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First Blood: A Cultural Study of Menarche


This book is about an atypical subject but one familiar to young women: the first menstrual period or ‘menarche’. ‘The monarchy?’ I have been asked, not infrequently, and then watched confusion on the faces of the questioner when I reply. So getting started was something of an obstacle course and one I look back on with considerable gratitude to those who dared take a chance and contribute in some way.

The foundation for the book lies in the willingness of the women who volunteered to participate; their interviews provided valuable primary source material and I remain profoundly grateful to them, not only for their memories shared among laughter and tears, but for their time given, and the distances they travelled to the meeting places. My gratitude also goes to the managers of the various Neighbourhood Houses and Cultural Centres who permitted me to use the facilities and who provided comfortable and quiet spaces for the interview process.

Help and support came from the School of Philosophical, Historical, and International Studies at Monash University, where David Garrioch and Marian Quartly drew my attention to certain historical reports of interest, and Mark Peel, Christina Twomey and Clare Monagle saw some potential in my early plans. From the School of Social Sciences, the anthropologists Matt Tomlinson and Brett Hough responded to my calls for help and directed me to wonderfully helpful Fijian and Indonesian women who closed the cultural gap among my interviewees.

Very special thanks to Barbara Caine who read and commented on the chapter drafts. Her admirable intellectual energy, humour and wisdom never flagged, and she deserves a special mention, as does my husband David, who provided the physical and mental space to devote to the research and writing. I am grateful, also, to Nathan Hollier and the editorial group at Monash University Publishing for their help and suggestions and also, most importantly, to the two young women who were the motivation throughout – my granddaughters.

First Blood: A Cultural Study of Menarche

   by Sally Dammery