Words by Jakob von der Lippe
Sir Redmond Barry was not the kind of person you would expect to have been the first chancellor of The University of Melbourne. He was, in short, a wily old bastard. The first part of his life was pretty straightforward. Born in 1813 in County Cork, Ireland, Barry’s life was pretty standard for a rich-ish, pro-British son of a military man in Ireland. He attended military school from age twelve, and for the first 26 years of his life, showed every indication of joining the military. However, his failure to gain an officer’s commission (no doubt due to the mounting tensions surrounding British rule in the 1830) sent Barry along an entirely different course. In 1837 he graduated from Trinity College, and was admitted to the Irish Bar in 1838. As in he practised law, you stereotyping racist.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Throughout his time at Trinity, Barry made friends with a certain Isaac Butt, who was essentially the man behind the Irish Home Rule movement, a political force focused on Irish autonomy. Butt himself was inextricably linked with a lot of the movers and shakers of 1800s Ireland, including W. B. Yeats, so you can guess the class of individual Redmond Barry associated himself with. This man had absolutely no interest in fucking around.
Except he totally did have an interest in that. During his voyage to Australia in 1839, Sir Redmond Barry, future Queen’s Counsel and Knight Bachelor, was confined to his cabin aboard the Calcutta by the captain of the boat. The reasoning behind this was simple: Barry was having an open and incredibly improper affair with a married woman. News of Barry’s love of maritime adventure spread quickly upon his arrival in Sydney, and once the then Bishop of the Church of England found out, his prospects of employment basically dwindled to nothing in the established colonies. So, forced out of the genteel and settled parts of Australia by his audacious attitude and colossal balls, Redmond Barry did what anyone would do, and attached himself to the new settlement at Port Phillip Bay. Y’know, what would be called Melbourne.
Despite not being able work in civilised parts of Australia due to his inability to keep his pants on, Barry entered the new settlement with high ideals and expectations. As one of a few law types that far south, he worked tirelessly towards enforcing justice, sort of like a colonial Batman. Throughout this early period he also worked as a legal liaison and counsel for the local aborigines, usually without pay.
By pure luck and perseverance, Redmond Barry put himself on the scene in Melbourne. His tireless work in the early years meant that in 1851 he was appointed the first solicitor-general of Victoria, and throughout his time in Melbourne he’d cemented himself as a man of learning, the arts, and a generally alright dude. But there must have been some disagreement about this, considering he was challenged to a duel in 1841 by a certain Peter Snodgrass. Snodgrass got nervous and fired his pistol too early, missing completely. So Redmond Barry, being a magnificent bastard, slowly and majestically pointed his gun into the air, and fired.
Underpinning all of these events was Barry’s commitment to public learning. Barry offered up his own house as a library before one existed in the new colony. Unsurprisingly, in 1853 he became chancellor of the university he had worked so hard to found. Barry’s efforts to create a centre of learning in Melbourne followed a simple, but solid logic: his life had been shaped by the opportunities his education had afforded him, the development of the colony depended on offering more people those opportunities.
In the final two years of his life, Redmond Barry oversaw and prosecuted the infamous Kelly cases, making it his personal mission to apprehend and judge the outlaw. After sentencing Kelly to hanging, Kelly cursed Barry, proclaiming that he’d see him in hell soon. Within twelve days, Redmond Barry died of breathing complications.
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.