Australia Made Me Very Gay

Of course, that’s not literally true, but almost.  My 15 months in Australia from early 1972 certainly bumped me up the gayness scale, thanks to Sydney Gay Liberation and many wonderful friends.

I was ready for it.  As my previous posts explained, at the age of 21, I had a Coming Out Summer in 1971 in Toronto after which I travelled across Canada and down the west coast of the USA to LA.  From there, I went further south through various islands in the Pacific ending up in Sydney in February 1972.

My first view of the famous harbour from the ferry on my way to my guest house in Neutral Bay was breathtaking.    And, as it was mid-summer, clothing was minimal and the beaches were full.  How could I not fall in love with the place?

It wasn’t long until I spotted William & John, the first gay magazine I’d ever seen.  (I’d missed Toronto’s celebrated The Body Politic because its first issue hadn’t come out until a month after I’d left that city.)  W & J bravely covered Sydney’s social and political life from butch men to drag queens.  And it had photos of nude men!   But I only read it for the articles…

In the magazine, I came across this stunning ad.  I later learned that it had been drawn by David McDiarmid, who became a famous and fabulous artist and a friend.

Gay Lib ad in William & John Magazine 1972
David McDiarmid’s Gay Liberation Poster

Sydney Gay Liberation

Needless to say, I very quickly headed over to the GayLib Centre on Glebe Point Road and my life changed.

Why?  Because the Gay Liberation Movement at that time was flourishing, vibrant and full of optimism.  And so was I.  We were ready for each other.  As a “new gay”, I wanted to be immersed in a milieu that provided me with friends, radical new thinking — and sex.  Being far away from home made it easier as well.  No family or high school friend was going  to see me on a demonstration or holding hands with another man on the street.

The Gay Liberation movements around the world joined Black, Women’s and other National Liberation Fronts in opposing “The Establishment”.  Ours was born of the Stonewall Riots in NYC in the summer of 1969 and was spreading from there to the UK, Australia and Canada and other Western countries.  My timing was perfect, joining Sydney’s Gay Liberation right near its beginning, while it was still full of that optimism and vibrancy.

My Apolitical Past

I hadn’t always been so open to change.  Through most of my youth, I had been apolitical and I looked and acted very straight.  Here’s my high school graduation photo to prove it.  Looking the part, I had applied to study business at Queen’s University in Kingston.

1968 - Don Mills
1968 – Don Mills, Ontario

But after one miserable year in the Commerce program, I transferred out to Arts where I felt much more at home.  My Sociology and Political Science classes forced me to question myself and the world I lived in.  I began to read the required countercultural authors of the time:  Herman Hesse, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Jack Kerouac and Theodore Roszak to name a few.  Times they were a-changin’ for me.

In the summer of 1969, I had had the chance to get a lift with friends to not-too-far-away Woodstock, NY for some music festival they raved about.  I turned it down as too expensive and lost the chance to be part of the most celebrated music festival of the era.  But, being a very prissy young man, I might have not liked all that mud.  I could have, though, dined out on that story for the rest of my life.

My first anti-Vietnam demonstration was in Washington, DC in April 1971 but I was only there accidentally as my family was driving through on the way home from a holiday in Virginia and I snuck away to the demo.  The sight of thousands of demonstrators, though, profoundly impacted me and I wanted to be part of it.

By the early 70’s, therefore, I was finally becoming a Sixties Hippie (I have always been slightly behind the times…!), wearing my hair long as a political statement.

1972 – Sydney, Australia

Out of the Closet, Into the Streets

Back to Glebe Point Road and my first Gay Liberation meeting.  The room was so packed there was hardly enough space for everyone.  Ideas bounced around the room about how we were oppressed by “society”, about how we shouldn’t objectify each other, about where we should do our next “zap”, about the importance of coming out, about the latest drag show at Capriccios and more.  My head was spinning and before I knew it I was on an organizing committee for demonstrations.

Over the next few months, our demonstrations covered the whole gambit of what we were against:  psychiatry, the media and the church.

Gays and the Unions

But our first move was to get permission to join Sydney’s annual May Day Parade organized by the unions.  The initial “no” to our request (“what’s gay got to do with unions?”), after pressure, turned into a “yes”, although we were relegated to the back of the parade.

We spent the day before the march quickly painting the banners.  “We Are All May Queens”, “We Are The People We Were Warned About”, “Gay Liberation Comes Out”, amongst others.

My friend, the photographer John Storey, caught me in this photo on the right holding the banner.  (You have to believe me that turtlenecks worn under singlets/vests/tank tops were very fashionable at the time!)

gay lib march
Photo by John Storey with me on right

Here are more photos from that demonstration that I took.  We were so buzzed.

Our next demonstrations were responses to events that were happening that year (1972) in the media, psychiatry and the church.   I’ll look at those in the next post.

4 thoughts on “Australia Made Me Very Gay

  1. Bob Cant says:

    I am not going to make any comment about turtlenecks under singlets, although i did wonder if it was an attempt to look like a ‘real’ working class man on the May Day march! I was particularly interested to hear about the responses of the march organisers to the GLF request to take part. It was very similar to what I saw on a march about anti-trade union legislation here in the UK, sometime in 1970/1971. (My diary keeping was sporadic then.) I went along to the march just to have a look as much as to take part and I was amazed to see some GLF people at the back. This was before I had gone along to a GLF meeting or come out but I still remember my sense of amazement of seeing them there. It’s hard to believe that we – and others – were setting up trade union gay groups just two or three years later.

    1. Gregg Blachford says:

      Thanks, Bob, for your reply. Interesting to see the similarities between what was going on in London and Sydney at the time, although Sydney was a year or so behind. That also meant, though, that the GLF in Australia lasted a year or so longer than it did in England before it started breaking up and moving in different directions. But that’s another story.

  2. garyschliemann says:

    Thanks for this Gregg.
    I got involved in the next incarnation of the Sydney Gay Centre at 33a Glebe Point Rd in 1973, at the intlitiative of Terry Bell. No mention of “GLF” at that time. We did have David McDiarmid’s excellent letterhead and zap badge though. That September a very open, entirely informal aggregation successfully launched a Gay Pride Week in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and I believe Brisbane. Soon after though the anarchistic informality was replaced by a more formally inclined, university-based initiative which closed the only non-university centre for many years to come.

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