University of Melbourne Archives

Journeys of the Imagination – Postcards from the Archives

by Melinda Barrie, Archivist, University of Melbourne Archives.

Working with a wide range of collections in the University Archives I struggle to choose a favourite item or series. But after much consideration I keep coming back to the postcards. Why do they fascinate? I think the attraction rests with their potential to act as a tangible reminder of personal experience and past adventures with family and friends. For me, the pleasure of receiving a postcard lies in those first few moments after retrieving the travel worn card from my letterbox and the experience of feeling a connection to the author as they speak directly to me from a far-off, sometimes exotic place. The picture, colourful stamp, postmark, and the handwritten message all contribute to creating a sense of place and time.

In contrast, the postcards I have sent during this time of the Covid 19 pandemic via an online ‘Australia Post app’ have focused inwards on aspects of my life at home inside my ‘five to twenty-five kilometre bubble’ – domestic life, plants, the moon in the sky. The intent was not to replace the close contact of my physical presence with others – but to let family and friends know I am thinking of them. This I believe is the likely purpose of many of the postcards in UMA’s care.

UMA’s collection of postcards show a myriad of landscapes, places, experiences and past practices of the university and its population across time. An example is Joseph Burke, former Herald Chair of Fine Arts who collected the postcards he received throughout his life. They show the breadth of his club involvement, grand tours, professional interest in the art world and his social circles both public and private.

Figure 1 ‘St Vitale – The Jews Revolt’, Ravenna, 12 July 1953, PO/272, 1978.0039, Joseph Terence Burke Personal Papers, University of Melbourne Archives
Figure 2 ‘St Sophia Museum, Istanbul’ verso 3 March 1961, PO/270, 1978.0039, Joseph Terence Burke Personal Papers, University of Melbourne Archives

Other examples collected for official reasons are the 1900s postcard of Philip Marcham who is standing near the Law Library holding his bell. Marcham was formerly employed as the University bellringer and porter and his presence serves as a reminder of occupations and rituals that are now long extinct. Postcards also serve as evidence of the changing landscape of the University grounds which is exemplified by the postcard of the lake surrounded by flora which no longer exists.

Figure 3 Marcham, the bellringer, circa 1890 – 1910. 2017.0071.00330 University of Melbourne Photograph Collection, University of Melbourne Archives.
Figure 4 The Old Museum University of Melbourne, 1997.0013.00002 University of Melbourne Photograph Collection, University of Melbourne Archives.

UMA holdings contain hundreds of postcards and the collection as a whole provides a fascinating montage of personal experience, landscape, ritual, built heritage and environment. Many of the postcards at UMA can be found online for research and study purposes.


“Spirit of speed”: Ida Outhwaite and the Shell Fairies  

by Carmen Mok, Archives and Special Collections Digital Presence Intern 

Ida Outhwaite and the Shell Fairies   

In my preparation for the #HistoryMonth2020 campaign in October, I began an exploration of the University of Melbourne Archives and Special Collections’ extensive collections in search of weekly themes. The theme of children’s literature has allowed me to step into Australian author and illustrator Ida Rentoul Outhwaite’s fairyland. When we talk about fairy tales, they usually conjure up stories of adventure, magic and fantasy. Advertising practitioners generally utilized fairy tales to promote popular childrens products such as chocolate, tissue and children’s clothing. I was surprised to discover, however, a connection between the Shell Company and Outhwaites work in a series of children’s books with an explicitly commercial message.

The Fairy Story That Came True, 1923 by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (illustration, pg.11) 2008.0045.00504, Shell Historical Archive, University of Melbourne Archive

Featured in the University of Melbourne Archives and Special Collections’ #HistoryMonth2020 campaign, the illustration above is featured in a story book by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, one of Australia’s most popular children’s authors and illustrators of the early 20th century. Born in a literary and artistic family at Carlton, Melbourne, Outhwaite showed a talent of drawing at a young age. In 1904, when Outhwaite was only 16, she published her first children’s book, Mollies Bunyip, in a collaboration with her sister Anne Rattray Rentoul (1)Outhwaite’s fairy world became nationally beloved with its distinctive Australian bushland story settings, featuring charming illustrations of possums, koalas and other native creatures. As one of the first fine art books published in Australia, Outhwaite’s story book Elves and Fairies is still regarded as a remarkable masterpiece in the Australian publishing history(2). 

