A Talk with Merle Thornton – An Australian Feminist Legend!

23 May

As part of Diversity Week (a celebration of different cultures, art and issues) at the large university I work at, I had a wonderful opportunity to listen to a talk given by a famous Australian feminist and activist, Merle Thornton.

Merle came along to discuss her involvement in the establishment of the gender studies (at the time ‘women’s studies’) major at the university in 1973, the first of its kind in Australia. She also spoke about her life story, particularly her early career in the male dominated public service in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and significantly her famous and influential activist activities. Merle and Rosalie Bogner changed themselves to the public bar in the Regatta Hotel (a famous historic pub in Brisbane, Queensland) in 1965 in protest of the law banning women from public bars. As Merle said today, these were not men’s bars or private bars, these were public bars, and women were not allowed in these areas, let alone have a drink. Following this Merle was appointed president of a newly established feminist group and tackled another massive issue, a law requiring female public servants to resign when they married. Merle said it took eighteen months, but they won with a law passed in parliament amending the act and also introducing maternity leave.

She is such an inspirational female activist and I feel privileged that I had a chance to hear her talk in person. The protest at the Regatta Hotel basically started the women’s liberation movement in Brisbane (Trove – National Library of Australia). As the National Library describes it, a defining moment in the feminist movement in Australia.

References –
http://trove.nla.gov.au/people/765073?c=people
http://www.uq.edu.au/news/?article=22774

20130523-183930.jpg (Source – Queensland Department of Communities – http://www.communities.qld.gov.au/q150-women/1960/index.shtml#item-public-bars)

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