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Put on those red shoes and dance

By Megan Elliott - posted Friday, 3 September 2004

My favourite shoes are red and not very sensible. I've danced through a good few pairs of them already. And I'll dance through a whole heap more. Dance the heels to stumps. Kick the toes to shreds. I'll die tired. Happy. Sweaty. Laughing and doing the tango. The frock will be fabulous and my lipstick red. And my great grandchildren will cringe: mutton dressed as lamb.

I'm 32 years old and I don't have a mortgage. I don't have a car. I don't drive. I don't have a husband or a significant other. I don't have children. I don't have a home entertainment system. According to the Prime Minister and Treasurer, I'm letting the side down. I should be having a kid for mother, for father and for country and get $3000 bucks every time. The media says I'm desperately lonely or just plain desperate and I've probably missed the boat and am fast becoming bargain basement material. At 32 I should be using glycolics or botox and thinking of freezing my eggs.

Oh well. Busy. Dance card's been kinda full.


I've got a big job. A really big job. For the past two years, I've been a leader in the fight to have culture excluded from the free trade agreement with the US. Last year I had an hour-long meeting with the Prime Minister talking culture and trade. When Mark Latham was voted ALP leader, I was flown to Melbourne to have dinner with him.

I met Jacques Chirac in his palace in Paris. I stormed a conference in the Louvre and demanded they support Australian content and got the nickname 'Le Bombe' in UNESCO for my trouble. In past lives I've hitched across Europe, eaten and breathed fire, had bits of fiction published and so outraged lipstick queen Poppy King by whacking a stubbie of VB between my tits in front of Gough Whitlam, that it made the gossip pages of the Telegraph.

The voices of authority that I hear on my radio, on my television, in the meetings that I go to are the voices of men. Unless it's Triple J, or community radio, they're old men. The public space that young women occupy, those who aren't baring midriffs, engagement rings or DIY power tools, is negligible.

I remember when I was going off to meet the PM. Geoffrey Rush was up the front, we had Minister Kemp, his advisers, people from the department, executive directors from other arts organisations. There were maybe nine of us marching through the corridors of parliament house and I was the only chick and the youngest and bringing up the rear in black patent leather boots and someone turned around and said something about me being a tea lady and I said: 'Doesn’t seem to matter what industry you’re in, the gender balance is always stuffed.' And Geoffrey Rush turned around and said: 'Not now Megan.' And we laughed and it was good to arrive at the PM's office smiling.

But why not now? And why is the gender balance still stuffed.

I refuse to believe that all a girl needs is a nice strong warm pair of hands. She needs a couple of other things. One of them is a tube of red lipstick and another is a pair of shoes that she can do more than run in.


Maybe they should be real dancing shoes, kid leather and supportive and comfortable and sexy and glamorous with a t-bar and a bit of a heel all at the same time. Or a peep toe. Maybe they should look a bit retro and hark back to another era. Not because I want us to return to life as it was for my parents or grandparents. But because I want our memories to be a bit longer. I reckon we forget all too quickly.

We forget that free public education is a cornerstone of our democracy. We forget that mine was the first HECS generation.

We forget that this government sent men with balaclavas, batons and dogs into a workplace to lock the employees out.

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This article appears courtesy of where it was first published and is an edited version of Megan's speech to the Women In Educational Leadership Conference on August 20 2004.

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About the Author

Megan Elliott is originally from the bush. She now lives in Sydney where she is the Executive Director of the Australian Writers' Guild. She has worked and studied in Ireland, Germany and Greece. Megan reckons that footwear should always be adventurous.

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