Tag Archives: history

Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne, by Katherine Rundell

Courtesy of Allex&Unwin, it’s on sale now ($34.99, hard cover, and it’s beautiful).

This book is wondrous – glorious – it’s poetic and soaring in its language, honest and brutal and passionate in its analysis of John Donne; a wonderful biography, a snapshot history of late Elizabethan/ Jacobean politics and drama, and an inspired defence and encomium for Donne’s poetry.

I loved it. Clearly.

I come to John Donne loving him for “Death be not proud”; I am not the greatest lover of poetry, but I know that piece by heart. I come to this book with some knowledge of the era, although not exhaustive. Neither of these things are necessary for an appreciation of this book – firstly, because Rundell chiefly praises Donne as the preeminent English poet of love (news to me), and also because Rundell gives a lovely, succinct explanation of all the things that have an impact on Donne’s life.

As a biography, the structure of this book is inspired. It’s largely chronological, thankfully, although bits of poetry and prose are scattered throughout to help illuminate Donne’s life. Each chapter, though, is structured around an aspect, or transformation, of Donne as a human. Early on these are the obvious changes, from child to youth and so on. But there’s also “The Convert (Perhaps)” – because Donne was born to a Catholic family in England when that could get you killed (like Donne’s own brother); and then the variety of positions Donne has, both personally: the Anticlimatically Married Man and Ambivalent Father; and professionally: The Flatterer, Clergyman, and (Unsuccessful) Diplomat. Throughout, Rundell’s conceit of Donne as a multifaceted man is born out – in his own experiences, and in writing. And his writing sings throughout, for all that – as Rundell points out, as people forget with Shakespeare and other contemporaries – there’s only one piece of Donne’s work in English in Donne’s own hand known to the 21st century. The rest has been put together by scholars over 400 years, and there are quibbles over words, so we’re really not entirely sure if what we have is what he meant (go look up the variations on Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” speech for an idea of what scholars are dealing with).

As a biography, this is masterful. As literary criticism, it’s very readable and gives me a huge appreciation for Donne’s mastery of language; he was brilliant and in love with language and with humanity and, indeed, both life and death. Rundell is unflinching in examining his misogyny, too, placing it in historical context as well as its personal meaning.

And as a book, Rundell has herself written a gorgeous, poetic, masterful work. She has a marvellous turn of phrase (“the Habsurgs kings with enormous jaws and close friendships with the Pope”), she is simultaneously devoted to and clear-eyed about her subject, and she conveys her ‘act of evangelism’ about Donne and his work in a way that I wish more people were capable of.

It’s not often I get to read and review a book that makes me so unambiguously happy that it exists.

Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior

How exactly did I get to this age without reading a biography of Matilda??

Well… it’s not entirely my fault, because there just haven’t been that many. And oh, couldn’t we talk about the reasons for that. And in fact Catherine Hanley does discuss some of the reasons for the lack of historical focus on this astonishing woman, and puts in the historical context for how she was discussed 900 years ago as well.

Let me say upfront: it may be 900 years ago, but the THEFT of the English crown from Matilda by her cousin Stephen STILL MAKES ME MAD.

Matilda: oldest child of the English king; married at 8 to a foreign emperor; widowed; named her father’s heir (because her brother had drowned); crown STOLEN by Stephen; spends many years fighting Stephen for the right to be monarch of England; eventually manages to have her son named Stephen’s heir, lives to see her son crowned king (although not literally, because being present would have made all the menfolk feel a bit uncomfortable). Matilda was amazing.

Matilda’s epitaph places her in the context of three Henrys: her father (Henry I of England), her first husband (with a complicated set of titles but eventually crowned emperor of ‘the Empire’; his lands included what is today Germany and various other bits), and her oldest son (Henry II of England). This epitaph is not surprising given 12th century attitudes. It’s probably also not the surprising that she has continued to be placed in this context.

