OFF THE SHELF #25 Coming Out Down Under: Tracking the Australian LGBT Story
by Rob Ridinger
The complex and colorful history of the contemporary Australian LGBT communities is less known in the northern hemisphere than might be desired, yet offers a valuable alternative narrative of activism and publication well worth examining. It began in the continent’s largest city, Sydney, with the foundation of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) in 1970. The organization’s choice of name was a conscious play on the term used by many Australian gays of the time to refer to themselves, “camp,” a word that would remain in usage until the adoption of the word “gay” from the United States gay liberation movement into Australian English in 1972. 1970 also saw the appearance of the first of a group of newspapers and periodicals based in Sydney written by and for the gay community. This was produced by the Campaign Against Moral Persecution and used its name as part of the title, Camp Ink. It would remain in print through 1977. The rest of the decade saw the appearance of three short-lived titles joining Camp Ink, the Sydney Gay Liberation Newsletter (1972-1973) which became Gay Lib News (1973-1974), and Red and Lavender: Newsletter of the Socialist Lesbians and Male Homosexuals, published from 1976 until 1978. But it was in 1979 that the publication which would come to serve as the newspaper of record for the Australian LGBT community for several decades began publication as a tabloid under the title The Sydney Star. In 1982, its title changed to simply The Star (1982-1985), followed by the Star Observer (1985-1986), Sydney’s Star Observer (1986-1987), Sydney Star Observer (1987-2014) and the contemporary Star Observer , at http://www.starobserver.com.au/.
The 1980s saw the addition to the Australian gay press scene of a journal from the Sydney Gay Writers Collective, Inversions, published in 1980 and 1981, and the first issue of an annual serial, Australia and Beyond: a gay and lesbian guide to Australia & New Zealand, which would remain in print until 1991. That year also saw the inception of the Journal of Australian lesbian feminist studies from the Lesbian Studies & Research Group in Haymarket, which continued to publish this title until 1995. In 1992, the Australian Gay and Lesbian Law Journal began publication, and would remain in existence into the twenty-first century, changing its title to the Australasian Gay and Lesbian Law Journal after 1993 and to the Gay and Lesbian Law Journal starting in 2001. The new century also saw the appearance of the online Sydney Xpress News and in 2005 the first issue of the bimonthly Dykonoclast from Fairfield, Victoria, whose byline billed it as “Victoria’s lesbian magazine” and which lasted until the spring of 2006. In the other hemisphere, the first fifteen years of The ADVOCATE also printed coverage of significant gay and lesbian community political and cultural events in Australia.
Australia also contributed early to the development of literature about the gay rights movement through the work of Dennis Altman. In his 1971 book Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation (first published in the United States and subsequently in Australia), he recounts how he became involved with the subject:
“In the summer of 1970 I went to the United States to spend a period on leave from my post as teacher of (American) politics at Sydney University. This was my third visit to the United States…This last visit, however, coincided with the growth of the gay liberation movement, and at first in San Francisco and later in New York I became heavily involved in that movement. Bring an academic and movement together and one produces a book.” (Altman 1971: xiii.)
One of the first significant documents addressing the status of gay people in Australia was printed in 1971 in Melbourne from the Social Questions Committee of the Church of England in Australia, the Report on Homosexuality 1971. The Report originated at the 1970 meeting of the Melbourne Synod, which advocated removing legal penalties for homosexual acts done in private by consenting males over the age of eighteen. While the motion on this point did not carry, interest remained as to “whether the law should attach criminal consequences to all physical sexual acts between male homosexuals and whether Christians were under a duty to support the maintenance of existing laws” (Report 1971: 1.) The matter was referred to the Social Questions Committee for exploration. Its goal was to evaluate the laws of the State of Victoria regarding homosexuality as they existed in 1971, assess whether said laws were effective and just, and make recommendations to the Synod on those changes which might be desirable. While the Committee favored retaining the laws limiting offensive behaviors, it recommended that “the provisions of the Victoria Crime Act 1958, which render criminal those homosexual acts committed in private between consenting males of 18 years or older, should be repealed.” (Report 1971: 11)
On January 19, 1972, Dennis Altman gave an address at Sydney University to the first gay liberation group to form in Australia. The full text of that speech was reprinted in his 1979 collection of writings Coming Out in the Seventies under the title “Forum on Gay Liberation “and offers a unique window into how the ideas and tenets of the then-new gay liberation movement were being expressed within an Australian context. It was followed by Homosexuality in South Australia; a collection of writings from South Australia, 1972. The sixteen entries in this collection were authored by a variety of sources, some from the Religious and Moral Issues Workgroup of the Adelaide chapter of CAMP, while others were contributed by psychologists, psychiatrists, clergy, and students from Adelaide University. The introduction references the drowning death in the River Torrens of Adelaide University lecturer George Duncan as the result of an antigay attack by unknown persons on May 10, 1972. This death and the subsequent (and ultimately unsuccessful) investigation by Scotland Yard sparked public awareness of the status of homosexuals under Australian law and stimulated the struggle for homosexual rights in Australia. It also notes the introduction of a homosexual law reform bill into the South Australia Parliament by the Hon. C.W. Hill in August 1972, and his speech to that body at that occasion is included in the collection as full text, providing a valuable primary document from the legal history of such reforms in Australia. Eight of the papers were given at a seminar on “Homosexual Oppression and Liberation” held at the University of Adelaide in July 1972. The tone of the collection calls for a re-examination of then-current Australian laws governing homosexuality and presents the range of opinion on homosexuality from sources as varied as the Methodist Church and psychiatry. The short bibliography is valuable to anyone researching Australian LGBT history with its inclusion of articles and reports on homosexuality published by various agencies in Australia between 1968 and 1971.
