Documentary: From the Personal to the Political
Out of the Closets, into the Streets, documentary film, Jary Nemo (director), Lucinda Horrocks, Kathie Mayer and Jary Nemo (producers), Wind & Sky Productions, 2016.
CC-BY-ND-NC 3.0 This film is licensed for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Australia licence. You are free to share, copy, communicate and redistribute the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes so long as you give appropriate credit and make no modifications or edits to the material.Copyright
Copyright with Wind & Sky Productions.
In 1970s Melbourne a group of students made a stand for gay liberation at a time when homosexuality was criminalised and discrimination and abuse was widespread.
More than 40 years on, original Gay Lib members reflect on gay pride, the impact of the era and the true meaning of ‘the personal is political.’
This short documentary film features interviews with Gay Lib members, archival images from the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives collection, and original Super 8 footage of 1970s Gay Lib and Women’s Lib activities filmed and edited by Barbara Creed.
Introduction: Hard 1970s style rock music plays over vintage Super 8 footage of a Gay Lib March in Melbourne in the 1970s. Young people walk the Melbourne streets carrying placards such as ‘Gay Sisterhood’ and ‘Lesbians are Women Too’, they are lively and exuberant and shouting their message to the world. Trams run past. Some demonstrators are moved on by police.
Dennis Altman (Voice Over): “I think it's important that we understand that social change comes about because people collectively start asking for it. I think that's something that every generation has to learn in its own way.”
Graham Willett (Voice Over): “It's not about equality, I think that's the thing that's hardest to get across to people. Gay liberation didn't want equality, they wanted transformation of everything. Liberation wasn't about equality for gay people, it was about sexual freedom for everybody, everybody was going to be free.”
Barbara Creed (Voice Over): “What was so refreshing and liberating about this was you could hug and be friendly with guys and there were no sexual undertones or come-ons or whatever.”
“It was totally relaxing and there probably weren't that many with the women either because given the way women were sexually repressed in the 70s it was very difficult for a lot of women at that time actually to initiate relationships as well because we didn't have a language and we had to invent a language of our own.”
Graham Willett (Voice Over): “Of course it wasn't just about sexual freedom, there was an opposition to monogamy, for example, that was quite strong, rejection of the pair bond, jealousy and all those kinds of things.”
“Of course, not everybody agreed with all of these ideas, but really, they were the ideas. If you want to argue against something, that's what you're arguing against.”
As the voices speak the visual record of 1970 demos continues, rock music returns briefly, and then all fades to black.
Graham Willett, Historian, Seated Interview: “It was an intensely radical period in Australian history, the campaign, the movement against the Vietnam War and conscription had really reshaped Australian politics.”
“People were taking to the streets. Around the Vietnam War there were events virtually every week, you could go to something. A speak-in, or a teach-in, or a public meeting, or a protest, or a big demo.”
“It was a period of agigation. It spread very rapidly to other groups in society. Mostly inspired by the Americans, so women's liberation, Aboriginal politics, which took the form of black power, is the term they used at the time, and gay liberation, which arrives from then.”
Jude Munro, Melbourne Gay Liberation Member, Seated Interview: “I suppose I was one of the initiators of Gay Liberation Front in Melbourne. It was based really out of Melbourne University but came to represent the whole of the gay community in Melbourne.”
“I had this very strong sense of social justice. I couldn't understand why as a lesbian, why what I felt was so much part of me, and such a natural feeling, why it was in a sense not recognised by society.”
Barbara Creed, Melbourne Gay Liberation Member, Seated Interview: “Melbourne Gay Liberation was probably one of the most if not the most important events of my life. I was invited by friends I was working with to what they called a meeting of gay people. I didn't really know what that meant, it was to be at Melbourne University. My friend at work and her partner, were the only other lesbians I knew at that stage. We're talking about early 70s, even though I'd had a long relationship at school with another girl. I didn't really know any other gay people at all so I was very excited. I said, "I'd love to come.".”
