'Joy': Memorialisation and the Limits of Tolerance

Rae Frances, Julie Kimber

Abstract

While there are a growing number of ‘counter-hegemonic’ monuments in Australia, the numerous workers’ memorials commemorating heroic male figures ¬– coalminers, truck drivers, timber workers and wharf labourers – retain the exclusionary characteristic of traditional or ‘institutional’ memorialising. Many such memorials nourish a masculinist, albeit working class, vision of Australia’s nation building efforts, while commemoration of the lives of women – beyond ‘the exceptional’ – is rare in the public sphere. This article examines one such rarity: the statue of ‘Joy’ commemorating the lives of women who worked as prostitutes in the ‘red light’ district of East Sydney, an urban environment then in the later stages of gentrification. ‘Joy’ is a memorial resembling the more recent tradition of ‘new genre’ public art; art that ‘seeks to disrupt prevailing conceptions of the city’. When the larger-than-life cement, marble dust and steel statue took up her position on the street in East Sydney, New South Wales, it elicited widespread controversy. It is these different responses that are the subject of this article. They provide a snapshot of late-twentieth century Sydney views on prostitution and history.

Keywords

Memorials, sex workers, gentrification, prostitution, Sydney

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