Friday, March 22, 2019


Hello sailor,

I admire how you brave the weather, surf the waves and watch the sunrise. Below is an excerpt from my 2014 Honours thesis which inspired the documentary Breaking The Mould (2017), that I wrote and directed.  

For reading purposes a 'music artisan' is someone who both wrote and performed their own music.

© Jessie Ryan-Allen 2014

The advent of rock and roll in Australia was set into motion by the feature film The Blackboard Jungle (released in 1956) and inspired a new generation of Australian music to emerge (Cockington, 2001). In the 1950s female music artisans were yet to be seen in rock and roll but in country music there was already an established tradition, with artists such as Shirley Thoms and Joy McKean. Thoms (described as Australia's yodelling sweetheart) wrote music and toured widely, and was the first Australian woman to make a solo recording (Isherwood, Barrand, Marshall, Fisher, & Henderson, 2010). McKean performed with her sister Heather under the name The McKean Sisters, performing and recording songs written by McKean (Isherwood et al., 2010). After marrying, McKean worked with her husband, Slim Dusty and wrote songs like "The Ace of Hearts" (McKean, 1963, track 1) and "Sweet Talking Girl" (McKean, 1973, track 3) for him to perform (Morrison, 1995).

Women rock and roll performers were largely unheard of in the 1950s (Morrison & Ferguson, 1995). Judy Cannon, one of Australia's earliest rock and roll singers began performing in the mid 1950s having said, "I wasn't allowed to sing rock and roll but I was doing it" (Morrison 1995, p. 3). The arrival of television in 1956 created a platform for women to perform professionally and by the late 1950s music shows like Bandstand were being aired, based on the American television show by the same name (Turner et al., 1992 & Cockington, 2001). Evident in the music of the time also, American culture was idolised with the charts mainly comprised of covers (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2001). America's dominance in the Australian music charts was so much so that in 1965 one hundred percent of the music in the top twenty was from America.

Figure 1 - 1950s Australian top twenty chart content

Figure 2 - 1950s Australians involved in Australian top twenty content

The 1950s represented the twentieth century's last decade of apparent gender relations stability (Matthews, 1984). Mainstream Australian society at the time supported the view that a woman's place was in the home, a public opinion which had previously gone largely unchallenged (Stephenson, 1970). Similarly female singers in the Australian top twenty charts were almost always offsiders to a male performer, although this trend became less prominent as the 1950s went on. There is only one account of an Australian woman in the charts in this decade, June Hamilton (a singer) who performed the song, "The Old Piano Roll Blues" (Coben, 1950, track 1) alongside Les Welch in 1950. Not only was it hard to be a charting Australian musician in the 1950s, the song performed by Welch and Hamilton was a cover, originally by the American performers Al Jolson and the Andrews Sisters. Jessie Street although known for her work in the 1940s as an advocate for the role of women in society after World War Two, she also had a profound influence on the lives of Australian women in the 1950s. She organised the Australian Women's Conference for Victory in War and Victory in Peace which sought to ensure the level of independence women had during the war years was not repealed (Jessie Street Trust, 2014). Street's enduring quest was for Australian women to have economic independence, equal pay and work beyond marriage (Jessie Street Trust, 2014).

By 1950 more married women were going back to work and by 1969 married women made up fifty-six percent of the female workforce for the first time in Australian history (Stephenson, 1970). As a result of this, and the shrinking tasks for housewives to perform (due to advancements in technology), the myth of housewifery as an honoured profession began to be dismantled (Summers, 2002). Female music artisans in the Australian music industry were few and far between in the 1950s because of the gender roles formed at the beginning of the twentieth century. Gendered stereotypes made it difficult for Australian women to forge a career in popular music like their male contemporaries.

Australian music in the 1960s was dominated by the rise of music television shows (like Bandstand, Six O'clock Rock and In Melbourne Tonight) and by 1964, when The Beatles toured, British beat music had become the next music trend to captivate Australia (Isherwood et al., 2010). Female music artisans (in a professional capacity) at this time were extremely rare, however Helene Grover was a performer (although not professionally) and a songwriter who had three songs (performed by others) that received nationwide success (Pop Archives, 2005). She wrote two songs for Noeleen Batley one of which, "Barefoot Boy" (Grover, 1960, track 1) became the first national hit for an Australian female pop singer (Mix, 2009). Grover wrote "Barefoot Boy" (Grover, 1960, track 1) when she was sixteen years old and won a talent quest run by Festival Records performing the song (Pop Archives, 2005).