In 1973, the Ethics and Social Questions Committee of the Diocese of Sydney of the Church of England in Australia issued a Report on Homosexuality. Its preface cites the work of Alfred Kinsey and quotes the Wolfenden Report from the UK as a framework for the then-recent visibility of homosexuality as a social issue, then expresses concern that changes in the social environment towards homosexuals may tempt many people to choose homosexual rather than heterosexual (and Scripturally sanctioned) norms of behavior. Over half of the Report is devoted to appendixes setting out Biblical condemnations of homosexual behaviors, psychological data on the developmental process of homosexuality as then known, and “Legislation on Homosexuality.” This last reprints in full all laws for various offences which had been applied to homosexuality in the states of Australia passed between 1900 and 1958, and thus creates a valuable body of data for Australian LGBT research. The “Recommendations” section of the Report calls upon what it terms “practicing homosexuals” to cease their activities and stresses the threat that the homosexual movement poses to Western society before calling for reforms in the area of the homosexuality laws of Australia (towards a greater uniformity) and police practices and the availability of psychological rehabilitation. The final recommendation states that “Because homosexual behavior is inimical to the interest of society: Governments should restrict by legislation the promotion (by advertising or any other means) of homosexual practices as legitimate.” (Report on Homosexuality: 24.)
In the same year, on the other side of the continent, homosexuality became a subject of debate and discussion in the state of Western Australia when a bill was introduced into the Legislative Assembly to amend the sections of the Criminal Code related to homosexual acts. In December 1973 the bill was referred to a select committee, which in January 1974 was granted the status of an Honorary Royal Commission. The basic charge of the Commission was to examine sections 184 and 181 of the Criminal Code and to hold hearings and receive written and verbal testimony on attitudes towards homosexuals in Western Australia, the question of the victimization of homosexuals (ranging from assault to blackmail), solicitation, and the status of medical and mental health facilities for those who wished to change their sexual orientation. At this time, the law provided for fourteen years imprisonment for men found to have had sexual relations with another man. The results of these investigations were summarized in the Report of the Honorary Royal Commission Appointed to Inquire into and Report upon Matters Relating to Homosexuality published in 1974. Among its recommendations was that homosexual acts done in private by consenting adults should not constitute a legal offence and that the Code as written should in fact be amended. The Report’s text provides an opportunity to examine in detail the approach taken to the discussion and legal evaluation of homosexuality within Australia’s system of government at a time when the issue had become newly visible. A second document of note in the history of LGBT Australia printed in 1974 is the brief pamphlet Homosexuals Report Back, compiled by Cross+Section, the church group which was part of the New South Wales branch of CAMP. The preface to the document states frankly that “This report has been mainly motivated by the Report on Homosexuality of the Ethic s and Social Questions Committee of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. We, as members of Cross+Section, feel that most of the churches are currently too dogmatic in their approach to homosexuality…. the churches have shown…an unenlightened and annihilating attitude towards homosexuals and homosexuality.” (HRB, p.7.) The text of the 1973 Sydney report is then analyzed with regard to its legal and social aspects, its religious aspects, and the attitudes of the fields of psychology and psychiatry towards the validity of the idea that homosexuality was not an illness to be treated.
