Elaine Lindsay's life story: From poetry at the Pancake Kitchen to a PhD

4 October 2023
Inspiring women through literature
Against all odds, Elaine Lindsay went to university to pursue her academic dreams. Since then, she's hosted on a radio station, gotten her PhD, and married her two passions for literature and feminist theology.

Name just one pivotal moment in my career? Impossible.

If there’s a story to be told, it’s about the foundational importance of education: my life was shaped by a witty, albeit acerbic, English teacher and an all-girls’ school in Adelaide run by an Anglican order, the Community of the Sisters of the Church. Best forgotten, however, are my earliest literary efforts, execrable satires of school life published in the school magazines, which I hope have since mouldered to dust.

I was discouraged from going to university by my mother, who feared that, as a blue-stocking, I’d scare off potential suitors. Instead, I spent seven years in the public service and developed a side hustle, running late-night poetry readings at the Pancake Kitchen. Then a young male personnel officer rejected my application for a training course in Canberra because I was a woman, would get married, and perforce leave the public service. I resolved to go to university.

I got a job at James Cook University in Townsville so I could study for free. And here I met historian Henry Reynolds, who showed me I could hold my own against younger students, and Elizabeth Perkins, who encouraged me to write for the university’s journal, LiNQ.

In 1974 Gough Whitlam abolished university fees and I headed back to study full-time at Flinders University. Because I was a tertiary student, I could broadcast on Radio 5UV; my writers’ programs were supported by the Literature Board of the Australia Council and broadcast nationally.

Photos by Julie Crowley from 40th anniversary celebrations of MOW Sydney. Professor Bernard Stewart AM, Dr Elaine Lindsay, Professor Emerita Eileen Baldry AO, Rev’d Dr Sue Emeleus.

Things fell into place by happenstance, not career planning. I was hired by the Literature Board in Sydney in 1978 to run grants programs promoting Australian writers. While I was on a staff exchange with the Canada Council I wandered into a celebration of the Eucharist by a woman priest in the cavernous Cathedral Church of St John Divine in New York. This was my transformative moment – being invited by a woman to an intimate and loving sharing at the communion table.

Later on my two passions, literature and feminist theology, coalesced into a PhD at the University of Sydney. It afforded me the time and opportunity to explore and exchange ideas in a structured way, opened up opportunities for research and publication, gave me access to key thinkers in my various subject areas, and provided me with credentials that were recognised and respected nationally and internationally.

My advice for my fellow alumni; be open to opportunities and challenges and accept them if they engage your curiosity, speak to your passions, and seem right for you. Never underestimate the rewards, and pleasures, of sharing with other people.

Elaine Lindsay (MPP '88, MA '91, PhD ’97)'s life has been centred on literature, feminist theology and tertiary study. She established weekly literary programs on the University of Adelaide’s Radio 5UV while undertaking a BA(Hons) at Flinders University.  In 1978 she joined the Literature Board of the Australia Council in Sydney. She attained a post-graduate diploma in Children’s Literature at Macquarie University, two Masters’ degrees at the University of Sydney and a PhD.

Between 1992-2007 Elaine co-edited Women-Church: An Australian Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. She also managed Literature and History programs at Arts NSW (1997-2009) before translating to Australian Catholic University, retiring as a senior lecturer in literature in 2021. She has been president of the Movement for the Ordination of Women since 2022.

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