University of Melbourne Archives

Aunt Mavis’ Basket Maker: Germaine Greer’s CUNT index cards

Carly Pettiona

The Germaine Greer Archive offers insight into the thoughts, correspondences, writing and planning processes of one of the most controversial and well-known feminists of the 20th century. This archive includes a collection of index cards she made while writing and editing The Female Eunuch. Nestled in the collection, between index cards that contain notes about references and commentary on history, there are two cards simply labelled CUNT (Items: 2014.0039.0351 and 2014.0039.0358). Both are dated 1968 and have been digitised as part of the curation of the Germaine Greer archive undertaken by the University, and you can learn more about the index cards from Rachel Buchanan’s University of Melbourne Archives blog post.

Still from YouTube video: Germaine Greer on the Etymology of "the C word".. BabyradfemTV, 2016
Still from YouTube video:, Germaine Greer on the Etymology of “the C word”.. BabyradfemTV, 2016:

Continue reading “Aunt Mavis’ Basket Maker: Germaine Greer’s CUNT index cards”

First industry steps for those who feed us

Argyris Karavis

The formation of the Master Caterers Association (MCA) is connected to two major shifts in Australian social life at the turn of twentieth century Australia. The first is a boom in public venues for the consumption of food – restaurants, refreshment rooms, cafes and oyster saloons – in Melbourne and Sydney between 1890 and 1910[1]. The second is the emergence of organised national industrial relations[2].  The minutes from the first two years of the Master Caterers Association reveal how the owners of those businesses who feed us had to grapple with setting up an employer body to represent this newly emerging industry and the issues to be addressed for participation in the newly established industrial relations system. Continue reading “First industry steps for those who feed us”

“Fraser meets digger”

Pauline Georgelin

"Fraser meets digger", unknown paper, 1966
“Fraser meets digger”, unknown paper, 1966. Una Fraser collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 2008.0058 unit 2

This photo “Fraser meets digger” differs from most of the scrapbook clippings in that it has no date, nor is it pasted into the scrapbook. Dating from a later period, it is simply “popped in” as though Una was going through a busy time. Perhaps she thought she would return to it later. Continue reading ““Fraser meets digger””

“Bread & Butter issues” in the 1955 Wannon election: Malcolm Fraser and the Labor split

Timo Eckhardt

Two articles relating to the 1955 election
Two articles relating to the 1955 election. Una Fraser collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 2008.0058 unit 2

The Australian federal elections held on the December 10 1955 marked an important change in Australian politics that would endure for the next 23 years. The Labor party split into the Herbert Evatt Labor Party and the Robert Joshua Labor Party (Anti-Communist, and later called the Democratic Labor Party) This split dramatically divided votes for Labor politics and therefore rewarded a surging Liberal Party. Additionally this election marks the entry of John Malcolm Fraser into federal parliament and the start of a political trajectory that leads him to become one of the most iconic figures in Australian politics. Continue reading ““Bread & Butter issues” in the 1955 Wannon election: Malcolm Fraser and the Labor split”

Fraser’s Political Football

Adam Eldridge-Imamura 

Letter from Malcolm Fraser to the Editor of The Sun newspaper, 6 June 1954
Letter from Malcolm Fraser to the Editor of The Sun newspaper, 6 June 1954. Una Fraser collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 2008.0058 unit 2

In a draft letter dated 6 June 1954 to the Melbourne newspaper The Sun News Pictorial, Fraser disputes an article that was published on its front page on 3 June 1954 that he did not play local football for “political reasons”. Continue reading “Fraser’s Political Football”

‘Dear Householder’

Anton Donohoe-Marques

Electorate letter from Malcolm Fraser, 14 April, 1954
Electorate letter from Malcolm Fraser, 14 April, 1954. Una Fraser collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 2008.0058 unit 2

‘Dear Householder,’ begins this intriguing letter from former Liberal Party Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s first political campaign for the electorate of Wannon, in 1954. The signature, indelibly marked in blue pen at bottom of the letter, evokes an image of a young and passionate Fraser sitting at his desk, hand aching, signing letters repeatedly to be delivered around the electorate of Wannon. This personalised style of political engagement is a far cry from present-day political leaflet drops, printed by the thousands and deposited in letterboxes by crews of political canvassers. The bespoke nature of the letter is also emphasised by the typed text, sometimes wonky and yet carefully formatted, which hints at the typist, perhaps Fraser himself or a friend or a relative, working tirelessly over a typewriter to produce copy after copy for the campaign.