Despite more women becoming professionally involved in the music industry (primarily as singers on television) their creative involvement was limited, with songwriting a largely male domain (Isherwood et al., 2010). By the early 1960s two-thirds of Australians had a television, yet it was still seen as a threat to the moral fibre of the nation (Hedger, 2007). As a result of this, female singers especially were made to represent a solely conservative traditional feminine image on television (Hedger, 2007). The female rock and roll singers of the late 1950s like Cannon and Betty McQuade when performing on television in the 1960s were expected to tone down their style to conform with society's expectations of a feminine image (Isherwood et al., 2010).

Figure 3 - 1960s Australian top twenty chart content

Figure 4 - 1960s Australians involved in Australian top twenty content

By 1964 American content no longer held the majority of the Australian music chart, with music of Europe now increasingly popular with Australian audiences. Along with the cultural change that saw European music rise to the top of the Australian music chart, the 1960s were a time of transition in which significant changes began to shape established gender roles in Australian society (Matthews, 1984). Australian public bars of the early 1960s were an exclusively white male domain but in 1965 Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bogner chained themselves to the bar of the Regatta Hotel in Brisbane, and asked for a drink (Hedger, 2007). Without these women and many like them, public bars would have still been off limits to women in the 1970s and 1980s, dramatically changing the path of female music artisans' participation in the music industry and the history of Australian music (Hedger, 2007). Australian music reached forty percent of the top twenty chart in 1965 and saw the first Australian woman Judith Durham (in the band, The Seekers) achieve wide spread national success with the song, "The Carnival is Over" (Springfield, 1965, track 1) which reached number two on the Australian chart. After Australian women saw Durham find success in the Australian music industry, the Women's Liberation Movement were gaining momentum and by the late 1960s were in full swing. The Women's Liberation Movement focused on the rejection of sexism and gendered roles, seeking freedom to do what they wanted and without limited opportunities (Summers, 2002).

In Australian society more widely, women were being given the rights and opportunities to play a significant role in the workforce. In 1966, married women for the first time were allowed to hold permanent jobs in the public service, The Reserve Bank was the first Australian business to offer paid maternity leave and Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin became the first woman to hold a Commonwealth portfolio with Australia being the first country to allow women to run for parliament (Glass et al., 2006 & Andersen, 2012). In 1966 Caroline Jones was the first female reporter to appear on Australian TV and in 1968 Victorian female teachers started to receive equal pay (Glass et al., 2006). In Australian popular culture women also were taking on key roles, like Lily Brett who became a key writer alongside Molly Meldrum at the Go Set magazine in 1966 (Glass et al., 2006). In 1967 The Seekers became the first Australians in popular music to be awarded Australian of the Year (National Australia Day Council, 2013). Female music artisans in Australia were still an unknown quantity but with female singers captivating audiences in their lounge rooms across the country, it was only a matter of time before they would express their own identities and opinions through music.

By the 1970s the Australian identity was beginning to emerge in Australian popular music and in 1975 the influential music television show, Countdown changed the landscape of the Australian music industry (Warner, 2006). Australian female music artisans were now beginning to emerge professionally in the Australian music industry. Key female music artisans of the time included Helen Reddy, Jeannie Lewis, Carol Lloyd (Railroad Gin) and Pigott (XL Capris). As a sign of the times Reddy's most famous song was the 'feminist anthem', "I Am Woman" (Burton & Reddy, 1971, track 4) which won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal in 1972 (Isherwood et al., 2010). Lewis was a jazz performer before becoming involved in folk and winning Female Album of the Year for her debut album at the 1974 Australian Radio Awards (Morrison, 1995). Lloyd's career began in the mid-1970s with Brisbane band Railroad Gin, she then moved onto form The Carol Lloyd Band, achieving international chart success (Johnston, 2003). Pigott was the bass player and vocalist of XL Capris, going on to make music in her solo project, Scribble in the 1980s (Larkin, 2006).

