Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 6, No. 1, 1992
Radio - Sound
Edited by Niall Lucy

Oh bondage: up yours!

Gabrielle O'Ryan

A warm northerly was blowing that night, bringing with it the usual batch of pregnant teenagers and drug pushers from across the border sending Queensland police state's statistics ever higher. I was with a group of women. Fourex and complacency cool in our veins, we were watching the wind ruffle the edges of the Brisbane River from the Regatta Hotel's verandah when we were approached by a radio feminist with a handful of pamphlets. She announced that 4 Triple Z's radical radio waves were being taken over by a handful of men. Really. I quietly went back to complacency and my Fourex but the others were wired and so on the following Tuesday night in June 1982, carried along by fervent feminist vigour, I became a member of a women's radio collective.

At the time I was a layabout student, waitress, temp typist troubled by death of the author. There were about ten others just like me, well similar, journalists, students, film makers and two full time Triple Zed workers keen to succour us along on the wavery path of radio. During the first meeting at the station on Queensland University campus we sat around in a circle and drank black and tans, an attempt at feminising beer guzzling. Shark Bait who swam the river dared to drip on one of us but we weren't there to complain. We knew Anne Freadman was right about the lament as a powerless text (Cited in Morris 15).

We called ourselves Megahers so that even though we were still the other we were big on the hierarchy of difference. The personal was political. We started with an hour every Tuesday night at 5 p.m., traditionally drive time aimed at men in their motor vehicles but now littered with the concerns of women; women and dirt, drugs, their fathers, their mothers, religion, obsession, food, love, contraceptives, politics.

Station policy dictated 30 per cent women's music. Our aim wasn't to privilege female voices but to have only female voices. Men could be used as a backup. We tried not to create our own meanings but let women talk for themselves. Unlike men, who became instant experts with their microphones, we became explorers. We wanted to understand femininity, understand how women lived and thereby effect change. We weren't just giving women a voice but a microphone. Simone de Beauvoir would probably see it as the phallus that we lacked, like the hose given to the little girl in kindergarten or perhaps the vacuum cleaner to the housewife. In the first lesson in the studio we were told the microphones were designed for men's voices.

Because we are women was our first great work. Everyone in the collective had a go. I read a poem and we played the Topp Twins, Equal but Different and X-Ray Specs, Oh Bondage; Up Yours. In one warm embrace we learnt how to edit tape, mix music and words, cue records and move from one good idea to an even better one.

Vox pop became vox femme as members of the collective took their microphones into the school playground and interviewed all their mates and others into pubs and shopping centres. When we did contraceptives I interviewed myself. 'What do you think of the pill? It's all right but I think it makes me depressed but then again it's hard to tell because it could be your boyfriend.' We toyed with subjectivity, our subject position moving around. Unfortunately my "sister" editor didn't edit out my questions; but integrity was just another patriarchal device after all. 'When did you first have sex?' Me, 'Can you ask someone else that?' Me, 'When did you first have sex?', someone else, 'I went to the drive in with this guy I'd liked for ages. He was leaving the next day and so it was my last chance.' Me, 'Did you use contraceptives?' She 'Yeah, a condom that broke. Here's my daughter. Hello.' We left a lot in. She had two kids, daughters luckily. 'How did you go with the pill? I got pregnant. With the IUD? Pregnant. With the diaphragm? Pregnant.' That was my best friend. 5-4-3-2-1, the Manfred Mann song. Occasionally men were allowed in to prop us up.

A man from the newsroom taught us how to edit out coughs and ums in the middle of words. We decided that the mistakes were moments of resistance and we could leave them in. When a shy Chinese woman with a lisp joined the collective I knew we had gone beyond simply finding the gaps and pushing them out, we had overturned the whole male order of radio where the John Laws deep, mellifluous voice reigned supreme.

In the intimacy of the sound proof production studio we screamed, contradicted, experimented, fought, encouraged, chose and learnt to accept diversity amongst ourselves.

People drifted in and out of the collective. Some went to Sydney, another to England. I went west, attracted by yet another climate of oppression and conservatism. Megahers became a 3 hour shift and moved from Tuesday to Saturday to Sunday, attracting more and different women.

