This paper was first presented to the Australian Historical Association conference in Mildura in 2003, and published in History Australia, vol. 1, no. 2, July 2004. My thanks to Frank Bongiorno, present co-editor, and to History Australia for permission to reprint it here.
Dedicated to the memory of Kay Daniels
It could be expected that food and feeding would have been central concerns for the resurgent feminism of the 1970s. Housework certainly was. And child care. Food and feeding are integral to both. Moreover, men's resistance to sharing equally in either housework or child care has proved one of the more intransigent of the shifting imbalances in power between women and men. So it would seem axiomatic that feminists would evince a major preoccupation with cooking and eating (and drinking), and welcome any signs of men engaging in anything beyond the glamorous and elite, or the consumerist, dimensions of the food world.
Not so, however. In most of the research carried out for the history of the Women's Liberation Movement that I am trying to write, there is almost no sign of any such concern; the exception is an issue of MeJane in 1974, announcing that food is a feminist issue. Further, I recall, myself, the outrage among feminists in the early 1970s when Colonel Sanders began advertising its wares with the slogan ‘Liberate Mum: take home some Kentucky Fried Chicken today’. For Women's Liberation it was the power-relations in the kitchen that mattered, and they were seen as entirely separate from what was cooked, presented and eaten. And the overlap of Women's Liberation with various fragments of socialism meant that food was fuel, not a subject of investigation in public hostelries or experimentation at home.
It came as a pleasant surprise, then, to encounter consistent attention to food, to wine, and to dining out, in the pages of Liberaction, the monthly paper that the Hobart Women's Action Group produced from April 1972 until December 1975.
The Hobart Women's Action Group (HWAG) was small and most of its members were connected with the University of Tasmania. It consisted of Kay Daniels, a lecturer in the History Department; Shirley Castley, a social worker in the Tasmanian bureaucracy, and Kay's partner; Frances Bonner, a postgraduate student in Political Science; Lorraine Miller, a postgraduate student in English; Anne Picot, a postgraduate student in Classics; and Rosemary Pringle, a tutor in History.