Monday 12 January 2009

Print this story

Barry and Gwenda Lindgren – Agents for Social Change

© John Sawyer – September 2008

Thirty years ago there was a fair bit of turmoil in society. Women had had the right to vote for more than seventy years, but they still couldn’t join the Melbourne Club, the Melbourne Cricket Club or even Richmond Rowing Club.

Barry had been a member of the rowing club since he was a teenager and it was very much a male domain. Two kegs of beer at the “smoke” night that followed Annual General Meeting. “The Ladies” were sometimes allowed in the kitchen to make supper but they weren’t allowed into the main function hall while the blokes were carrying out the important business of drinking, smoking, telling questionable stories, singing outrageous songs and other unspeakable mischief.

Things were bound to change, not just for socio political and equity reasons, the club was in the doldrums. Some of us reckoned that “women hold up half the sky”, so we might get more members if we doubled the marketplace. The added social dimension might also attract more blokes.

Just before the AGM, a member’s girlfriend tried to join and the application was deferred.

The club’s original constitution had been written in surprisingly gender neutral language, no he’s or him’s, but at AGM the old guard moved a change that required all members be male persons. They rolled out the reactionary old stagers with some pretty bad arguments mainly involving young girls watching their enormous appendages in the shower; a bit of wishful thinking I reckoned.

All very bad stuff but typical of the gender issues back then. Even the wives of the older blokes seemed just as scared of the unknown. Much to our disgust the constitution was changed.

Barry was part of a group that didn’t want the club to die and lobbied for a bit of equity. They let it be known that they were moving to reinstate the old constitution and that I'd be running against the current president who’d been in the job for 30 years. Just before the AGM, he announced his retirement. The constitution was reinstated and I was elected president.

I’m normally pretty astute but at the first committee meeting after the AGM, Barry beat me to the punch and nominated Gwenda as a member. Rod Hendley nominated Helen and I nominated Barb Sawyer. After 115 years of club history, Gwenda Lindgren was the first female member.

A lot has changed since then. The rowing club is thriving with far more women members than men. Women are in the MCG Long Room. Women have paid maternity leave; even the blokes get paternity leave.

I’m not saying that Gwenda, Barry and the other RRC members can be held responsible for all this change, but they did help. The anthropologist, Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

The Melbourne Club still excludes women, but who cares.

[Written for Barry & Gwenda's 40th Wedding Anniversary]


Visit my Techo Blog