Hanley does a really great job of using the existing contemporary documents (all histories written by men, mostly monks, as well as charters and other such legal documents) to give a reasonable suggestion of what Matilda was doing, Matilda was responsible for; reasons for Matilda’s actions and how she worked within, as well as bucking against, 12-century expectations of a royal daughter/wife/mother.

This is why a feminist, and now gender, lens is so important for history. Matilda was often described as ‘haughty’ and other such words… for doing exactly what her father, in particular, was praised for doing. She makes a really nice point of how when Stephen’s queen (…also Matilda, it was as bad as Henry) acted in a masculine way on behalf of Stephen, it was praised; but do so for your OWN benefit, and you’re a ranting virago.

Filling in a gap in my knowledge, this book was priceless (my MA was on this Matilda’s grandmother, also Matilda; this Matilda’s daughter-in-law is Eleanor of Aquitaine). As a thoughtful look at a hugely important part of English medieval history, I think it’s accessible to general readers who are prepared to deal with the Henrys and Matildas.

Making Australian History: Anna Clark

Not a review book! One that I saw in the delightful bookshop in Queenscliff and barely even stopped as I walked past, grabbed it, and paid for it.

(Who am I, reading historiography about Australian history? Australian history? My how I have changed.)

Sometimes I forget how much I love historiography. And I really, truly love it. A history of history writing/making itself? How much more meta can you get?? And Clark writes just so beautifully. This entire book is a delight.

Clark aims to present a history of how Australian History (the capital H is discussed very frankly and thoughtfully) has been written over… a very long period of time; and also how the writing of Australian History has helped to construct that history. Clark is under no illusions about the reality that History writing is part of the colonial project, and I think one of the great ongoing themes here is how Clark starts to unravel, deconstruct, illuminate, and reflect on that very process.

(Do the adjectives give a sense of how much I enjoyed this book?)

Another of the great aspects of this book for me is that it’s not entirely chronological – something else that she discusses frankly in the introduction. Chapters are thematic, and vaguely chronological, and also generally chronological within the chapter; but chronology is not the be-all of history writing, important as it is. I deeply enjoyed that there were chapters on ’emotion’ and ‘gender’ that ranged across time, to show how those things have affected history writing at various points.

Each chapter has a focal text, one that Clark uses as an instrumental text (in a broad sense) to get at a particular idea. Which is precisely something that I’ve done in the classroom, and it works really beautifully in the book to draw out and illustrate particular ideas. It’s a really great way of managing the flow of the chapters.

… it’s just really great. I think it serves as a good, thoughtful introduction to how Australian History has been written, thought about, and itself produced the Australia we live in today. Clark uses the ‘whispers’ and alternate texts and sometimes things that haven’t always been considered as history to give a sense of just what can be meant by ‘Australian history’. You don’t need an in-depth knowledge of history, or historical theory, to enjoy this – although you do need to be prepared to really think about the ideas being presented.

The Mongol Storm: Making and Breaking Empires in the Medieval Near East

I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It’s out in November, 2022.

As a Jill-of-all-trades when it comes to history, I feel like “the Mongols” is one of those topics that a lot of people have vague ideas about but don’t really know what they’re talking about, or any details at all. Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, greatest land empire of all time… done.

Yeah. This book has made an enormous difference to the way I see the Mongols as a group, as an empire, as an historical force.

In his Introduction, Morton promises “a multi-perspective history of the Mongol invasions constructed from many different viewpoints”. And that’s definitely what the book delivers, as the way that the movement of Mongol troops – in and out of territory, sometimes staying, sometimes just installing new leadership after dismantling entire areas – impacts on a variety of pre-existing governments. The thing that surprised me is just WHERE that is happening… because it’s the “Near/Middle East” (which is a stupid term for an Australian to use, but there we go). The book is focussed on how the Mongols impact on everything from Egypt, through the Frankish kingdom of Jerusalem, to Byzantium, and to Syria and Georgia and Armenia. I don’t quite know where I thought the focus would be – I knew the Mongols had briefly penetrated Europe and made everyone crap their pants – but this was not it. And the thing is, the Mongols are a significant force for DECADES. There are events in this history – across the 13th and into the 14th centuries – that I already knew but that I had NO IDEA were at least partly as a result of the pressure coming from the east, via the Mongols: either directly because of the Mongols’ actions, or because of the movement of people driven out by the Mongols (directly or through fear). How is it I had no idea of this?? I’m going to say it’s at least partly racism, and also partly the occasionally narrow focus of some histories – in trying to narrow down the historical story, some things get chopped. (Rant could be inserted here about how choices are made, etc… but I’ll spare my reader.)

