Australia's Thriving Art-Porn Industry Is Run by Women

Despite the country's generally repressive censorship laws, there's a growing subculture of women who make edgy, feminist, and boundary-pushing pornography.

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May 8 2015, 2:40pm

Zahra Stardust. Photo by Fin Long

While it's legal to produce porn in Australia, it's illegal to sell it in shops without a classification. This makes sense in principle, but in practice every state in the country interprets federal law individually. For example, R-rated videos are kosher in Queensland, but R-rated magazines can land a producer in jail for three months. Meanwhile in Tasmania it's illegal to sell any X-rated content at all, and it carries the same two-year sentence as selling child pornography. Ironically it's legal to give Tasmanian minors varying degrees of softcore porn (category 1 or 2 material only), as long as they're your own, or they're married. And all of this explains why Australian porn producers generally don't publish DVDs or magazines. It's too damn risky.

Then there's internet porn, which exists in its own stateless realm and is especially immune from censorship if it has an artistic, educational, or political purpose. Which is why nearly all Australian porn exists online, but also why so much of it also straddles the line between art and erotica. What isn't clear, however, is why so much of this arty porn is made by women.

Gala Vanting. Image via

Across the country, there's a variety of women making feminist, queer, alternative, and generally experimental films. And of these, 30-something year-old Gala Vanting is a central figure. According to her, one of the reasons Australian porn is so arty is that censorship has quelled the formation of a structured industry like in the US. "Here, there's no real machine to insert yourself into as a producer," she explains. "You chart your own path, and do so with things like feminist politics or queer identities—which are bound to produce diverse results."

The blood-play scene in Love Hard. Image via

Her latest film, Love Hard, just won Hottest Kink Film at the 2015 Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto. It features a couple casually discussing BDSM in their kitchen before cutting to a forested hillside where the guy is tied to a tree. The woman slashes his torso with a needle, then whips and bites him until he's bleeding. By the end they're both arrestingly covered in gore but still kissing.

For more on porn, watch our doc 'Japanese Female Erotica':

Love Hard has drawn some controversy, but Gala points out that it also recently screened at a Queensland film festival. This, she says, is representative of the situation here: Sexually progressive but legislatively backwards. And it's this clash between the cultural and the legislative that brings the group together.

Gala in another of her films, Fertile. Image via

"A few years ago we didn't even know each other," says Gala. "Then I organized a weekend gathering and got everyone face-to-face. Since then the cross-pollination and collaboration has really exploded." The group includes Anna Brownfield with Poison Apple Productions (erotic, sensual films for females and couples), Morgana Muses with Permission 4 Pleasure (feminist erotica), Aeryn Walker with her company Naughty Nerdy (Perverse and proud), Michelle Flynn with Lightsouthern (the lusty unicorn of production companies), and Zahra Stardust, who while producing and performing on her own site, is completing a PhD at the University of NSW on the regulation of feminist porn.

A feminist porn collective sounds innocuous but there are serious consequences if the wrong people get annoyed, which is to say, News Corp. In 2007 the Herald Sun published an article about a company that was shooting porn in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. You might recall the name of that company—Abby Winters—which at the time was making around $8 million a year. But a disgruntled former employee had tipped the paper that Abby Winters was breaking laws, including allowing a 17-year-old girl to model. In 2009 they had their headquarters raided and 54 charges were laid against the CEO, Garion Hall. Fifty-two of the charges were later dropped, including the ones around the 17-year-old. However Hall was fined $6,000 for possessing a commercial quantity of objectionable films, which he responded to by moving the company to Amsterdam. Insiders speculate that while moving was a business decision, it was also a general "fuck you" to Australia.

Zahra Stardust. Photo by Roberto Duran

Others in the scene agree that fuck you is a core value. Former Penthouse Pet and PhD candidate Zahra Stardust says that she considers porn a form of civil disobedience. To her porn challenges "government intervention in our lives, the heteronormative reproductive agenda and what sexual intimacies are considered obscene or offensive." This extends to a film called Fuck Dolls, in which Zahra employed a Barbie as a strap-on dildo, and another called Beautiful Monotony, which is a montage of lap dances interspersed with scenes of studying, eating, and changing tampons.

Politics aside, both Zahra and Gala agree that it's feminist solidarity that has really brought so many local women into porn. "We were all new at one stage," says Zahra of their mixed backgrounds in sex work and film production. "There were no blueprints, so we share equipment, trade skills, and welcome and support each other in a spirit of feminist camaraderie."

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