2021 Reese Lecture: The Maternal Metamorphosis: Becoming a mother in Australia (1945-2020)

Black and white image of a mother and young daughter

Presented by the Menzies Australia Institute, the 2021 Trevor Reese Memorial Lecture will be delivered by historian Dr Carla Pascoe Leahy (University of Melbourne). 

Motherhood is often depicted as a problem in twenty-first century Australia. News media focus upon the costs of motherhood, including perinatal depression and anxiety, childcare expenses, workforce discrimination, and unequal domestic labour. But this rather impoverished and simplified view of mothering is not how mothers themselves describe their experiences.

This presentation stems from a project constituting the first overarching history of mothering in Australia. Drawing upon over 60 interviews with a diverse group of Australian mothers, the research explores the ways in which the experience of becoming a mother has changed since the mid-twentieth century.

This lecture will consider changing cultural attitudes towards motherhood, changing psychological theories of maternal subjectivity, and mothers' own experiences, as remembered in oral history interviews. It will answer two questions of profound social importance: what happens to a woman when she becomes a mother, and has this transition become more challenging over the past 75 years?

Presented by the Menzies Australia Institute in partnership with the ANU Australian Studies Institute.

Now available to watch online:

About the speaker: 

Dr Carla Pascoe Leahy is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Melbourne where she holds a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA), funded by the Australian Research Council. She is presently completing a research project on the Australian history of becoming a mother. She is a contemporary historian—researching the ways the past lives on in the present—and an associate of the Contemporary Histories Research Group. Much of Carla’s work involves the creation and analysis of oral history interviews. She serves as joint editor of Studies in Oral History, the journal of Oral History Australia. Her historical research also draws upon material culture and intangible cultural heritage, particularly through her role as honorary associate at Museums Victoria. Carla’s research pursues themes of motherhood and family; children and youth; place, environment and sustainability; and oral history and qualitative research. These themes have come together in her most recent research: what it means to grow up and to raise children in the shadow of climate crisis. Carla has a particular interest in ethical and sustainable research methodologies, advocating that we consider the impacts of academic research on people and places.

Updated:  11 October 2021/Responsible Officer:  Institute Manager/Page Contact:  Institute Manager