Saturday, November 1, 2008

Melbourne, Day Two, Part Two: Women's Stuff and Ned Kelly

Victorian Women with Disabilities Network (VWDN) happens to be located in the office of Women's Health Victoria (WHV), so that's where Kyle dropped me off to meet with Keran Howe. Here is the office wall at WHV:

Red wall with lettering for Women's Health Victoria

Keran is the Executive Officer for VWDN and has been active in women with disabilities issues and research for many years. Here is a webpage with a picture of Keran. VWDN runs an Advocacy Information Service and focuses on community education, policy research, leadership development and coalition building. They have a particular interest in health, violence prevention/survivor support, and supporting parents with disabilities.

Keran and her staff (who are extremely nice, nice women) had been working with me to set up a community film showing of "Beyond Disability: The Fe Fe Stories," a film made by girls with disabilities in Chicago. The film showing was the next day, so Keran and I were having lunch to chat and then we would go back to the office to take care of a few prep things. (By the way, the following picture is of the WHV library---I thought this community space was so great for women seeking information about health and wellness!)

The library with reading tables at Women's Health Victoria

Keran took me over to an Italian cafe where we had sandwiches on piadine, an Italian bread from Emilia Romagna. Yum... We discussed my trip and also some of the systems advocacy issues brought up by Kyle earlier, namely around the DDA. We also discussed who else I could speak with while in Melbourne, especially the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO---they turned out to all be out of the office till next week), the Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission (I ended up corresponding with them via email), and the Youth Disability Advocacy Service (two young YDAS women did come to the film showing the next day).

After finishing lunch, Keran took me over to the Queen Victoria Women's Centre (QVWC). OK, this place is TERRIFIC. It is housed in the former Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital, a women's hospital that was built through a campaign of women throughout Australia donating shillings to the cost. The building is the last remaining building of several on the block, and today it is kept in sparkling condition with women's art and women's organizations filling its rooms (formerly wards). It is the only building center with several women's organizations cohabiting in this fashion in the entire Southern Hemisphere (see, I'm glad I came to Melbourne!). Here I am standing in front of the QVWC:

Amber standing in front of the Queen Victoria Women's Center, the last remaining building of a women's hospital

The QVWC reminds me of the Seoul Women's Plaza and I really wish we had something like this in Chicago...a place for women, run by many kinds of women's organizations. I think in both places, there is a lot of pride in the building and it came through when I was given a tour.

The QVWC is home to organizations such as the WIRE, an information and referral service; the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention & Legal Service (AFVLPS); BreaCan - Breast Cancer Support; CASA House (Center Against Sexual Violence; and many others.

I also found out that Reclaim the Night was being held that same night and I resolved to go! RTN is the same as Take Back the Night in the US. Here is a blog post about RTN by Hoyden About Town.

At this point Keran and I headed back to VWDN and did a little prep work for the film showing. Then I was off to take a look at the State Library of Victoria, which is right by the QVWC, which is a block and a half from WHV (Melbourne can seem sort of efficiently small at times). The State Library is a fantastic place with a big rotunda that has a circular reading room in a four (or five?) story atrium. Here is a pic of the reading room:

The circular reading room in the rotunda of the State Library

The Library also has several exhibits, for example of rare books or art...and it turns out, they also have Ned Kelly's armor. I saw a poster of it in the Library lobby and as an American, I thought, "Who is this guy with his head in a can?" As it turns out, Ned Kelly was a famous 19th century bush gangster type and an Australian icon. The Aussies I spoke to about him seemed somewhat conflicted---yes, Ned Kelly is a famous Australian but he was a robber and a lawbreaker etc etc. Anyway he and his gang were famous for their lawbreaking escapades and their battles with the Victorian Police, who often didn't sound much better than gangsters at that time anyway. So Kelly is sometimes seen as a bit of a Robin Hood and an anti-hero. To read more about Ned Kelly, try Wikipedia.

Anyway what blew my mind is that for their last standoff with the police, the four members of the Kelly gang had SUITS OF ARMOR created for themselves. Yep, armor. The armor was welded together from plough boards (blades?). And it so happens that the State Library has the very suit worn by Ned Kelly, as seen below:

Ned Kelly's armor in a glass case lit by spotlights

Very quixotic. If you can see the picture, you can see there is a helmet in a sort of can shape, a torso, shoulder plates and a lap plate. No leg plating, so it was easy enough to wound Kelly in the legs. The boot is the boot that was cut off Kelly's wounded leg and the rifle was his as well. After being wounded in this suit, Kelly was captured and then hung. Oddly, the man who founded the State Library, Redmond Barry, was also the judge who sentenced Kelly to death. Kelly cursed him and said that where Kelly would go, Barry would go. Barry died twelve days after Kelly was hanged.

After the State Library security evicted me from the Kelly exhibit ("Closing time, love!"), I walked over to the Victorian Parliament, and here is a picture:

The Victorian parliament building, built like a Greek or Roman temple

Australia had some moving about of its capital back in the day and for a time I believe Melbourne was the capital, but now the capital is in the pre-planned city of Canberra. Believe me, if I lived in Melbourne, I'd be making it my business to be familiar with the offices in Parliament!

Afterwards I rode the free City Circle tram about town, which is like riding in the San Francisco cable cars. The nice thing about the City Circle is it gives you a quick tour of Melbourne generally, from all the old buildings to the new condos in the Docklands. I finally got back home and then hopped back over to the State Library to take a look at Reclaim the Night.

As it happens, 2008 is the centenary of the women's vote in Australia (yes, they got to vote in 1908 and it's actually mandatory for every Australian citizen to vote in elections). So there were a couple of women dressed as suffragettes, and I took a photo of one, Ursula Dutkiewicz, who happens also to be a ceramic artist who among otehr works makes statues of suffragettes. Here is Ursula as a suffragette:

Ursula dressed as a suffragette holding a ceramic suffragette statue she made herself

Here is Ursula's ceramics page and here is the Suff-RAGE page at Fernartz, Fern Smith being the other woman who dresses as a suffragette. And here is Ursula speaking to the RTN crowd on the Library steps:

Ursula speaks to the Reclaim the Night crowd on the steps of the State Library

RTN had about 250 women show up, and several speakers who touched on woman pride and issues such as being a survivor of violence. I confess I could not understand most of what was being said, but I did catch one speaker who encouraged the crowd to realize that each person has something to give to society, and I thought that was a pretty powerful message. One of the last speakers was an Aboriginal woman and I got the following fabulous photo of her speaking before the Library statue of Redmond Barry after nightfall:

Indigenous speaker stands before the statue of Redmond Barry at night for the rally

After the speakers, everyone lined up to march over to the Trades Hall, but I decided to call it a (very, very, very FULL) day and headed home to sleep!

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