gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,

Women's History Month: Jean Hollis Weber

My role in WEL Australia

None of the easily available information on the history of the Women's Electoral Lobby Australia mentions my role in setting up WEL's national office, though I'm sure it's well documented in the records held by the National Library.

(That's not a complaint, just an observation. Many women who contributed far more than I did aren't mentioned by name either, often by their own choice. But I thought I would take this opportunity to summarise my small contribution to women in Australia.)

I migrated to Australia in October 1974 and got a job in Townsville later that year. Fresh from feminist and environmentalist activism in California, I soon became involved with the Women's Refuge and the WEL group in Townsville. With WEL in Queensland and nationally, I could see distinct similarities to some groups I'd worked with in California: local groups served local needs very well, but lobbying at the state or federal level fell upon the groups in the capital cities. This resulted in a lot of work for the capital city groups and a lot of duplication of effort when local groups in, say, Townsville and Rockhampton wanted to lobby at the state level as well.

In 1976 or 1977, the National Conference was held in Brisbane, and I presented a proposal for a WEL National Office, to be based in Canberra. The proposal was based on a similar organisation that I had been involved with setting up in California under similar conditions. There was enthusiasm from some quarters (including women from several of the Queensland regional cities) and a lot of resistance from others. No decisions were made that year, but the seeds had been sown.

The 1978 National Conference decided to form a national office, employing a part-time National Co-ordinator, whose role was to liaise with WEL groups, other women's organisations, politicians and the media, to produce the National Bulletin, and to co-ordinate national WEL campaigns. Funds were raised and grants applied for.

By then I was living in Canberra. For several years I was the (unpaid) Secretary/Treasurer. The first National Co-ordinator, Maria De Leo, lived in my spare room for some time. This was convenient, since the Canberra Women's Centre was just around the corner from my house. Many of the early bulletins and other papers were printed on the duplicator in my garage.

The WEL National Office grew and developed during the exciting years of the early 1980s, leading up to the passage of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. I remember the celebration across the street from Parliament House (the old one), where my role was uncorking bottles of champagne with great enthusiasm, sending corks flying over the crowd until advised that someone could get hurt and I should desist... which I did.

Later I moved to Sydney, where I was not much involved in WEL, having moved on to other things. At some point I turned over my collected papers and other memorabilia to the Jesse Street Library. Not long ago I found a few stray photos from those early days and was reminded of both the excitement and hopes of the times, and the fact that although much has changed since then, much has stayed the same. But that's a topic for a longer essay and another day.

Jean Hollis Weber is a science and technology editor and writer, now retired from the paid workforce but still active in volunteer work with open-source software (primarily, a free alternative to Microsoft Office). She also writes and self-publishes her own books, maintains several websites, publishes Lyn McConchie's Farming Daze books, and travels extensively. In her spare time, she reads science fiction and fantasy and is active in science fiction fandom.

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