Photo Friday: International Women’s Day In Melbourne

© Allison Yates. Womens Day.

We sat at Platform 5, ready to take the train from Flinders to Sunshine. Sunshine is a notoriously rough area, but when we arrived, it seemed harmless.

Why were Alexe and I going to Sunshine?  I wanted to attend a real, official International Women’s Day event. My last minute attempts to plan something for March 8 were failures. I was too late. Most of the events had already filled up. Music shows, breakfasts at the archival women’s center and poetry readings wouldn’t be on my agenda for the day.

Picture at the Braybrook Library by Gemma Louise Saunders. Photo taken during a 2014 rally for 16 Days of Activism in Footscray.

Instead, I found an event on the International Women’s Day website for a community event at the Braybrook Library, a name that feels like a tongue twister to say. After going to St. Kilda beach, lunching at Jungle Juice Bar and feeling suffocated by the 38 degree heat in the city, we jumped on our train to Sunshine. From there, we took a 20 minute bus to the library, at first missing our stop.

I noticed we had been on the road for quite some time. Looking around, it felt like we were in a different country. The strip malls, sidewalks and 1970s looking housing felt years away from the European style CBD. I approached the driver, and in compliance with the sign – “don’t distract the driver while he’s driving”- I politely said “Eh, excuse me, could I ask you a questions?”

He took both hands off the wheel and lifted them up in unison and bulged his eyes, as if to express that I had just asked the dumbest question imaginable. “Where’s Braybrook shops? That’s the stop.” I asked. He shouted back, “You passed it a long time ago!”

After exiting the bus, walking around the corner, being tempted to hitchhike when I saw the air conditioning blowing from the cars of men in business suits, finding the stop, waiting for the bus…we got back on with the same driver. After even more confusion, some extremely kind Kiwis (playing loud music and laughing) disagreeing with driver and helping us find our way, we had made it.

And it was worth it. The library felt like a cooler in comparison to the heat outside. Inside, beyond the books, we made our way to the back end, where it took me a second to realize this was still Australia. It was almost identical to the library in my hometown. Looking out of the slightly tainted windows  I looked at the dry grass and kids playing soccer. The sidewalk almost looks different in intense heat. It could have been summer in Midwestern USA.

© Allison Yates. Womens Day4
The library was decorated in purple to celebrate the day.

The room was full of younger  mothers with screaming (still adorable) children, middle aged  women and teenagers. Some men were also in attendance. It stuck me that the crowd in attendance was remarkably diverse. I looked around the room to see Vietnamese, Somalis and Turkish. I even heard languages being spoken I couldn’t identify. There were multiple generations of women grouped together.

It’s reported that 34% of Maribyrong’s population comes from non English speaking countries. The events of the celebration reflected its multicultural community, although the “barbecue” (sausages, Bimbo bread and ketchup) was a classic Aussie touch.

© Allison Yates. Womens Day2
© Allison Yates. Womens Day3
Sausage anyone? (Wonder if it’s pork meat…)

Despite the diversity of the people there, I couldn’t help but notice that the presence of an American and a French girl was somewhat of a confusion to everyone. Even so, we were treated in a warm and welcoming way. A university student of Somali descent had us try the tea she had made. It was placed among tea and beverage samplings from other parts of the world- Mexico, China, and Italy. The Somali tea was by far the most satisfying.

© Allison Yates. Womens Day 5

We grabbed our tea and listened to the variety of local talent. A young Arab boy performed spoken word poetry dedicated to his mother, where he recalled his childhood filled love and strength from his mother, despite the hunger and violence they suffered. A Turkish-Australian storyteller reflected on the definition of “girl” in the lives of the women in her family, a term that used to be filled with shame. She’s since reclaimed the word and finds it empowering: “Girl isn’t limited, its limitless,” she told the audience.

Melbourne-based singer songwriter Jess Locke  got up to the microphone, joking that she didn’t envy the cricket players out back sweltering in the afternoon sun. She performed an impressive set, accompanied by some witty and inspiring remarks. 10 years ago, she overcame her fear of performing in front of an audience. It was a fear that had withheld her from fulfilling her desire to sing, even though she “desperately wanted to do so.” She encouraged all of the girls in the room to push through their insecurities and go after what they want the most.

© Allison Yates. Womens Day 7
A woman admires the photo exhibit of admiring women of Maribyrnong.

If International Women’s Day wasn’t my favorite day of the year, I’m not sure I would have gone through so many hoops to travel to what felt like the outback, not to mention on a day when I’d rather be laying on the beach, languid and pathetic. Visiting a local IWD event was exactly what I was looking for. It didn’t have the passionate cry of protest, but it fulfilled all expectations of celebrations of our very existence, appreciating our strengths and talents. It was a wonderful example of how a small, diverse community puts a local spin on a global issue. Speaking to the diverse experiences of immigrants, the program was relatable to the lives of the women in the audience, more so than an all-white Australian panel of women at a talk at the Queen Victoria Women’s Center (although this was equally fantastic, it would have probably been far less sympathetic to their realities).

© Allison Yates. Womens Day 6
Beautiful manifesto.


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