One of the slightly odd parts of this book is that it is NOT as focussed as I had expected. There’s entire sections about the politics of the Franks in Jerusalem and the Crusader States… with no apparently connection to the Mongols. Morton gets there eventually, but it does sometimes feel like there’s a lot of extraneous detail that wasn’t required to actually understand the point of the book – the Mongols. Not that I didn’t enjoy the detail! It just wasn’t necessary.

Obviously, I learned an enormous amount from this book. About the Mongols themselves – how they were organised, how they viewed themselves (as having a mandate from heaven to rule, and that all religions were fine because they were all subsumed within their own), and how they dealt with subject people. I also learned a huge amount about what was going on in Egypt around the period of the Mamluks coming to power, and to the east I finally learned something about Georgia and Armenia, which hadn’t previously come across my radar in this period. Also more about the Crusader States, and generally how all of these states interacted with each other. Which is also something that I feel like has been missing from my knowledge here. Of course rulers were in contact, of course they were making deals and alliances, including across religious and ethnic lines… but I don’t really kn0w about them.

The book itself is well-written. I found it engaging – perhaps because I was already invested in the general period and area. As with all such books, I did sometimes find the names hard to follow… if only everyone in the past had differentiated their names more (did there need to be more than one Bohemond?). Morton has structured the book well, largely chronologically and within that, geographically. There are also some useful maps that make locating the changing circumstances of the various polities easier. Overall, definitely a good addition to my understanding of the world.

Budapest: Between East and West

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Hachette Australia, at no cost. It’s out now; $32.99.

Things I knew about Budapest before reading this: it used to be two towns, and pictures of Soviet tanks in the streets in 1956. I think that’s about it, really.

An intriguing aspect of this book is that it’s written by a man born in Budapest, whose family fled Hungary when he was a child. Sebestyen makes no secret of this, and of his connection to the country and the city. So there’s a mix of ‘objective’ history, and also the occasional mention of how things relate to him personally. I like this kind of honesty a lot.

One annoying aspect – and this might just be a personal gripe – isn’t peculiar to Sebestyen, and is at least partly a reflection of the historical record (and my personal preferences). The book begins with a very brief look at what is known of the area around Budapest from pre-history, and then moves to what the Romans did. There’s barely a discussion of Attila and the Huns. By p30 we’re up to the year 1000. p109 and we’re already at 1800 and at p272 it’s the accommodation between Hungary and Hitler’s Germany. The book is 377 pages long. While I know that there’s a lot more evidence for the alter centuries, it always makes me despair that history is given such an unbalanced presentation. As if the modern world is the only bit worth discussing. Sigh.

Despite this preponderance of modern history, Sebestyen does give a good overview of the history of Budapest – as Simon Sebag Montefiore notes in the front cover quotation., it’s really a history of Central Europe. You can hardly have a history of the city without discussing the history of (what is now) the country; and in this particular case, at least some of what was happening in Austria for a few centuries. And so I learned more about the Turkish occupation, as well as how the Habsburgs managed to create Austria-Hungary as a dual monarchy; and of course the role of Hungary in both world wars and then as part of the Soviet bloc.

