Jacquelyn Baker explains why women’s liberationists in Melbourne demonstrated against Anzac Day in the 1980s and considers how their concerns are still relevant today.

 

On 26 April 1983, the Canberra Times reported that 168 women in Sydney and seven women in Melbourne had been arrested on Anzac Day.[1] The women in Sydney had allegedly ignored a court order banning them from marching on the day and were arrested for ‘causing serious alarm and affront’.[2] The Melbourne women were arrested when they attempted to break through police lines at the Shrine of Remembrance and were charged with ‘assaulting police, resisting arrest, hindering police and offensive behaviour’.[3]

The article recorded that the women in Sydney marched ‘in protest against rape in war’ but was silent about the motivations of the Melbourne protesters.[4] While the Melbourne-based women were—like their Sydney-based sisters—protesting the sexual assault of women and girls during times of war, this was not the sole motivation behind their actions. So, why did women in Melbourne protest Anzac Day? And what relevance do their concerns have today?

 

Who were the women?

The majority of women who participated in anti-Anzac Day demonstrations were women’s liberationists. Women’s liberationists were part of the Women’s Liberation Movement (as well as the broader second-wave women’s movement) and were concerned about the oppression and discrimination that women experienced in society.

Image Credit: Grahame Garner, via the University of Queensland. https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:859f8b9

Women’s liberationists recognised that being “woman” was political and transformed traditional understandings of “personal” and “political”—popularly articulated through the mantra “the personal is political”. They fought for equal pay, childcare, no-fault divorce and access to safe and legal abortions. In addition, women’s liberationists set up their own women’s centres and buildings; produced non-sexist children’s books; established women’s refuges; and created women’s health and rape crisis centres. In Australia, the Women’s Liberation Movement started to gain traction in the late-1960s and had reached its peak in the early-to-mid 1970s. While it is believed that the Women’s Liberation Movement in Australia had started to decline from the mid-to-late 1970s, actions—such as anti-Anzac Day demonstrations—show that there were women’s liberationists who continued to take the fight into the 1980s.

 

Why did they protest Anzac Day?

During the early-1980s, women’s liberationists in Melbourne, like their counterparts in Sydney, held protests and demonstrations on Anzac Day. However, politician, academic and Sydney-based feminist Meredith Burgmann contended that the anti-Anzac Day demonstrations in Sydney were different from the ‘thrust’ of the Melbourne demonstrations.[5] She recalled that while the Sydney-based women marched under a banner that read ‘“We mourn all women raped in all wars”’, the Melbourne-based women produced a press release that declared that their demonstration had a much broader aim—to ‘“protest against patriarchal war against women”’.[6]  Furthermore, Burgmann believed that the Melbourne women’s liberationists were much more influenced by the analyses of radical feminist and philosopher Mary Daly than the Sydney women’s liberationists were.[7] Ultimately, she felt that it was because of these differences that the Melbourne group thought that the Sydney women were ‘wimps’.[8]

While the Sydney-based demonstrations were organised by the Women Against Rape Collective, the anti-Anzac Day protests in Melbourne were organised by the Anzac Day Organising Committee.[9] The Sydney Women Against Rape Collective formed with three broad aims: to mourn all women sexually assaulted in every war; to raise the issue of sexual assault and rape publicly; and ‘to oppose the system that creates rape and war’.[10] In contrast, the Anzac Day Organising Committee formed because the organisers contended that it was vital to connect all the issues that the Anzac Day ceremony raised for feminists, rather than focusing on the singular issue of sexual assault.[11]

Anti-Anzac Day Protest Melbourne 1987. Image credit: Rennie Ellis, via State Library of Victoria. Item no. H2011.150/1317, http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/4103775

Reflecting on why women attended the Melbourne anti-Anzac Day demonstration in 1983, the Committee wrote that Anzac Day ‘raises a range of important issues for women’.[12] While some women attended the 1983 protest to ‘mourn women raped in war’, they contended that other women sought to ‘protest against militarism and the glorification of war within patriarchy’ and that others conceptualised their attendance at the demonstration as part of a ‘broader protest against male violence and the daily war waged against women’.[13] Indeed, some Melbourne-based women’s liberationists believed that Anzac Day was a day on which to ‘challenge and confront patriarchy’.[14]

While Melbourne-based women’s liberationists argued over which issue should be prioritised during the anti-Anzac Day demonstrations, the criticism that Anzac Day was a celebration of war and men’s violence persisted.[15] By the mid-1980s, there were calls for International Women’s Day to replace Anzac Day as Australia’s national public holiday.[16]

 

What relevance do these concerns have today?

