Saturday, July 26, 2014

Canterbury Castle and other collective houses in Sydney, Australia

Canterbury Castle
New Canterbury Road, Petersham, Sydney

Location: Canterbury Road, Sydney, Australia

Opened/Closed: Mid 1970s

According to Rebecca Jennings, Canterbury Castle was a women's "collective house" that grew out of the Sydney's vibrant lesbian-feminist scene back in the mid 1970s. Crystal Street (sometimes spelled Chrystal Street) was another.

She further discusses Canterbury Castle in a wonderful article called Lesbian Spaces: Sydney, 1945-1978:

Just as private houses had played an important role in lesbian socialising in the immediate post-war decades, as a location for private parties, with the advent of a lesbian political movement in the 1970s, lesbian collective houses became a central part of the lesbian scene. Sandra, who became part of the lesbian feminist scene in Sydney in the 1970s, recalled:
We lived in big group shared households, you know lesbian houses. And two of the earliest ones in Sydney were… one was in Petersham and it was called Canterbury Castle because it was on Canterbury Road and it was a big house and… a whole lot of lesbians lived there. And there was also one on Crystal Street in Petersham, which I think was called Crystal Street.

In 1974, members of the radicalesbian households at Canterbury Castle and Crystal Street were interviewed by feminist journal Refractory Girl for an article on collective households. They told the interviewer that what held the household together was a shared commitment to the women’s movement and the fact that there was ‘more energy to be directed towards others women’.

Many of the women in shared households would have been on the dole or working in casual jobs, but there was frequently an ideological commitment to sharing domestic responsibilities. Chris had fond memories of the shared lesbian household she lived in in Lewisham and the sense of togetherness which came from sharing household tasks. She recalled: ‘We had our bikes and you know, we’d go off to the Paddy’s Market, somebody’d go to the Paddy’s Market, somebody’d go to the butchers, somebody’d go there, so we did all that. So it was a very nice household. Mind you, I did get thrown out for not doing any housework.’

For the women who lived there, collective houses represented a small lesbian community in themselves. Sandra recalled that ‘some of them were quite big houses, like one of the ones that I lived in, in Redfern, in Chalmers St, it was six bedrooms… so you might have 10 people living there and then you’d have people coming and going as well.’For lesbian feminist visitors from other states, lesbian collective houses were often the first port of call when they visited Sydney and provided a base from which to engage in political activities in the city. One of the residents of Crystal Street told Refractory Girl: ‘Here at Crystal Street we get so many visitors – there’s a continuous exchange of people. We’ve got people from Melbourne staying here now: Melbourne, Adelaide, Newcastle, Canberra, New Zealand.’

Diane Minnis further discuses these places here.

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