The story is largely told chronologically, with occasional chapter breaks about particular themes – one in particular that stood out was about the role of the Jewish population in the city. I had no idea that Hungary had been something of a haven for European Jews, although they were still not safe from the occasional pogrom (because anti-Semitism is apparently just too easy). The way that Jews stood outside of the feudal system, basically – and the incredibly bizarre way Hungarian feudalism was structured, with a massive number of nobles who refused to get into trade or anything similar – meaning that Jewish artisans and traders filled that niche.

This book fits into a tradition of using city histories as a way of looking at changes over time, to everything from culture and tradition to language and politics and everything else. The sub-title is pointed, here: part of Sebestyen’s argument is that Hungary doesn’t really fit into the way Europe sees itself, and doesn’t particularly fit elsewhere either. (The story of Hungarian as a language, and the efforts to revive and develop it, is a particularly fascinating part of the book.)

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Queens of the Wild

I received this book via NetGalley. It’s out at the end of May, 2022.

As an Arts student of the late 90s, who did do some mythology-type subjects, I have vaguely come across some of the ideas that Hutton explodes here. So that was quite the trip.

The main idea: that the four concepts, or beings, or narrative tools – Mother Earth, the Fairy Queen, The Lady of the Night, and the Cailleach – are in no way part of a pagan religion that has survived sin Europe since pre-Christian times. No matter all the stories about witches as pagans or Beltane feasts.

In the opening Hutton revives a differentiation (first proposed by himself in 1991) between two concepts: ‘surviving paganism’, where a pre-Christian religion has actually survived beneath/within Christianity; and ‘pagan survival’, where a belief of object has been redeployed from a pre-Christian to a Christian religious context.

This book has a LOT of historiography, as Hutton explores some of the why and some of the how for the development of the idea that four specific concepts have a long, pagan, pedigree. The very first chapter was probably my favourite, as he explores the development of the study of folklore and how various academic and non-academic types explored and theorised beliefs – especially peasant beliefs – and how attitudes to those sorts of things changed over time. Following the thread from one person to another – occasionally from just one article to an explosion of theories, books, films, and other academic articles – was astonishing.

In the four main chapters, Hutton seeks to find the four characters he has chosen to interrogate – to find the earliest mentions, to find their possible connections to pre-Christian ideas, to find the ways in which they’ve been used in the academic literature. In every case, he comes to the conclusion that none of these are true ‘surviving paganism’ – always with the caveat that more information may be found, and that of course there’s a dearth of written information for so much of the early part of the pre-Christian/Christian boundary. He’s pretty convincing, unsurprisingly.

Moderately academic, but I think accessible for a reader with only a basic knowledge of both the historiography and the characters he explores (which is me).

The Normans: Power, Conquest & Culture in 11th Century Europe

I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It’s out on 22 March, 2022.

I love the Normans. I have been fascinated by them as a group for a pretty long time now. The conquest of England! Randomly being in Sicily! The First Crusades! Occasionally popping up elsewhere!

I also love a good interrogation of sources. And asking new questions, or using new information to contribute to questions already asked.

Therefore, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Given the above, I can’t say how easy this would be to read for someone with zero knowledge of the Normans. Even I found it hard to follow the Roberts and Rogers and various families (honestly I kind of stopped caring about whether I was completely following who was related to who; it didn’t seem to matter in some instances, and Green often reminded me when it did). It should also be noted that there is more historiography than I think is usual for a purely narrative sort of history, so if learning what specific historians (medieval and modern) have said about specific issues is not your cup of tea, you may well find this book a bit annoying. For the rest of us… this is a really great, and thorough, examination of the Normans in the 11th century.

I really liked how Green examined what was going on in Normandy, England, Sicily/Italy and Antioch/the First Crusade as a way of trying to see if there really is something to the very IDEA of ‘being a Norman’ – which honestly is a brave thing when you’re entire book is about ‘the Normans’ – but that’s exactly the point of it. Some people at least claimed the Normans as Very Special People with a Very Special Place in the World (via God or character or whatever else). Is that actually true? Is it even possible to speak of “Normans”? Gosh I love these sorts of questions. I also quite like that Green doesn’t entirely come to a complete answer. She has some suggestions – that maybe Normans themselves in the 11th century weren’t alway seeing themselves as ‘Normans’ – and also proposes a whole bunch more avenues for investigation. Which is the other awesome thing that Green does – she’s not just using the old Williams of history (Jumieges, Malmesbury, etc), but adding in archaeology and DNA and various other sources to make a way more interesting and complete picture.

