In September 2019, a group of 6 of us traveled to wimmin’s lands in Australia together for a private gathering of lesbians. The trip was self-funded, but some awesome more grown up lesbians did donate (thank you so much J and R!!!) and give us cleaning, gardening and demolition work to do for money. This was awesome because we got to plant native trees, hang out around lesbians, see spiders, and sweat while listening to Joan Jett all in the name of lesbian separatism.
We had hoped to use money fundraised from selling lesbian badges at Out in The Park earlier in the year to fund our trip but given we were not allowed to attend, we couldn’t. We brought them along to share instead.
I am directing this update to the women who created the lands, who helped us travel to the lands by funding our adventure (as above), encouraging and inviting us in the first place, those who shared camping gear with us, as well as to all the other awesome womyn there with us, and to Ro for so kindly giving our big-group-for-a-modest-apartment such a welcoming place to sleep in Sydney.
Throughout this post I will include short quotes from the others in our little group who came over.
Day 1 of the trip we encountered a few unexpected issues: Visa issues heading to Aus meant our driver (yes, the only one of us with a full license) was held up in NZ. She got over later in the day, but it felt like a wee roadblock. We spent the day supermarket shopping for vegan extremely earth friendly supplies (and some junk food), sorting out airport pickups, hanging out with a fantastically fluffy dog (and her lesbian family of human beings) and changing the pickup time for the rental car (more of a mission than you’ll ever know).
Day 2 we had another airport pickup as one lesbian’s uni had given her an exam on the Friday (not particularly thoughtful of the institution, but what can you expect – a male was in charge). Unfortunately, on that airport trip we got rained on heavily and had a wallet and phone stolen, but what can you do. The lesbian whose wallet and phone it was took it in her stride, and embraced being off grid.
Finally, we began our long journey to the lands, following our bright purple Comic Sans printed out instructions until juuuust before sunset we saw double venus signs among the trees, and knew we were ready for our driver to learn how to 4WD. Fortunately, some lesbians we met on the small dirt road jumped out of their car and gave our driver a quick 101. D did absolutely amazingly, a total natural, and before you know it, we had reached a hub of tents. Through another gate, a tunnel of trees (that did sound like they gave the car a few scratches, but luckily didn’t seem to affect our bond) and up a hill – we were greeted by the hum of lesbians going about serving up lentil curry and pitching tents last minute.
We were home.
We joined in with some pretty amateur ‘she’ll be right, she was right all along’ tent-pitching (in the morning, it was clear we had not aced that, as one of our group members had woken up in a pool of water, tent sagging over her head), then got into eating and it was time for the talent show.
I feel I cannot go into details without betraying the secrets of the land, but it was (obviously) a money can’t buy experience. As my friend said, “The sing songs were grand. The cunning lingus song was quite eye opening.”
The womyn who performed were all incredible – so talented at whatever they were up to. Lesbians are clearly gifted at wordplay, singing, making the most loving, lovely duets and at playing musical instruments. Our group member who contributed did all womyn of Aotearoa extremely proud, and everyone called for an encore!
That night I fell asleep to a chorus of women chanting something that sounded just like, “alleluia lesbians”. In my head, they were dancing around a campfire while singing this (in reality, there was a fire ban and because I was in the tent I can’t comment on the dancing). Whatever was going on out there, it was brilliant.
The next couple days …
We got up to all sorts, not always in a little group together. We were told iconic stories from the 70s, to stories from just the year before. I love the thought that ‘place is a collection of stories up til now’, and so I think hearing all the different tales helped us stroppy young dykes to really connect with the older wimmin and feel deep love for the land. There were some laminated news stories from the 70s and 80s that made us double over with laughter. These women really had been thought of and treated like witches, and sometimes they had embraced this image for effect.