The document itself comes from one of Una’s carefully compiled scrapbooks. In the latter years of her life Una attended lectures at Melbourne University, taking a strong interest in history and art history. Given her love of the historical landscape then, it is unsurprising that she understood the value of archived documents for future generations of historians and history students (as well as any other potentially interested parties). In this context, the letter, along with the other ephemera contained within these scrapbooks, are imbued with a duality that straddles the line between private and public. They illustrate a mother’s pride and care for her son’s achievements, as well as an understanding of the historical value of archival artefacts.

Historically, I was intrigued by this particular letter which embodies the idealism that drove Fraser in his early political life. Notorious for his role as caretaker prime minister following the Whitlam dismissal, at this period Fraser was an unknown quantity in the Australian political sphere. This letter to the ‘Householder’ begins however to demonstrate Fraser’s passion for the political philosophy of liberalism, fostered during his time at Oxford University, from where he had graduated two years earlier.1

The issues Fraser identifies bear a distinctly individualist and egalitarian tone. He implores his readers that “a country should be described as great if the individual happiness of every citizen is the first thought of its leaders.”2 He further advises the importance of this notion for the future of the country in his statement that Australians love their nation “not only a place where we are free and can work happily for our own prosperity but also as a place that holds a wonderful future for our children.”3 Fraser’s emphasis on egalitarianism and self-determination is consistent both with his own rural upbringing and with the ‘bushman ethos’ identified by Russell Ward as a foundational part of the Australian national character. This ‘bushman ethos’ describes a distinctly Australian national character marked by irreverence, egalitarianism and a rugged style of masculine individualism.4 In the context of Fraser’s eventual rise to the highest office in Australian politics, this early example of engagement with his voting bloc is a modest illustration of the values and rhetoric that would come to define his political career.

Anton’s thesis examines the changing shape of remembrance practices that centre upon the Second World War in Australia. It examines how these practices have shifted in response to political and cultural changes in Australian society over a number of contexts.

1 Philip Ayres, Malcolm Fraser: a biography (William Heinemann Australia, 1987), 53.

2 Malcolm Fraser, “Letter to Wannon Constituents,” Letter, April 14, 1954, Una Fraser collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 2008.0058 unit 2.

3 Ibid.

4 Russel Ward, The Australian Legend (Oxford University Press, 1965), 2.

The Una Fraser Collection

Una Fraser with Malcolm Fraser, 1930
Una Fraser with Malcolm Fraser, 1930. Malcolm Fraser collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 2005.0036.00007

The Una Fraser collection in the University of Melbourne Archives includes two large scrapbooks of various ephemera – newspaper cut-outs, photos, letters – collected by Una Fraser, Malcolm Fraser’s mother, during the 1950s and 60s. Carefully clipped and pasted into the scrapbook, with dates noted by hand, they convey the sense of personal and intimate links to the future Prime Minister (1975-1983). Whilst the majority of these items relate to Fraser’s political life, there are also a number of other items related to the Fraser family, including family photographs and clippings from local newspapers, which give a window into rural life in Australia in the mid-twentieth century.

From this collection and in this context, doctoral students have each chosen a different document from the early stages of Malcolm Fraser’s career, particularly those which shed some insight into his sometimes contentious political journey.

In Fraser’s letter to the householder, Anton Donohoe-Marque examines a typed, hand-signed campaign letter from Fraser to the constituents of Wannon, a seat in Western Victoria. In it, Fraser champions the values of individualism and egalitarianism he developed studying political philosophy at Oxford and so makes an appeal to the ‘bushman ethos’ that would likely resonate in the rural communities of Wannon.

