Chronology

A chronology of lesbian and gay communities, movements, and venues in Sydney

1920s

 

1930s

 

1940s

 

1950s

 

1960 - 1966

1967

1968

1969

1970

1971

1972

1973

1974

1975

1976

1977

1978

1979

1980

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

1989

1990

1991

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

 

 

 

 

In late 1980, the late Michael Glynn, founder and owner of the Sydney Star newspaper (which he had started the year before) had a brain child, “to establish an association of business people to promote the interests of gay business”

It was his challenge to get people interested and bring the subterranean gay community to the surface and form an out and proud vibrant gay business community.

Pride History Group and SGLBA member, Ian McLean presented this paper at a conference in 2015.

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History of the SGLBA

 

Australian society in the late 1960s was hostile to homosexuals or, at least, its institutions were. The Law treated gay men as criminals who could be locked away for 14 years for the “abominable crime of buggery”, and the police were active in trying to prosecute them.

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Coming Out Into a Hostile World

Francesca (Chesca) Curtis's television appearance on The Bailey File, a Melbourne-based current affairs programme on commercial television TV's Channel 9, in May or June 1970, speaking about the aims of the Australian Lesbian Movement was arguably Australia's first "coming out" in the media.

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Australia's First National Coming Out

Homosexual/transgender social groups began forming in the early 1960s in Sydney. They offered membership of a discreet “camp” organisation. Their dances provided the perfect stage for Sydney’s new amateur drag scene to flourish and a place for men and women to meet up and find Miss or Mr Right – at least for the night. In the Leichhardt area, there was no shortage of public halls for these groups.

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Leichhardt/Dykehardt Exhibition

Male homosexual acts are no longer criminal in NSW – the law was amended in 1984, and ‘gay’ men can live quite open lives, with a range of venues where they can socialize in ways similar to their heterosexual counterparts. Also, the two worlds now softly collide, with gays and straights mixing together quite easily in many places in Sydney’s inner suburbs.

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And The Beats Go On...

The following people participated in the first Mardi Gras and/or the related events . While every attempt has been made to ensure accuracy, the list could include errors and omissions. Some names are also likely to be the arrestees' aliases.

78ers Honour Roll

 

by Robert French

“... it is only a very small minority of homosexuals who indulge in this kind of activity (the flamboyant homosexual way of life). The vast majority regard their homosexuality as an affliction and wish they were not homosexual.” Gordon Hawkins, The Bulletin, May 8, 1965 p21.

 

Govt to stop sex perverts

Australian society in the late 1960s was hostile to homosexuals or, at least, its institutions were. The Law treated gay men as criminals who could be locked away for 14 years for the “abominable crime of buggery”, and the police were active in trying to prosecute them. The Medical Profession regarded lesbians and gay men as sick, and some even tried to change their orientation in the most ghastly ways, often with legal sanction. The painful techniques of aversion therapy – the administering of electric shocks, sometimes with the sanction of the Courts – were mild compared to one physician’s chosen method, psycho-surgery. In comparison, the Church’s attitudes seemed mild. We were just all sinners dammed to hell - if you overlook the harm such attitudes did to an individual’s self-esteem, not to mention the difficulties such attitudes raised within families.

So, standing up and attempting to counter the negative images and stereotypes about homosexuals was a very brave act indeed. But that is just what two people did in September 1970. When John Ware and Christabel Poll, accompanied by a photograph, came out in an article called ‘Couples’ in The Australian newspaper on the 19th of September, they became the first openly self identified lesbian and gay man in Australia. Of course, there were many other identities known or whispered to be poofters but nobody had dared identify themselves though some were outed in the pages of the yellow press.

Christabel and John were announcing the formation of an organisation called CAMP (Campaign Against Moral Persecution) that aimed to counter all the negative images. John, a psychology student, and Christabel, a public servant, had long talked about forming such a group. What they hadn’t anticipated was that they were initiating the beginning of open gay and lesbian activism in Australia.

There had been organisations attempting to make change before this – the ACT Homosexual Law Reform Society in 1969, the Humanist Societies of Victoria and NSW and the Council of Civil Liberties – but these were not gay groups. And, in Melbourne in 1969, there was the formation of a lesbian support group, Daughters of Bilitis (later, the Australasian Lesbian Movement), but a straight woman, Beatrice Faust, fronted this group.

John and Christabel’s aims were modest. They saw theirs a small, informed group of people or experts who could speak out positively. And John thought any open demonstration by homosexuals, and homosexual law reform (as had happened in England in 1967), to be still decades away.

