For Helen Grace, formative encounters don’t always reveal themselves in the moment. Often, they become clearer with the passage of time. In 1978 and 1980, the artist and filmmaker shot a series of never-seen-before photographs at Amazon Acres, a radical women-only community that unfolded on a remote Northern New South Wales mountain in the seventies and eighties. They documented a sense of liberation and possibility that only became obvious to Grace four decades on.
“I was aware of Amazon Acres because I was part of a network of women’s groups and networks,” says Grace, who grew up in Western Victoria and was living in a feminist shared household in Sydney with a young daughter at the time. “It was a lesbian feminist separatist community and it was completely wild. I would say that I never felt very comfortable there. But [it] also represented the loss of restraint, a loss of the things that block you. When I look back at the images, they captured some sort of freedom that I wanted to feel in myself.”
These photographs are the basis of a new work, And Awe Was All That We Could Feel, based on a line from an Emily Dickinson poem. It will show online as part of Friendship as a Way of Life, an exhibition, presented by UNSW Galleries, that explores the trajectories of queer friendship. Along with a virtual exhibition tour, the show will also feature a Friday event series, Forms of Being Together, that will play out on the gallery’s website and Instagram.
The story of Amazon Acres, a feminist commune intended to create a world free from patriarchal strictures, is a powerful example of the alternative kinship systems that are a little-known part of Australian history and culture.