It’s hard to imagine that just 49 short years ago, Queensland legislation forbade women from drinking in bars. In a rushed 24-hour turnaround, iconic activist Merle Thornton led a defining moment in Australia’s feminist movement at the Regatta Hotel in 1965.
Today, she returned to the spot where she and friend Rosalie Bognor chained themselves to the foot rail of the bar to protest women’s rights. Cutting the ribbon of the newly named ‘Merle’s Bar’, Merle recounted the historic day and her frustration with women’s social roles during the ‘60s.
“One of the things that really appalled me when I came to Queensland was to see women waiting outside for their men, and in cars with children in their pyjamas waiting.”
One of Ms Thornton’s friends shackled the two women to the bar, throwing the keys into the Brisbane River. Whilst the girls were unsuccessful in their bid to purchase a beer, famed policeman Jack Herbert smashed the chains and conceded defeat after over an hour of threats and bids of persuasion, calling to the two women, ‘Goodnight girls. Have a good time. Don’t drink too much.’
The backlash to their stunt included mixed opinions – the worst being death threats.
“They said ‘we’ll put a bomb under your house.’ We had two children,” she said.
“One literally said, ‘it will spoil the whole feeling of the place, like women at a buck’s party.”
Ms Thornton went on to found the Equal Opportunity for Women Association and is widely considered to have opened the doors of public bars to women nationwide.