In ‘Fraser’s Political Football‘, Adam Eldridge explores another typed letter from Fraser to the Melbourne daily newspaper, The Sun. This document takes issue with the Melbourne-based Sun newspaper for its distortions and false attributions, and unfortunately seems to reinforce the caricature of Fraser as a humourless figure, quick to combat the media. However, the scrapbook reveals that the Sun letter followed other letters published in regional newspapers which show young Fraser’s media savvy as well as a rarely seen self-deprecating aspect to his character.

In ‘Bread and Butter Issues’, Timo Eckhardt looks at two articles from Fraser’s successful 1955 campaign for Wannon. First, Fraser seeks to appeal to the people of Wannon by extolling the virtues of the thrifty Menzies government’s social policies and secondly, he shows his passion for international politics and warns against the ALP’s closeness to communism.

Finally, in ‘Fraser meets Digger’, Pauline Georgelin considers a photo of Fraser as Minister for the Army meeting a digger in South Vietnam in July 1967. The photo provides yet another glimpse into Fraser’s lifelong passion for international politics and is particularly interesting in light of the 56,000 Vietnamese immigrants welcomed to Australia by his government during the 1970s.

The Overland Letter

Nathaniel Cutter

James Graham’s Overland Letter provides a vivid account of the early settlement of Victoria and of the hopefulness of many of its settlers, and through the physical writing style a vibrant material record of the challenges and ingenuity the colonial experience afforded. The letter was presented to the University of Melbourne Archives in 1961, within the extensive business and personal archive of Graham’s prominent trading and retail firm Graham Brothers and Co. The collection, which spans the period 1839-1960, can be found at the accession number 1961.0014; the Overland Letter and transcript at 1961.0014.0004546.

Even though James writes the diagonals in red ink to aid readability, having a transcript is extremely helpful to the modern reader! Other writers of the time experimented with different paper-saving methods, including shorthand, reusing paper, or writing over newsprint.[3] Unlike many long letters of the time, Graham appears to predominantly written in one sitting, rather than over a period of repeated folding, storage, unfolding, and additions.In July 1839, James Graham, a new settler in the Port Phillip District of the Colony of New South Wales, wrote to his family in Fife, Scotland. This letter was his first in over a year, meaning he had plenty to say, to update (and reassure!) his readers.[1] James employs a wonderful example of the prevalent contemporary cross-writing technique: writing horizontally, vertically and diagonally to save expensive paper, and filling two large leaves of heavy paper with enough text to require 40 pages of transcription – yet even still he found himself forced “to draw to a conclusion for want of paper, tho’ I have a great deal more to say.”[2]

James Graham, overland letter, 12 July 1839
James Graham, overland letter, 12 July 1839. University of Melbourne Archives, Graham Bros collection, 1961.0014.00046

James first recounts his five-week journey by horse and cart from Sydney through trackless bush, with only damper, tea and salt beef for sustenance.[4] Graham’s party battled thick ice, rough-sleeping, water shortages, wandering horses, falling branches, backward seasons, unusual wildlife, and bushfires, all challenges alien to his own experience and no doubt thrilling to his family in Scotland; yet at the end he wrote, “altogether I was very much delighted with the journey, and would willingly undertake another”![5]

From here James compares his new home in Melbourne, “a most astounding place”, with Sydney. The Melburnian countryside was “as Heaven to us,” but “there is not a more…beautiful harbour in the known world” than that which bisects Sydney’s “extensive and beautiful town.”[6]

Outside the cities, however, a war rages between Indigenous Australians and the newly arrived pastoralists, where the former one is reputed to practice cannibalism, “treachery and ill-will”; while the latter includes Britain’s “most debased and vilest dregs”, who “never look upon the Blacks [as] human beings, but, would just as soon shoot them…or hunt them [as a] kangaroo,” start the majority of violence.[7]

James presents a palpable sympathy for those Indigenous people who “retaliate on the oppressors,” imagining the “heart-rending” experience of being driven from “their dominions…the wild animals [killed]…[and] their women carried off.”[8]