In 1975, the New South Wales branch of CAMP assembled a forty-page document, Homosexuals and Human Relationships, and submitted it to the Royal Commission on Human Relationships. The opening letter stated that the inspiration for the creation of the document had been public hearings held by the Commission in Sydney. Topics addressed in the document are the family, social, educational, legal and sexual aspects of homosexual oppression in Australia. An invaluable contribution to Australian LGBT history can be found at the end of each section, where the CAMP writers offer recommendations for the solution of then-current conditions. A listing of the nineteen recommendations made by CAMP to the Commission and the Government of Australia is provided. Among them are changes to laws on adoption, allowing homosexual personnel in the defense forces to be open, and that the Commission support law reforms and expanded education on homosexuality. A notable idea relating to this last point is that Australia should introduce a motion at the United Nations for the creation of an “International Homosexual Year.” The full texts of the then-current policy on homosexuals in the armed forces of Australia (and a critical commentary on it, a “Proposed Amendment to All Australian Crimes Acts to Regulate Criminal Sexual Conduct,” and two letters to Michael Clohesy, secretary of CAMP- New South Wales from the Office of the Prime Minister and the Department of Foreign Affairs addressing the problems with the proposal that Australia make a motion in the United Nations that the term “sexual orientation” be added to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which was serving as the basis for a then-drafted human rights bill for Australia) complete the document. 1975 was also the year that the first National Homosexual Conference (later renamed the National Conference for Lesbians and Homosexual Men) was held on August 16-17 in Melbourne. Its site would vary between Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane into the 1980s.
Two years later, another organization entered the debate, this time from the field of education. The Australian Union of Students issued a short publication in 1977 profiling the case of Greg Weir, who upon completion of his training as a teacher was denied employment by the State of Queensland because he had been a leader in a gay student support group. This led to his entry into Australian political life and a subsequent career as an activist for gay law reform at the national level and a strong role in the 1989-1990 campaign to decriminalize male homosexuality nationally in Australia. It was followed in 1978 by a comparative doctoral dissertation done at Monash University by Heather McRae on Homosexuality and the law: the development of the law relating to male homosexuality in England and Australia. 1978 also saw the publication by the Homosexual Law Reform Coalition of A proposal for reform of the law relating to sexual offences, May 1978 compiled by Jamie Gardiner, Gary Jaynes and Carl Reinganum. The decade ended with the appearance in 1979 of two documents created by the Gay Task Force in Sydney which reflect in part the list of recommended social reforms listed by CAMP four years earlier, Submission on the proposed New South Wales child and community welfare legislation and the Gay Task Force submission to Committee to Examine Teacher Education in N.S.W. Researchers should be aware that none of these early documents are available online full text as of 2018. At the Fourth National Homosexual Conference in 1978, the Australian Gay and Lesbian Archives was founded with quarters in Melbourne.
In 1980, the Gay Teachers and Students Group of Melbourne issued an introduction to gay life and homosexuality for young people, which was picked up by Alyson Books in the United States and published as Young, Gay & proud!, the same title used in Australia. The short chapters discuss a wide spread of topics ranging from coming out and going to your first bar to stereotypes and health concerns. Back in Australia, the Homosexual Law Reform Coalition continued its efforts to influence the legal status of homosexuality in 1980 with the publication of Myths and facts about homosexuality: a submission relating to the passage of the Crimes (Sexual Offences) Act 1980. And Dennis Altman gathered a collection of his writing which was published in 1980 as Coming out in the seventies. Altman’s anthology was followed in 1982 by the publication in Sydney of a massive report titled Discrimination and Homosexuality by the Anti-Discrimination Board pursuant to a section of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.
1983 marked the beginning of a new genre, the anthology of Australian LGBT literary works ranging from poetry to short stories and prose gathered from writers scattered across the continent. The first such volume, Edge City On Two Different Plans: A Collection of Gay and Lesbian Writing From Australia was published by the Sydney Gay Writers Collective and featured forty-three writers, some appearing in print here for the first time. Dennis Altman contributed a short foreword to Edge City which is valuable for his notation of several Australian plays with homosexual themes. The collection title is a line from a poem “Gay Liberation” by Lee Cataldi.
1984 was marked by convening of the tenth annual National Conference of Lesbians & Homosexual Men in Brisbane, whose theme was “Common Ground,” and the appearance of two publications illustrating the diversity of opinion on homosexuality in Australia as the AIDS pandemic began to unfold. The first is an assembly in part of previously published articles dating between 1980 and 1984 entitled Blatant and Proud: Homosexuals on the Offensive, a reference to a declaration made at the 1979 National Conference of Lesbians & Homosexual Men in Melbourne that in the summer of 1980 the participants would be “blatant –everywhere.” The author sets the decidedly partisan tone of the volume with the statement on the first page that “Homosexuals have launched an ideological attack on the values and institutions of our society. This book is a response to that attack.” (Lansdown 1984: 1.) After reviewing the then-current positions on homosexuality taken by Australian activists, opposition to homosexuality is offered on moral grounds as an inadvisable choice, with most of the book taken up with “the nature of the homosexuals’ objectives and demands.” (Lansdown 1984: 10.). Areas examined in detail are education and the law. A separate chapter on “A History of Homosexual Law Reform” (pp.68-98) provides a valuable overview of the progress made by gay activists in Australia up to the early 1980s, although the author frankly admits the information is included to support “a strategy to halt them.” (Lansdown 1984: 68.). Nearly half of the book is devoted to “The Christian Debate” and examines the topics of employment, the law, and homosexuals’ attitudes towards Christians and Christianity. Lansdown also includes the full text of “A Manifesto Against the Legalisation of Homosexual Behaviour” (pp.153-159) written by him as a response to a 1984 proposal to legalize homosexuality in Western Australia. A list of homosexual organizations in Australia is a useful source for readers wishing to track local developments in specific states and at the national level.
