Mail”. Some added a polite “Please”. A small percentage asked for other favours such as “Only Posted Mail” or “No Newspapers or Catalogues”.

This immediately posed a quandary. I was certainly not walking around the streets disposing of my unwanted rubbish in other people’s roomy letter boxes. I have never received others’ out worn items in mine either. So what do people mean when they use the word “junk”?

I turned for help to the much revered Shorter Oxford.

Surely they do not expect people are going to put Chinese boats, or even small models of these boats in their letter boxes? I don’t think that broken up lumps of material or twine or rope would be another expectation for letter boxes but it is the primary meaning of the word according to the Oxford. It finally mentioned something “unwanted”.

Doing a more modern search using the wordsmith “Google” I took the step of actually asking for the definition of “junk mail”, an option that was not in the trusty Oxford. Silly me! Of course Google, being a modern wordsmith, thought I was talking about electronic junk mail! However it kindly directed me to an Australia Post site.

Meanwhile, as I research, there are people walking around, as I was yesterday, looking at the eager, open mouths of letter boxes and wondering if their precious offerings are junk or not. By definition one would not be walking around making an effort to share something you think is not valuable but, in fact, needs to be disposed of?

I would not and I am sure you would not.

Do those depositing in those eager mouths have to consider whether the person who is the owner of the letter box would think it is junk using this notion of “unwanted”? How could they possibly know what is unwanted by someone they do not know?

Australia Post, in their wisdom, agree to leave only personally addressed mail to those displaying a notice. Of course this does not apply to those of us walking the streets with handfuls of information for these gaping maws, but not connected to Australia Post. But there is an interesting rider on this Australia Post definition. Their definition does not include items that are political, educational, religious or charitable. Clearly these categories are not “junk mail” to Australia Post.

Phew! My pamphlets were pseudo political so will probably past muster. That does not, of course, mean that each individual recipient will find them acceptable.

But that is life. If one wants to cut oneself off from the world and live in a silo, an echo chamber, do not have that yawning, inviting mouth in the front of your house. Get a box at a post office.

But if you want to be part of the community in which you live then take your insulting “No Junk Mail” off your box. No one is going to deliberately give you something they know you will find “junk”. You are being offered something in which to share, even if it is an advertisement for a local amenity.

I would find no personal use for one of the Australian Post offerings “religious information”. But I would not ever call that “junk”. Someone thinks it is very important. I respect that view from my fellow community member even as I, in an environmentally friendly way, dispose of the notice.

You can do the same with mine.

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Walking for a Republic

Today I spent the entire day walking, involved in a letterbox drop in support of the movement that would like to see Australia a Republic and no longer beholden to “Queen Victoria her heirs and successors”. (We are now onto the fifth of those successors in Queen Elizabeth ll.)

Walking gives time for thought and memories of my late mother were prominent, particularly as Mother’s Day is tomorrow. But this was, in fact, mostly because she was the unwitting cause of my conversion to the notion of a republic in 1954 when I was thirteen years old.

That was the year Queen Elizabeth came to Australia. That was the year I excitedly met “the Queen”. She inspected our Girl Guide Troop in Cooma when she and Prince Philip visited the Snowy Mountains Scheme. She talked to the Patrol Leaders, of whom I was one. She seemed a lovely lady, very polite to us and interested in our answers to her few questions. But I could not get over the fact that she seemed to me to be exactly like my mother! She was no fairy book Queen but a just real person in my mother’s form.

Both were tiny ladies with curly brown hair and quite “plummy” accents. As an ex teacher my mother was also quite lovely, polite and interested children’s conversations.

The only difference between them that I could see was that my mother was Australian and the Queen was British.

It immediately struck me as ridiculous that the Queen of Australia was from another country so far away yet an Australian double could never aspire to be head of her own country. Surely we were capable of managing our affairs ourselves?

When I went to university four years later I became aware that there was quite a considerable groundswell of opinion that we did not need a Monarch at all. I remember, in protest, we all stopped standing for the national anthem, which was then God Save The Queen. When I studied Constitutional Law in 1960 I was very off put by the 23 mentions of “Queen Victoria her heirs and successors” in our constitution, but I also learnt how simple it would be to run the country without her and with an Australian formal Head of State.

The intensity of the idea of a republic waxed and waned over the years and culminated in the 1999 unsuccessful referendum. I worked hard for that and it distressed me that many people seemed not to care, misunderstood the situation and were totally uninterested in finding out related facts. It was electorates like the one in which I lived which contributed to the loss in that referendum.

