Krissa Wilkinson is a trailblazer for the feminist movement, arts and culture in the Hastings

Paving the way: Feminist activist and founding member of Wauchopes Community Arts Council Krissa Wilkinson. Photo: Tracey Fairhurst.

Paving the way: Feminist activist and founding member of Wauchopes Community Arts Council Krissa Wilkinson. Photo: Tracey Fairhurst.

Meet founding member of Wauchope Community Arts Council and feminist activist, Krissa Wilkinson.

WHEN teenage Krissa Wilkinson first heard the melodic words of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan singing with passion about social justice and a better world, the fire in her belly was ignited.

In that moment, she was able to reflect on her mother's "dreadful life" and the systems that shaped her painful journey, and decide she was not going to be like her. Not as a result of shame, but because her mother, and every woman to follow, deserved better.

The Hastings is a better place for having Krissa in it. Not only is she the founding member of the popular Wauchope Community Arts Council, she brings a vibrant and well-lived story with her of determination, resilience, courage and tenacity.

People know me as a teacher, a writer, an artist, a storyteller, a mother, but my background gave me a fire in my belly at a very young age.

Krissa Wilkinson

She was among the trailblazers of the 70s who helped light the torch for the feminist movement and almost five decades later, still refuses to be silenced.

Now more than ever, in an era where social activism has commanded a critical resurgence, challenging the systems of power that thrive off inequality is crucial. We all have a voice and we are all responsible.

"My participation in the big radical scene in Melbourne in many ways is miraculous given my background," Krissa said.

"People know me as a teacher, a writer, an artist, a storyteller, a mother, but my background gave me a fire in my belly at a very young age.

"It's mostly a reaction to my mother's dreadful life and a determination that I was not going to be like her.

"She was born into poverty, pack raped as a young woman, nearly died of a backyard abortion and before I was born, my mother buried three babies.

"She was never offered counselling back then - it was just get on with it."

By the time Krissa hit puberty her mother wouldn't leave the house - one of many women isolated in suburbia who were sold the post-war dream that "a woman's place is in the home" where she could thrive as a domestic goddess.

Something miraculous happened at high school. I heard Joan Baez and Bob Dylan singing protest songs and this light went on in my brain that things could change, that people could day how bad things were and you could change the world.

Krissa Wilkinson

For Krissa, a woman's place remains in the struggle.

"The favourite drug for my mother and other women at the time was Bex and valium - Bex, a cup of tea and a good lie down. It ended up being a very dangerous drug known to cause cancer," she said.

"They were very isolated, but I always remember Monday was wash day. Everyone did the washing and it had to be when the men were out of the house in case it was anything to do with menstruation.

"My mother had a copper and a hand wringer. Wash day was really laborious but they (the women) would hang over the side fence and use it as an opportunity have a yarn to each other. The shame around menstruation at that time was astounding."

So shameful in fact, Krissa was sent to the corner store with a handwritten note quietly requesting sanitary items to avoid the uncomfortable conversation.

"She would just write - "a packet of M" (Modess). I'd take it and give it to the woman at the shop, she'd go out the back and bring it out wrapped up in newspaper like it was some illegal drug.

"That was my life with my mother."

Campaigning for women's rights is not anti-men, it is about empowering women and liberating us all from oppressive social stereotypes, Krissa says.

Men who understand this are also free of the need to challenge it.

"Something miraculous happened at high school. I heard Joan Baez and Bob Dylan singing protest songs and this light went on in my brain that things could change, that people could say how bad things were and you could change the world," Krissa explained.

Melbourne movement: Krissa Wilkinson (third from left) marches in the streets of Melbourne wearing the labels given to women who dared to speak up or challenge the system.

Melbourne movement: Krissa Wilkinson (third from left) marches in the streets of Melbourne wearing the labels given to women who dared to speak up or challenge the system.

She left home and moved to Melbourne where she landed in the melting pot of social radicalism that raged on following the marches against the Vietnam war in the years before.

"The second wave of feminism was really powering along," she said.

"I met these kindred spirits who were involved in arts, politics and music. I was so full of fear growing up with my mother, who was so scared of the world because of what happened to her, that through meeting people like (activist) Zelda de Prano and other women I learnt to be strong."

Krissa made her acting debut in Melbourne in the 70s at Melbourne city square where there were 5,000 people protesting a number of women's issues including equal pay.

She joined the Women's Theatre Group at the Pram Factory where a collective of "famous people" were doing plays that challenged society.

By an accident of birth, I'm not a refugee, I'm not working for 55 cents an hour in Bangladesh for us to buy cheap clothes and I haven't been sold into sexual slavery.

Krissa Wilkinson

"We did campaigns in the theatre for equal pay, for women's rights and how to own their own bodies. We demonstrated against violence against women, the working rights of women and in actual fact, in the Whitlam years, we were paid money to travel all over the country doing shows about the rights of working women in Greek, Italian and English.

"That was 40 years ago. It's incredible to think that it was so positive and we were so sure we were going to change the world.

"When International Women's Day approaches I always feel an incredible gratitude to the suffragettes.

"Imagine living in a world where we couldn't vote, I couldn't have gone to university, I couldn't own property? It's incredible that women had to struggle to have that basic right. And sadly there are still parts of the world where they don't have it.

"By an accident of birth, I'm not a refugee, I'm not working for 55 cents an hour in Bangladesh for us to buy cheap clothes and I haven't been sold into sexual slavery.

"But sadly, I live in a country where 80 women were murdered last year, mostly by men who loved them, and in a country where a prime minister is failing to act on real terror, which is the terror Australian women live with every day - male violence.

"Domestic violence and murder is the number one crisis in this country. It's just appalling."

For Krissa, the arts can be used to raise consciousness and create a sense of belonging.

She moved to Wauchope in the 80s as a young mother where she met the region's new creatives who had arrived from Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney. They were artists and writers all seeking a sea change but were not content to sit idle.

"We set up the adult education centre in Wauchope and then did fundraising to host a cafe for original theatre that we'd all written," Krissa said.

"From that we realised quite a few kindred folk in the broader community wanted some cultural activity with meaning. From that we formed Wauchope Arts Council which continues to be a bit of a hub for art and culture and raising issues."

She has met some incredible women along the way including Nancy Short, a Port Macquarie activist and conservationist, who we can thank for preserving our breathtaking coastal walk.

"This community has a great history of really strong women," Krissa said.

"But it is shocking to think how little time ago it was when the feminist suffragettes fought for what we have today. It's even more shocking that women in other countries are still fighting for these same basic rights.

(I Can't Keep) Quiet - MILCK

"In the 80s I read Margaret Attwood's A Handmaid's Tale which, when she wrote it, was supposed to be a dystopian future we hoped would never happen.

"And now, in Donald Trump's America, it is a reality.

"Keeping hope in this sort of context can be very difficult and I always go back to Emily Dickinson who wrote this in the 1800s - "Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all".

"There is a third wave of feminism that's really strong in America at the moment. It's partly a reaction to Trump and the rights of women being cut back, the environment, climate change.

"There is a woman called MILCK who wrote the song (I Can't Keep) Quiet and it has become the anthem for some of the biggest women's marches in history.

"When my mother was young you were meant to be quiet, you didn't complain about anything.

"Even though the world hasn't got better and we haven't achieved all the things we wanted, at least women are feeling more inclined to stand up and fight. But we've still got to try and get our politicians to lead and make those changes happen."

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