In 1985, the first study on an Australian gay community which for many readers in the northern hemisphere may have served as an introduction to LGBT life on the other side of the world appeared written by a former employee of the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board. In Flaws In the Social Fabric: Homosexuals and Society in Sydney, Denise Thompson presents both two sections from the 1982 report Discrimination and Homosexuality (of which she was the principal author) on medical models of homosexuality and Christian moral positions on the subject. Perhaps her most significant contribution to Australian LGBT writing lies in the book’s first section, “The Gay Movement” which offers “a brief overview of some of the main events in the history of the gay movement in Sydney” ( Thompson 1985 : 7) focusing on the political work begun with the formation of CAMP in July, 1970. Of particular interest is the explanation for the adoption of the term “camp” by founders John Ware and Christabel Poll. “That the first homosexual organization in Australia to ‘come out’ publicly, should have called itself ‘camp’ rather than ‘gay’ (the term which was already in common use among those who were influenced by events in the United States ) was …a deliberate stance on the part of CAMP Ink’s initiators. John and Chris were opposed to jumping on the American bandwagon in the wake of the ‘Stonewall Riot.’ They insisted that an Australian homosexual movement arose in a specifically Australian context…they saw no reason why an Australian movement should automatically follow patterns set elsewhere, in response to different conditions. They held that there was no equivalent in Australia to the long-established groups in the United States, such as the Mattachine Foundation and the Daughters of Bilitis, which…had already spent a number of years slowly and laboriously educating the American public.” (Thompson 1985:9-10.) A second section details the work of Sydney Gay Liberation between 1972 and 1974. The marginal and turbulent role of lesbians in both CAMP and Sydney Gay Liberation is also profiled.
A genre seen in the early post-Stonewall years of the North American gay right movement, collections of autobiographies, made its first appearance in the literature of LGBT Australia in 1986 with Being Different: Nine Gay Men Remember, issued in Sydney by Hale and Iremonger, edited by Gary Wotherspoon (who would shortly tackle writing the history of gay men’s lives in Sydney). Contributors range in age from the mid-twenties to over seventy and include a president of CAMP NSW, as well as writers whose work appeared in Edge City On Two Different Plans. The timespan of these autobiographies reaches from the second decade of the twentieth century to the 1990s. 1986 is also significant for the convening of the last National Homosexual Conference.
The final decade of the twentieth century saw a substantial expansion of Australian LGBT writings, both nonfiction and literary. The first collection of stories and poems from the lesbian community was published in Auckland, New Zealand by New Women Press with the title The Exploding Frangipani: Lesbian Writing from Australia and New Zealand. Twenty-seven authors are represented, and the editors provide a thoughtful perspective in their introduction on the dynamics of lesbian life in the southern hemisphere. “But what is our literary territory? And how do we define lesbian culture? As Australians and New Zealanders we rarely find our lives reflected in the literature of lesbians. Although many of us are widely read in the works of northern hemisphere writers where we find similar concerns, style, struggles and celebration, there is little that reflects back to us our island communities…..most of the southern hemisphere is invisible to the northern hemisphere…We know that this collection Is important to us as Australian and New Zealand lesbians. And we hope that now we will no longer be invisible to lesbians in the northern hemisphere.” Dunsford and Hawthorne 1990: 8.)
In 1991, Gary Wotherspoon’s City of the Plain : History of A Gay Sub-culture was published in Sydney and provides the first book-length attempt to track the past of the city’s gay male community. The author noted in his introduction that, while he was aware of the role lesbians had played in building the community, “the history of life for lesbians in Sydney-and indeed in Australia-is more properly a part of women’s history, since what has happened to the lesbian community has far more to do with the situation of women in our society than it has to do with male homosexuality.” (Wotherspoon 1991: 9.) Readers should make a point to read the introduction on “Sydney’s Gay Subculture and Its History” before beginning the main body of the book, as it provides valuable background on the factors involved in retrieving and constructing the gay historical narrative in Sydney , New South Wales and Australia as a whole. City of the Plain begins by examining gay life in Sydney during the years between the two World Wars, then considers the dual impact of Australia’s experience in the Pacific theater of World War II and the 1948 Kinsey Report. Wotherspoon notes that “the 1940s is…an important decade in Australia’s social history; it marks the ‘end to unknowing’ about homoeroticism and homosexuality in Australia“ (Wotherspoon 1991 : 81) The third chapter on “The Greatest Menace Facing Australia “ covers the country’s treatment of homosexuals during the Cold War era . American readers will find David K Johnson’s 2004 book The Lavender Scare: the Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government useful for comparison. The period from 1960 to 1972, with its rise of Australia’s varied countercultures, the emerging gay landscapes of Sydney, and the first court cases in 1969 which led to the founding of homosexual law reform groups such as CAMP, is profiled in detail in the fourth chapter “The Personal Is Political,” while the final three sections look at the decade between 1972 and the first cases of AIDS in Australia in 1983, the national impact of AIDS and the effect of AIDS on the relationship between the gay community and governmental bodies.
