Recently, I’ve been talking to Bec Stevens about her branch activity, which will be kicking off in Hobart in the next few weeks. Bec is interested in establishing space within the city that allows women and children to spend safe, creative, comfortable time without the necessity to spend money. She is also hoping that a visible space like this, while temporary at this stage, will instigate a public discussion about the way that this city is currently structured or serviced. As a new mother, Bec has experienced a sense that the options for spending time within the city reduced once she was accompanied by her daughter. She is supporting her project with a series of interviews with other mothers and has found that she is by no means alone in her observation.
From its very first days, the Country Women’s Association established space for women within regional centres. Throughout Australia, it is still possible to see buildings that were constructed or refurbished for this purpose through the middle decades of last century. It seems that in the first place, these rooms were created to provide a place of comfort for regional women and children needing to travel long distances to city centres to shop or to access services such as medical care. They generally included comfortable lounges, a kitchen and sometimes a few other flexible rooms. From a scan of articles relating to these rooms around Australia, it seemes that these facilities quickly became a natural hub for other complementary services such as baby clinics and temporary consulting rooms for GPs or dentists. The rooms also offered a meeting place for other community groups.
While our car-dominated culture has established a circumstance where our time in the city can be much shorter than it used to be, fundamentally, our needs haven’t changed. We still desire a place of respite and casual sociability, particularly if we have children. So why have we lost these spaces within our urban centres? In part, this type of space has been replaced by the coffee shop, which is the spot we would now normally settle ourselves if we needed a break or had a long period to wait, but there are contraints here. Not only are we required to spend money just to sit down, but often these places aren’t condusive to one parent with a child, let alone several parents with children wanting to play together. If the opportunities for participation in the life of the city are significantly reduced for a considerable proportion of the population, then the city itself, must surely suffer.
So the question that Bec is posing through this art project, is what space do we now need in our cities, as contemporary women and parents?
From the end of November to the end of December, Bec will be occupying a shop frontage on the corner of Murray and Bathurst Streets (just opposite the State Library). As her project evolves, Bec and the participants of the space will grapple with this question through their utilisation of the space.
Judith Abell, Branch Secretary, CWA CBD Branch.
Opening of The Voilet Jennings Rest Room, Merriwah.
Image is held in the collection of the State Library of NSW and was sourced through http://www.trove.nla.gov.au