Home' LOTL : August 2004 Contents August 1974: Julia Sudgen, recently widowed
mother of five and ex-librarian June James,
are lugging feminist books from a male-owned
bookshop to sell at seminars. A new thought
dawns ... why shouldn't women profit for once?
They throw in a $1,000 each, steal some bricks
and timber for shelving from a local building site
and rent a small shop in Eastwood. It is Australia's
first Feminist Bookshop. A local housewife helps
unpack newly purchased books onto the rustic
shelves. She thrills when she spots a lesbian title.
She is heterosexual and has never seen a book
like that before. Her name is Dorothy McMahon.
They are all heterosexuals, but the shop ships
lesbian visibility in from overseas. Male
homosexuality is still illegal, discrimination
against lesbians and gays is not, and newly elected
MP Philip Ruddock tries to close the shop down,
claiming lesbian and feminist literature is
pornographic. Customs search through every
shipment; the police follow up right-wing
complaints. Julia and June stand firm, and slowly
Australian lesbians become used to being visible,
and Australia becomes used to seeing them.
August 1982: One visible lesbian, Gail Hewison, invites her sisters to lunch.
"I have an idea," she says to Libby Silva, also a lesbian, and Jane Waddy, a
temporarily straight social worker. Gail suggests they give away their current
jobs in health to buy the Feminist Bookshop with money they inherited from
a beloved aunt. None of them has experience in the book trade or have done
market research, but they agree instantly.
The three sisters move the shop to larger premises going up-market with
shelves they build under the watchful eye of a writer friend, DQ. In a couple
of decades she will be known as Diane King, eminent Balmain architect. It
will be years before they think to buy a trolley, so they carry hundreds of
boxes of books from Balmain to Lilyfield.
Eighty-five per cent of small businesses go bust in the first year. Julia
offers a week's training, but Gail only turns up for a day, and Jane and Lib
don't go at all. How hard can it be? Isn't a bookshop mostly sitting around,
reading and chatting with customers? "After the first month, we were
exhausted. I wanted someone to come and take it all away," laughs Libby.
"I have never once had time to read a book at work."
August 2004: The bookshop -- a Leo -- is thirty years old, and one of the
few remaining feminist bookshops in the world. It has seen its counterparts
in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane come and go. What has not gone is
homophobic harassment in new forms. For twenty-two years the bookshop
A LESBIAN LANDMARK CELEBRATES
ITS 30TH. BY DAWN COHEN. PATCH
Links Archive July 2004 September 2004 Navigation Previous Page Next Page