1991 also saw the publication of a second significant collection of contemporary Australian LGBT literatures: Pink Ink: An Anthology of Australian Lesbian and Gay Writers by Wicked Women Publications based in Redfern, NSW. Of the fifty-three authors included, only nine are names familiar from Edge City eight years earlier. The lengthy introduction by Michael Hurley, “Writing, the body positive” offers both a discussion of the history of lesbian and gay writing within Australia and contextualizes the body of work in Pink Ink to LGBT literary forms, Australian literary culture and publishing, AIDS, and the issues attendant on writing the politics of sexual difference. A third collection edited by Gary Dunne, Travelling On Love In A Time of Uncertainty, was published in 1991 by Blackwattle Press in Sydney and offers eighteen stories in the gay male voice on then-contemporary life in the LGBT community. Some of the pieces in this anthology previously appeared in the periodicals OutRage, the Sydney Star Observer, Cargo, and Campaign Australia. Dunne’s introduction offers some valuable commentary on Australian LGBT writers and the problems facing them at the end of the twentieth century. “When I co-edited the anthology Edge City on two different plans back in in 1983, I expected it to be the first of a new wave of Australian books from gay and lesbian perspectives. This country had both the writers and the readers, all that was missing was a publisher or two to fill the gaps on the shelves….A new wave did not, however, reach the beach until 1990. More gay and lesbian books were published in that one year than in the previous seven put together….Most of these books are coming from smaller presses…Unlike overseas, our major publishers continue to be very wary of anything that isn’t mainstream…During the eighties, more of our gay and lesbian writers had their novels published overseas than in Australia….As consumers of American and European gay fiction, we know a lot about where they live. We still see too little of our own territory and much of it remains as unknown to gay readers in the northern hemisphere as it is to too many Australian readers” (Dunne 1991: 7-8). OutRage also lent its name to another literary collection issued in Victoria by Designer Publications containing the winners of its short story competition, Outrage: 1993 Australian Gay and Lesbian Short Story Anthology, in 1992. A second OutRage anthology would be issued two years later in 1995.
In 1993, Australian gay and lesbian writing: an anthology edited by Robet Dessaix was published in Melbourne by Oxford University Press. In contrast to its predecessors, this volume examines the body of Australian literature as a whole and “presents the reader with a variety of texts exemplifying a homosexual sensibility from different periods in Australian literary history.” (Dessaix 1993: 19) The editor includes a lengthy and thoughtful introduction which supplies readers with valuable context for Australian attitudes towards LGBT people and the writings which marked the evolution of the nation’s gay and lesbian literature as a genre. Contents are arranged by themes and include poems, short stories and excerpts from plays, while the earliest entry is an 1846 letter from a Botany Bay convict to his lover. Some of the writers included here are also present in the earlier anthologies of LGBT Australian literature, and that the majority may be unfamiliar to many Northern Hemisphere audiences makes this collection doubly valuable. Gary Dunne continued his editorial work with Blackwattle Press in the 1994 volume Fruit: A New Anthology of Contemporary Australian Gay Writing, and Adam Carr served in the same capacity for The 1995 OutRage Gay & Lesbian Short Story Anthology from Designer Publications.
The field of LGBT literature produced across the decades in Australia received an in-depth treatment in the first reference work on the subject, A Guide to Gay and Lesbian Writing in Australia compiled by academic Michael Hurley and published in 1996 by Allen and Unwin. Arranged in a readable dictionary format, it contains entries on playwrights and their creations, novelists, poets, magazines which have published LGBT literature in Australia, anthologies, archives, performance pieces, and subjects ranging from science fiction to sex work, coming out, HIV/AIDS writing and multiculturalism. Most entries provide extensive bibliographic data on individual works and reviews.