Women’s liberationists were not the first to criticise the glorification of masculinity, violence and war and they are certainly not the last to publicly question the mythology of the Anzac legend. In 2009, historian Marilyn Lake was critical of how Anzac Day was a celebration of white masculinity.[17] In 2012, backlash directed at television and radio presenter Yumi Stynes for her quip about the intelligence of former SAS soldier and Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith (who has since been accused of committing war crimes in Afghanistan and domestic violence on home soil) prompted veteran and researcher Ben Wadham to point out that the racist and misogynistic violence directed at Stynes was symptomatic of the way in which Australian society was becoming increasingly militarised.[18] In 2016, historian Nick Irving connected the glorification of the Anzac myth to contemporary attitudes to men’s violence—particularly men’s violence against women in warzones and at home.[19]

Anti-Anzac Day Protest Melbourne 1987. Image credit: Rennie Ellis, via State Library of Victoria. Item no. H2011.150/1317, http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/4103775

In 2022, men’s violence against women in Australia has not abated. According to researchers of Counting Dead Women Australia and Destroy the Joint, 17 women have been killed in Australia so far this year.[20] Moreover, a recent article detailed that police have been increasing misidentifying victims.[21] Researchers found that women who are perceived as angry or “hysterical”, or who defend themselves, are often misidentified as the “primary aggressor”.[22] Ultimately, these mistakes have dire consequences.[23]

Perhaps it is time—once again and similarly to our feminist foremothers—to question what we are really celebrating when we celebrate Anzac Day and to be critical of how the glorification of war and men’s violence affects contemporary attitudes about domestic violence.

 

 

[1] Anon., ‘Anzac Day Anti-Rape Protests 175 Women Arrested at Parades’, The Canberra Times (26 April 1983), 1, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/116381045?searchTerm=anti-anzac. Accessed 14 April 2022.

[2] Anon., ‘Anzac Day Anti-Rape Protests 175 Women Arrested at Parades’, 1.

[3] Anon., ‘Anzac Day Anti-Rape Protests 175 Women Arrested at Parades’, 1.

[4] Anon., ‘Anzac Day Anti-Rape Protests 175 Women Arrested at Parades’, 1.

[5] M. Burgmann, ‘The Women Against Rape in War Collective’s Protests against Anzac Day in Sydney, 1983 and 1984’, Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Journal, 6/3 (2014), 117 & 118.

[6] Burgmann, ‘The Women Against Rape in War Collective’s Protests against Anzac Day in Sydney, 1983 and 1984’, 119.

[7] Burgmann, ‘The Women Against Rape in War Collective’s Protests against Anzac Day in Sydney, 1983 and 1984’, 119.

[8] Burgmann, ‘The Women Against Rape in War Collective’s Protests against Anzac Day in Sydney, 1983 and 1984’, 119.

[9] Anzac Day Organising Committee, ANZAC 1984: The issues for and against, (1984: no publishing information), 1. Held at the University of Melbourne Archive, Melbourne. Archive File no.: 2000.0112.

[10] Burgmann, ‘The Women Against Rape in War Collective’s Protests against Anzac Day in Sydney, 1983 and 1984’, 117.

[11] Anzac Day Organising Committee, ANZAC 1984, 1.

[12] Anzac Day Organising Committee, ANZAC 1984, 5.

[13] Anzac Day Organising Committee, ANZAC 1984, 5.

[14] Anzac Day Organising Committee, ANZAC 1984, 5.

[15] Anzac Day Organising Committee, ANZAC 1984, 5.

[16] Anon., No to the Anzac Myth, (Publisher unknown, 1986), np. Held at the University of Melbourne Archive, Melbourne. Archive File no.: 2000.0153.

[17] M. Lake, ‘Fight free of Anzac, lest we forget other stories’, Age, (23 April 2009), para 9 & 10, https://www.theage.com.au/politics/federal/fight-free-of-anzac-lest-we-forget-other-stories-20090422-afb5.html, accessed 20 April 2022.

[18] B. Wadham, ‘Yumi and Ben: The militarisation of Australia and the democratisation of hate’, The Conversation (6 March 2012), para 1, 18 & 29 https://theconversation.com/yumi-and-ben-the-militarisation-of-australia-and-the-democratisation-of-hate-5684, accessed 20 April 2022.

[19] N. Irving, ‘What does glorifying the ANZAC myth say about our attitudes to violent men today?’, Junkee (21 April 2016), https://junkee.com/what-does-glorifying-the-anzac-myth-say-about-our-attitudes-to-violent-men-today/76563, accessed 20 April 2022.

[20] Counting Dead Women Australia, ‘Counting Dead Women Australia 2022’, [Facebook post] (13 Jan. 2022), https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=408177987726880&id=111647810713234&__tn__=K-R, accessed 20 April 2022.

[21] H. Gleeson, ‘Police are still misjudging domestic violence and victims are suffering the consequences’, ABC News (31 March 2022), para 5, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-03-31/police-misidentifying-domestic-violence-victims-perpetrators/100913268, accessed 21 April 2022.

[22] Gleeson, ‘Police are still misjudging domestic violence and victims are suffering the consequences’, para 5.

[23] Gleeson, ‘Police are still misjudging domestic violence and victims are suffering the consequences’, para 6.

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Jacquelyn Baker
Jacquelyn Baker

Jacquelyn Baker is a PhD candidate and casual academic at Deakin University. Her PhD research traces women’s liberation in Melbourne over time and space. Jacquelyn also volunteers as a fills presenter on community radio and has a particular interest in talks and interview based radio. She has had work published in Overland