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Words by Danielle Bagnato

The Wom*n’s Room is a cosy nook located on the first floor of Union House. It’s down a corridor and around a corner, intentionally a little hidden from the world, as it’s a safe space for women. The room is bright and bursting with feminist literature. Compared to the University of Melbourne’s feminist history, though, the room, and the accompanying Wom*n’s Department­—which was officially incorporated into the Student Union constitution in 1992—are a pretty recent instalment.

You can see our feminist progress by trawling through 60-year-old copies of Farrago. In the ’50s, there were a few female-related articles thrown in among the news. They covered International Women’s Day and had debates on marriage and contraception, but the articles were predominantly written by men.

The content of the magazine began to change in 1956 when Germaine Greer enrolled in our hallowed institution. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1959 and stirred up the student media while she was here. It was publications like Compass and Farrago that gave Greer a start as the renowned feminist you know her as today.

She blatantly slammed the Christian Society and the Rationalist Society, wrote letters to the editor, and ran for Students’ Council.

Greer ridiculed the president of the 1958 Rationalist Society for blushing at a joke about the club’s motto being ‘Intelligence and Sexuality’. Even as a lowly student she was not afraid to take on the patriarchy.

Many of her articles were met with wanky, counter letters to the editor. One Hilton R. Brown, for instance, wrote “It was with regret that I read the letter from Miss Germaine Greer … in which she blatantly and hypocritically decried the aims and morals of the members of the most essential society in this University”.

But Greer didn’t let this trouble her. She continued pointing out the flaws in the university and people continued to criticise her. “It would seem rather that Miss Greer has vigorously executed all the gallant gestures but just failed to bring it off: the gauntlet has stuck fast to her clammy hand,” argued a man simply known as Watson.

The tone of Farrago began to shift and by the ’60s there were regular feminist articles, corresponding with the arrival of the second wave of feminism.

The ’70s saw regular columns like ‘Women in Revolt’ and the venus symbol began to appear everywhere. The words sisterhood’ and ‘unite’ were thrown across pages.

Things calmed down for a while until 1985 when the feminist zine Judy’s Punch was launched. Judy’s Punch was a hardcore, colourful zine that peaked in the ’90s. The name was chosen over ‘Girlstalk’ and ‘Women’s Rag’, due to men making schoolboy jibes. In the first edition, the editors explained, “Eventually we hit upon Judy. Baby in one hand and rolling pin in the other. Raucous and rambunctious, she best expresses the energy and punch of the women’s handbook”.

Judy’s Punch was unapologetic and designed with a ‘90s punk aesthetic. It sparked the production of various other zines in the early ’90s such as a 1993 lesbian publication called Shout: The Love That Can’t Keep Its Big Mouth Shut.

This magazine is equally as wonderful as it is frightening. It was packed with articles, poetry, cartoons, and photos in support of gay women. Almost every page had the words ‘dyke’ and ‘censored’ slapped diagonally across the writing. It was the kind of feisty, dominant feminism that wouldn’t fly today.

Unfortunately, these punk zines and Judy’s Punch stopped printing by 2005 due to a lack of funds. Only the old copies in the library remain. The publication was re-launched as a blog in 2013, though, when Wom*n’s Officer Amy Jenkins discovered that its production was a constitutional requirement.

The Wom*n’s Room was renovated in 2012 and found in the archives were posters, zines, and notebooks from former members of the Wom*n’s Department. Women had left notes for one another on paper, throwing around words like ‘spunky’ and ‘girl power’.

The Wom*n’s Room continues to be a safe space for everyone who identifies as a woman. Although it’s a little old school, the room is still a beautiful place to discuss feminism and girl power and all of those wonderful things.

Words by Danielle Bagnato

The Toff is tightly packed. My friend and I—definitely the youngest people at the venue—push our way towards the front of the stage. I stand on my toes and crane my neck to find Imogen Brough, sitting alone behind a piano. I wonder whether the lonely piano will be enough accompaniment, given Brough’s acoustic style. I wonder whether she will need something else, perhaps some drums or even a backing track.

She doesn’t.

Brough’s voice stands out on its own, instantly filling the room.

* * *

Imogen Brough’s career as a musician has progressed rapidly since graduating from the Univeristy of Melbourne. In her final year at the Victorian College of the Arts, Brough recorded her first EP, Counting Waves, which she planned to sell at local gigs in her hometown of Geelong.

The record showcases her distinctive pop-Celtic style. “I listened to world music because of my Mum and Dad,” the 22-year-old tells me. “I’ve got really strong memories of being at kindergarten and coming home and that type of music was always being played. There’s something really earthy and primal that I connect to.”

A year after graduating, Brough decided to audition for The Voice. Although reality singing shows can be accused of creating unrealistic expectations on young musicians, Brough defended The Voice for its employment of blind auditions. “It’s not about what you look like,” she said. She also saw the television show as an opportunity to get her name out there for free.

Throughout her recent tour, Brough has predominantly performed original music, such as her recently released single “Heart”. “It’s been slightly modulated to be more epic and more dramatic. We worked in a big Celtic theme.”

Her voice has a strange and beautiful sound with a calming quality. The added percussion, strings, and choir enable her to create an enormous sound. It’s the sort of music you can imagine accompanying a heroic movie with princesses and dragons. “It literally motivates you,” Brough explains. “It’s one of those songs that makes you want to run and be the best you can be at whatever you want to do.”

“That’s important for music, it does inspire people.”

Brough’s Celtic sound has been compared to that of her musical idols, Enya and Coldplay. Further comparisons can be drawn with Florence and the Machine, an artist she covered on The Voice with an epic rendition of “Never Let Me Go”.