Dr Chelsea Barnett is a Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Australian Centre for Public History at UTS. She is a gender and cultural historian who specialises in the history of twentieth-century Australia. Her current project traces and investigates the changing representations and meanings of single men in Australian popular culture.
Chelsea received her PhD in modern history from Macquarie University in 2016. Her first book, Reel Men: Australian Masculinity in the Movies, 1949-1962, was published in 2019 by Melbourne University Press.
- Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Michael and Madonna Marsden International Travel Grant 2019
- Australian Feminist Studies Bursary 2017
- John Barrett Award for Australian Studies (Postgraduate Category) for best-written article in Journal of Australian Studies 2016
- Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship 2012–2015
Can supervise: YES
- Gender history
- Gender theory
- Feminist theory
- Post structuralism
- Australian history
- Australian twentieth century
- History in and of popular culture
- Australian history
- Australian studies
- Gender theory
- Popular culture
Barnett, C 2019, Reel Men Australian Masculinity in the Movies 1949-1962, Melbourne University Press.
Offering a compelling exploration of the Australian fifties, the book challenges the common belief that the fifties was a 'dead? era for Australian filmmaking.Reel Men engages with fourteen Australian feature films made and released between ...
Barnett, C 2018, '‘They don’t tame, only on the surface’: masculinity, race and the project of assimilation in Jedda (1955)', History Australia, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 46-61.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Barnett, C 2015, '“Working hard and saving up’: Australian Masculinity and Meanings of Work and Class in Smiley (1956)', Lilith: a feminist history journal, pp. 93-106.
Barnett, C 2019, 'Male Chauvinists and Ranting Libbers: Representations of Single Men in 1970s Australia' in Everyday Revolutions: Remaking Gender, Sexuality and Culture in 1970s Australia, Australian National University Press, Canberra, pp. 295-312.View/Download from: Publisher's site
In September 1970, the magazine Pix published the following reader’s letter: Pity the poor victimised bachelor. He’s overtaxed, pays high rent for a room or flat, does his own laundry, cooking and household chores. He has to take out girls, even if only for his own sanity. But, unless he’s well off—and not many are—how can he save enough money to marry and settle down?1 For the letter-writer—dubbed ‘Fed Up’, from Mt Gambier in South Australia—the life of the single man deserved pity, sympathy. Expectations of marriage lingered, as did those of financial security; a man had to be ‘well off’ to even contemplate marriage, ‘Fed Up’ reckoned. Read on its own, the letter reveals something of the uncertainty that shaped the lives of single men in the Australian 1970s. We might recognise the 1970s as a period in which the transformations of the 1960s continued to unfold with increasing visibility, but for ‘Fed Up’, at least, more conventional ideas about masculinity continued to burden unmarried men.2 The publication of the letter suggests a complex gender order operating in the 1970s, particularly as it functioned outside the continuing legitimacy of marriage
Barnett, C 2019, 'The Reluctant Super Stud: Representing the Australian Single Man in Alvin Purple (1973)', Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference, Washington, DC, United States of America.
This paper explores the representation of masculinity—specifically through the figure of the single, unmarried man—in the 1973 Australian film Alvin Purple. The most commercially successful Australian film of the decade, Alvin Purple exemplifies the ‘ocker’ style of Australian filmmaking that emerged in, and came to define, the Australian cinematic landscape of the first half of the 1970s. The film’s eponymous protagonist is a ‘reluctant super stud’: involuntarily irresistible to women since his adolescence, Alvin’s ostensible desire to lead a quiet, normal life is thwarted as throngs of women go to extraordinary lengths to sleep with the waterbed-installer. In representing Alvin as constantly under the attack of insatiable women, this paper argues that the film functioned as a response to the challenges brought forth by the Women’s Liberation Movement. Alvin Purple subverted the concerns of second-wave feminists, and transformed the apparently oppressed women of Australia into the oppressors of men. This paper explores this tension and questions its implications in the context of contemporary political and social change.