James’ own affairs were promising: sponsored as a Melbourne wool buyer, and placed in charge of 100 acres, he lives in a log cabin until his house is built, and has learned to cook, clean and bake for himself, fancying himself “a great adept” in cookery and having “Scotch acquaintances come miles in the mornings to get a plate full of porridge.”[9] His twelve workmen live onsite with their families, and though in Australia “money is the great idol, and for it they will…undergo any hardship”, these men are “worth their weight in gold.”[10]

Port Phillip is booming, with land speculation and cattle stations proliferating and skilled jobs ready for the taking; but prices are high since everything is shipped from Sydney or Tasmania.[11] With a great sense of optimism about the new colony, James regards emigration to Victoria as an unqualified success, for: “Were I at home and know as much as I do about this country with its privations, hardships and pleasures, I should not have the least hesitation in making up my mind to come out at once.”[12]  The Overland letter is an unusual artifact but it is also an ode to the complex affective responses one of Victoria’s early settlers felt towards both the land and its peoples.

Nathaniel Cutter is a current PhD student in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne, researching the experiences of English expatriates in seventeenth-century North Africa.


[1] Overland Letter transcript, 1.

[2] Overland Letter transcript, 39-40.

[3] David Livingstone famously employed this technique:

[4] Overland Letter transcript, 2-6.

[5] Overland Letter transcript, 6-11, 16-17, 36-37.

[6] Overland Letter transcript, 12.

[7] Overland Letter transcript, 13-14.

[8] Overland Letter transcript, 15.

[9] Overland Letter transcript, 17-25.

[10] Overland Letter transcript, 25.

[11] Overland Letter transcript, 30-33.

[12] Overland Letter transcript, 34.

“A library is a pleasure dome…”: Germaine Greer and libraries

Sarah Brown – Archivist, Germaine Greer Archive

“Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy, neither warm nor cold, light nor dark. The pleasure they give is steady, unorgastic, reliable, deep and long-lasting. In any library in the world I am at home, unselfconscious, still and absorbed.” [1]

Germaine Greer’s sublime quote from Daddy, We Hardly Knew You, her intensely personal book on her search for the truth about her enigmatic father, epitomises Greer’s sustained and enriching relationship with libraries. Libraries are Greer’s safe place, source of intellectual sustenance and demonstrably essential to her scholarship and writing.

Daddy, We Hardly Knew You is Greer‘s story of embarking in the 1980s on a search for her father’s true history, primarily through genealogical research in libraries and archives, beginning in Reg Greer’s home state of Tasmania, progressing to Victoria and ranging worldwide. As an experienced and skilled researcher, Greer makes some biting, often hilarious, observations in this book, and in associated research notebooks and correspondence held in the Greer Archive, about her impressions of the research institutions she encounters. She writes of her frustration at not being allowed to personally search records in the Tasmanian Registrar-General’s Department  and Public Records Office Victoria, as she was used to at the UK Public Records Office, but having to rely on intermediaries, and to add insult to injury, pay for their services She is also shocked to find the State Library of Victoria (SLV) no longer the silent scholarly “Valhalla” she recalled from her childhood when her “dream was to live in this heavenly building and know all its secrets” but like walking into “deafening, smelly chaos” [2], as the SLV transitioned to the better resourced institution we know today, and where, despite her initial impressions, she receives useful advice from knowledgeable staff of the LaTrobe Manuscripts Library. Greer’s quote on the pleasure of libraries has in fact been incorporated in the State Library of Victoria redeveloped domed reading room, and her index cards for Daddy, We Hardly Knew You are held in the collection.[3]

Towards the end of her book, Greer gratefully acknowledges the role of archivists and librarians in finally solving the riddle of her father’s birth through their assiduous research and lateral thinking. “We were closing in on our quarry. Surrounded by gifted and hard working women the lazy man didn’t have a chance. Between my new friends, Mrs Nichols and Mrs Eldershaw at the Archives Office [Tasmania], and Mrs Rosemann at the Local History Room and Miss Record of Launceston College, and his doggedest of daughters, Reg Greer was about to be flushed from his cover. His bluff was about to be called.”[4] And their combined discovery is fascinating.

