Thursday, May 19, 2011

So who were those women?

Below is the full photo. Note the chains on their ankles.

In 1965 Merle Thornton, mother of Sigrid, and Rosalie Bognor chained their ankles to the brass bar rail in a Brisbane pub, the Regatta to be specific. You could argue that they should have focused on superannuation for women, equal pay, non dismissal from the public service once you married, but in their own way by their well attended by press publicity stunt, in time they really did bring change to women's rights in Australia.

Back when I was a yoof, pubs had public bars, saloon bars and ladies lounges. Public bars were for men of the tradie variety where you could probably only get beer of one variety from the tap and your glass would be refilled as a new glass never kept a good head on your beer. There may been a bottle of Corio whisky to use as a chaser for your beer. For the elderly gents, there was possibly a bottle of Remy Martin brandy behind the bar too. The floor was perhaps terrazzo and the walls tiled. The bar could be hosed out and it often needed to be.

For the business types, there was the saloon bar. They often had bar stools to sit upon and the more classy barmaids were rostered to serve in the saloon bar.

Then there was the ladies lounge. Men could not enter unless accompanied by a lady. Ladies were though of as pretty common if they went into the ladies lounge on their own. They must be serious drinkers, thought many. The ladies lounge was probably the arse end of the pub, small and with a tiny bar that was attended by staff from the other bars, if they had time. Ladies lounges were an advance on the shuttered window that ladies had previously received their drinks from.

Of course no decent woman would ever be seen in a pub, ladies lounge or not. They were not allowed in the public bar, and only just perhaps tolerated in the saloon bar if they were accompanied by a man.

Why weren't women allowed in the public bar? I very much doubt there was a law, but maybe it was. It was certainly a social convention. Now there are very few places where women are not allowed to go, apart from the very obvious ones, male toilets (breached), gay male sex on premises venues (breached) and the Melbourne Club.

Who do woman have to thank for breaking down the barrier of the taboo about women entering public bars? Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bognor, who walked into the public bar of hotel in Brisbane and chained themselves to the brass rail. I don't think women really wanted to enter public bars, but making the point that they should be able to if they wanted to was pretty valid in my book.

So ladies, next time you find yourself staggering out of public bar pissed as a parrot, thank Merle and Rosalie.

The Regatta was/is a gorgeous looking hotel. The one Bjelke-Petersen missed.


  1. Nice pub!
    Lemon squash in the Ladies Lounge for counter lunches on a Sunday arvo drive.

  2. And a woman was also considered a bit 'common' if she didn't order a drink considered suitable for ladies! Those were dark times ...

  3. I wouldn't have remembered even with a truckload of clues. I was a completely ignorant young'un about all matters that didn't concern me directly. Also pubs, clubs etc were not part of my growing up.
    I remember when I was probably 17 going in to a Ladies Lounge because I knew my mum and future mum-in-law were in there. They bought me a lemonade.

  4. I suppose the Melbourne Club doesn't allow women (or should that be ladies?) to be members because to do so they would need to rebuild their toilets. That seemed to be the common excuse for this type of club when anti discrimination laws came into being.

  5. 'Tis nice Jayne. Sunday drive and a counter meal are fine traditions Jayne.

    Sup up on your Pimms Red.

    River, I certainly did not know about it that time, but I heard about it about five years ago.

    Victor, I think they can enter at certain times in the company of a male, so I expect there are female toilets. The Chaser skit was good where they tried throwing models of Julia and Quentin over the high fence into the courtyard.

  6. When I was a kid the worst insult just about a married woman could be called was "a pub lady" it would be assumed because she went to the pub she was slovenly, didn't look after her kids - and implied a looseness of morals - we knew this and the kids of such a woman were to be pitied because it was assumed they went without so she could drink - but men never had that thrown at them unless they were total drunks

  7. What you say is quite true MC. Have things changed? Well, women can go to a pub and no one bats an eyelid, but have things really changed? Assuming a conventional male/female team with kids, the husband could go out and get drunk. What would be thought of the woman if she did the same?