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The Seventies: The personal, the political and the making of modern Australia

A series of coincidences saw the beginning of what is now The Seventies, a work that takes a look back at a time in Australian history that created major change, not only in the political environment, but also ushering in a new era for Human Relationships, and by doing so opened up a Pandora’s Box of issues relating to women and homosexuality.

Looking back down the decades from the so-called liberated world of 2019, it is for a new generation of Australians, who find it hard to believe that their grandmothers had few rights, that what happened in the Public area or workplace stayed there, and what happened behind closed doors at home, also stayed there.

Domestic violence, ‘gay’ bashing, marginalisation, and so much more was simply swept under the carpet of societies respectability, until it was finally bought to light during 1974, when the then Whitlam Government called for a Royal Commission into Human Relationships.

The Government called for submissions to be presented and it is these submissions Michelle Arrow discovered during a period of research at the National Archives of Australia. It is these submissions that piqued her curiosity, encouraging her to look further into the late 1960’s and early 1970s’ to discover a different narrative of a Nation emerging from the strictures of British rule, creating a turning point in Australia, seeing the birth of Women’s Liberation Movement, and in theory the creation of the Sex Discrimination Act, which later played out in December 2017, with the passing of the Marriage Amendment Act 2017.

Michelle Arrow in looking back on our history, draws a correlation for past and present which documents how far Women’s rights have come and yet how far they have not. She looks at the modern interpretation of Women’s ‘Lib’ and what it means to this generation of young women.

She looks at gay rights, tracing the history through the troubled years of AIDS, the mobilization of this community to deal with this massively divisive issue and how the legacies of the original Royal Commission into Human Rights, has in many ways left behind a very mixed legacy for marginalised groups, but also underlines that Governments do not create change, people do, activists do, as do people passionate about their beliefs.

Perhaps the women and men of the 1960’s and ‘70’s did not reinvent the world, but they surely made a massive difference, creating the catch phrase ‘personal is political’ which still holds true today. Unfortunately, there is still some way to travel before the many issues campaigned for during this massive change in world Politics, the rights of women and so much, more reaches a conclusion.

As Australia is perched on the threshold of a fresh Government mandate and the so-called changes this will deliver, it is perhaps time to reflect on the words of Carol Hanisch, an American radical feminist popular in the 1970’s, when she said, ‘there are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution.’

The final words from Michelle Arrow really sum up what could be considered as the apathy prevalent today, when she says, wisely, ‘Perhaps we need to reanimate this principle today as we grapple with both the legacies and the unfinished business of the 1970’s.

I would have to agree, as having lived through those turbulent and fascinating times of radical changes in society, there is indeed much work left still to be done.

Author Michelle Arrow
Publisher New South Books
ISBN 9781742234700
Distributor Nwe South Books
Released March 2019