In 1998, Graham Wlllett’s doctoral dissertation was accepted by the Department of History at the University of Melbourne, under the title In Our Lifetime : the Gay and Lesbian Movement and Australian Society, 1969-1978, marking the beginning of his career as one of the primary chroniclers of the Australian LGBT past. The thesis examines the first decade of Australian lesbian and gay activism with specific attention to its interaction with the Anglican Church, the field of medicine and the teacher’s union in the state of Victoria. Its coverage would be expanded in Willett’s lengthy 2000 book Living Out Loud: A History of Gay and Lesbian Activism in Australia. And in 1999, a collection of writings done by veteran Sydney activist Craig Johnston between 1973 and 1998 appeared under the title A Sydney Gaze: the Making of Gay Liberation. This volume provides an invaluable inside look at Australian gay activism for readers outside the continent and offers a wide variety of primary materials. These include the text of a gay liberation pamphlet from 1972, a speech given in 1981 at a rally in support of decriminalizing homosexual acts held at a Sydney park, conference papers, a review of City of the Plain, and a diverse group of articles from the Australian gay press.
In 2000, a new reference work in LGBT studies was published in Chicago by Fitzroy Dearborn. The Reader’s Guide to Lesbian and Gay Studies is focused on “existing academic literature on topics important in gay and lesbian studies” (Murphy 2000: vii) among which are three articles relevant to the LGBT community of Australia. In publication order, historian Graham Willett offers an essay on “Australia: History and Politics,” Wayne Morgan of the University of Melbourne Faculty of Law covers “Australia: Law,” and Anita Jowitt from the University of the South Pacific in her essay explores “Australia: Literature.” Graham Willett together with David L. Phillips edited and contributed to the second LGBT work to appear in 2000 on Australia, the anthology Australia’s Homosexual Histories jointly published by the Australian Centre for Lesbian and Gay Research in Sydney and the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Melbourne. Its ten articles are a sampling of papers presented at two conferences held in Melbourne in 1998 and 1999., They cover the period from 1863 to the 1980s and expand LGBT history beyond the familiar work of CAMP and activism in Queensland and New South Wales in the twentieth century to include such diverse topics as late nineteenth century data on policing homosexual behavior in Victoria and same-sex marriage in Australia between 1900 and 1940. But the most significant work to appear in the literature of LGBT Australia during 2000 was Graham Willett’s lengthy and detailed account of the past of the national lesbian and gay community, Living Out Loud: A History of Gay and Lesbian Activism in Australia.
Its opening chapters cover reminiscences of the realities of being homosexual in Australia during the 1930s and the 1950s, early efforts to form an organization for homosexual law reform, and the roles of the liberal press and politics in addressing homosexuality as a subject. Successive chapters report in detail on the formation of CAMP in 1970 (and its interwoven story with radical political views and the rising counterculture), strategies and styles of direct activism, and the targeting of law, medicine and religion as the three components of Australian society where reform of attitudes towards homosexuals was most imperative. An overview of the varied activist landscape of the mid to late 1970s is followed by an assessment of law reform’s progress in Victoria and New South Wales. A detailed discussion of the coming of AIDS to Australia and its attendant organizing is balanced by a chapter on the many ways the gay and lesbian community as reality and concept was being created by an array of events as the movement shifted tactics from demonstrations to inclusive events expressing pride in identity, most colorfully exemplified by Sydney’s lavish Mardi Gras celebration. And the status of legal change in Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania balances the earlier section on Victoria and New South Wales. Readers from outside Australia will find the last chapter’s discussion of the ways the identities of queer, gay, bisexual and transgender played out in the national cultural and political spheres.
The pool of LGBT historical writing expanded further in 2001 with the appearance of the anthology Queer City : Gay and Lesbian Politics in Sydney edited by Craig Johnston and Paul Van Reyk, described in its foreword as analyzing “the successes, limitations and persistence of our activist tradition…the key issues and legal challenges….over the past 30 years.” (McCrossin 2001: v.) Its eighteen papers complement the coverage of activism given by Craig Johnston in the 1999 anthology A Sydney Gaze and Graham Willett’s 2000 work Living Out Loud: A History of Gay and Lesbian Activism in Australia. The focus of these chapters is often to add accounts by significant persons and in important contexts other sources may not have included in as much depth. Subjects covered include an insider account of pre-1990s activism in Sydney, the relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to the gay community, organizations which worked to attempt to find a balance between liberation and religion, the work of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby between 1988 and 2000, media (queer and straight), health and welfare, and antigay violence.