Overall, not My First Introduction to Medieval History, but a really great work on a group of people who had a fairly hefty impact on medieval Europe (and beyond).

Straits: Beyond the Myth of Magellan

I read this courtesy of the publisher, Bloomsbury. It’s out now; $39.99 trade paperback.

… and I thought I was an iconoclast. What a remarkable, thought-provoking and intriguing biography.

Things I already knew about Magellan: he did not circumnavigate the world. I learned that in a book about how Basques influenced the world, because the captain of the only one of Magellan’s boats that did, actually, go around the globe was captained by a Basque.

Things I did not know: most of what Fernandez-Armesto discusses in this book. I did not know that Magellan (to use his Anglicised name) was Portuguese who ditched that kingdom and went to Spain – a traitorous act at the time. I did not know that he was a little too keen on chivalric romances and maybe wanting to emulate them. I definitely did not know what a truly dreadful leader and person in general he was.

OK, that last bit is something of an exaggeration. Indeed one of the problems that Fernandez-Armesto discusses here is the difficulty of ever truly understanding someone like Magellan: partly because of the temporal distance, as well as the mental distance, between me and a Portuguese court-educated man of the 1500s; but also because much of the evidence is deeply conflicted. There’s something close to hagiography by someone who was on the voyage and managed not to die… but there’s also plenty of accounts from men who mutinied. So how do you get to ‘the truth’, and what even is that.

Anyway. As a biography this is awesome. The author brings the context wonderfully to life, exploring what the world was like for someone like Magellan in the 16th century – what Europe knew of the world, and what the world knew of Europe; what kings and adventurers wanted, how empire was going, knowledge of the Atlantic and Pacific, and so on.

Something I had never really appreciated before reading this: just how Very Big the Pacific is. Especially for those accustomed to the Atlantic.

For the historians, Fernandez-Armesto skilfully uses primary sources to make his points, and to show people in their own words – and they never get overwhelming, or in the way of the story. It’s a really great example of how such sources can and should be used.

And finally, the last chapter is called “Aftermath and Apotheosis”, and this is where my iconoclast remark comes in. I got the sense that Fernandez-Armesto doesn’t necessarily like Magellan – which is fine, if intriguing; he certainly proves that Magellan deserves to be studied, if only to learn what he can show about his world. And beyond that, Fernandez-Armesto completely goes to town on previous biographers who do love Magellan, and all those companies who use Magellan’s name as if it’s some sort of shorthand for scientific endeavour or great achievements or frankly anything good. Because what the author shows is that Magellan deserves none of that. He had no scientific interest; he was out for the main chance. He didn’t achieve anything much that was great: yes, he sailed through the straits that bear his name, but he didn’t know they were there and he wasn’t the pilot or navigator anyway PLUS the cost in human suffering was enormous.

This is a great book. If you’re keen on the history of exploration, or early modern biographies, or learning the story behind a fairly familiar name, this is an excellent choice.

Women’s History Month: Jean McLean (part 3)

History Council of Victoria

Yes, I know; three posts from Jean McLean does seem to fall into the same trap I mentioned in my first post. But the reality is that she has given a great deal of thought to the issues around the Vietnam War protests, and that she was a vital part of the whole thing – particularly in organising the May 1970 moratorium. And so, I give her the final word, about organising that moratorium – and about how it reflected the enormous change in Australian attitudes. In the mid 1960s, most adults supported the idea of conscription, and the Vietnam War also seemed necessary to many. But the 8 May 1970 moratorium saw somewhere between 60 and 100,000 people on the streets of Melbourne, and more in other capital cities; and then in 1972, Whitlam was elected, and most agree that the conscription issue was a significant factor in that. So here’s Jean’s perspective on how you keep going over nearly a decade (longer than most other excerpts):

Jean McLean interview


Alex: You said before that, obviously, the campaign had a beginning, a middle and an end. But you didn’t know that when you started – – –

Jean: Oh, no.