Thus, they were astounded by the response and the enormous volume of mail they received after their coming out - so much so that they now had to revise their intentions. Over the next few months, plans were put in place for a more formally structured organisation, and a magazine, CAMP Ink, was launched in December. Then, in February 1971 a public meeting of gays and lesbians, the first such in Australia, was held in Balmain to launch CAMP. John and Christabel were elected the first co-presidents.

CAMP Membership CardCAMP was a multi-focused organisation with sub-groups or cells concentrating on a variety of activities – law reform, publicity, support for religious people, etc. and, in 1973, personal support services  (a cell which eventually became the Gays and Lesbian Counselling Service that still functions). Within a year, a loose federation of CAMP groups had been formed in most capital cities and on several university campuses.

Then, in October 1971, CAMP held its first demonstration, the first ever in Australia, outside Liberal Party Headquarters. A right-wing Christian fundamentalist was opposing the pre-selection of Federal Attorney-General Tom Hughes after Hughes had spoken in favour of homosexual law reform. It was a colourful, noisy, fun-filled demonstration that did much for the self-esteem of the participants – three people immediately telephoned home and ‘came out ‘- and thus vindicated the formation of CAMP.

Still, more vocal, younger activists, whose experiences were shaped by the Women’s Movement and the Anti-Vietnam Moratoriums, were frustrated by what they saw as the conservative nature of the organisation. They had formed a gay liberation cell within CAMP but, in early 1972, they broke away to form Sydney Gay Liberation.

By the end of 1971 the Women’s Group had began to feel they were unwelcome at CAMP and left. By July 1972 women returned to CAMP and formed the Camp Women’s Association. When CWA folded, some remained active to tackle homosexual discrimination with the men and some left to become active in Women’s Liberation.

Thus began the diversity in the gay and lesbian communities we know today.

This, however, did not stop co-operation. A noisy joint protest was held in October 1972, when Peter Bonsall-Boone lost his job as church secretary after appearing with this partner Peter de Waal, and with Gaby Antolovich and Sue Wills on an ABC-TV Chequerboard. 

Protests against the discrimination against gay liberationists, Jeremy Fisher in 1973 and Penny Short in 1974, were launched by CAMP and Sydney Gay Liberation.

There was plenty of other activism as well. Gay Liberationists participated in ‘Zaps’, outrageous actions in public places. For example, mass same-sex kissing on public transport. Most notable, several activists tipped a bucket of blood and sheep’s brains in the foyer of the notorious Dr Harry Bailey, well known for his lobotomies.

The first arrest of a man at a gay demonstration took place in 1972. The Deputy-manager of the ABC, Clement Semler, had refused to allow an item on gay liberation to be aired on a current affairs program saying that “We’ve has enough reporting on this matter.” David McDiarmid, later important for his artistic input to the Mardi Gras, was charged with disorderly conduct.

Then, the following year, the police busted a demonstration during the nationally co-ordinated Gay Pride Week when activists tried to lay a wreath on the Cenotaph in Martin Place, Sydney. Twelve people were arrested. There was police harassment and there were many arrests well before the first Mardi Gras. And not just in Sydney. The 1975 arrests at Black Rock beach in Melbourne proved a spur for law reform action in Victoria. The possible complicity of police in the death of Dr Duncan in Adelaide in 1972 directly lead to law reform in South Australia in 1972.

By 1975, however, a lot of sting had gone from gay activism (except possibly in Adelaide where CAMP and the Gay Activists Alliance remained active). Some student radicals and activists worked with the university students union and organised the First National Homosexual Conference. Others had graduated and gone on to employment. People began to move more into grass-roots activism, such as within the Trades Union movement. A commercial bar scene had begun to appear in some cities, especially Sydney’s Oxford Street, uttering a siren call that attracted many. It really was only with the bust of the first Mardi Gras parade in 1978 that public activism again sparked into action.

In a sense, some aims of the movement in those early years had been achieved. There was now Visibility. The media (apart from the tabloids and, notoriously, the Sydney Morning Herald) was starting to come onside. The police and the parliament remained a problem (and would do so for another decade) but the medical profession had changed its attitudes. In 1973, the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists declared that homosexuality should no longer be considered an illness, a first for the world.

The actions of John, Christabel and the early activists, unfortunately, have largely been lost from the community memory. This is a shame because the diverse political and socially complex gay and lesbian communities that we know today would not exist without their actions, and their boldness and bravery.

 

 


 

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