Released as an advertising booklet series for Shell, The Fairy Story That Came True Outhwaites fairyland characters discover the “Spirit of Speed”(Shell Motor Oil). In response to the rising trend of family road trips during this period, Shell deliberately targeted children in their advertising materials. Outhwaite’s adventurous and whimsical stories served to attract the attention of young children, making a lasting impression in their mind, and eventually strengthening the companys ability to harness childrens influence on family purchasing decisions. 

The Fairy Story That Came True and another promotional fairy tale for Shell, The Sentry and the Shell Fairy (1928) form part of the Shell Company Historical Collection at the University of Melbourne Archives. Further information about this collection can be found in the online exhibition Everybody Loves a Road Trip!, which explored the nostalgia of Australian road trip culture. 


(1) Outhwaite, Ida Sherbourne (1888–1960), Australian Dictionary of Biography, accessed October 29 2020.   

(2) Fairy-tales, feminism and fame: The story of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, ABC Radio National, accessed October 29 2020.  

Sir Peter MacCallum: The man behind the monument

By Neville Yeomans

This post was written as part of the graduate course Digital Humanities MULT900056. Neville Yeomans is currently undertaking a Doctor of Philosophy in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. His thesis examines the history of Australia’s medical immigrants since colonisation.

Melbournians view the hospital and institute that bears MacCallum’s name [1] with a mixture of fondness and apprehension – after all, a cancer diagnosis is a frightening thing. But most of us know little about the man himself.

His more public achievements have been well documented [2]. He was born a Scottish immigrant whose many roles included professor of Pathology at University of Melbourne, dean of its medical faculty and Chair of the Australian Red Cross Society. But the contributions that particularly led to the establishment of the hospital with his name included his eighteen years (1946-63) as chair of the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria.

The eight volumes of his papers in the university’s archives give a more intimate picture of the man [3]. MacCallum seems to have been something of a hoarder. Handwritten versions of his public lectures sit side by side with later typewritten versions with numerous corrections and pasted insertions. In these days of word-processors, few keep such a detailed audit trail. Why he kept all those drafts we can only guess – perhaps with an eye to history, more likely because he couldn’t bear to throw things away. One whole folder in the University of Melbourne Archives (1975.0042, Unit 2, folder 16) was devoted to car parking, and included a book on “Parking Programs in the USA”. Was this idle fascination? Was he working on a project for parking in Melbourne? The archive holds its tongue!

Probably less known among his interests and contributions were his travels to observe medicine and medical education in India, China and Japan. The first to India was in 1951-2, departing by ship on Christmas Eve. He had arrived within five years of the partition of India and his notes show his concern and sorrow for the anguish of the many displaced persons which it produced [4]. He returned in 1957, and was obviously feted during this trip, since among the memorabilia he kept were invitations and even menus from some of the functions he attended – one with the President of India.

Menu from a Luncheon in India, 25 October 1957.

Image: Annotated menu from a luncheon, India, 1957, Sir Peter MacCallum Collection, 1975.0042

The 1957 trip was as part of a delegation examining medical education in China. Again, he kept a detailed diary, arriving via Hong Kong. The Chinese Premier (Chou En-Lai) said at a reception, “We hope that our foreign comrades and friends … will give us criticism and counsel … so that we may learn and benefit thereby.” This was of course a time when Australia did not diplomatically recognise China – eight years after the Communist Revolution and before Mao Zedong’s education program for China’s ‘barefoot doctors’ [5].

As in India, MacCallum kept memorabilia of his visit to China and Japan: copies of invitations, a donated medical paper in Mandarin, maps and brochures of cultural sites, and even the ticket for his transfer from Tokyo airport. This was a fastidious man.

MacCallum was also an internationalist and a humanitarian. He ended a lecture in Melbourne after his Indian trip by reminding his audience that Rudyard Kipling was often quoted as saying “East is East and West is West, and Never the Twain shall meet.” But Kipling had actually closed that gulf in the remainder of his verse [6]:

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;

But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,

When two strong men stand face to face though they come from the ends of the earth!



