The stories and memorabilia of one of Australia’s renowned campaigners of feminism has been collected and preserved for the first time.
‘Archiving Australian Feminism’ is a living history project built around Merle Thornton, a well-known activist of the 1960s who famously chained herself to Brisbane’s Regatta Hotel to protest the exclusion of women from public bars. This event has been widely recognised as one of the most defining moments of the feminist movement in Australia.
The project preserves Ms Thornton’s personal archive of records, letters, petitions, film scripts and press clippings. The collection will be handed over to the National Library of Australia.
Associate Professor Maryanne Dever from the University of Newcastle and Dr Margaret Henderson from the University of Queensland have been interviewing Ms Thornton to record her story and address the gaps in the formal records that detail women’s grass-roots activism in Australia.
A/Professor Dever said one of the most striking parts of Ms Thornton’s personal archive was the hate mail she and her friend Rosalie Bognor received in the wake of the Regatta Protest.
“These letters clearly demonstrate the depth of fear and outrage their actions generated in the conservative climate of the day,” she said.
“We forget how much of a challenge these protests posed to the gender order of the day that dictated that nice women stayed home with their children.”
Dr Henderson said Ms Thornton was pivotal in establishing the basic human rights that women in Australia enjoy today.
“After her Regatta Hotel protest, Ms Thornton went on to form the Equal Opportunities Association for Women that successfully campaigned to introduce paid maternity leave for women and provide better crèches and kindergartens,” Dr Henderson said.
The research is supported by grants from the Sidney Myer Foundation and the Queensland Premier’s Department.
For interviews: Associate Professor Maryanne Dever or Dr Margaret Henderson are available for interview by calling Media and Public Relations officer Megan Cunneen on 4921 5351 or 0448 369871. Interviews with Merle Thornton can be organised upon request.