‘Doing it for ourselves’ was one of the rallying principles of the liberationist wings of the women’s and gay movements.
Based on a suspicion of capitalism, hierarchy and commercialism, small groups within these movements tried repeatedly throughout the 1970s to set up viable businesses to serve their communities.
Sybylla Press and Correct Line Graphics were two such organisations that shared ideologies and, for a while in the early 1980s, a building at 193 Smith Street, Fitzroy. This site is included in a City of Yarra heritage overlay as part of the Smith Street precinct, recognised for its significance as a Victorian and Edwardian-era commercial strip. The building’s meaning to queer communities further enriches its history, through its connection to these two pioneering media organisations. Sybylla Press was a feminist printer launched in 1976 by a collective of women committed to providing print services for women’s organisations and other political and community groups. As well as the good quality, affordable printed materials it produced, Sybylla reflected the movement’s broader political goals. The workplace was run collectively, eschewing hierarchies, wage differentials and exploitation of workers or clients.
The members of the collective learnt and shared their skills with each other. In April 1982, the Victorian government, as part of its response to rising unemployment due to an economic recession, expanded its Community Development Program (CDP) to fund co-operatives to create jobs, enable the purchase of equipment and encourage new kinds of workplaces. For Sybylla, this was a perfect fit. The organisation was soon able to continue its expansion beyond printing to publishing. Its first book, Frictions, a collection of feminist writings, complemented Sybylla’s continued printing of women’s movement newsletters and magazines, badges, t-shirts and posters.
Correct Line Graphics (CLG) was set up in 1980 as an offshoot of (or, arguably, a front for) Gay Community News, a left-wing news magazine of the gay movement. CLG offered graphic art services, again especially directed at community and activist organisations. Like Sybylla, it received funding from the CDP, which is how the two organisations came to share a building in Smith Street – Sybylla on the ground floor, and CLG upstairs.
The different trajectories of the two organisations are indicative of the variety of politics that the gay and women’s movements encompassed. Sybylla continued as a collectively run cooperative printer and publisher until the late 1980s. In 1988 the group gave up the printing side of its work, but continuing publishing until 2001. CLG went through repeated reinventions of its ownership structures and of its publications – Gay Community News, later OutRage, were its flagships – until its demise in 2000.