[1] The Peter MacCallum Hospital began in 1950. It is now incorporated within the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre in the medical precinct adjacent to the University of Melbourne medical school, but continues its name as the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre: (

[2] See Sir Peter MacCallum’s entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography:

[3] University of Melbourne Archives, 1975.0042 MacCallum, Peter_Prof.Sir

[4] For a brief history of the partition, see

[5] A Western account of the barefoot doctors’ program, by the then editor of the British Medical Journal, is available at

[6] Kipling, Rudyard. “The Ballad of East and West.” (1899), first published in The Pioneer, 2 December 1889 and available at MacCallum left out much of Kipling’s punctuation in the version typed at the end of his speech – though, to be fair, he intended simply to read it.

Microcosm of a global disaster

By Margaret Mary Sheehan

In the pages of the ‘Influenza Temporary Hospital Staff Register’, held by the  University of Melbourne Archives, is evidence of the Spanish influenza pandemic that wrought havoc across the world between 1918 and 1920. Bound in red leather and unprepossessing in appearance, this journal was created by the Victorian Branch of the Australian Red Cross Society and contains lists of volunteers who offered their services during the first wave of the virus in Melbourne that started in January 1919. Two more waves or recrudescence swept across Victoria in the following eight months with a devastating effect on the State’s population. More than 3,500 people died in Victoria, a terrible loss after the horrifying war losses.

Figure 1.

The journal’s function was administrative and was organised geographically by the volunteers’ hospital location. Thirty-four emergency hospitals (the Register describes them as ‘temporary hospitals’) were created throughout the metropolitan area to manage the critically ill who overwhelmed the health care system during the pandemic. Schools delayed opening after the summer break, and many were converted into emergency hospitals. Also converted were drill halls, kindergartens, army base hospitals, as well as the (Royal) Exhibition Building. Yet buildings were comparatively more easily found than experienced staff as many nurses had yet to return from the war, resulting in a dire shortage of qualified carers. Calls for volunteers went out, and in late January a Red Cross worker began diligently listing names in the ‘Influenza Temporary Hospital Staff’ Register.

The Register recorded those who volunteered over a period of 10 weeks, the first entry being on 25 January 1919 and the final on 11 April 1919, the greatest number offering help in February during the first onslaught of the disease.[1] But what was the purpose of the Register? Was a letter of notification sent to the emergency facility where the volunteer was posted? Were volunteers tracked? Was there more than one Register? Whilst these are seemingly unanswerable questions, we can know that this Register was created by one individual, for the handwriting remains constant. This nameless person had the task of receiving offers of help; listing the date of registering; their level of experience, if relevant; hospital placement; and ultimately preserving this record of volunteers.

More than 670 community members were registered: all were women, mainly offering to nurse and care for the ill, although some volunteered to cook, work in laundries, or act as ward-maids. Little more than 80 were registered trained nurses, accredited by the professional body the Victorian Trained Nurses Association, and not quite a third were members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment VADs. Generally these VADs were young upper or middle class women of ‘independent means’ who would have presented with first aid training and home nursing certificates awarded by St John’s Ambulance.[2] Another smaller percentage (about 50) were described as ‘partly trained’. The majority (337) had no formal training and were simply keen to help in a time of community crisis.

The stress or difficulties of volunteering are also reflected in the Register in a perfunctory manner, for the word ‘left’ is neatly recorded against some names, occasionally in red ink. Many volunteers were young girls (about 550 were described as ‘Miss’) who had never seen anyone critically ill, let alone watched them die, and were required to care for many delirious and distressing cases. Perhaps it is unsurprising that more than 70 left without explanation. The Register also records those who did not survive, such as Annie Prince who died on 1st March 1919, after caring for patients in the Exhibition Building’s emergency hospital.[3] Another, Daisy Carr, died on 14 April, also after caring for influenza patients in the Exhibition Building.[4]

The Red Cross ‘Influenza Temporary Hospital Staff’ Register offers an important glimpse into the human cost of an event that remains Australia’s worst natural disaster in terms of lives lost. It also provides a microcosm of the Melbourne community’s response, and generosity of its female members.