The 2002 work by Robert Reynolds, From Camp to Queer: Re-making the Australian Homosexual published by Melbourne University Press, adds a different dimension of Australian LGBT historical writing. Its focus is “a critical evaluation of how activists went about remaking gay life and identity, and in the process themselves.” (Reynolds 2002: 4) The chapters in the first section, “Creating the Homosexual Activist” look at homosexual life in Australia in the 1960s and the varieties of the “camp“ existence before the formation of CAMP in 1970, the impact of open homosexuals on Australian political life through CAMP, Inc, and offer a psychoanalytic approach to how the new and old homosexual identities related to each other during the 1970s. The second group of chapters, collected under the heading “The Subjects of Gay Liberation ,” explores in more detail how Australia’s Gay Liberation movement recast the ideas of self, gender and society, and sex ( drawing on the social theories of Foucault and Marcuse), its postmodern era, its fading as an organization, and its elemental revival in the recent queer movement. A second addition to the pool of works mapping the development of Australia’s LGBT literature also appeared in 2002, The Penguin Book of Gay Australian Writing under the editorship of LGBT bookshop veteran Graeme Aitken. His introduction observes that this anthology “has been published at a timely moment for both this literature and Australia’s gay and lesbian community. It is almost thirty years since the first Australian gay and lesbian anthology Edge City on Two Different Plans was published, and almost a decade since the authoritative Oxford Australian Gay and Lesbian Writing: An Anthology appeared. The past decade has seen a flourishing in gay writing, with unprecedented interest from major publishers and the mainstream, while the small specialist gay and lesbian publisher BlackWattle Press has left our literary heritage a lasting legacy….. (Penguin 2002: 1) Genres represented in the collection are memoirs, novels, poetry, essays and letters. Michael Hurley completes the anthology with critical thoughts on both its content and the directions Australian LGBT literary publishing continued to explore.
The publication two years later of the groundbreaking anthology Speaking For Our Lives: Historic Speeches and Rhetoric for Gay and Lesbian Rights (1892-2000) included a speech given by Brian Greig, the first openly gay member of Australia’s legislature, on September 1, 1999 as his maiden address to the Australian Senate in Canberra. In it, he recounts memories of growing up on the coast of Western Australia north of Perth, his legal status in that state (where there was no statute of limitations on being prosecuted for being a homosexual) and the severe limitations gay and lesbian Australians faced in the civil rights areas of relationships, antigay violence and the changing nature of Australian LGBT politics.
In July 2007, a special issue of the Queensland Review appeared under the title “Queer Queensland.” Its fourteen articles provide a body of historical and contemporary data from this southern Australian state to complement similar information from New South Wales and Western Australia. Topics addressed include a study of Queensland’s criminal justice system and its treatment of homosexuality between 1860 and 1954, the coalescing of the state’s homosexual subculture in the period from 1890 to 1914, the local activism of CAMP, publishing for the queer community, the Brisbane Queer Film Festival, and the weekly radio program Gaywaves, which first aired in September 1986. 2007 also saw the publication of A companion to Australian literature since 1900 edited by Nicholas Birns and Rebecca McNeer. Its final chapter, “Australian Gay and Lesbian Writing” by Damien Barlow and Leigh Dale, provides a useful update to Michael Hurley’s 1996 work A Guide to Gay and Lesbian Writing in Australia.
In 2008, the pool of world literature on antigay fear and prejudice was expanded by a volume that treated the subject as it had been known and experienced across the decades of the late nineteenth and twentieth century in Australia. The anthology Homophobia: An Australian History opens with “Mapping Homophobia in Australia” by Michael Flood and Clive Hamilton reporting the results of a survey of 25,000 Australians and their attitudes towards homosexuality done between October 2003 and September 2004. The data are arranged by major city, state, and the nation in general, gender, age, level of education, and religion. Findings include an uneven distribution of homophobic attitudes across Australia and a distinctly higher level of tolerance in younger respondents. Topics addressed by the other papers in the anthology include lesbian relationships from 1860 to 1890, attitudes towards homosexuals held by both the medical profession and the police, homophobia in popular magazines, the role of Australia’s LGBT press in opposing homophobia, and the repeal of Tasmania’s sodomy law in 1997. And in 2009, Out of the Box: Contemporary Australian Gay and Lesbian Poets was published under the editorship of Michael Farrell and Jill Jones. Readers will find the thoughtful introductory essays valuable for their history of both LGBT poetry in Australia and the publications that distributed it.
The current decade in Australian LGBT writing began with the entry on “Australia” in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of LGBT Issues Worldwide written by Christina Corlet and Gerard Sullivan. It was followed in 2011 by the sixth volume in the series Gay and Lesbian Perspectives published by Monash University. Edited by Yorick Smaal and Graham Willett, the anthology Out Here presents thirteen essays by Australian LGBT historians surveying one hundred years of the community’s past through research papers presented at the annual GLQ history conference Australia’s Homosexual Histories, sponsored by the Australian Gay and Lesbian Archives since 2000. Topics explored are the history of activist politics across Australia, the neglected areas of medicine and its relationship to homosexuality, lesbian artists, aging, HIV/AIDS and the media, and the urban world of gay men. Geographical coverage includes New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, and Queensland.
