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

12 - Setting up the first Research Centre for Women's Studies in Australia, 1983-86

from Part II - Women's Studies: Introduction


An earlier and longer version of this article was first published in a guest-edited issue of Australian Feminist Studies, vol. 13, no. 27, 1998.

In November 1997, the Research Centre for Women's Studies [RCWS] at Adelaide University celebrated its fourteenth birthday. Structurally, it is now affiliated with the new Adelaide Research Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences in a recently created Division of Humanities and Social Sciences. It seems to have established its intellectual respectability by winning large grants from the Australian Research Council [ARC], by producing a fully refereed international journal, Australian Feminist Studies, by running a regular seminar series to which an array of international, interstate and local feminist scholars have contributed, and by organising a succession of conferences and workshops, some supported by no less a body than UNESCO. None of these factors guarantees its continued existence, though. Restructuring within institutions of higher learning continues to effect major change with increasing frequency; ARC grants run out; memories of seminars and conferences fade. But, for the moment, the oldest Research Centre for Women's Studies in Australia seems to be secure, more secure than at any other moment in its fourteen years. In this article, I'm concerned only with its first three years, 1983-86, possibly — as with most infancies — the time of its greatest insecurity. I will outline these under three headings.

Intellectual erasure

When I moved to Adelaide at the end of 1983, I found it a very different environment from the one in which I had become a feminist and an academic. Just as the Women's Movement in a city of around a million people had markedly different complexions from that in Canberra, a city of around 250 000 with an exceptionally high proportion of university-educated women, so the established sandstone Adelaide University was a very different institution from the ANU. There were students wanting Honours-level courses that would teach them something about feminism, and students wanting supervision for feminist topics for both Honours and postgraduate theses. There was a small core of committed academics, chaired by Jean Blackburn who was then attached to the Education Department in the university, who had conducted the campaign to secure the funding for the post to which I came.