Open volume showing pages of handwritten entries.
Figure 2.


  1. Hospital beds in the Great Hall during the Spanish influenza pandemic, 1919. MM 103429, Museums Victoria Collections
  2. Influenza Temporary Hospital Staff Register, UMA 2016.0074.00002


[1] Australian Red Cross Society, Victorian Division, ‘Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) and Field Force Personnel Records’,  Influenza Temporary Hospital Staff Register, UMA 2016.0074, pages 13 & 54

[2] Melanie Oppenheimer. 2014. The Power of Humanity : 100 Years of Australian Red Cross 1914-2014. Harper Collins Australia., page 31

[3] Influenza Temporary Hospital Staff Register, ibid., page 32; Weekly Times, 15 March 1919, page 38

[4] Ibid., page 1; Geelong Advertiser, 19 April 1919, page 7

Fritz Loewe and polar exploration

Figure 1: Fritz Loewe

The University of Melbourne Archives is thrilled to announce that the papers of meteorologist and glaciologist Fritz Loewe, first acquired by the University of Melbourne Archives in 1988, have been arranged and described in detail in online finding aids, which are now accessible from our online catalogue.

After a long search for funding and a German speaking archivist, researchers can search across three series for key events, important correspondents and research expeditions as well as being able to view file titles in both German and English.

Correspondence in the 2019.0020 series between Loewe and various University of Melbourne professors offers insight into migration out of Germany from Nazi persecution and the role that institutions such as The University of Melbourne played in assisting Jewish people escape Europe.

Researchers can find data gathered at the beginning of the 20th Century from the ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica in the 2019.0021 series, particularly Loewe’s research on Greenland (including his experiences on the Wegener Expedition in 1929-1930) and Antarctica (including the Wyatt Earp Expedition in 1947 and the French Scientific Expedition in 1950-1951). These are important records that may hold valuable evidence of climatic changes and patterns in polar activity.

Loewe collected and curated travel guides, hiking and topographical maps, including maps of the German Reich, as well as keeping journals, newsletters and magazines from various associations and societies. These publications have been collated in the 2019.0022 series.

Many photographs taken by Loewe and his fellow expedition members are discoverable through UMA’s Digitised Items Catalogue, available on the UMA homepage.

Fritz Loewe’s papers are a significant part of UMA’s holdings of collections relating to polar exploration. His research in Antarctica follows the work of earlier explorers, such as geologist and the University’s first Vice-chancellor Sir Raymond Priestley. Part of Ernest Shackleton’s (1907-1909) and Robert Falcon Scott’s disastrous (1910-1913) expeditions, his collection of 1,300 glass lantern slides are digitised and available on the Digitised Items catalogue.

The University’s involvement in Antarctic research is illustrated in material found in the University Registrar’s Correspondence series, from its earliest beginnings through to the 1980s. Researchers can also use the Registrar’s Correspondence series to follow the University’s efforts to bring Loewe to Melbourne, and head Australia’s first university Department of Meteorology.

For further information about UMA collection material relating to Antarctica see the Polar Exploration subject guide.

Figure 2: Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition

Figure 1: Loewe looking through an instrument, undated, Fritz Leowe Collection,1988.0160.00097

Figure 2: Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition, January 1908. Sir Raymond Priestley Collection, 2017.0071.00685

Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack and the Bauhaus

Colour photograph of two people looking at a table with various spinning tops. Above the table hangs a colour chart and a colour chart explaining how the spinning tops work.
Figure 1 – Bauhaus exhibition, 1961

Jane Beattie, Assistant Archivist
Melinda Barrie, Archivist
Georgie Ward, Assistant Archivist

2019 marks the centenary anniversary of the opening of the Bauhaus Arts School in Berlin. Influenced by the 19th and early-20th-century artistic movements, the Bauhaus approach to teaching, and to the relationship between art, society, and technology, had a major impact around the world long after its closure under Nazi pressure in 1933.  

Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack delivered the first dedicated course on colour at the Bauhaus (as an unofficial course) in the winter semester of 1922-23, drawing on his life long fascination with the dynamic relationship between colour, movement and music. In his famous publication ‘The Bauhaus: An Introductory Survey’ Hirschfeld-Mack recalls how his own early interest in colour theory was inspired by the work of artists such as Paul Klee and Wasily Kandisky. He further describes the early experiments he conducted from 1922 to 1923 in the blending of primary colours and light which led to the development of his ‘Reflected Light Composition’ and ‘Colour Light Plays’. These early Bauhaus experiments later found expression in a didactic spinning top that demonstrated the optical mixing of colour upon a set of coloured plates. A model of the spinning top was produced for the opening of the Bauhaus Archive in Dramstadt, Germany in 1964, and later used in children’s education in Victoria, especially at the Kindergarten Teachers’ College in Kew. 

Hirschfeld-Mack remained at the Bauhaus until 1926 and developed the “Farbenlichtspiele” (colour-light play), a further demonstration of the application of colour theory. Colour light plays were developed out of Hirschfeld-Mack’s experience in painting, and the need to turn the dynamic and rhythmic movements of colours into movement. Musical accompaniment heightened the experience. The plays were first performed at the Bauhaus Archive in Dramstadt in 1923, they were again performed in 1964 at the Archive when a film of the performance was made. The collection contains complete designs of the organ, as well as instructions for how to set up and use, and scores for the musical component.   

Black and white photograph of two men looking at blueprints. They are seated in front of a large metal apparatus.
Figure 2 – The Colour Light Projection Apparatus, 1923

After fleeing Germany to London in the lead up to World War Two, Hirschfeld-Mack was deported to Australia on the ship HMT Dunera in 1940 as an enemy alien. Despite internment in camps at Hay, Orange and Tatura , Hirschfeld-Mack continued producing artistic works and was eventually released through the efforts of Dr. James Darling. Hirschfeld-Mack was employed as art master at the Geelong Church of England Grammar School until his retirement in 1957, and taught at the University of Melbourne, the Council of Adult Education and elsewhere until 1965. 

A heritage trail tracing Hirschfeld-Mack’s influence around the Geelong Grammar campus and further information about the art teacher known as “Hirsch” can be found on the school’s website

The Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack collection housed at UMA covers almost the whole period of Hirschfeld-Mack’s adult life, from photographs at teaching college in Dusseldorf to blueprints for the colour organ, to educational material and photographs of his students artistic work at Geelong Grammar and correspondence with luminaries of the Bauhaus such as Wasily KandiskyLászló Moholy-Nagy, and Josef Albers. Some correspondence, mostly between Hirschfeld-Mack and Hans Wingler, discusses destruction of the intellectual elite through the Nazis. Collection material is frequently used by students and academics alike for it’s deep research themes and comprehensive study of a fascinating life which has enriched the Australian art and educational landscapes. 

To see the Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack (1971.0009) collection listing visit the UMA catalogue.

Figure 1 – Spinning top and colour chart, Bauhaus exhibition 1961, Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack Collection, 1971.0009.00007. Reproduced with permission.
Figure 2 – Ludwig Hirschfeld’s Macks’ Colour Light Projection Apparatus, 1923, Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack Collection, 1971.0009.00013. Reproduced with permission. 

UMA’s tribute to John Ellis, Activist Archivist Photographer

Deputy University Archivist Sue Fairbanks attended the Memorial for John Ellis in Geelong, Sunday 11 August.

Sue’s Tribute.

John Ellis at the exhibition launch for
Protest! Archives from the University of Melbourne,
Leigh Scott Gallery, Baillieu Library,
20 February 2013,
Photographer: Michael Silver

I first met John Ellis in 1991 when I was the newly appointed Labour Archivist at the University of Melbourne Archives (UMA). One of my first projects was to negotiate the purchase of John’s photographs of the peace and protest movements in Melbourne from the 1970s on. Over the next 30 years I came to understand how constant and deep John’s dedication to the peace and left movements was. He was the best example of an Activist Archivist – he was both a participant and documenter for nearly 50 years.

