Rock Chicks: an exhibition at the Arts Centre

This afternoon, enroute to high tea with friends at the NGV we dropped in to see the Rock Chicks exhibition at the Arts Centre.

Now, one of my pet peeves is how the music industry is so male dominated, how there are few women in rock compared to the men who tend to make the most noise and get the most attention so it was with mixed feelings I saw this exhibition: I wanted to feel good about all the wonderfully talented women but at the same time, I was worried it would be hard to hide their minority status.

My feeling is that the artists who succeed are the ones who create their own unique persona and I’m pleased to report that Rock Chicks shows that we can be proud of some of the women singers and musicians we have in this country.

The roll call started in the late ’50s and went on to include world class performers like Judith Durham from The Seekers, Helen Reddy, Olivia Newton-John and Renee Geyer …and then onto the bands that I saw in pubs in the ’80s and ’90s: Deb Conway with Do Re Mi, Kate Ceberano from I’m Talking, Lindy and Amanda from the Go-Betweens, Clare Moore in The Moodists, Alana and Robyn from The Hummingbirds, Jodie and Trish from The Clouds, Rebecca Barnard from Rebecca’s Empire, Stephanie from Something for Kate….it was fun to revisit the music but what I really enjoyed were the fashions!

The first thing I saw when I walked in was a clip of Judith singing “Another You” with The Seekers in 1965 – it was one of my favourite songs when I was nine and I played it over and over but never have I seen footage of the band performing. Judith wore a smart red mini dress, very mod and much shorter than the dress that Jean Shrimpton would scandalise the racing crowd in, later that year. Her thick brunette hair was worn with a fringe and two bunches – the studio set up was so simple! A band playing in one room with mikes, a sound engineer in another room with small console of instruments – you can see the clip here if you like.

The next clip was a ’60s girl group, all swinging and singing – and next to it, the sequin mini dress the lead singer was wearing… it’s this combination of video, still photos and artifacts like costumes on mannequins that works so well and brings it all to life. There’s something very special about being able to watch Deb Conway sing “Man Overboard” on Rock Arena whilst wearing a zebra print coat in the early ’80s and here is the coat for you to see – Deborah’s kept it safe all these years, I wonder if she still wears it?

Go see the exhibition to enjoy an important part of our culture, and pay homage to these amazing women – the fashions give an important insight into the personas of each and the sort of music they played. Adalita in a sexy but grungy red dress, Marcia Hines in bold sequinned ’70s maxi dress, Jane Clifton sewed her own hot pink nylon chiffon baby doll nightie and Chrissy Amphlett’s iconic gym slip.

What: Rock Chicks
Where: The Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda Road Melbourne
When: 6 November 2010 – 27 February 2011
Cost: free

Fabulous musicians: Deborah Conway, Chrissy Amphlett and Lindy Morrison, 1988 photo courtesy Tony Mott.

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