Barnett, C 2017, 'Pity the poor bachelor’? Representations of Single Men in 1970s Australia', When the Personal Became Political: Re-assessing Australia’s revolutions in gender and sexuality in the 1970s, ANU Gender Institute, Canberra, Australia.
Upon the death of Gough Whitlam in 2014, the former prime minister was remembered as “[coming] to embody a period in Australian history which … was one of rapid and unparalleled change.” Tributes such as these affirmed the popular memory of the 1970s as a period not just of reform and change, but as the moment in which the Australian nation finally came “into line with modern social democracies.” The cultural world of the Australian 1970s certainly embraced this “new” progressiveness, particularly towards gender. Pix magazine (which would become Pix/People in 1972) enthusiastically and openly addressed its readers on a range of matters, including marriage, divorce, the pill, and abortion. In doing so, the magazine functioned as a public space in which “personal” concerns could be explored and navigated. While Pix was engaged in a complex conversation around understandings of femininity and masculinity, much of the magazine’s content was predicated on the often implicit figure of the single man. This paper seeks to explore how Pix imagined and represented the single man in the context of the transformative 1970s. Was he the “poor victimised bachelor” that one letter-writer claimed, forced to “take out girls, even if only for his own sanity,” or did his singleness represent broader concerns unfolding in the period? Accordingly, this paper will interrogate understandings of masculinity when operating outside the continuing legitimacy of the marital union.
Barnett, C 2016, '"What sorta man are you anyway": Masculinity, Class, and Conflict in Australian Postwar Cinema', Australian Women's History Network Conference, Queen Victoria Women's Centre, Melbourne, Australia.
Faced with the prospect of social unrest and instability after the Second World War, the establishment of explicitly gendered repatriation schemes proposed a postwar Australia in which men would return to their ‘rightful’ place as husbands, fathers, and – ultimately – breadwinners, in turn relegating women to domestic confines. These gendered ideals assumed greater importance in the 1950s, with newly-elected prime minister Robert Menzies connecting this understanding of masculinity to the middle class – and, by extension, a ‘civilised’, more ‘noble’ Australia. Social historians have endeavoured to reveal the complexities of men’s experiences in this era, with studies of working-class men destabilising the conflation of the satisfied breadwinner with the Australian 1950s. The cultural world of the postwar years has, however, been of little interest to these scholars, who instead posit that cultural ideals merely reflect social change. Contesting this suggestion, this paper argues that the Australian postwar cultural landscape, of which film was an important component, was an active terrain that engaged with and negotiated the intersection of historically specific understandings of masculinity and class. This intersection produced a contest for legitimacy, as films negotiated between particular understandings of middle- and working-class masculinities in an attempt to resolve this cultural contestation.
Barnett, C 2016, 'Contesting Hegemony: Hegemonic Masculinities in Australian Postwar Cinema', Australian Women's and Gender Studies Association Conference, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia.
Raewyn Connell’s sociological work in ‘masculinities’ has endured to remain a fundamental theory in the field of masculinity studies. A key element of her work was the recognition of ‘hegemonic masculinity’, whereby one model of masculinity functions in a specific context as that which secures the power of men over both women and other men. Connell’s recognition of masculinities has subsequently tasked other scholars of gender to acknowledge that understanding the relations between different men is as crucial as understanding those between men and women. However, while the concept of hegemonic masculinity acknowledges other, subordinated masculinities, it leaves no room to acknowledge or explore the prospect of tension within the contextually specific model of hegemonic masculinity. This cultural history paper focuses on those understandings of masculinity that were locked in a contest for hegemony in the context of Australian postwar cinema, and functions as an explicit engagement with the cultural landscape that responds to Connell’s more recent dismissal of the cultural world in favour of the material. In an examination of the constitution and circulation of masculinities in the Australian postwar cultural sphere, this paper argues that there was not one clear model of hegemonic masculinity in operation, but rather an unresolved contest for hegemony between multiple, competing masculinities.