Alex:  – – – and I’ve read a lot about just how distressing the 1966 election was in terms of hoping against hope that it wouldn’t happen, and then it did. 

Jean: Yeah, well, we thought that would all happen just like that. 

Alex: Yeah. How did you keep enthusiastic? How did you – how did you keep an organisation like that – you, in general – how did you keep going? 

Jean: Well, part of it was, there was Ian Turner, but also a guy called Max Teichmann, he’d been a philosopher, and then he became an international affairs lecturer. He went through phases of being left and being right, but luckily I had him in the left bit. But he was very good, because he understood the history of all this anti-conscription stuff better than I did. I mean, I didn’t read a book then think, I’ll do it. 

And at that election, and at the ’69, when people were, you know, young people who’d been handing out how to vote cards, and they were crying, “Oh, we’ve lost.” Max said, “No. We got more votes this time. We’ll get more votes next time.” And he did that again with the ’69, you know? He said, “It takes time. It takes time for people to understand. We’re doing better.” So – – – 

Alex: So you had a long-term vision – – – 

Jean: Yeah. Able to see in the long term. And also because we got more and more support. We didn’t get less. We got more. 

Alex: Yeah. So you could see that you were having an effect? 

Jean: Yeah, yeah. And I must say that, obviously, the reason that they don’t allow journalists into the Middle East wars is because every night that it was on the television, every single night, there was what was happening in Vietnam. And it was all terrible. And – you know? And they’d try and tell you something, “Oh, we won, we killed five thousand Viet Cong.” And people said, “That’s disgusting.” 

So, now, they don’t let people know what’s happening. You know, and it was just, sort of – – –

Alex: The media really played into showing people just how terrible things were, and then you’re right there, your organisation’s right there, and gives some people a real way of reacting against it. 

Jean: Exactly.

Alex: I guess, if anybody knows anything about the anti-conscription movement, they tend to know about the moratorium marches. Do you think they were effective?

Jean: Oh, incredibly so. Because – and the Victorian one was the most successful, in part because of Jim Cairns. Who was the deputy prime minister – he’s been written out of history. 

Alex: Yeah.

Jean: He’s been written out of history, you know? You never hear anyone talk about Jim Cairns. And yet, it was Jim who, in ’62, he spoke out against the war. The secret war in Laos. And, anyway, he was the chair of the moratorium. And so, you know, we had to do the work, because he was in Parliament. You know, but he’d come to address meetings. But he was a very important figurehead, because he spoke very, very well against war. 

So anyway, the moratorium movement in Melbourne – we started with a meeting of all the different groups. Save Our Sons, the Youth Campaign Against Conscription, all the different groups. We met in Richmond Town Hall. And we worked out programs, including – like, we used to go and – I was – Jim was the chair, I was deputy chair, Bernie Taft was another deputy chair. And Harry Van Moorst was – for one of them was the deputy chair. 

 Anyway, we’d have meetings, and – we’d go and address people at – through working with the trade union movement – at all the factory doors. Sometimes we were allowed in the dining room, depending on the make-up of the factories. Others, we had to speak at the gates. But we did that. We went, you know, just hundreds of meetings. We went and distributed leaflets. We raised funds. 

So that by the time May the 8th turned up, there were just hundreds and hundreds of people. The police had been told – and I had a police spy, a brother of a friend who was in the police, and he said – like, he just told us that they’d been given instructions in the morning, that they’d have all the horses at the top of town, and they’d have all these police – so they’d break up the demonstration, they wouldn’t allow it to happen. 

