Rainbow Report on History


Sydney Mardi Gras by Paleontour

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The old cliché of Edmund Burke‘s says that  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

The odd thing is, until recent times, we haven’t had a past to remember. At least, not that we knew of. It was as if we each came into the world as the first gay, or the first lesbian, trans, or bi person. We were not there in the everyday stories. We had no history.

Since the 1960’s  we have slowly begun to amass one. There are archives, museums, collections. Still pitifully few, and still fragile. There are only two permanent LGBTI Museums in the world, The Schwules Museum in Berlin and the GLBT Historical Society Museum in San Francisco.

Well-known broadcaster and gay rights activist Julie McCrossin thinks it’s vital we have one in Australia too.

 ”I’d compare it to the Australian War Memorial,” she said . ”It would deepen personal relationships and community understanding.”

McCrossin joins us to talk about plans for a permanent museum in Sydney: in the meantime, there’s a temporary exhibition charting the history of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras from its origins in 1978. The exhibition, in Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, was opened this week by the lord mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore,

The AIDS Memorial Quilt story is a sad one in itself, but what has happened to the Australian quilt makes it sadder. Most of has been imprisoned in a vault at the Sydney Powerhouse Museum since 2007. If you want to see one of the blocks containing a panel in memory of a loved one, you have to make a request in writing. When you get there, you can look at it for ten minutes.

Blocks are occasionally put on show, e.g., for World AIDS Day, but there are no plans for a permanent display of the whole quilt, or a significant portion of it.

Fortunately the Melbourne blocks are still on the loose, so to speak. Twelve of them, each encompassing eight panels, each panel commemorating a life, are on display as part of Midsumma in the West. You can see them at a gallery in Altona till Feb 1. Gordon Wilson is one of the custodians of the Melbourne quilt, and he has the story.

Talk of an LGBTI museum in Sydney brings back memories of a similar plan for Melbourne. In August 2011 Peel Hotel owner Tom McFeely floated plans to convert an old church hall in Collingwood into a museum and cultural centre, but nothing came of it.

Australian Lesbian & Gay Archives president Graham Willett knows how hard it is to create and above all sustain a permanent museum.

“Based on my  . .  visits to the Gay Museum in Berlin and the GLBT Museum in San Francisco, I am very aware of the time, energy and money that is needed both to set up such organisations and to maintain them.

“A museum is not something to be undertaken lightly, and the danger is that it might detract from other activities that might be more useful to the task of spreading the word about our wonderful history.”

The Archives is also  running a building appeal for a permanent home, and has been looking at how they do it at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York and the Hall-Carpenter Archives in London.

Show producer James Newburrie will join us in the studio.

As always, the show airs 7-8pm Thursday evening on Joy 94.9 Melbourne. Click on the link to listen online anywhere in the world via the web, or to download the FREE smartphone app. Any comments, questions during the show, email me or SMS 0427 JOY 949.

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)