The legacy of his activism at UMA dates from the early 1990s. We now hold 10 acquisitions from him – 3 tranches of his photo collection; his poster collection; 2 of his exhibitions; his early participation in the Moorabbin Peace Action Committee; and his activism through music, one of his other great passions.  He also encouraged other organisations to preserve and deposit their records. Thanks to him and Romina Beitseen we hold the second tranche of the records of the Committee for International Cooperation and Disarmament (CICD); the International Bookshop; and the Eureka Youth League.

John and his great comrade, Les Dalton, volunteered at the UMA for many years. Les catalogued the records of the peace movement and the Peace Parsons such as the Rev. Alf Dickie. John’s speciality, of course, was photography and he photographed his way through his own the poster collection and those of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, the CICD, and the Communist Party of Australia. John also knew the importance of celebrating the achievements of the people who participated in the peace and left movements with him. He held the ‘Stand up’ exhibition in 1998 which subsequently toured through nine galleries to 2004. His ‘Speak Out’ exhibition at the Brunswick Town Hall in 2006 was a collaboration with the UMA. His last exhibition was on activism in Queenscliff.

When John moved to Queenscliff, we joked that he was retiring from his retirement. Of course, he did no such thing. I remember visiting John and his partner Dianne when I was 7 months pregnant with my twins. We discussed and set up a database for him to catalogue his photos into. My twin daughters are now 18 years old – that is another 18 years of Activist Archivism for John and Dianne. During these years John wanted his work to continue and passed the baton for photographing left events to Peter Love: he has entrusted Dianne with depositing more of his legacy with the UMA. But maybe it will take a village of Activist Archivists to replace John and his dedication. UMA owes John a huge debt of gratitude.

I give my condolences and those of the UMA to Dianne and John’s family. Rest in Peace John.

Sue Fairbanks

Deputy Archivist,

University of Melbourne Archives

When Greer came home: January – March 1972 ‘Save us from shaggy Germ, O Man.’

Vanessa O’Neill is the recipient of the Joyce Thorpe Nicholson Fellowship. Her research has explored the impact of Greer’s provocations at key points in time over the past 50 years, primarily through the General Correspondence Series (2004.0042) and the Early Years Academic, Performance, Writing and Personal Papers (2014.0044) of the Greer Archive.

The 25 year-old Germaine Greer who left Australia for Cambridge in 1964 did so anonymously, but the Greer who returned in 1972 was internationally renowned and her visit provoked a storm that touched on many of the most profound issues of the day. That reaction prompted Claudia Wright of The Herald to declare:

‘I am in the mood to vent the sadness and shame I feel for this country’s treatment of Germaine Greer. This woman, who is the best-known Australian in the western world, came like a beautiful Amazon with a bomb hidden under her skirts. She exploded across the country as no other visitor has of late…Her bomb detonated too soon. Germaine Greer is ahead of her time.’[1]

Image 1 Germaine Greer at Sydney press conference, 15 January 1972.

On Saturday 15 January 1972, Greer’s first press conference in Australia took place at a motel in King’s Cross in Sydney. For two hours, she took part in radio, television and press interviews. She spoke on a range of topics including her opinion of the First Lady Sonia McMahon, the inequity of women’s pay in Australia, and the limited availability of birth control. Much of the attention in the press was focused upon Germaine Greer’s appearance, which The Sunday Telegraph described in great detail: ‘She was dressed simply in a wool midi suit, mustard coloured singlet and purple suede boots over navy blue above-the-knee socks. Needless to say she was bra-less. At 6 foot 2 inches and 32 years of age, the long, languid Miss Greer looks dishy.’[2] In case imagination alone was not enough, readers were also provided with a photograph of Greer (Image 1).

On that same day, a review of The Female Eunuch appeared in The Age. It is interesting to note that of the wide range of reviews from across the world, in the Greer Archive Press Files, there is not one that is as dismissive nor as damning as that written by Thelma Forshaw in Greer’s hometown of Melbourne:

‘King Kong is back. The exploits of the outsized gorilla may have been banned as too scary for kids, but who’s to shield us cowering adults? To increase the terror, the creature now rampaging is a kind of female – a female eunuch. It’s Germ Greer, with a tiny male in her hairy paw (no depilatories) who has been storming round the world knocking over the Empire State Building, scrunching up Big Ben and is now bent on ripping the Sydney Harbour Bridge from its pylons and drinking up the Yarra.’[3] The lengthy piece concluded with: ‘Save us from shaggy Germ, O Man.’ 