There were two women's programs on Perth public radio in 1985. Drastic on Plastic at 6UVS went for 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon and was non stop music with some women's news. It was more or less a closed shop and women brought in their own records. My records were in Brisbane and anyway I liked to talk so I joined Wimmins Link at 6NR where female was lesbian and 'prevailing definitions were inadequate for us as women': we quoted Renate Mohrman to this effect. It was 50 per cent talk and 50 per cent music. The co-ordinators of the program were separatists and the time slot was 10 p.m. on Friday night. We addressed only women and if men rang up we usually put the phone down. Songs were carefully screened: Redondo Beach by Patti Smith was questionable. Was she waiting for a man? We drank Guinness.

Wimmins Link didn't really give time calls or do the weather; "It's dark and coolish, you see for yourselves." We wanted it to be interventionist where women could ring and talk and we could dedicate songs and play Doris Day. Whoever turned up at the studio at 10 p.m. could speak on air, read their poem or some bit of women's news, or just sit back and be part of it. It wasn't as if we were looking for an ideal woman, least of all an ideal wife, more just linking women together and that way empowering them.

We explored women's art, women's lives. The position of men was down the well where Elizabeth Jolley put hers or behind a venetian blind, the voyeur, where Pam Cleeman, a Perth artist, put hers. At my house when the collective visited my male flatmate's position was in the bath, asleep, naked, vulnerable, wrinkling, 'mulcted as a man' (Kaplan 24). When Cleeman was accused of being pornographic we seized upon it as women's forbidden language, our language, as Cora Kaplan's "Introduction" to Aurora Leigh explained (11).

Wimmins Link recognised that art could not by itself generate social change and was able to use the airwaves for direct action. For example, when Pivot, a local reproductive technology company, became listed on the stock market, a group of women listeners with trays of "babies for sale" strode into the stock exchange, stopping proceedings. Katherine Wheel (non patriarchal name), a collective member, was quoted in the financial pages of The Australian talking about glass women, reproduction without women, marketing in human tissues. The collective working-over the radio process explained how the technology which should have freed women from their biological destiny was being used against them. Later a law lecturer in Queensland would talk about using the uteruses of braindead women. I wanted to play an interview with the chief wanker from a local sperm bank, the man who stored it in the nitrogen tanks, his and other's but mostly his, to expose him before the female ear; but a collective meeting decided men must remain absent. They had enough other time on the air. There was always dissent.

As a heterosexual I worked hard to be more than marginal within the collective, to be allowed to speak the forbidden language. I sort of quelled my language of heterosexist desire and tried not to refer to men. So, I wrote a soap opera, Reduxio Ad Absurdum. I gave everyone a part just to get the first episode on air, to get Marge down the plughole. The plughole became contentious when I found a man to do the sound effect. We had a 3 hour meeting at someone's kitchen table, ate lesbian scones and fought, contradicted and argued much like in Megahers, eventually finding a woman to do the plughole.

Unlike Megahers, Wimmins Link didn't participate at all in station politics but remained separate. The program addressed only a small group in society. This wasn't strange at 6NR which was mostly ethnic radio. Everyone had the right to turn off. It was expected.

Something was still missing despite the links and so I left Wimmins Link to go to a job at 6NW, North West Radio in Port Hedland, where prices were never lower and the beat goes on and on and on and on and so did the heat. I think I was trying to get the whole story. 6NW was part of the Bond group. As they say in the west I went into bondage.

The car broke down on the way and I was rescued by a truckie called Flaps towing a huge blue yacht on his trailer, a ship in the desert but it was never romantic. He towed me 1000 kilometres to North West Radio in Port Hedland and parted with the words, 'You're lucky to have met me, a good start to the men up here, not as macho as me though. You sure about that fuck?' I said, 'Nah' and after some thought, 'Anyway I'm doing the Women's Hour but thanks'. He left in a cloud of red dust, my prince in his chariot. It was 40 degrees.

Women's Hour, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays was a name left over from the past when the men went to work and the women stayed home with the children doing the housework, trying to be perfect wives and mothers. It was sandwiched between breakfast with Col and two hours of insults with John Laws. Its format was similar to television's Midday Show. There were interviews, the serial, at least two syndicated programs, Dr James Wright and the America's Cup at that time, about 30 minutes worth of ads and 10 music tracks. It took me ten minutes to prepare.