Page from The Obstacle Race – Green Notebook, 1976, Germaine Greer Collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 2014.0045.00007

As one of the archivists cataloguing the Germaine Greer Archive, I have found evidence throughout of how much libraries matter to Greer. Series 2014.0045 Major Works shows their importance as she researched and wrote her major published works. This series contains many of Greer’s research notebooks, including several containing delightful sketches, notes and library citations, written as she traversed Europe seeking out forgotten women artists for her second major work, The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work (1979). Greer created sequences of handwritten index cards, taxonomies of reference lists, and folders of research material, often copied from library sources, for each of her major published works. [5]

Greer has an enviable capacity to work anywhere, but libraries are her essential resource, and also her comfort zone.  In an article for The Guardian, Greer, reflecting on the boredom of the bookless house of her childhood and her discovery of the joy of libraries, nominated her favourite word: “…if there were a word that remains lovable to me…it would be ‘library’. ‘Tea and buns’ may be nice, but ‘tea and buns in the library’ is rhapsodic.”[6] Greer has studied, researched and written in libraries throughout her career. In 2008, she declined an invitation to appear on an English Television Book Show, ‘The Write Place’, featuring authors’ studies/places of work, replying, “I’m afraid I don’t have a study, nor do I always work in the same place. Most of the work for Shakespeare’s Wife (2008) was done in libraries…”[7]

Cards belonging to Germaine Greer, various dates, Germaine Greer Collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 2017.0004.00045 Membership cards from the Bibliotheque Nationale, The London Library, Royal Anthropological Institute Library, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe degli Uffizi, Frick Art Reference Library, Witt Library, Bodleian Library (and an enviable charge card for the famous Liberty of London shop, c/- Greer’s agent Diana Crawfurd).

Series 2017.0004 Correspondence with Libraries provides a detailed snapshot of Greer’s continuous engagement with libraries and archives and her reliance on these institutions and their collections to support her scholarship and research for over 50 years. This series contains her interactions with over 40 institutions, large and small, public and private, British and international, arranged alphabetically, from the Augustan Reprint Society to Yorkshire Archive Service. The files include the fine detail of her scholarly use of libraries, including borrowing slips, index cards, user guides, library pamphlets, newsletters and brochures, and, always, correspondence between Greer and the institutions on ensuring she correctly cites, acknowledges, and obtains permissions for reproduction of their collection material in her publications. Greer’s fondness for libraries is perhaps best illustrated by her retention of her library and readers’ cards, dating back to 1966. Greer’s correspondence, and daily schedules, conscientiously prepared by her personal assistants, often show her preferring to eschew offers of dinners and hospitality to squeeze library research visits into her busy speaking schedules, for example visiting the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, before returning to England after speaking at the Chicago Humanities Festival in 1999.[8]

The series also contains records of Greer’s engagement in policy, campaigns and issues relating to the development and sustainability of libraries, inevitability touching on the changing roles and capacities of institutions over the years. Greer shows herself an early adopter of some technological developments, such as her support for the development of online databases such as the Perdita Project, a database enabling remote access to early modern women’s manuscripts, and her advocacy of microfilming of rare items for preservation.

Greer is also highly cognisant of the importance of unique physical collections and the research role of libraries and their staff, no doubt understanding that many of her very specialised research interests will never be candidates for digitisation, and also seeming to relish the thrill of the scholar’s chase to track down the elusive manuscript or reference, only achieved by academic knowledge and diligent research, where she leaves no stone unturned.  In 1995, her research on the short lived 17th century poet Anne Wharton (1659-1685) led her via the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, London, to Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire, where she approached the Duke of Rutland asking to see letters held in the private family archive. In her request, Greer wrote “There is so little of a personal nature that relates to Anne Wharton that I cannot bear to think we have not examined this source properly” and hoped the letters between connections of Anne Wharton would correct Wharton’s misrepresentation in history “as a pious, rich, elderly woman when she was a young libertine…” [9]