Image 2 Thelma Forshaw’s review of ‘The Female Eunuch’.

This review was reproduced in a number of papers nationally. What is notable when looking through the press coverage is how carefully images of Greer were selected to reflect particular journalists attitudes towards her. Forshaw’s review was frequently accompanied by images of Greer that portrayed her as wild or uncouth (Image 2). Other more sympathetic articles, such as that in The Sunday Telegraph,  were accompanied by images that portrayed Greer as confident, poised, commanding and attractive.

Thelma Forshaw’s provoked such a strong outcry from readers, that the Letters to the Editor sections in The Age for the following week were dominated by letters written in response to this review. Most of them strongly defended the book and protested that Forshaw had completely misrepresented both Greer and her ideas. J. Morton of South Yarra wrote, ‘It was with disgust that I read in your normally responsible newspaper a scurrilous personal attack masquerading as a book review.’ V. Barnett of Beaumaris wrote: ‘I hope the negative review will not deter anybody from reading this most interesting and thought-provoking book.’[4]


The review did not deter readers. Within six weeks of Greer’s arrival in Australia, all 120,000 copies of The Female Eunuch had sold out. Mike Willesee devoted an entire Current Affair episode to an interview with her. Greer’s appearance on the ABC’s Monday Conference, debating Reverend Alan Walker (on issues including abortion law reform, the institution of marriage and sexual freedom) achieved a rating of 16, compared to the usual 4 or 5. Greer took part in a debate at Sydney Town Hall, organised by the Abortion Law Reform Association. The ABC Four Corners program covering this debate was cancelled at the last minute, by the ABC’s General Manager, claiming that Germaine Greer had already received ‘exhaustive exposure’.

Image 3 Flyer for Sydney Town Hall debate

Greer’s letters provide testimony to her high demand at this time. Harry M. Miller wrote offering to represent her, but a hand-written ‘no answer’ appears on his letter. A request for an interview from Ernie Sigley’s producer in Adelaide (claiming that the presenter’s views are ‘diametrically opposed to your own…which could prove highly entertaining.’)[5] has ‘no’ hand-written on it. Greer responded to a letter from Lady Fairfax saying she was unable to attend a function as her guest speaker. In another letter, Greer refers to the fact that Winsome McCaughey has hosted a private meeting between Greer and local members of the Women’s Movement at her home in Parkville. Greer refused an invitation to address the Sydney Journalists Club, on the grounds that women did not have the right to be full members.

Germaine Greer did address the Canberra Press Club and at a lunch with 62 female journalists in Sydney proposed the formation of the Media Women’s Action Group. The Group subsequently won the right to full membership of the Australian Journalists Association and the Sydney Press Club. During Greer’s time in Australia, she took part in a Women’s March in Sydney campaigning for the right to equal pay, free contraception and safe legal abortions. Greer’s visit also coincided with the establishment of the Women’s Electoral Lobby in Australia.

The Press Files contained within the Greer Archive, in the Australia 1972 folders, offer evidence of the high level of interest that Germaine Greer’s two-month visit provoked. Letters to the Editor continued to be dominated by varying opinions of Greer. Mrs M.J. Barrier of Hawthorn wrote, ‘If over-education produces people like her, thank heavens for little brains.’[6]

On the eve of Greer’s departure on 23 March 1972, The Sydney Morning Herald interviewed a range of people about the impact of Greer’s visit. Bob Hawke, then president of the ACTU said, ‘I think Germaine has been a refreshing experience; she has jolted many people into the unusual experience of thinking instead of jumping to conclusions.’ [7]

The Greer Archive contains the typewritten notes that Greer made for her final press conference before departing Australia in March 1972:

‘You could say I’m leaving for my health. One more day of Australian newspapers and I’ll have a plastic bag instead of a colon. I don’t know how the rest of you stand it. You must have bowels of iron and hearts of oak.’