Barnett, C 2016, 'Men at Work: Masculinity, Work, and Class in King of the Coral Sea', Gender, Labour and Media Workshop, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.
This paper will explore the relationship between masculinity and work in the Australian fifties, as represented in the 1954 Australian film King of the Coral Sea. In the aftermath of World War Two and in the beginning years of the Cold War, newly-elected prime minister Robert Menzies reaffirmed the institutional relationship between masculinity and breadwinning that also spoke to a specific national ideal.
Following the work of Mark Hearn and Harry Knowles, who argue that the Australian "national narrative of work" has an explicit, historically contingent meaning within the context of broader national goals, this paper looks to historicise the relationship between historically specific understandings of gender and work, and how it was represented in King of the Coral Sea. The film tells a story of men working in the pearling industry in the Torres Strait who, through the introduction of new technology and the management of the workplace, engage in the values of the middle class.
Accordingly, this paper will argue that the film engaged in and represented gendered ideals of work and class that not only carried specific national meanings in the postwar era, but also had broader implications for understandings of postwar masculinity in the national context. Additionally, this paper aims to understand the role of film in representing, producing, and circulating meaning and, in doing so, will posit that the postwar cultural landscape was actively involved in the negotiation and constitution of cultural meaning.
Barnett, C 2015, 'Masculinity and the Narrative of Work in the Australian Fifties', Social History Society Annual Conference, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK.
This paper explores the relationship between work and masculinity in the Australian fifties, as represented in the 1954 film King of the Coral Sea. Given the upheavals that plagued the first half of the twentieth century, it is little wonder that work assumed greater importance in Australian society in the years following the Second World War. While in Australia, work and masculinity have shared an official connection since the early years of the twentieth century, when the concept of the male “family wage” was institutionalised in 1907, two world wars and the economic depression of the 1930s meant that the concept of male employment and breadwinning operated on an unsteady terrain. In the aftermath of World War Two, the Labor-led federal government established and enacted a repatriation scheme that prioritised not only the connection between work and nation-building, but also a man’s role as worker. Compounding these explicit connections was the 1949 federal election victory of the Liberal Party, led by Robert Menzies. Menzies not only reaffirmed the connection between work, national ideals, and masculinity, but advocated an explicit understanding of value-based class distinctions. Of significance to the prime minister was a belief in the moral and economic superiority of the middle class who, as “lifters” rather than “leaners”, were crucial in the ideological defence against the ostensibly omnipresent communist threat. The male breadwinner was central to Menzies’ vision of the middle class; that the economic policies of the era were framed by Keynesian principles allowed for the proliferation of this gendered model of employment.
It is this context of economic consciousness and full male employment in which this paper considers the relationship between work and masculinity, as it functioned in the Australian postwar years. In this paper I engage not only with Patrick Joyce’s argument that an historical approach to the study of work must consider the social and...
Barnett, C 2015, 'Masculinity, Class, and the Narrative of Work in King of the Coral Sea', Australian Historical Association 34th Annual Conference, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.
This paper explores the relationship between masculinity and work in the Australian fifties, as represented in the 1954 Australian film King of the Coral Sea. In the aftermath of World War Two and in the beginning years of the Cold War, newly-elected prime minister Robert Menzies reaffirmed the institutional relationship between masculinity and breadwinning that also spoke to a specific national ideal. Additionally, he advocated an explicit understanding of value-based class distinctions that held particular purchase in the Cold War climate. Following the work of Mark Hearn and Harry Knowles, who argue that the Australian ‘national narrative of work’ has an explicit, historically contingent meaning within the context of broader national goals, this paper historicises masculinity to understand not only how it functioned in the Australian fifties, but also how it was represented in King of the Coral Sea. To this end, this paper argues that the film engaged in and represented gendered ideals of work and class that not only carried specific national meanings in the postwar era, but also had broader implications for understandings of postwar masculinity in the national context.