In the early and mid-1970s attitudes of inequality between men and women musicians were still present in the Australian music industry (Morrison & Ferguson, 1995). Despite the feminist movement making some impact on Australian society, the music industry remained "unremittingly chauvinist" (Turner et al. 1992, p. 107). On Countdown, ninety-one percent of rock music was about boys behaving badly and the only role women were seen to have in rock was as groupies (Warner, 2006). This culture unfortunately also made it hard for women performers on Countdown as they were abused by female fans in the audience (Warner, 2006). By the late 1970s this began to change as punk ideology allowed women to be instrumentalists and songwriters (not just a singer) performing onstage with control over their appearance and music (Morrison, 1995). New wave music evolved from post punk with bands such as Dugites and XL Capris (Pigott) being some of the first to perform and record (Warner, 2006). This saw the peak of Australia's percentage contribution to the Australian top twenty charts over the sixty year period discussed.

Figure 5 - 1970s Australian top twenty chart content

Figure 6 - 1970s Australians involved in Australian top twenty content

Punk and feminism in the late 1970s were united by their belief that everyone had the right to play music and in contrast, the music performed by women in the early 1970s was centred around folk and ballads (Sport, 2007). As a result there was a substantially higher number of women achieving success in the Australian top twenty chart. Feminists of the 1970s were fighting for equal rights and opportunities which helped unite the perfect audience to shine a light on Australian female musicians who expressed their opinions through popular music (Hedger, 2007). Australian music at its lowest in 1979 made up ten percent of the top twenty chart with only three out of the ten years not including Australian music from women. The women who achieved chart success included Reddy and female singers Liv Maessen, Olivia Newton-John, Colleen Hewett, Sister Janet Mead, Denise Drysdale, Marcia Hines and Samantha Sang. The most notable event of this decade was the first song in the top twenty by an Australian female music artisan, "I Am Woman" (Burton & Reddy, 1971, track 4) was co-written and performed by Reddy. When Gough Whitlam's Labour government was elected in 1972 they took immediate actions and initiatives relating to women, which were indicative of the changes to come in Australia (Dixson, 1984). In 1970 Germaine Greer was labelled a man hater by mainstream media upon the release of her book The Female Eunuch which was also simultaneously dismissed by radical feminists (Glass et al., 2006). Also in 1970 the Women's Action Committee was formed in Melbourne and advocated for equality in the employment process, the right to abortion and the end of sexist advertising (Glass et al., 2006). Another pivotal book in Australian feminism of the 1970s was Anne Summer's Damned Whores and God's Police which explored the roles of women and how they were suppressed in history (Summers, 2002). These key books not only drew attention to inequality but also highlighted the patriarchal values governing society. Summers argued that, "throughout Australian history a systematic omission of women from what have been judged the highest achievements" (Summers 2002, p. 81). At a time when Australian society largely ignored women's claims to equality, women became increasingly unhappy with their female family roles and in 1974, the National Wage Case put in place an equal minimum wage for women (Summers, 2002). Australian feminism of the 1970s began the unique approach of directly providing services to women in need, for example the Marrickville Women's Refuge which opened in 1976 (Summers, 2002).

At the end of 1970 liquor laws changed (the drinking age was lowered from twenty-one to eighteen) and to attract younger patrons, live music was introduced into public bars (Hedger, 2007). This made it difficult for women to break into the live music pub circuit as bars were seen as very masculine boys clubs where women were not welcomed (Morrison & Ferguson, 1995). The public bar audience was described by Harry Vanda (band member of The Easybeats) as an audience that "demanded blood or else" (Cockington 2001, p. 189). This environment would have largely discouraged Australian women from performing as it was seen that a woman's success in society was informed by her social acceptability rather than professional or economic status (Birrell, 1975). Particularly in the arts women within Australian culture tended to be ignored or stereotyped (Summers, 2002). The counter-culture movement that emerged from America challenged traditional ideals and influenced the growth of an independent music scene, fostered in part by the introduction of community radio stations in 1975, with Brisbane's 4ZZZ one of the first in the country (Turner et al., 1992). By the late 1970s female music artisans were performing in public bars, writing songs, recording and expressing themselves in the independent sphere (unrecognised by the Australian music chart) of punk and new wave music (Hedger, 2007).