 And so we had a meeting at the Assembly Hall the morning of the demo, where we were going to get everybody to be marshals. They’d have a band. So everybody had to try and make sure there was no – nobody’d get out and start hitting. You know, bash them. 

Anyway, so then we came out of that meeting, and my friend said, “All the rules have been changed. We’ve now been told to make sure that the demonstration isn’t – you know, facilitate. Facilitate the demonstration.” Make sure that – no cars in the way when we march, you know, so the route from the gardens down, to march. 

Because what had happened was, everywhere you looked that morning, when we were going to the meeting, everywhere you looked, there were people with rolled up banners, there were people with T-shirts, there were – you could see that everyone was going to the demo. This is going to be huge. Couldn’t believe it. Schools! High schools! And they let the kids go, the – you know, the senior kids. All that sort of thing. And, yeah, it was just amazing. And that’s why it was so successful. Was not tweets, but physical meeting and talking. And I still believe that that’s the only real way to do things.  

If you know of a Melbourne woman involved in protesting against the Vietnam War, please leave a comment!

Women’s History Month: Sue McCulloch (again)

History Council of Victoria

Sue McCulloch was very involved in protesting against the Vietnam War, including working for the Congress for International Cooperation and Disarmament (CICD) and being the secretary of the Draft Resisters Union. Here she reflects on the position of women overall in the protest movement.

Sue McCulloch interview


Alex: And just finally, so the focus of what I’ve been looking at is really the motivation and the actions of women in particular; from your memory, did you get a sense that there were a lot of women? Like, would you have said it would have been about half or less, in terms of people doing things?

Sue: Absolutely. Yes, I do, I think there were at least half who were women. And I – we were not acknowledged. And I think a number of the men, now, these days, would say that, too. We were regarded as, you know, the sort of – the help maids, you know, the people who did the typical kind of role of women. And it was, at the time, when women were also, you know, it did really go hand in hand with the women’s movement. 

And I think women within the anti-war movement were facing the same struggles of recognition and autonomy as women in general. So, you know, the fact that we were in an anti-war movement didn’t necessarily – in fact, it didn’t give us any greater presence or voice. 

In terms of our power in that movement, I think we had less power. You know, there were very strong – the main people in the anti-war movement like Jim Cairns, was sort of the figurehead, the people on the executives of various things were largely all men, except for Jean McLean. Oh, maybe Joan Coxsedge. And one or two others. 

But I don’t think the number of women in those powerful positions reflected by any means the actual number of women who were involved in the entire movement. So it was very frustrating at the time. And I think there were people who actually left the anti-war movement, who found themselves frustrated as women in that movement. They joined the women’s liberation movement more – you know, to be their main focus of activity. Because they just felt that they were not, you know, it was endlessly frustrating for them to be in this movement where they weren’t being given an equal say. 

One of my jobs was as a media liaison person, and it’s actually how I met my daughter’s father, because he was a journalist on The Age. And I used to blindfold him and take him to meet draft resisters and others. But in the newspapers, there were actually a lot of women – like, we were the main people who were usually photographed doing things. There are photographs of Jeanie and me, and a model who – we walked across Collins Street on the 11th day at the 11th hour, you know, when the whole city is kind of stopped for – and we walked out to protest about Vietnam. There were photos of us often in the newspapers, being dragged around. You know, photos of Jeanie being dragged by her hair. I also had long, blonde hair, and a number of others had long, blonde hair, so it was quite often hard to tell who it was. But I’ve got photos of me handing out leaflets at places like Melbourne Grammar, me doing things in the City Square, handing out leaflets to publicise various things. 

So women were often photographed, and in the newspapers, just as much as – or probably as much as the men. Maybe not as much as the men, but certainly significantly. But we were also sort of regarded as these rather, you know, quirky, kind of – yeah. I think because newspapers probably liked to see women rather than men – you know, a bit more colourful, or something. The sexist newspapers of the day. 

If you know of a Melbourne woman involved in protesting against the Vietnam War, please leave a comment!