With great enthusiasm I have grasped at the new straw, the strengthened Republican Movement, hoping to finally see a republic in my lifetime. I spent today, with renewed enthusiasm, on the letter box drop organised by them Australia wide. My legs, now at rest, can feel the kilometres they walked. But they are not what hurts. It is my hope that is damaged. I had some lovely talks with some people who disagree with a republic and want to retain a monarchy. Fine, I can live with that. But I met many more, some of them quite young, who just did not care, did not know how things worked now and who proudly said they did not want to know about the issue. If there is another referendum, nonetheless, they will all have to vote!

There seems to be an apathy that was never present when I was younger. In those days we all seemed interested in how we were governed and our own roles in the process.

I do not ask anyone to walk for a Republic. I will accept with grace if those who support a monarchy are in the majority.

But in a democracy with a compulsory vote I do demand that voters think – and I feel very sad.

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Feminism’s Latest Ripple

I am actually tired of writing on the topic of Feminism and I vowed I never would again. But here I am, I cannot help myself dipping into the question again. Being tired of it does not mean that I think it is unimportant.

I have recently read two books on the topic, first was Clementine Ford’s “Fight Like A Girl”. I have just finished Tracey Spicer’s memoir, “Good Girl Stripped Bare”, an interesting and beautifully written memoir even leaving aside its feminist themes.

On finishing, with a few unanswered questions plaguing my mind, I saw a tweet of Helen Razer’s opinion. I followed it up by reading her article on the value (or actually lack of value) of “femoirs” or “individual’s accounts of their representational problems”.

We still have a long way to go and a lot of questions to answer.

I have been a feminist for many years. My mother, who attended University in the 1930s and who was not able to continue teaching after she married was not too much of a philosophically outspoken feminist but rather a quiet questioner who encouraged my sister and me to do exactly what we wanted to regardless of gender. My father went one step further and taught us to be somewhat self sufficient, use tools, cut wood, build stuff (including dry stone walls) and he would not let us get our driver’s licences until we could do basic things like changing the wheel if a car tyre blew.

I have, like others, met lots of institutionalised misogyny in my working life of about forty years. This has been in a couple of professions in city and country NSW and in London, UK. In the early days I also met lots of negativity about equality from women as well as from men. But I have been fortunate enough not to have met with personalised bad behaviour. I was lucky enough to have met and worked with good men, despite many of us having differing opinions throughout all that time.

In my student days attitudes varied. As a young primary school girl in Sydney the girls and boys were separated and I did get a bit exasperated when Clive James, just a schoolboy, with his friends always hogged the floor or microphone when we got together for occasional special functions and debates. But I can now see why! On the other hand when I went to a country high school the boys were extremely pleasant and inclusive. Perhaps I got called an idiot if I scored an own goal during one of the pick up mixed games of sport we occasionally played. But that would have been well deserved. We had a few races on our bikes down two mile hill to school but nobody ever tried to trip me or any of my friends – even the very pretty ones!

On the other hand I got very short shrift from the High School Principal of the early fifties when I visited him with a self initiated petition that included some boys’ signatures, that we should have a choice that was not gender related about whether we went to “woodwork and tech drawing” or “home science and needlework” classes. In English the choice we could make of books from the recommended sources varied very much according to whether it was a boy’s or girl’s choice. We did it very much 50/50 and made compromises with one another.

At University we females were not allowed to wear trousers in public or to our formal dinners in college. I do not know whether this was a male or female initiated rule but it was administered by women. We got over the latter ban by rolling up the trouser legs under our academic gowns and feeling rebellious!

At Law School in 1960 onwards there was little negativity, that we heard anyway, from the boys, or should I say young men, in the classes. They shared lecture notes with us as well as with one another if we had to miss a lecture. We spent a pleasant time in the Library together or in the Catalina Coffee shop below the Law School, discussing interesting issues. Individually the lecturers were encouraging and appeared even handed.

On the other hand there was clearly some institutional doubt. In our nicely fitted out common room, which had been formerly used by the males, the Urinal had been turned off but had not been removed. That would have been going a bit too far.

During my indentures as an Articled Clerk I was treated with respect and friendliness and did get the same work opportunities as my fellow male Articled Clerks . I sometimes felt I was given a little more “looking after” as I was the first female articled clerk the particular firm had had. (I did get asked a few times by my fellow clerks if I could type – we all shared and competed for the time of the secretaries and sometimes they were very busy. They thought, being female, this might have been one of my skills. Not actually an insult!) Of course I had to wear a hat in court – but then they had to wear ties and take any hats off!