As a continuation of the changes to the music scene brought about by changes to liquor laws in the 1970s, the 1980s gave birth to the mainstream success of all-male pub rock bands such as Cold Chisel, The Angels and AC/DC (Morrison, 1995). Key female music artisans of the time included Amphlett (Divinyls), Grace Knight (Eurogliders), Deborah Conway (Do-Re-Mi) and Lin Buckfield (Electric Pandas). Amphlett dressed in a school uniform and became her school girl alter ego onstage to overcome her shyness and to tame the tough crowd (Amphlett & Writer, 2009). Knight was from Perth and achieved international success with the Eurogliders, performing at the MTV Awards in 1984 (McFarlane, 1999). Conway was known for her feminist and political musical content, most notably in the song "Man Overboard" (Conway, Bray, Carter & Philip, 1982, track 5) (Kruger, 2004). Buckfield was described as Australia's Suzi Quatro and released the debut single "Big Girls" (Buckfield, 1984, track 1) with the band Electric Pandas (Jones, 2008).
Women were becoming more prominent in the Australian live music scene building on the ripples of the late 1970s and by the early 1980s women played a key role in Australian live music (Warner, 2006). In 1982 Frock Rock was the first women's rock festival of national importance to be held; despite this radio airplay did not reflect the success of women, with radio stations largely playing Oz rock dominated by white males (Morrison, 1995 & Turner et al., 1992). Commercial radio portrayed being female as a genre in itself, therefore pitting these women up against each other for a few spots on rotation (Morrison & Ferguson, 1995). In 1988 Ausmusic was established as the first official institution to support Australian music, and in the mid-1990s they funded Lindy Morrison's documentary on women in Australian music which is a significant piece of Australian cultural history (Turner et al., 1992).

Figure 7 - 1980s Australian top twenty chart content

Figure 8 - 1980s Australians involved in Australian top twenty content

At this time in Australia, feminism could be divided into three groups: radical, reformist and socialist (Dixson, 1986). Australian and overseas women in the thousands marched in Reclaim The Night protests against male violence, rape, sexist media images and pornography (Lumby, 1997). Despite society's ideals of the autonomous woman, significant obstacles still reinforced the patriarchal ideals maintaining the gendered roles of women (Dixson, 1984). The 1980s saw a small increase in the success of Australian women in the Australian top twenty chart, against a lower representation of Australian music overall. Australian politics by 1983 brought women's issues and feminist initiatives to the forefront of society which resulted in some change (Dixson, 1984). In 1984, "Heaven (Must Be There)" (Knight & Lynch, 1984, track 1) by Eurogliders which included a female music artisan (Knight) and female performer (keyboard player, Amanda Vincent) achieved top twenty chart success. In academia, feminist analysts identified that gender order in society could exist without being hierarchical, inequitable or oppressive (Matthews, 1984). The 1980s also saw the first Australian female songwriters achieve Australian top twenty chart success with Frances Swan who co-wrote "What About Me" (Frost & Swan, 1982, track 2) by Moving Pictures and Pigott who co-wrote "Age of Reason" (Pigott & Hunter, 1988, track 1) by John Farnham. Interestingly they both co-wrote these charting songs with their husbands.

While medicine of the 1980s had come a long way from the idea of "femininity as a disease", women were still treated differently by doctors in both diagnosis and treatment (Matthews 1984, p. 114). By the 1980s the average Australian woman lived longer, and in a more suburban setting, she was more likely to get married, and bear fewer children, while controlling the number and timing of children as she started a family (Matthews, 1984). Religion also played an important part in shaping roles for women in Australia, particularly since only 10.8 percent in 1981 and 12.7 percent in 1986 identified as not religious on the national census (Dixson, 1984 & Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1994). Women in the 1980s were beginning to make an impact in environments which were historically male dominated, marking the end of women being solely based around the home (Dixson, 1984). Before this and into the 1980s Australian history down played the role of women in society, as Dixson (1984) explains "...women figure as pygmies in the culture of the present and are almost obliterated from the annals of the past." (p. 12). The 1980s were a time when female music artisans could express themselves onstage but were still controlled by the male dominated Australian music industry behind the scenes.

