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Australian Rock Chicks Take Centre Stage


An inspiring new exhibition on display at the Arts Centre on St Kilda Rd takes a backstage look at the women who helped shape Australia’s music heritage.

From the women of vaudeville, all-girl jazz groups and singers of the 30s and 40s, right through to contemporary artists such as Missy Higgins and Katy Steele, Rock Chicks celebrates the passion, courage and talent of female musicians fighting it out in the traditionally male-dominated music industry.

The history of women in Australian music has never been extensively chronicled. Now, photographs, tour posters, guitars, iconic clothing and performance footage from through the decades have been pieced together to rewrite women back into the story.

Lead curator Janine Barrand says the exhibition is a way of making sure these inspiring women do not get forgotten.

“It’s such an enormous story about these women who had sort of become invisible, written out of history,” she says. “I felt it was one of the great untold performing arts stories.”

The story begins with what Barrand calls the ‘archaeology’ of rock ‘n’ roll: “what women were doing before rock ’n’ roll, in jazz bands, as band leaders, on vaudeville stages.”

From here, the exhibition celebrates icons from the ‘60s such as Little Pattie, Marcie Jones and Judith Durham, the folk and jazz movement of the ‘70s and singers like Margaret RoadKnight and Carol Lloyd, ‘80s rock goddesses like Chrissy Amphlett and Deborah Conway, through to stars of the present day including Magic Dirt, Killing Heidi, Claire Bowditch, Missy Higgins and Megan Washington.

Journals with scrawled song lyrics, used drumsticks and guitar cases covered in stickers give a sense of the real vitality and rebelliousness of these women. As Barrend says, “It’s about the spirit of rock chickdom- the passion, the guts.”

Whether it evokes nostalgia or surprise, this rock chick spirit can bind visitors of all ages together. “Because it’s such a historical sweep, I think there’ll be something for everybody,” Barrend says. “For younger audiences who aren’t aware of what happened before, they can realise they’re a part of this amazing story of Australian women in music.”

And if that’s not enough to inspire you, many of the artists represented in the exhibition are coming together to tell the Rock Chicks story in the best way they know how- through music. Adalita of Magic Dirt, Clare Moore, Rebecca Barnard, Carol Lloyd, Jeannie Lewis, Jodi Phillis of The Clouds and more are set to bring the images and memorabilia to life in a free public performance in the Arts Centre forecourt on November 12th.

Rock Chicks is on display in Galleries 1 and 2 at the Arts Centre, St Kilda Rd until 27 February, 2011.

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