Despite what Greer perceived to be a negative response within the Australian press, she concluded by acknowledging the many people who had supported her during her visit:

‘So to all the people who have plucked my sleeve in the street, who have let me talk my heart out at luncheons, who waited outside and in the Town Hall to show their support for Abortion Law Repeal, to the Media Women, the lady in the Health Food Shop, the fruit shop and at the newsagency at Bondi, and the gentleman who gave me a lift of the dry cleaner’s thank-you for the impact you had on me. I’ll miss you.’[8]

The responses to Greer during her return visit from January – March 1972 highlight many of the tensions that were apparent within Australia society during the early seventies. The explosion of what Claudia Wright called the Greer ‘bomb’ is reflected in the extent to which women’s roles were being shaken up – something that was being met with a mixture of both fierce resistance and joyous celebration. The Greer Archive offers important insights into the impact that Greer’s visit had, not only within Australian society, but also upon Greer herself.

Image 4 Copy of the review by Thelma Forshaw that first appeared in The Age, 15 January 1972

[1] Claudia Wright, The Herald, 25 March, 1972

[2] Kerry McGlynn, The Sunday Telegraph, 16 January 1972

[3] Thelma Forshaw, The Age, 15 January, 1972

[4] Letters to the Editor, The Age, 20 January, 1972

[5] Letter to Germaine Greer from ‘Adelaide Tonight’ Producer Frank Ward, 25 January, 1972 located in The University of Melbourne Archives: Early Years 2014.0044 Unit 15

[6] Letters to the Editor, The Age, 27 January 1972

[7] The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 March, 1972

[8] Typewritten notes by Germaine Greer, located in the University of Melbourne Archives: Early Years 2014.0044 Unit 15

Image 1 Germaine Greer at her first Sydney Press Conference, as reported in The Sunday Telegraph (source News Limited). Many press articles of this event used versions of this photograph. University of Melbourne Archives, Germaine Greer Collection, Early Years series, 2014.0044, Unit 15

Image 2 Thelma Forshaw’s review of ‘The Female Eunuch’, The Age, 15 January 1972. University of Melbourne Archives, Germaine Greer Collection, Early Years series, 2014.0044, Unit 15

Image 3 Flyer for Sydney Town Hall debate, University of Melbourne Archives, Germaine Greer Collection, Early Years series, 2014.0044, Unit 15

Image 4 Image 4 Copy of the review by Thelma Forshaw that first appeared in The Age in The Saturday Review section, 15 January 1972, University of Melbourne Archives, Germaine Greer Collection, Early Years series, 2014.0044, Unit 15

Insurance records are not exciting

By Catherine De Luca

This is not a particularly controversial statement if the first conference for the History capstone subject at the University of Melbourne in 2018 is anything to go by. David Goodman was introducing the Archival History stream, one of four options for students, and made a point of telling us that the University of Melbourne Archives have a large collection of insurance records. I could practically hear the sound of eyes rolling and glazing over. After all, insurance records are for economic historians, right? Not many students in that room had any interest in economic history. This is not where I reveal that I have such an interest, though it is as valid a form of history as any.

Life Insurance Policy of Charlotte C. P. Wilbraham
Life Insurance Policy of Charlotte C. P. Wilbraham, 27 Feb 1871. University of Melbourne Archives, Victoria Insurance Co., 1963.0026, Unit 165.

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The Spirit of England in Australia: Alan Bell’s Nightly Broadcasts

By Harshini Goonetilleke

“Lately, I have been strenuously ramming down Australian throats Britain’s efforts and burden – which swell impressively when you are so many thousand miles away.”[1] Alan Bell was indeed very far away from the wintery English landscape that he called home. May 1942 saw Bell make his way to the other side of the world on secondment to Melbourne radio station 3DB. The well-known Fleet Street journalist, who had made a name for himself through his work at the London Daily Mail and the BBC was now striving to serve his country in Australia, conveying England’s plight to her people in the Dominion.

Caricature of Bell by Herald cartoonist, “Wells”
Fig. 1. Cartoon of Alan Bell by the Melbourne Herald cartoonist, Wells. Image featured in Alan Bell’s second volume of broadcasts published in 1944 entitled Night In, Night Out. Accessed through the National Library of Victoria.

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