Barnett, C 2015, 'The Same Old Chips? Chips Rafferty and the Embodiment of Masculinity in Australian Postwar Cinema', Flesh & Blood: A Feminist Symposium on Embodied Histories, organised by Lilith: A Feminist History Journal, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.
Following his passing in May 1971, The Canberra Times was but one publication to eulogise famed Australian actor Chips Rafferty. Not only paying homage to Rafferty as ‘the Australian image as represented on film screens all over the world’, the short editorial also made mention of Rafferty’s ‘lean, brown, honest, soft-hearted bushman’ who was ‘ready to drink, fight, or ride at the lift of a bushy eyebrow’. Rafferty maintained a prolific presence in the Australian filmmaking landscape of the period immediately following the Second World War, in which he became synonymous with a specific understanding of working-class masculinity. This masculine identity was intimately connected to Rafferty’s own embodied masculinity. A station hand, drover, and pearl diver (among other things) before his success as an actor, the Times’ eulogy observed the importance of Rafferty himself to this masculine understanding: ‘he lived to create the illusion that he was somebody else. He never quite convinced anybody of that fact, of course’. However, while a number of Australian postwar films capitalised upon Rafferty’s reel- and real-life embodiment of this understanding of working-class masculinity, other films in which he was cast seemingly abandoned this recognisable working-class model for a middle-class version.
Susan Bordo’s work on the male body in Hollywood films of the fifties identifies the cinematic representation of two separate models of masculinity, the middle-class provider, and the abusive albeit sexually dominant man. These antithetical images are represented not only in different films, however, but by different actors. What does it say of understandings of Australian postwar masculinity, then, when Rafferty’s working-class persona was also made to represent its middle-class antithesis? This paper will examine Rafferty’s place in the Australian postwar cinematic landscape and explore not only the specific understandings of working-class masculinity with which the ac...
Barnett, C 2014, 'Mates, or More? Male Sexuality in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll', Australian Historical Association 33rd Annual Conference, University of Queensland, Brisbane Qld.
Although attitudes towards homosexuality had developed in the aftermath of World War Two, Australian homosexuals faced increasing persecution in a Cold War society in which sexual morality and national security and stability were linked. Troubling the seeming dichotomy of heterosexuality and homosexuality, however, was the idea of mateship, drawn from the 1890s and espoused by 1950s’ radical nationalists. Within the framework of Cold War sexual politics, this paper will use theories of male homosociality and desire to explore representations of male relationships and understandings of male sexuality in the 1959 Australian film Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.
Barnett, C 2013, 'Swaggies and Suburbia: Masculinity in The Shiralee', Australian Historical Association 32nd Annual Conference, University of Wollongong, Wollongong NSW.
The 1950s have undergone somewhat of a makeover. While in the 1990s they were primarily used in political debates to represent either enviable stability or stifling conservatism (Murphy 2000, p.3), the work of historians (most notably John Murphy) has sought to dismantle the image of the 1950s as a time of monotony and conformity. However, while there is now recognition of the 1950s as more eventful than previous historical accounts credited, the period is still thought of as a low-point for gender relations. Stereotypes of breadwinning men and oppressed housewives remain dominant in public imaginings, subsequently denying the opportunity for accounts of resistance and change. A closer look at the years in the aftermath of the Second World War, however, reveals a more nuanced picture. Far from all Australians (and Australian families) aligning easily with Prime Minister Menzies’ ideal nuclear family unit, both men and women found themselves negotiating largely contradictory social expectations, often struggling in the process. This paper will explore masculinity as a vulnerable and fluid concept within the social and political context of 1950s Australia, through its representation in the 1957 film The Shiralee. The film provides a striking representation of Australian masculinity and highlights its instability, given the emphasis on two contradictory images of Australian manhood, the swagman and the postwar suburban father.