The men in Perth, the network bosses, sent me 6 pages of directive on how to be an 'air personality', how to 'swim through your music'. I read about 'burn-out factor, jarring the listener, don't play favourites, play what they know, they like what they recognise, only tell them one thing at a time'. Page 4 of the directive said, 'talk to one person at a time, not the same person but keep it personal'; and page 5: 'time calls are the most important pieces of information radio gives'. Like Leda, I turned to the swan, Swan Lager, when I saw I was up against 'the brute blood of the air' (Yeats 1.110).

I played road music for Flaps a lot but I began to think he'd stopped listening -- it was the women's hour after all. I tried to imagine her sewing at home listening to me or maybe in the car on the way to the shopping centre, the air conditioned Mecca of the north; or most likely sitting sweating in her caravan, her baby crying. I played her Tammy Wynette, The Pretenders, The Supremes, Chrissie Amphlett in case she was feeling raunchy but most of all she liked the serial. That was the only time I ever heard from her, when I mistakenly put yesterday's serial on again. I was glad I wasn't responsible for the stars. I made so many mistakes I think I did actually expose how personalities and politicians use the airwaves. I would play for anyone I met at the pub and my favourite song for a few months was The Doors, People are Strange. I couldn't see her. My listener began to look like a bloke under a car.

I interviewed local businessmen about what women should eat, buy, wear, not eat, desire; ten minutes with the butcher, the car parts man and the furniture salesman twice a week: 'So, the dressing table has three drawers. That means you could do some kind of sorting. What sort of sorting would you expect a woman to do in drawers like that?' I was desperate to be subversive. Once I interviewed four male strippers and had the best conversation in months.

I interviewed people with heart disease, a man whose throat had been eaten by cancer, doctors about the gonorrhoea in the community, councillors about the new oval. These were part of the station's social conscience, being the only local radio station for hundreds of kilometres. People listened in Broome, 600 kilometres away. North, there was nothing, so when a mad man started killing off tourists and throwing them to the crocodiles no-one could be warned. Maybe this was the desert of the real.

No-one was as silent as the Aborigines who constituted about 10 per cent of the population. Defined as absent, they were marginalised and discredited (Pollock 178). BHP, the big Australian, the main employer in Hedland, employed one Aborigine. Occasionally they rang in birthday calls naming at least 10 people, all related. I'd add a couple. Then they'd request Stevie Wonder. They'd ring in with their lost dogs, 'A brown and white dog answering to Pup has been lost 300 kilometres off the Paraburdoo turnoff'. Meanwhile John Pat died in custody in Roeburn. Scrap Metal, a Broome Aboriginal band, sent us a tape. Even light music couldn't avoid the political. There was no escape (Adorno 41-42). Their space in the white phallocracy was getting bigger but I was less sure about the space of women.

People complained I played too much women's music. Someone was confused. My moustachioed boss in long white socks said by playing 50 per cent women's music I didn't reflect the true nature of the record library. So. I thought of Virginia Woolf's notion that men need women to reflect themselves back to themselves twice as large as they are (38). When Cyclone Connie came to town I was glad to have another woman around. I plotted her movements with loving detail. The town of tropical lows was getting me down.

As a copywriter I thought I had more of a chance to feminise the airwaves. 'Femme Fatale have burnt their bras and their G strings and their dresses. See what's left at the Pier Hotel tonight'. That was the local strip show, a group of 16 year olds in baby doll pyjamas with stubbies clutched between their breasts. They moonlighted as prostitutes. So now I was a pimp. 'Is your life falling apart all around you - Hedland Upholsterers will stitch you up'. Sure. 'Jesus turned the water into wine but Circe turned the man into meat. If you've lost your touch, South Hedland Butchers...' or 'They've cocked up this idea at Big Rooster'. The men of Hedland thought it was a low snipe. A bloke at the pub said, 'It's not the words, it's the way you say them'. That was a low snipe. Adorno was right. '[I]ncapable of talking in the prescribed fashion' I was put aside as an 'idiot' (79). But I wouldn't shut up. 'I've cocked up this ad haven't I?', I asked and they were quiet.

After a while all my ads were love lyrics. Cyclone Connie loved Boral Fencing but he turned her back. I grew pantheistic. Maddie couldn't consummate her passion with Bruce on his carpet because it hadn't been cleaned by Hedland Carpet Shampooers. I'd gone 4000 miles to talk about romance, to sell pleasure for profit. I liked this woman speak but it was limiting me.