We swam in the stream, and the ice cold water was perfect given the way-over-30-degree heat. When I asked the others to contribute to this blog, one said, “The skinny dipping was quite good. Very liberating.” Many of us (myself included) don’t usually like being so exposed in front of others, so being able to do that while feeling safe, and like you’re not in any way being objectified, was freeing and allowed us to have lots of fun.
We went adventuring, visiting areas of the lands I’d never seen before. We saw old little houses built using clever techniques for insulation, or with still-full libraries featuring Mary Daly and bell hooks – feminist classics. One building even has a stained glass labrys window, which must have taken real skill and effort to create.
We spotted snakes and goannas, leeches and ticks, and saw some huge birds soaring through the sky. We guessed they were Wedge Tailed Eagles – they were majestic and didn’t try to eat us.
There were talks on specific subjects, including how we can better support each other across the ditch, how we can take care of this special place, and the feminist lesbian movement. There was even a great chat around the campfire pit (not lit) about times different women have been mistaken as being men, and how they’ve reacted. “This is my most femmy shirt!” was a real highlight.
I think all of our favourite part of the trip to wimmins lands was being able to freely and openly chat to other lesbians, both older than us and our age (our group was all 18-23). It’s really rare to find and access lesbian only spaces these days in Aotearoa, and they really are so rewarding and special. To actually be around a decent sized group of other young lesbians, who are out as lesbians (same-sex attracted females) was life changing. It shouldn’t cost thousands of dollars and require crossing the Tasman Sea to find other lesbians, but at the moment, it feels like it does – and I want to emphasise that it was absolutely worth it.
“The whole trip was a really valuable experience as a detransitioned woman. It felt like coming home.”
So, after all this awesome bonding, adventuring, camping and posing for group photos that can’t go anywhere (it was a little bit sad to remember that if many of us are seen associating with each other, we are likely to face consequences), it was time to leave …
… in forty degree heat, in a traffic jam for something like nine hours, with forest fires on the side of the road. Good old Australia! Fortunately, we had an excellent DJ in the car – one who came up with this gem:
“Seeing our first man was quite confronting. It was a bit of culture shock. It was an affront to our values.”
We spent the following day in town, waking up at 5:30am to go play football in a park in the CBD. We caught up with some other womyn just back from the camp, went to Sydney’s Chinese gardens and visited loads of bookstores:
“Sydney women’s library was great, that was a real classic. They had books out of circulation very cheaply. We had to pretend our bags were really light to get back on the plane!”
Flying home we were all shattered but happy and extremely grateful. Thank you so much to the lesbians who gave us gardening and cleaning work to help us afford the cost of travel, as well as the kind koha. Your support means so much, and we really did make the most of this opportunity.
An enormous thank you to the wimmin of the lands, the wimmin who helped create them, those who help maintain them (from the paperwork side of things, to keeping the roads clear, to managing the aftermath of fires). I hope that next time us kiwis come over, it can be for a longer period so that we can help with the manual labouring/construction/prep side of things.
From me to the others in our group: thank you so much driver, your sense of humour and recovery from unexpected turns really saved the day. Thanks to our youngest, it was fun celebrating your birthday and spending time with you. To our talent show rep, you are so skilled and cool, I hope I get to see all sorts of projects you’re involved in over time! To the one of us who just trusted in our group and met us for the first time at the airport then dealt with a robbing right away, I knew from the first time we chatted we would be great friends and I’m so glad we are. And to my sister in mischief and herstory, I love your curiosity and preparedness: you were right to get a SIM card and I love that you got so much out of this trip.
I think as a group, we want to help change the public imagination of what is possible for womyn and girls, for lesbians in particular. Seeing the kind of utopian, healing, brave – not to mention hilarious – things womyn can do when they work together helps us to keep our minds open to great big possibilities. We saw those thanks to the womyn of the lands.
In sisterhood and solidarity,
‘The New Zealanders’
P.S. If you don’t come back from womyn’s lands spelling the word ‘woman’ ten different ways, did you even go?!