Academic journal article Hecate

Australasian Lesbian Movement, 'Claudia's Group' and Lynx: 'Non-Political' Lesbian Organisation in Melbourne, 1969-1980

Academic journal article Hecate

Australasian Lesbian Movement, 'Claudia's Group' and Lynx: 'Non-Political' Lesbian Organisation in Melbourne, 1969-1980

Article excerpt

In a 1994 article published in Hecate, Clive Moore was only able to point to Liz Ross's 'Escaping the Well of Loneliness' and two short pieces in Robert French's Camping by a Billabong as constituting the total sum of publications on Australian lesbian history.(1) Although Moore slightly overstates the paucity of Australian lesbian history, and while significant work is beginning to emerge, it is the case that, compared to the extensive histories produced overseas and the rapid growth of gay male history in Australia, remarkably little has been published in this country.(2) This article will address, at least on a small level, the relative invisibility of lesbians within Australian history through a discussion of a number of lesbian organisations which were established in Melbourne from the late 1960s to 1980. Beginning with the 'mixed' social organisation Checkmates, I move onto a discussion of the Australasian Lesbian Movement (ALM), before looking at two important lesbian social organisations 'Claudia's Group' and Lynx in the period from 197-1980.(3) Although I argue that ALM was, at least initially, a political organisation (however 'political' is defined) much of this paper is concerned with lesbian organisations which defined themselves as 'non-political.'(4)

While little has been written on lesbian organisations in the 1970s, what has been produced has concentrated upon lesbian activism within the women's movement, Gay Liberation and the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP). In this paper I present a narrative of prior and parallel developments in lesbian organisation which have not been integrated into writings on lesbian and gay organisation in the 1970s. In doing this I am arguing for a re-assessment of the importance of these organisations.

Checkmates Club and the emergence of lesbian and gay social organisation in Melbourne

In the course of conducting interviews with Melbourne women who identified as lesbian during the 1960s, I was told of the existence of substantial lesbian and gay male social networks dating back at least until the late 1940s.(5) The women I spoke with recalled making contact with other lesbians in 'camp' social networks cohered around artistic and theatrical pursuits, sporting clubs, and the army. There was, in addition, a small number of hotels in which camp women would drink on a Saturday afternoon, as well as a coffee shop, known as 'Prompt Corner' or 'Val's Coffee Shop' which had a strong lesbian clientele. The women recalled, above all, that in this period there was a tremendous number of private parties, invitations to which obviously required some prior contact with a broader network of lesbians and gay men.(6)

Although the women's memories of these earlier social activities indicated that they were extensive, those who had been involved in lesbian subcultures since the 1940s also noted significant changes in the mid to late 1960s. As one woman put it:

The gay crowd had grown in various areas. You could go to four different parties and find four completely different sets of people. And there was more intelligent stuff coming over from America. The word "gay" was already beginning to infiltrate and they [had] organised clubs and newspapers and we began to see that we could be a body with a voice. Not necessarily political at this stage. Our esteem grew, that's what it was.(7)

In the mid 1960s some lesbians and gay men formed a social club called Checkmates which catered to a demand for lesbian and gay activities. Although they had clubrooms for a time, few people attended and the venture was not very successful. Towards the end of the 1960s they began to hold dances that followed in the tradition of private parties. A hall would be hired and the event would be advertised largely through word of mouth. These dances became hugely successful, being attended by some three or four hundred lesbians and gay men. This was a particularly important development in Melbourne because, despite not being politically motivated, Checkmates was, to some extent, a public organisation that began to deal with official institutions as representative of at least part of a 'camp' constituency. …

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