Words by Freya Langley
Images via The Mary Lee Exchange
The Mary Lee Exchange, now in its third instalment is a testimony to turning a pipe-dream into a successful reality. Mary Lee, as far as the history books tell us, was an extraordinary woman and suffragette, who pioneered the vote for women in Australia, was heavily invested in women’s education, the women’s union movement and the class struggle.The Mary Lee Exchange is a quarterly panel discussion and brainchild of local Adelaide power women, Gemma Beale and Becci Love.
“Through our lives and work we knew these really impressive people who didn’t know each other and we thought how amazing it would be if we could get them all in the same room, get everyone to shut up and listen,” explained Gemma in an interview with Yewth.
An outlet to practice their feminism, The Mary Lee Exchange is about learning through listening and community building. It’s a panel of women and genderqueer people who speak on a broad topic. The past discussions have been centred around work and community, with the focus of the upcoming event being on ‘Home’. It’s different to QandA in a number of ways, but first and foremost it is a discussion, not a debate. It’s not a lecture either - there’s a bar and there’s tea for guests who want to get cozy and have a listen. At the end of the panel discussion, there’s an opportunity for audience members to ask questions either privately or in front of the audience.
“These opportunities give you a chance to listen to people who have maybe done what you’ve done before, or someone who is speaking from a place you have has a completely different experience”
Accessibility for all attendees and payment of the panelists is a core pillar of the duo’s ethos for the event.
“Arts/community workers often do work for free, and we don’t want to be another group asking these people to do free labour”
Payment of contributors and event affordability and accessibility, often viewed as incompatible by other organisers, are fulfilled by a categorised payment system. Tickets start at $5 for unwaged, casual or part-time workers, with separate pricing for those with a salary or who are simply excited about the cause.
In addition to feminism and accessibility, Gemma and Becci just want to throw an event they’d like to attend. The duo strive to make the audience and panelists as comfortable as possible.
Ensuring the room is cozy and comfortable, without feeling exclusive and striving to include people across all backgrounds is important. Above all, the duo choose things they like to do to ensure the event is enjoyable for all.
“Should we have tea? I might want tea, let’s have tea. Do we want wine? I definitely want wine, we’re having wine. Do we want music? Of course we want music! And that’s how we plan it,” Laughs Gemma.
This edition will be held at Holy Rollers Studio in Prospect and present the topic of ‘Home’ as both a sense of belonging and physical space, through the gaze of the panelists. The panel features three speakers, Zerebar Kamiri - a woman in her twenties, born in Kurdistan and raised in various places across The Middle East, Alexis West - an indigenous dancer, choreographer, filmmaker, performer and writer, and Dee Michell - a senior Gender Studies lecturer at Adelaide Uni. The discussion will be guided by the empathic and ever-humourous theatre-maker, Sarah Dunn. Local poet and writer, Alison Coppe, whose work focuses on queer politics, erotics and experimentation will be performing.
Mary Lee was extremely committed in a very real and impactful way. She is quoted as having said she “wanted to leave the world better for women than [she] found it”. Gemma and Becci are evidently equally committed to their cause and seek to build upon this to make it “Better than we found it” - for everyone.
The Mary Lee Exchange #3 is on this Saturday 15th July from 2pm to 6pm at Holy Rollers Studio, Prospect. For more details and ticket pricing, head over to The Mary Lee Exchange.