Australian music of the 1990s saw the rise of alternative music previously deemed to be uncommercial, prompted by the nationalisation of youth radio station Triple J (Isherwood et al., 2010). Key Australian female music artisans included Janet English (Spiderbait), Suze Demarchi (Baby Animals), Rebecca Barnard (Rebecca's Empire) and Adalita Srsen (Magic Dirt). English was the vocalist and bass player in the band, Spiderbait who have to date released five, top forty albums (Isherwood et al., 2010). Demarchi rejected the pop mould of singing Stock, Aitken and Waterman songs (as suggested by her record company) and in 1989 formed the band, Baby Animals (Isherwood et al., 2010). Barnard found success with Rebecca's Empire and their first single "Atomic Electric" (Barnard, 1994, track 1) (Isherwood et al., 2010). Srsen was the singer and guitarist of Magic Dirt whose debut album Friends in Danger (1996) reached twenty-five on the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) charts (Isherwood et al., 2010). These women strived to reject the stereotypes constructed in the 1980s by not sacrificing control over their music and image to become successful in the Australian music industry.

Women played a major role in the crossover of alternative rock into the commercial market of the Australian music industry (Hedger, 2007). The 1990s also saw female Aboriginal artists such as Ruby Hunter achieving success (Morrison, 1995). The development of political pop music allowed serious female solo artists to be finally considered by record companies as marketable (Turner et al., 1992). In 1995 "Mouth" (Bainbridge, 1995, track 4) by Merril Bainbridge became the first number one for an Australian female music artisan (Morrison, 1995). Wendy Matthews noted that because of gender stereotypes, women in the spotlight were labelled as "strong" women rather than, just a woman doing what many men do also (Morrison & Ferguson, 1995). Female artists of the 1990s further controlled their music and image by working with independent record labels and therefore breaking down taboos such as performing pregnant (Hedger, 2007). At this time in the Australian top twenty chart, Australian music reached its lowest percentage contribution since the 1950s.

Figure 9 - 1990s Australian top twenty chart content

Figure 10 - 1990s Australians involved in Australian top twenty content

The feminist movement in the 1990s of Australia was largely about individual practice and personal challenges, building on the foundations laid in the 1970s and 1980s for women to expect and demand equality in their life (Bail et al., 1996). Many issues faced by women in the 1990s were subtle and in reality affected families, men included and therefore society (Bail et al., 1996). As a result, music previously associated with feminism became obsolete, with the individual practice and non-issue of demanding equality encompassed into music by Australian women. The 1990s saw a higher percentage of Australian female music artisans present in the Australian content of the top twenty chart, although there were no Australian women in the top twenty chart for five of these years. In both 1992 and 1995, women were involved with one-hundred percent of the Australian content which may be related to the lower amount of Australian content in the charts at the time. The female music artisans in the 1990s top twenty charts included Amphlett (Divinyls) in 1991, Bainbridge in 1995 and Cheyne Coates (Madison Avenue) in 1999. Unfortunately feminism in Australia has not included Aboriginal women in its agenda largely because of the vastly different historic, cultural and socio-economic factors (Bail et al., 1996). The public were increasingly critical of sexist mass media, with one third of complaints about advertising made to the Australian Advertising Standards Council in 1995 being about sexism (Lumby, 1997). Feminism of the 1990s saw young women embed their fight into individual everyday practice rather than taking to the streets collectively like the feminists of previous decades (Bail et al., 1996).

The role and image of Australian women in the 1990s became far more diverse, yet despite this, gender stereotyping was still present in the media and the music industry (Morrison, 1995). Authenticity of identity and independence became important, with Kylie Minogue seeking to qualify herself by describing her younger self as a manipulated puppet (Negus, 1992). Visual elements of female identity were becoming increasingly important with the fracturing image of the ideal woman and assorted expressions of femininity. Mirrored in the popular music of the time, video clips and photographs could lead the listener to discern the kind of artist or band before listening to their the music (Negus, 1992). Because of technology and the fractured winning formula of success in the Australian music industry, female music artisans of the 1990s had the opportunity to challenge or ignore the expectations of record companies and achieved unparalleled commercial success in Australian music (Isherwood et al., 2010).

