In the mid-eighties, sheltering from the late afternoon heat under a river gum in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills, three feminist friends in their mid-forties began to discuss what it meant to get older. They shared previously unspoken thoughts and feelings about their changing bodies, sexual desires, relationships, energy, health and careers. As darkness fell, they came up with a wonderful idea: to hold a national conference where feminists could come together and talk about ageing.
The get-together, they decided, would be called the Ten Forty Conference (ten-plus years of feminism, women over forty). They chose a site on Lake Cullulleraine in Victoria, a mid-way point between Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, for the conference.
Forty-five feminists between forty and seventy, most from Sydney and Adelaide, but with a smattering from Canberra and Melbourne, attended the four-day conference during Easter 1987.
Amid gales of laughter (and the odd tear), we talked about menopause (some of us called it ‘me-no-pause’): the hot flushes, changes in sexual desire, increased farting and incontinence, and the losses and increases in body hair. In small groups and informally over cups of tea we talked about everything from relationships and false teeth to poverty and dying.
Some of us began to recognise how ageist we were to women whom we see as ‘older’. By the end of the conference we became acutely aware that in our culture the older woman is usually relegated to the status of evil witch, wicked step-mother, nasty old women, silly old lady, hag, or granny who is barely tolerated. We saw a new political struggle ahead of us: to reinstate older women and the ‘Old Woman’ as (possible) agents of wisdom, honour and importance.
We also became aware that many of the things that were happening to us, as with the early days of second wave feminism, had no name.
The conference was so successful that a unanimous decision was made to continue meeting at annual Easter conferences. For the next nine years Ten Forty Conferences were held in New South Wales, Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Three of the ten conferences (1988, 1989 and 1995) were held in Sydney.
In 1997, the conference, which was to be held in Perth that year, was cancelled because there were insufficient pre-registrations to cover costs. Since then, there has not been any attempt to re-establish them.
As far as Sydney Ten Forty members know, there are no longer activities or functions going under the name ‘Ten Forty’ being held anywhere in Australia other than in Sydney.