'Joy': Memorialisation and the Limits of Tolerance

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Rae Frances
Julie Kimber


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.

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Author Biographies

Rae Frances, Monash University

Raelene Frances has published widely on the history of women, gender and labour. Her books include The Politics of Work: Gender and Labour in Victoria 1880-1940 (Cambridge University Press, 1993) and Selling Sex: A Hidden History of Prostitution (UNSW Press, 2007). She has taught at universities in Perth, Melbourne, Auckland and Sydney and is currently Dean of Arts at Monash University in Melbourne.

Julie Kimber, Monash University

Julie Kimber is a research assistant in the Faculty of Arts, Monash University. Email: Julie.Kimber@arts.monash.edu.au