This photograph was taken by Ponch Hawkes in 1973 to be featured alongside Helen Garner’s article ‘It’s Gay Pride Week’, published in Melbourne magazine The Digger.63 The photograph depicts four women holding hands in front of a wall with the words ‘Lesbians are lovely’ written on it. The graffiti had recently been painted on the side of a house near Rae Street, Fitzroy and the women in the photograph are (from left to right): Jane McConachie, Sue Jackson, Jenny Pausacker and Chris Sitka. All were in their late teens and early twenties.
Women’s liberation and gay liberation were a big influence on university students in Melbourne in the 1970s. The network and community of shared households in the inner north of Melbourne at that time, particularly households of lesbians and women, were hubs of passionate political activism.
The women in this photograph lived in share houses in Fitzroy, North Fitzroy and Carlton, and were active participants in the women’s liberation and gay liberation movements, as well as other political campaigns of the time. They described themselves as radical lesbian activists who were influential in the push for lesbian visibility. Sue Jackson remembers late-night ideological discussions around identity, monogamy, and oppression, and many meetings, protests and vigils during this seminal time in the 1970s.
Chris Sitka remembers signing up to join the Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation groups at the University of Melbourne on the same day:
It was Orientation Day at the University of Melbourne and they had a Women’s Liberation table next to a Gay Liberation table and to my knowledge I’d never met any other lesbians. I went to both tables and I signed up and that’s where I met my first lesbians. I went to a Gay Liberation meeting that night and became part of the [recently formed] Gay Women’s Group.64
Although the slogan ‘Lesbians are lovely’ now seems whimsical, in the 1970s the word ‘lesbian’ was almost obscene and for it to be graffitied on a private home was seen as scandalous. Just prior to this photograph being taken, a similar slogan had been graffitied nearby on the wall surrounding the convent on the corner of Alexandra Parade and Nicholson Street, which received attention from the press at the time.
63 Helen Garner, ‘It’s Gay Pride Week’, The Digger, No. 22, September 1973, p. 7.
64 Interview with Chris Sitka, Jenny Pausacker, Sue Jackson and Ponch Hawkes, conducted by Angela Bailey, 8 November 2019, Australian Queer Archives.
Helen Garner, ‘It’s Gay Pride Week’, The Digger, No. 22, September 1973, p. 7.
Interview with Chris Sitka, Jenny Pausacker, Sue Jackson and Ponch Hawkes, conducted by Angela Bailey, 8 November 2019, Australian Queer Archives.