Greer has long been an advocate for libraries in both formal and informal ways. She has been on the committee of the London Library, a Friend of the Lambeth Palace Library, and a Trustee of Chawton House Library and Study Centre, “a Library for the study of the works of early English women writers (1600-1830)” which opened in 2003. She has provided tangible support by speaking at fund raising events and offering donations of her five books on early women poets, published by her self funded imprint, Stump Cross Books: The Uncollected Verse of Aphra Behn; The Collected Works of Katherine Philips: The Matchless Orinda (Vols.1-111); The Surviving Works of Anne Wharton. Correspondence also shows Greer has a finely tuned ear for the competitive rare book and manuscripts auction scene, writing, for example, of the Bodleian being outbid for a coveted Anne Wharton manuscript at a Sotheby’s sale in 2004, by the better funded Beineke Library at Yale.[10] And she has maintained an almost visceral hatred for the greedy opportunists in the book trade who make money by defacing antiquarian books by removing single plates to sell.

It would probably be easier to note libraries Greer has not used than ones she has, as her research interests have led her to access diverse libraries and collecting institutions everywhere. She has had extended relationships with certain libraries, including the libraries of the institutions she has been attached to, the University of Cambridge and University of Warwick. The University of Cambridge Library she nominates as her “second favourite library”, after the British Library,[11] and she has advocated for better resourcing for Warwick.[12]

Press coverage collage used on cover of The Great British Library Disaster (1993/1994): A report by the British Library Regular Readers’ Group (RRG), Germaine Greer Collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 2017.0004.00012

Greer’s relationship with the British Library, her “library of libraries”, is longstanding and has had complex periods, at times setting her at odds with British Library staff and the wider library profession.  Greer was involved with the British Library Regular Readers’ Group (RRG) in the 1990s. This lobby group produced a series of reports, including The Great British Library Disaster (1993/1994), critical of the prolonged redevelopment, cost blow outs, and loss of the Round Reading Room at Bloomsbury with the proposed move to the new British Library building at St. Pancras. Greer took an active interest in reviews of the British Library and the move and was publicly critical of the management of the British Library and its service to its readers in this period. In a 1994 article written for The Guardian, she decried what she saw as an increasing loss of readers’ rights and inadequate care of the books in the British Library’s care[13] and Greer’s script for a programme made for BBC2 TV in the same year, went so far as to claim “For librarians readers are raiders”; that “the librarians hate being in the library as much as the readers love it”, and concluding that the books awaited liberation by the readers “from “their book prisons and the dream battle that is waged between them and their jailers.” [14] The protracted redevelopment of the British Library at St Pancras was eventually completed and the new library was opened by HM The Queen in June 1998. Correspondence some years later, concerning arrangements for the launch event of The Whole Woman on International Women’s Day, 8 March 1999, indicates relations with librarians had been happily restored. The launch was scheduled to be held at the British Library, but appears to have been cancelled in solidarity with industrial action by British Library staff on their working conditions.[15]

The landscape of libraries has radically changed and continues to change, with constant questioning and redefining of operating environments, roles, functions, and funding. In the digital environment, where library resources are increasingly able to be accessed remotely and libraries may no longer need to be physically visited to be used, academic campuses are investing in “The sticky campus” [architecture and facilities] “designed to attract if not tether a wireless-digital-era student…” [16].

The Greer Archive provides insights on libraries from the perspective of a highly skilled and dedicated scholar, and confirms the ongoing role and importance of specialised collections and the knowledge of their curators and librarians to researchers like Greer. Perhaps the question for the future of libraries is whether it is researchers like Greer who will become an increasingly rare breed?

The last words also belong to Greer, the reader and researcher, the connoisseur and, sometimes quixotic, supporter of libraries. For Germaine Greer, “A library is a pleasure dome, bulging with honey dew and dripping with the milk of paradise…If readers had their way they would build nests in the stacks and sleep pillowed on the books that have meant most to them, drugged with the scent of words.” [17]

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of the “Greer Team” in preparing this blog. My grateful thanks to former assistant archivist Dr Millie Weber who made the Correspondence with Libraries series accessible with her elegant listing; assistant archivists Lachlan Glanville, for pointing me to Greer’s provocative writing about the British Library of the 1990s, and Kate Hodgetts, for the beautiful photographs; special thanks to Dr Rachel Buchanan, Curator, Greer Archive, for her unfailing support and confidence in me and all her colleagues.