Two years later, the seventh volume of the Gay and Lesbian Perspectives series appeared in 2013 as Intimacy, Violence and Activism: Gay and Lesbian Perspectives on Australasian History and Society edited by Yorick Smaal and Graham Willett. Its thirteen chapters add new details to Australian LGBT history on both form and content, ranging from an examination of photographs of men taken in the late nineteenth century as expressions of male intimacy to continuing investigations of the pasts of homosexual activism and local policing, legal histories from Queensland, Melbourne and Adelaide, along with a discussion of questions of methods and sources bearing on writing of the history of sexuality in Australia. The media thread from Out Here continues as well with an evaluation of lesbians in Australian cinema of the 1970s, and the HIV/AIDS activism of the Australian chapter of ACT UP is analyzed from a transnational perspective.
2013 was also notable for the publication by the University of London’s Human Rights Consortium (part of the School of Advanced Study) of the anthology Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change edited by Corinne Lennox and Mathew Waites. Among the contributed chapters is Graham Willett’s “Australia: Nine Jurisdictions, One Long Struggle.” Willett takes as his focus the decriminalization of sex between men, using it as a focus to follow the progress of social change in Australia since the 1960s. The “nine jurisdictions” of the title are the six federal states of Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia, and New South Wales, the two jurisdiction of the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, and the legal framework of Australia’s Commonwealth Government. Willett draws heavily for this chronological essay on his 2000 work Living Out Loud: A History of Gay and Lesbian Activism in Australia. And paralleling the human rights anthology in 2013 from the field of creative writing was Ornaments from Two Countries: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex & Queer Stories of a Difference from Western Sydney & Regional New South Wales edited by Peter Polites.
Monash University continued its involvement with the development of Australian LGBT historical literature in 2015 with publication of Rebecca Jennings’ Unnamed Desires: A Sydney Lesbian History. Taking as its focus the personal stories of the women who created Sydney’s lesbian landscapes and community between 1930 and 1978, this is the first study to explore in detail the social and legal limitations faced by Australian lesbians in the twentieth century. Its five chapters begin by exploring the ways individual women found their way to self-definition and navigated a cultural landscape where discussion of same-sex relationships was carefully wrapped in silences of various kinds. The creation and importance of private and public social spaces created and managed by lesbians (often but not limited to bars) during the postwar era is next examined, followed by the generation of lesbian political activism in New South Wales, the latter strongly complementing the extant historiography of the rise of CAMP which often centers on the roles and issues of gay men. The final chapter charts the changing expectations Sydney lesbians brought to both the construction of domestic relationships and sexual actions across the decades from the 1930s into the years of the coalescing of lesbian feminism in the 1970s.
2015 was also marked by the appearance of Yorick Smaal’s Sex, Soldiers and the South Pacific, 1939-45: Queer Identities in Australia in the Second World War. While its focus is principally on Queensland and Brisbane, it is the first work to look at the impact on Australia’s gay male population of both serving in and experiencing the all-men world of the military and the massive influx of international military personnel into Australia. Notably, while for Australian soldiers being found out as gay could result in a court-martial, the issue of policing same-sex activity was less of a problem for them than for their counterparts in the American armed forces. Domestic policing of same-sex encounters in wartime Brisbane stressed more heavily actions that might be taken as vices inimical to women and children , and Smaal notes that the casting of homosexuality as a perversion threatening the emphasis on masculinity prized in Australian society did not begin to occur until the immediate post-war era.
In 2012, an article appeared in the Sydney Star Observer celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the repeal of the ban on openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in Australia’s Defence Force. It also brought home to the scholars writing on and retrieving Australian LGBT history “that while most Australians knew about the United States’ “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, little had been written about Australia’s own LGBT service history.” (Riseman 2018: 268) The resulting project (conducted by Noah Riseman , Shirleene Robinson and Graham Willett) to correct this situation eventually saw the interviewing of 115 service members over a period of four years, of whom fourteen agreed to appear in the collection under their own names. It was published in 2018 as Serving in Silence? : Australian LGBT Servicemen and Women by NewSouth Publishing in Sydney The time period covered reaches from 1944 to 2018. A notable inclusion is an interview with Bridget Clinch, whose campaign for transgender inclusion resulted in the Defence Force removing its ban on transgender service members in September 2010.
The richly varied body of works that trace the LGBT histories of Australia across half a century are clearly marked by common issues of activism for equal rights in all areas of life, while a diverse and vibrant LGBT culture with a distinct and uniquely Australian cast of language and literary creation has generated a solid public presence, ranging from pride parades to Sydney’s internationally famous Mardi Gras celebration. Readers and librarians in both hemispheres will benefit from exploring the tales told under the Southern Cross.
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Copyright R. Ridinger 2019