Peter McEwan, Melbourne Gay Liberation Member, Seated Interview: “I was actually in a bar called the Woolshed Bar. In those days, because we were so illegal, we were essentially sexual outlaws, the only places we could go to were often fairly dire, fairly divey places. This place was in the basement of the Australia Hotel, and it welcomed us. It welcomed Aboriginals, people who would come out of Pentridge and they would go straight there. As outsiders we were welcomed as well, along with a load of other alcoholics, and so on. It's where you'd tend to gather. I was there one day and met this vision called Julian and we went on a date. He took me on a date, and that date was the first Gay Liberation meeting at Melbourne University.”
Andrew Hansen, Melbourne Gay Liberation Member, Seated Interview: “My gay life, my homosexual life was outside university, and then one day all these little posters started to appear around campus. I thought to myself, hello, that's probably me because I'd made quite a strong decision when I was about 12. I'd realized that I actually liked boys, girls wasn't going to be my thing, which made me different from everybody I went to school with.”
“When the posters went up about, around the uni I thought I might think I'd better go to that just in case I meet somebody, and I can't remember but it was in the Menzies building, the Ming Wing at Monash, and I can remember before the lunch time where the meeting was supposed to happen. I hang about on the campus going, if I go to this it's going to be a huge joke, and the rugby team, and all the engineering students are going to line up outside the building and as we get out of the lift we are going to be punched to the ground and kicked to death. But I had resolved, and I went, all right, I'll go.”
Graham Willett: “Melbourne Gay Liberation starts with this meeting at the Drummond Street restaurant. It starts meeting at Melbourne Uni almost immediately, they have Friday night meetings. They're very big meetings, 50, 60 by all accounts. They're doing an enormous number of things.”
Hard 1970s style rock music plays with montage of images from 1970s demos, picnics, graffiti such as ‘Lesbians are Lovely’ ‘RSL Oppresses Gays’, posters for Marches, flyers for demos, meeting minutes, meeting rooms and Super 8 footage of 1970s Womens Lib and Gay Lib Marches in the centre of Melbourne and a Gay Liberation Picnic in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens in 1973.
Peter McEwan (Voice Over): “Because our ideology such as it is was was very much based on the feminist analysis of society, and how the patriarchy oppressed us all, we took that all on board. What we would do, is we would actually explore things like our own sexism, for instance. Our own internalised homophobia. It was really about coming to terms with the fact that we are good, and therefore we can be proud.”
Barbara Creed (Voice Over): “The photos and the films we made they were for us.”
“We probably enjoyed them immensely particularly where people were out there marching and looking different and carrying placards. These demonstrations were large eventually, they filled Collins Street or Bourke Street and footpaths were also filled with onlookers staring, trying to work out what was going on.”
“What I was trying to do when I took the photographs or retrospectively I think what I was doing was trying to or capture moments amongst all of us that showed us as a family in a way. Because that's something that came out very clearly in our consciousness-raising groups that most of us had never felt at home in our own families. And so what gay liberation did was create another family.”
Graham Willett: “I guess the wildly utopian hopes of liberation obviously weren't achieved, but so much more was achieved than people really thought could be. A lot of it was about revolutionary overthrow, in fact the incremental changes were much more than people, liberationists especially, would have expected.”
Peter McEwan: “It was never aggressive, it was never political. We were just ... The power came from being ourselves. That, to me, was the nub of Gay Liberation. Having done that, of course, you would want to move out into the world and take on people who had challenged you for being sinful and evil.”
Jude Munro: “I think it was the impetus for all of the change movements associated with homosexuals in society, and law reform, and a whole series of other things like employment conditions, superannuation, housing, and so forth but it was also the partnership that was established between that movement, and other activist movements.”
Andrew Hansen: “The fabulous networks of people walking into this room today, and meeting up with people that I haven’t seen for years, or largely haven’t seen for years. I’ve been aware of them being busy in our society working for change, and being leaders, and that’s so fantastic. I feel like I’m one of the foot soldiers but I think that Gay Liberation shows you that you don’t have to be one of the leaders. You do have to turn up though, and be there, and as I said before, don’t take no for an answer.”
Graham Willett: “In fact, the movement managed to reform society quite strongly and decisively. At the time, the sense that we were taking on this huge task wasn't really intimidating to people. It was an exhilarating opportunity, and the responsibility of doing it was something that people felt very strongly.”
Ending: The credits roll as a lively disco style dance tune plays.