[1] Germaine Greer. Daddy, We Hardly Knew You. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1989 p. 70.

[2] Ibid. p.69,71

[3] SLV Reference: MS 1287:  Index cards containing information on the Greer family tree, compiled during research for the book ‘Daddy we hardly knew you’ (1990)

[4] Daddy, We Hardly Knew You.p.239

[5] Series 2014.0039: Research and Reference Card Indexes contains index cards for The Female Eunuch and other works. All cards in this series have been digitised.

[6] Germaine Greer, ‘Flashy Libraries? I prefer to get my adventure out of the books not the building;’ The Guardian, 12/2/2007. Item 2014.0046.01091, Unit 21

[7] Publishers UK: Shakespeare’s Wife Paperback Edition Bloomsbury [Germaine Greer to Katie Bond, Sky Book Show, 23/10/2008]. Held in Item 2014.0052.00004, Unit 1

[8] Folger Shakespeare [Library – Correspondence]. Held in 2017.0004.00025, Unit 2

[9] Belvoir Castle [Correspondence, 11/9/1995]. Held in Item 2017.0004.00006, Unit 1

[10] Bodleian [Library – Correspondence]. Held in Item 2017.0004.00010, Unit 1

[11] TV One Foot In The Past 29/6/94 [Greer draft script]. Held in Item 2017.002.00153, Unit 4

[12] Germaine Greer, ‘Why Tim Clist should have had a year out’, The Independent, Oct 2000. Item 2014.0046.00633, Unit 11

[13] Germaine Greer, ‘Book up for a long hot summer in library land’, The Guardian, 30/5/1994. Item 2014.0046.00375, Unit 6

[14] TV One Foot In The Past 29/6/94 op.cit. Greer’s view of a “war” between readers and librarians was strongly refuted by Anthony Kenny Chair, British Library Board (AK/GG, 8/8/1994. Held in Item 2017.0004.00012)

[15] Publishers UK: [Transworld] The Whole Woman – Launch Event 8/3/1999 [GG/Marianne Velmans, 8/3/1999]. Held in Item 2014.0052.00043, Unit 3

[16] Ray Edgar, ‘Look and learn’, The Age 22/7/2017.

[17] TV One Foot In The Past 29/6/94 op.cit.

Revolutionary theatre is a risk worth taking

Bright pink poster with white outlines of people protesting, some are holding up placards. Orange "La Mama Company" written at top of poster
‘La Mama Company’ poster, 1969, designed by Ian McClausand, La Mama Collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 1977.0109.00049

Looking back at La Mamas’ 50-year history, from inception in 1967 when Betty Burstall created an ‘immediate’ theatre space in Melbourne inspired by New York’s La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, reveals not only the rise of an Australian theatre nurtured by local talent, but a larger portrait of Australian society and culture. As challenges to cultural and social norms reverberated around the globe, alternative voices in the arts were becoming a powerful form of political and social engagement. Burstall was confident that, just like in New York, Melbourne performers and audiences wanted and needed a place for avant-garde theatre, progressive music, poetry and screenings of alternative film. She wanted audiences to feel that every time they descended the stairs to the stage, that it was “a risk worth taking”.[1]

In a company newsletter from October 1969 this vision was expanded: La Mama would be a theatre to make possible “a new audience-actor relationship. It was informal, direct, immediate. It was also a playwrights’ theatre…where you could hear what people now were thinking and feeling”.[2]   With a policy to present new Australian work, the move was financially risky in an arts scene dominated by the mainstream canon of mainly American and English work. “Revolutionary things are happening in theatre today and I want them here”.[3]  Burstall’s ambitions for La Mama were grand, but almost immediately the revolution began, namely in the form of pushing the boundaries of the Summary Offenses Act 1966.