The rise of the internet and digital recording technology unquestionably had a major influence on Australian music in the 2000s (Isherwood et al., 2010). These developments played a defining role in the path to success for the key female music artisans of this decade such as Chambers, Sarah Blasko, Higgins and Sally Seltmann. Chambers achieved mainstream pop success as a country artist with her second album Barricades & Brickwalls (2001) which went seven times platinum (Masley, 2003). Blasko was named Australia's most respected female musician in 2007 by Australian Musician magazine and along with Higgins led the folk revival by female artists and bands (McCabe, 2007). Higgins in 2001 won Triple J's Unearthed competition and went on to have, two number one albums in Australia (Isherwood et al., 2010). Seltmann won breakthrough songwriter of the year at the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) awards in 2008, known for her success as both an artist, and songwriter for other artists and bands (APRA AMCOS, 2014).

The 2000s saw female musicians for the first time balance the gender divide in the ARIA charts of highest selling albums and singles (Isherwood et al., 2010). Australian women made their mark as singers, instrumentalists and songwriters, achieving success in many different capacities (Isherwood et al., 2010). Behind the scenes roles such as manager and producer roles were also becoming less male dominated (Mihelakos, 2007). For example, Correne Wilkie, manager of The Cat Empire and, Catherine Marks a producer who has worked with artists such as P.J. Harvey. The crafted image of bands and artists played a significant role in music industry's success at this time as within the digital realm, marketability relied upon the music's visual image (Bowditch, 2007). American music held a clear dominance in the Australian top twenty yearly charts, second only to its presence the 1950s.

Figure 11 - 2000s Australian top twenty chart content

Figure 12 - 2000s Australians involved in Australian top twenty content

The 2000s was an interesting time for feminism in Australia, claimed by some as a post-feminist era (Bulbeck, 2014). The debate of gender difference and inequality became a key point when discussing women's rights and coincided with the flood of Australian women achieving success in the Australian music industry, along with the rise of Australian music in the top twenty (Bulbeck, 2014). In 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2008, one hundred percent of Australian content in the top twenty chart involved women and in 2008 this was solely made up of female music artisans. Australian female songwriters were back in the charts with Swan again for the same song "What About Me" (Frost & Swan, 2004, track 3) now performed by Shannon Noll and, Barbara Hannan and Emma Graham who co-wrote "Wasabi" (Hannan, Rando, Hannan & Graham, 2005, track 1) performed by Lee Harding. Australian female music artisans in the top twenty charts included Ella Hooper (Killing Heidi) in 2000, Delta Goodrem and Chambers in 2002, Goodrem in 2003, Higgins in 2004, Jessica and Lisa Origliasso (The Veronicas) in 2007, Gabriella Cilmi and Vanessa Amorosi in 2008 and, Kate Miller-Heidke in 2009. The conservative government (voted out in 2007) deconstructed polices promoting women's rights and services, by closing down rape crisis centres and domestic violence shelters (Bulbeck, 2014). The gender wage gap in 2005 was 15.1 percent and with the majority of caring and domestic responsibilities done by women, employers' expectations were largely incompatible with this reality (Temple, 2014).

The gender stereotypes which played an important role twenty years ago in defining the role of women in society are still present but no longer dictate Australian women's lives to the same extent (Summers, 2002). The media's treatment of women however still showcases a narrow casting call similar to the 1950s and 1960s, with patronising and celebrity-centric stories (Wolfe, 2014). Unlike their overseas counterparts Australian female music artisans are not recognised in the same way for their music and work in the Australian music industry (Wolfe, 2014). Female music artisans in the 2000s were given respect for and control over their image and music, something that previous Australian female music artisans fought so hard for in the decades before.

Decade Summary
Figure 13 - Decade summary Australian top twenty chart content

Figure 14 - Decade summary Australians involved in Australian top twenty content

Full references upon request. 



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