SUE JACKSON Therapist/Writer/Photographer/Activist

Last year, as the unofficial blogger/photographer to the anti-East-West Link campaign, our battles were my blog's entire focus. But by Christmas, with the electoral win for people power and the dumping of the dud Tunnel, I was suddenly at a loss. What to write about now? Not sure yet. But there will be ongoing musings and images from this Australian life. So please leave a message. (No need to sign into an account. Simply comment as ‘anonymous’; then leave your name within the comment itself.)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Zelda D'Aprano: Local Hero



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'Don't be too polite, girls. Don't be too polite!' That was the advice of Zelda D'Aprano, women's rights warrior, on receiving what proved to be one of her final awards - an Honorary Degree from La Trobe University last year.

Zelda died in February at 90 and today was the occasion of the celebration of her life in the packed town hall of the 'People's Republic of Brunswick'.

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At the town hall I learned that this modest working class woman, who had been full of fear in 1977 about publishing her autobiography (above), had been nothing short of a dynamo. She had been a communist and foundation member of the Women's Liberation movement here in Melbourne. She was an impassioned Unionist, and as such the subject of the iconic image, in the tradition of the British Suffragettes, of a woman chained to the railings of the Commonwealth Building. Zelda was the recipient of numerous awards for her achievements over her lifetime and had mentored and inspired generations of young female activists. All this and I had known so little about her!

I came to Brunswick to honour her because we had briefly crossed paths three years ago, and she had always stayed in my mind.

The occasion of our meeting was the 'Inspirational Women of Yarra Awards' for International Women's Day 2015 held in another town hall - this time Collingwood. I was there to support my friend and fellow activist against the dud East-West Link, Rosie Elliott. But the East-West Link turned out to be not the only dud that day. At this point I am going to heed Zelda's advice and not be too polite:

For one thing, the MC of the Awards was the Yarra mayor, who was male, which seemed a most inappropriate choice for an IWD event.

Also even though the list of nominees read like a Who's Who of exceptional local women, none of them was given the opportunity to speak. As I put it back then in my post (and in my complaint letter later to the Yarra Council): 

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The nominees, handpicked as they were by their communities, and embodying the richness of multi-cultural Yarra, remained an utterly untapped resource. I was intrigued to read about the variety of their preoccupations and contributions in the programme, but as they or their delegates were never given the opportunity to speak,  I went away from the event none the wiser.

 Zelda D'Aprano, pictured above with Rosie, was one of the nominees. She was a leader in the Women's Liberation Movement and played a central role in the fight for equal pay in the 60s and 70s. We were only treated to a brief taste of Zelda's wise and feisty observations when she spoke from the floor. What a missed opportunity!


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It was because of that missed opportunity back then that I was thrilled to hear all about Zelda's astonishing life from people who admired and loved her today. But there was another reason too that brought me to Brunswick.

Zelda reminded me of my mother, Pat Perry, who was only 3 years older and died last May. Mum was also a highly intelligent woman from working class Carlton, who had to leave school early to go to work. She was a Communist in her youth and volunteered as the first female Air Raid Warden during WW2. She too always worked hard on behalf of women, including a long stint as Treasurer for the Women's Electoral Lobby.  

With my mother's anniversary imminent, I was very comforted today to learn more about Zelda, another woman I greatly admire. Both of those 'ordinary' women lived extraordinary lives. 


Tuesday, March 06, 2018

PEN Melbourne International Women's Day card writing event


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On Monday evening forty women (and one man) met to compose messages of encouragement and solidarity for women writers around the world who are imprisoned or under house arrest for their views. The event was organised by PEN Melbourne. It was in honour of International Women's Day. And, fittingly, the venue was Carlton's stunning Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre, named after the ground-breaking journalist and women's editor of the Age:

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PEN Melbourne regularly hosts evenings such as this. I must admit, sometimes it can feel like you are tossing a note in a bottle into the sea. But other times we receive heartening responses, when it is apparent that our cards have made a real impact on some prisoner's life.

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Monday was unusual for me because it was the first time I had attended a writing event specifically focused on women prisoners.  The stories we heard of peoples' lives, their courage and resilience in the face of adversity and injustice were extraordinary. And having their poetry and articles read to us  was very moving. Judith Morrison, Committee member, was one of the readers:

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It was great to be able to reach out to the prisoners, to send them cards generously donated by the beloved cartoonist, Judy Horacek, or by PEN Melbourne President Chris McKenzie.


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Of course it is not only overseas that people are being silenced. There are increasing threats to democracy here at home.

For example the Federal Government's proposed changes to the official secrecy laws mean that whistleblowers and journalists who report on leaked information could face 20 years in prison. 

And as the renowned poet Judith Rodriguez (below), who has had personal experience of the key role of translators in disseminating writers' work suggested, it is why it is so important for PEN to support translators. And to create projects in which PEN members work with Indigenous writers to promote their work.

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PEN is a great organization, with a wonderful tradition and laudable aims of promoting literature and defending freedom of expression world-wide. It was founded nearly 100 years ago by a group of literary heavyweights including Joseph Conrad and George Bernard Shaw. And therein has sometimes lain its problem. Because it can feel as if PEN is not for everyone. It is a closed shop, and only eminent, published or 'real' writers need apply. But that is not the case.

We are all readers. Also, as we know, print has become only one of many platforms for writing.  And sadly, the explosion of social media has provided a field day for repressive governments, so that these days many of the writers championed by PEN are bloggers or tweeters or citizen journalists. Even if you are not currently writing a novel, if you use instagram, or tweet, use Facebook or blog you are likely to have a real affinity with them.


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So, if you are despondent about the world, consider joining Pen Melbourne (www.penmelbourne.org) There is nothing quite like taking action to ward off depression. And I can guarantee: at Pen events the food, the wine and the sense of community are always great.