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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: October 2017



I used to describe my life as ‘ambivalent, ambidextrous, ambiguous, androgynous, ironic’. This book is similarly unorthodox: plural, haphazard and conjectural. It is a memoir, a — highly selective — curriculum vitae, and a history. However, there is some order in it. Each element is focused on the history and politics of the Women's Liberation Movement in Australia, on some of what we learned and thought in Women's Studies, and on some of what I learned about women and the conditions of their lives around the world during the last thirty years or so, partly in the course of editing a feminist journal. These are serious matters; they are about how people's lives and ideas changed, too little remembered or understood any longer, worth recalling for that reason alone. These ideas might well not seem dangerous any longer, but they certainly did when we first formulated them. They can be great fun, too — as I hope you will agree.

Looking into the rear-vision mirror at the roads that my life has travelled, I think I can spot the crossroads where I first encountered the possibility of such changes. I was walking along a corridor at the Australian National University past the offices that housed the people who taught history. I met Daphne Gollan, coming towards me. I had been so inspired by her teaching of Russian history, to say nothing of her wit and charm, that I had undertaken a research paper on the collapse of the western front during the First World War, a subject that allowed me to read about the Russian revolutions of 1917 in English-language sources. Subsequently, though, I had embarked on research on an Australian subject, the nineteenth-century Scottish South Australian, Catherine Helen Spence. I wasn't liking Miss Spence very much, at that time, and doing Australian historical research did not bring me into contact with Mrs Gollan much, either. So, that day in the passage in the middle of 1970, I greeted her enthusiastically. (Daphne was to say that I was like a big waggy dog who would bound up to you saying pat me, pat me.) She said, ‘There's a meeting that I think you should come to'.