I met institutional problems when I tried to go back to work as a solicitor after having children, but none framed in a personal way to me. This was, of course, well before the days of maternity leave.

Why has the active discourse become worse and worse as time has gone on yet the conditions have steadily got better for women? Why are women more often subject to unacceptable behaviour now than the much smaller number of us were way back then?

Perhaps the numbers are a clue. I think burgeoning numbers has partly increased male fear at what seems to some to be rapid, threatening change. Possibly the female lapse into more belligerence (maybe in desperation at what seems to some to be such an extended time frame for change) has not helped either.

The physical, sexual and verbal attacks which many of the “femoirs” reveal are disgraceful and the full weight of the law should be applied to anyone who acts or has acted in these ways. There can be no excuse whatsoever.

But where has the resigned tolerance I met and I gave back gone?

Annabel Crabb’s “The Wife Drought” is an interesting book and deals with the effect some of the changes have had and could have on men. She mentions the fact those men who want to help with child care are catered to in only a few workplaces, whereas women are already catered to more often. I agree with her that is hard on some men but I think this is something they have to deal with within the masculine framework. Yet I feel some of the “Mummy Blogs” types of thinking have also been, perhaps unwittingly, assuming that women should still have the primary “power” when it comes to children. If we are to be “equal” that must apply to all rights and responsibilities. Some women are also very reluctant to let go of what they consider to be their area of traditional expertise.

And surely the very things that very many women illustrate in these”femoirs” is that they prefer the way women interact rather than the way some men do, and this too must be considered. We want equality. We do not all want to be like some men. Take swearing as a small example. It’s not going to hurt anyone. It does not matter a damn if people swear or not. But traditionally it has been to make a point in an unusual situation. It should not be used, as I think Clementine Ford may do, to somehow pretend we are men. The men to whom I enjoy listening only swear when a point or an issue really needs it.

I tell two of my stories to show what I mean. My mother never swore. She did not, however, collapse in a swoon when others did! She just seemed to choose to use other words. One day when I was in my teens there was a large group in my parent’s home having a very animated discussion. I heard my mother’s voice “bull shit” – the very first time I had heard her swear. The room went silent. I think I may have heard a pin drop. And she had the floor completely.

On the other hand I took my two year old son out with me when I was buying some take away food one Saturday. At the time my husband was a Magpie fan. Next to us at the counter was a large man in football gear. My son’s face filled with awe as he pointed and uttered far too clearly with admiration in his voice, “Look a bloody Snouth!” Overuse of swearing minimises the point being made.

Overdoing the drama does not help either. We, women and men together, need to be co-operative, yet resolute, as we move forward with clear heads and aims.

Having been alive in pre pill days I never lose sight of the fact that the male/female balance started as an evolutionary matter and has been in place for thousands of years.

Women had the children and made the baby food. Men held the spear. The dynamics had to change when women decided they wanted a throw and it became possible to plan reproduction. And that was all a relatively very short time ago. We tut tut at other cultures who have earlier ages of consent in sexual matters and who practise polygamy (which is one way of sharing the burden). We look on those cultures as very repressed and do not realise it was such a very short time ago, right here, that the age of consent roughly followed puberty. The “choices” women can now make are still relatively very new. It all takes time.

We needed the suffragettes. We later needed someone like Germaine Greer to speak out and make a fuss while feminists like me just continued to try to practice the craft.

But what we need now is bravery in co-operation, men and women speaking out at the time about any poor behaviour, either institutionally or personally, and for us all to give support to women (and also to men) who speak out. Even if it is a bit late when it comes in memoirs, that speaking out may give courage to others. Here, while understanding what she means ( I had that same doubt when I finished Tracey Spicer’s book) I disagree with Helen Razer. We are at the point where we need to be completely open. We need to give public praise to anyone who speaks out at any time, to women to speak out retrospectively, to men who speak out now or even retrospectively , to men who take on half or more of the parenting of their children or who support women’s stances. We do not need to be dismissive and allege we do not need men to speak for women. It is their issue too. In these ways sharing will eventually be normalised. We need to make the whole discourse more inclusive in all ways, inclusive of the past, inclusive of all genders, inclusive of multiple solutions.

And while we extol the arrangements some couples make between themselves to provide equality between them, and now that we have a law that provides for maternity leave and the right to return to work, we must not mix the goal for gender equality with a quite different question. That is how much, if anything at all, is required of childless men or women or indeed people who have finished child rearing, to support workers with children? This is a completely separate question and is not nearly so clear cut as the absolute need for gender equality.