Photograph of actors in an alley changing dialogue for the play "Whatever Happened to Realism"
‘Obscenity charges over new play’ The Australian, 22/12/69, La Mama collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 1977.0109.00019

The earliest offender was the 1968 production of Alex Buzo’s Norm and Ahmed. The final line of dialogue “fucking boongs” is delivered by Norm to Ahmed, a Pakistani student, and saw actor Lindsey Smith arrested for using obscene language, and the play’s producer Graeme Blundell charged with aiding and abetting Smith.[4] Some five decades on and the play is perhaps even more relevant because of the offensive racial slur.

A year later, John Romeril’s Whatever Happened to Realism resulted in the conviction of nine actors for using obscene language in a public place. After a private viewing of the play, magistrate H. Bennet conceded that they were sincere in their protest against censorship, “The play, as far as I can follow, intends to show that actors and playwrights are restricted in portraying life by censorship, because of words deemed to be offensive or obscene. However, the play can be enacted just as forcibly without the singing or use of the words in question”.[5] The audience expressed their disagreement with the magistrate, following the arrested to the police station, chanting the offensive four letter word, amongst others.

Blue and white poster for Greek music night at La Mama. The performers were Tassos and Ionnidis Christos.
“Neo Kyma” poster, 1977, La Mama Collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 1977.0109.00050

Still, La Mama continued supporting Australian writers, actors and directors, providing a place where collaboration was centre-stage. Stalwarts of the Australian theatre scene like Jack Hibberd, David Williamson and Graeme Blundell, were given the chance to practice and develop their craft, as were other performance artists, such as filmmakers Corinne and Arthur Cantrill.

In the decades following the ‘obscenity trials’, La Mama continued pushing audiences, exploring concepts of identity, and elevating voices of the silenced. Playwrights such as Mammad Aidani and Tes Lyssiotis used this platform to chronicle the variety of the migrant experience, whilst in 1990, Aboriginal actor comedian Gnarnayarrahe Immurry Waitairie and director Ray Mooney explored the relationship between black and white Australian cultures in their play Pundulumura: Two Trees Together.

The onstage events however are only part of what the La Mama archive preserves. Over 100 boxes of material spanning 1967-2006 was listed during a three-year project with volunteers from La Mama, culminating in detailed lists of records available via the University of Melbourne Archive’s online catalogue. These records represent the important narrative of women in leadership roles in the arts, Liz Jones took over as artistic director in 1977, and the story of a business not obsessed with profit survived, and thrived, for 50 years.

Local issues such as the inner-city property market boom forcing the 2008 Save La Mama Campaign, the relentless struggle to find funding, and formal recognition as a place of significant Victorian heritage, are played out through business and administrative records. A collection of theatre posters illustrates trends in art and printing, featuring lino cuts by Tim Burstall amongst a wild variety of style and quality, some still with holes left by the staples used to distribute them on light poles.

The archive also sheds light on the suburb of Carlton and La Mama’s historic role as a place for its diverse residents to express themselves. Migrant Greek and Italian communities found a home for weekly music and poetry gatherings and Burstall and Jones gave neighbouring student populations a forum to experiment with new ideas.

From the first donation of records in 1977, UMA has seen its relationship with La Mama as a valuable one, not only for volunteer projects and exhibitions but in maintaining a comprehensive record of Melbourne’s theatre history. The La Mama archive complements that of the Union Theatre Repertory Company which evolved into Melbourne Theatre Company, as well as smaller collections of ephemera from the late 19th century to the 1960s.

A selection of records and production posters from the La Mama archive is currently displayed on the ground floor of Arts West at the University of Melbourne.


[1] Liz Jones; with Betty Burstall and Helen Garner, La Mama: the story of a theatre (Fitzroy: McPhee Gribble, 1988), 2.

[2] La Mama newsletter, October 1969, La Mama Collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 1977.0109, Unit 1, Item 1

[3] Handwritten notes by Liz Jones for “La Mama: the story of a theatre”, 1988, La Mama Collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 1998.0110, Unit 19, Item 110.

[4] “Magistrate goes to see play”, The Australian, 24 July 1969, La Mama Collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 1977.0109, Unit 3, Item 19.

[5] “Actors were obscene, but sincere says SM” The Australian, 3 December 1969, La Mama Collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 1977.0109, Unit 3, Item 19.

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