I thought I might be able to transform the world through manipulation of words but it was me that was being transformed; 'the user, not the material world' (Morris 42). It was too difficult resisting. I adjusted the microphone to temper my fluting tones. I knitted while I compered the Saturday Sports Show. Then they brought in a wheel and as the woman present I turned it like any bimbo on a Saturday night and drew out the winning ticket. On Pilbara Bazaar, radio classifieds, I just repeated what everyone said and played the 6NW disclaimer. I needed my own disclaimer. Like a star I was taking shape from my setting. I was dropping stitches in my woven map. I understood what was meant by vanishing into the landscape.

A bloke in the pub said to me, 'I like you, you hardly speak'. It was time to leave.

I left the north during the Blackrock Stakes, an annual sports event, where the object was to push a wheelbarrow load of iron ore from Hedland to Goldsworthy in the quickest time. They would have let me compere it in their language, their microphones, their game, their life. I was alienated and lonely just like the women listeners I'd wanted to save. I was fearful; I thought panel vans were following me at night. The cat was run over by a trades assistant in a jeep. During one last Pilbara Bazaar I sold my sewing machine, gave away Kafka, my dog, to someone with a learning disability just like mine and the dog's, gave away my shells, my record collection, my jars of red dirt and my air personality. I hitched a ride out with a woman in a medium wheel base Range Rover. Nothing ever looked so good in a rear vision mirror as the sun setting into the sea and the wind stirring up the red ghosts in the great piles of iron ore at the port.

I went back to Brisbane and to 4ZZ; and true to the original aims of Megahers I infiltrated almost every area, doing breakfast, drive time, current affairs and the women's show. I produced myself. I jarred the listener. By then the station was run almost totally by women, mostly volunteers. Triple Zed's money had run out. Murri Hour, the Aboriginal show, was now a day and a half. The boundaries of time, space and style were gone. Some called it radio anarchy. A young woman called Victoria tried to close the station down, saying it no longer reflected the needs of the students; but it wasn't for students; it was for anyone.

So it seems I drank a lot of beer, drove a lot of miles, tried out different microphones (the lacks), spoke a lot of languages and then just completed the circle arriving back where I started where I could speak from any position and use any words.

Fearing the lack of the whole we journey to seek its presence. Between two elements we search for a link - surely this will allow us to arrive at the whole. What is it we fear we lack and how shall we exactly know when we arrived wholly satisfied. (Pollock 14)

Works Cited

Adorno, Theodor W. The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture. Ed. J.M. Bernstein. London: Routledge, 1991.

de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Ed. and Trans. H.M. Parshley. Harmondsworth, New York, Ringwood, Markham and Auckland: Penguin, 1977.

Barrett Browning, Elizabeth. Aurora Leigh and Other Poems. London: The Women's Press, 1981.

Foster, Hal ed. Discussions in Contemporary Culture. Seattle: DIA Art Foundation Number 1, Bay Press, 1987.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Sexual Subversions, Three French Feminists. Sydney, Wellington, London and Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1989.

Jolley, Elizabeth. The Well. Ringwood, Harmondsworth, Ncw York, Toronto and Auckland: Penguin, 1986.

Kaplan, Cora. "Introduction". In Barrett Browning: 5-36.

Morris, Meaghan. The Pirate's Fiancee: Feminism, Reading and Postmodernism. London and New York: Verso, 1988.

6NR. Reduxio Ad Absurdum. Perth, 1985.

6NR. Wimmins Link.

6NW. Pilbara Bazaar.

Pollock, Griselda. Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and the History of Art. London and New York: Routledge, 1988.

Parker, Rozsika and Griselda Pollock. Old Mistresses, Women Art and Ideology. London and Henley: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own. London, New York, Ringwood and Toronto: Penguin, 1947.

Yeats, W.B. "Leda and the Swan". In Selected Poetry. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1971. 127.

4ZZZ-FM. Announcers Handbook. Brisbane, 1987.

4ZZZ-FM. Megahers.

4ZZZ-FM. Radio Timewarp. Brisbane, 1987.


New: 7 March, 1996 | Now: 21 March, 2015