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On Anzac eve, when stories of glory and death fill the airways, I want to briefly recount the stories of six deceased men and their encounters with wartime. All of these are men I knew personally in their middle years, and all were about the same age, young men at the time of World War Two.

Perhaps I draw a long bow in alleging I knew the unknown soldier “personally” but I knew of him, or more properly “them”, one tomb in each of many countries. His tomb or grave has been a much revered and acknowledged symbol during all my life and his death and sacrifice is an important value and a sorrow to us all . I have much pity for him and his unknown family and I think his grave is a great expression of the total sadness of warfare. He is the first of my list of young men who suffered and sacrificed in wartime.

But the other five I have spoken to face to face, and about warfare. Three of them went to war and two of them saw active service. The other two did not serve but were both affected by war. The first three I speak of were relatives.

The second of my six was a volunteer in the Australian Navy. He served for some time. He was away from his family for an extended period. He had expected his ship to be deployed and it was, but in waters near to Australia. He worked hard, supported his mates and was prepared to make sacrifices, even the ultimate one. It turned out he did not see active warfare. He was a very caring person. He related to some of the other returned service men and made close friends with a few.  He supported the RSL. He helped raise money for war orphans through Legacy. Later in life he and his wife received small, special financial benefits for his time of service. He was very grateful. But his time in the service was in some ways the most positive peak in his life.

The third tried to volunteer. He was refused as medically unfit when he volunteered. He was told that he had a bad heart. Whether he started the story himself in denial of his problem (he was a very young man) or whether it was others who started the rumours will never be known, but it was widely spread, even to his children, that he feigned this condition in order to avoid serving. He lived his life branded as a coward in this way. At the age of 41 he had his first heart attack and had to give up his career as a paramedic with the ambulance service. He died of another heart attack at the age of 46.

Like the third, the fourth tried to volunteer . The Australian Navy wanted him as he had skills they could use with their developing radar technology. Despite several attempts by both him and the navy he was deemed not eligible for service as it was considered he was already working in an area of sensitive essential services and was not released. He then had to answer some quite negative questions from many in the community, which he was not always in a position to answer. He felt deeply that he was not pulling his weight for the country. He then found, after the war was over, preferences in jobs and promotion were given, to some extent understandably, to returned soldiers and he had to stand behind them even though he was more qualified.

The fifth was a neighbour of mine. He had seen active service. He was decorated for his bravery in war. He had been captured by the enemy and spent some time in Changi. He had to spend some months on a hospital ship before he was well enough to return to Australia after his release from that prisoner of war camp. He was quite unfit to work because of his physical and emotional situation from his long period in that camp and became a TPI pensioner. He was a lovely, thoughtful man. He spoke very rarely of war and wartime but the few things he let slip about his time as a prisoner were heartbreaking. He tried to enjoy life in the here and now as well as and for as long as he could. He was devoted to his grandchild and other little children, including mine, also amused and delighted him him. He did not join the RSL and would not march on Anzac Day. He felt that marching glorified war rather than remembering and regretting it. He once said to me that very little was worth a war. He thought they inevitably resulted in more damage than the good they were allegedly trying to do or the evil they were trying to fight. He thought perhaps a justification was if one’s own country was invaded.

But as well as these five Australians I also knew well another man of the same age.

I met him, when I was a teenager in the fifties, as a refugee, a workmate of my father and then a friend of the family. He and I were closer than often between a child and an adult as I reminded him, I knew, of his own daughter who, with her mother, was killed in the allied bombing of Berlin. He had been a German soldier and he too had spent some time in an prisoner of war camp. This had been administered by the Allies. I would say his viewpoint and some of his experiences were somewhat similar to that of our neighbour. He also wanted a focus on the future, on love and kindness and acceptance of all. It was never a possibility that he could march at Anzac Day or join an RSL Club. He would not have wanted to anyway. He remembered the fallen, the soldiers on both sides and the civilians who were victims, every day of his life. His goal and dearest wish was that this should never happen again.

I think the attitudes and told experiences of these six men sum up much of what I feel about wars of that era. They did not always do good and the good that was sometimes done came at great cost to many of those who served and to many of those who did not.

But things have got much worse.

The development of technology means that many can be killed with no personal contact. Those who kill have no reality that they are killing other human beings just like them. Technology also means the enemy can be much more quickly demonised than ever before. “They”, the enemy as portrayed on instantaneous media coverage, are after all different from “real ” human beings like “us”.

The parallel development of more emphasis on psychological issues has also been significant. While this probably stems from attempts to understand and help with PTSD, what has been learnt has led to development of techniques to better train human beings to go out and kill other human beings with less doubts and more efficiency. I cannot see that as a good for soldiers or for the world.

Let us try to remember the dead and wounded soldiers from all wars and all backgrounds with great sorrow and thanks but without artificial glorification of such wars.

In their name and memory we must try to make sure we don’t find ourselves engaging in wars or supporting wars which are actually none of our business and which ought to be economically and socially shunned.

Let’s do less harm to real people.

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Union Protests

Sally McManus has , in my opinion, been the unfortunate victim of some very bad press. I am not a unionist myself but I accept that one of unions’ traditional areas has been protest against unjust laws and subsequent poor conditions of workers. Just look at Joe Hill and our own Jack Munday, both now revered for their protests.

The beauty of our country and in the principles of democracy lie in a right for each of us to have our say which includes a right to protest against bad laws and bad government decisions. And what better way to protest than to, as peacefully as possible, breach such laws? One has to be aware, of course, that this breach may lead to a prosecution and punishment. But the argument and representations about this in itself often lead to a reconsideration about such laws.

Democracy cannot be passive. It is rule by the people for the people by definition.

Big business has always had enough power to get the ear of the government. The workers have had to traditionally rely upon unity and sometimes protest, to do this.

I have broken the law in protest and I view myself as a good, concerned citizen. I recently did not vote in a State Government election for three reasons I considered very strong. One of those is that I think compulsory voting is non democratic. To have to cast a valid vote and be, technically, in breach of the law if you do not, is in my view a bad law. So I decided, in protest, not to pay the fine and go to court. During all this I considered myself to be a good, conscientious citizen.

So have many unionists over the years who have protested about very major issues including poor industrial conditions and laws, rights of workers and protection of the environment.

May they continue to do so.

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Words from the Head of a Hairy Feminist

I an an unshaven, elderly feminist. There are many things I have objected to over the long years in which I have been a feminist. One has been the necessity for females to wear head coverings in NSW in secular situations. I knew head coverings were required in Christian churches but that did not particularly bother me as I am not a theist. But I did object, as a child, to having to wear a hat to my secular, state school. This was not worn, as today, in the playground as protection from the sun. It was worn on the train to and from school and with white gloves, so as to demonstrate that we were polite young ladies. Prefects would put our names down for detention if they were not worn.

My mother would not dream of going to a shopping centre without hat and gloves, right up to the 1980s. I thought it was ridiculous but harmless.

I plopped a necessary head covering on, out of deference, when ever I was constrained by family or circumstances to go to church.

But the fact that when I was, from the early 1960s, a young articled clerk and then a solicitor and had to wear a hat to demonstrate respect for our court system every time I had to front up to court in my job, irked me. I kept a neutral cream coloured hat on a “hat stand” in my office and wore it with anything I happened to have on that day

I do not mind hats but I do not want to be forced into wearing them unless I wish to. I understand they are sometimes worn by women in the presence of very fast horses, out of deference to such proud beasts. But my early experiences tell me I will only ever wear a hat in high UV ray conditions when I am taking my dog for a walk.

Men, too, have been constrained in various ways over the years to wear or not wear hats. They too have had to do this in symbolic ways, very often in a way that was directly opposite of what was expected of women (surprise, surprise). But I do understand that a hat is also permitted for men, as for women, in the presence of very fast horses.

But despite my early, negative hat experiences, the current outcry of the conservatives of this country at womens’ choices here, on occasions to wear a hijab bewilders and baffles me.

We are still allowed to wear hats and scarves here. But do they understand, firstly, how recently that became a choice? Women here in Australia are no longer constrained by society to wear hats or scarves in court but it’s only recently happened. I have been told the necessity for women to wear hats in court was changed with the removal of ties from the police uniform. I agree there are parts of the world in which certain dress codes are differently regarded as polite dress for both women and men. These can differ from country to country. They usually involve putting extra clothing or footwear or taking something off. It is only recently that we have softened some of ours.

As a hairy feminist some of my opinions are very negatively regarded these days and I am often being told that women,  in particular, need freedom of choice. They can chose, if they wish, to be contoured with underwire, to shave off every hair not on their head, to opt for plastic surgery enhancement, to wear spectacular stiletto heels. All of these can be physically damaging and I often argue about the good sense of these choices.

But surely anyone who wishes, male or female, should have the freedom to wear a harmless, non invasive headscarf, a hijab or even a hat, if that is what they want to do and as long as it is not made compulsory to wear it in any secular area of our society? Even the horses would probably agree!

How could this possibly harm anyone?

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