Out of the Closets: Story of Melbourne’s Gay Liberation now online
By: Lucinda Horrocks, updated 29 November 2016.
A new digital exhibition using archival images, audio and documentary film recounts Melbourne’s gay liberation.
In 1970s Melbourne a group of students made a stand for gay pride at a time when homosexuality was criminalised and discrimination and abuse was widespread. A new digital exhibition Out of the Closets, Into the Streets explores the moment gay and lesbian people found their voice through the Gay Liberation Movement.
For gay and lesbian people, Melbourne before Gay Lib was an intolerant world. “If we found ourselves catapulted back to the 1950s it would be kind of a nightmare,” says Dr Graham Willett, historian of gay activism. Homosexuality was still heavily seen as an illness, a sin or deviance, explains Professor Dennis Altman, influential author and founder of Sydney Gay Lib. “That was a pretty heavy burden for people to carry.“
But change was on the way. By the late 1960s rights for women, Aboriginal people and gay people were on the agenda. In 1971 a new wave of activism arrived from the United States: Gay Liberation. “I had this very strong sense of social justice,” recalls Jude Munro, founding member of the Melbourne Gay Liberation Front. “I couldn’t understand why as a lesbian, why what I felt was so much part of me, and such a natural feeling, it was not recognised by society.”
Out of the Closets includes a digital gallery of manifestos, photographs, posters, flyers and newspaper articles from the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives collection, depicting the moment gay and lesbian people took to the streets to challenge the status quo. In those days to acknowledge you were gay was a potent political statement. “To wear a badge saying ‘gay is good’ down the street, or to hold hands in the street was a very powerful thing,” recalls Melbourne Gay Lib member Peter McEwan.
The story’s short documentary film features interviews with key participants and original 1970s Super 8 footage shot by filmmaker and cultural theorist Professor Barbara Creed. To Professor Creed, this project is important because it helps preserve gay history. “I think it’s absolutely crucial that this history is not lost,” says Creed. “Sexuality is something that everybody of course has, but which is also somehow invisible and because gay people could never speak about it, gay history has been lost.”
Ultimately the activism of Gay Libbers changed social attitudes, argues Graham Willett. “We have produced a society in which there is much greater tolerance and acceptance,” he says. But even 45 years on we can learn much from that time, says Andrew Hansen, Melbourne Gay Lib activist. “I put it down to being active in your community about something you feel passionately about, and going out, and not taking no for an answer.”
Out of the Closets, Into the Streets was commissioned by Culture Victoria, an online platform that shares the stories held by collecting organisations across the state. The story was produced by Wind & Sky Productions in collaboration with the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (ALGA) and is based on the 2015 physical exhibition of the same name curated by the Archives.
A preview of the documentary film from the exhibition was screened on Saturday 8th October at the Castlemaine Theatre Royal as part of the Castlemaine Local and International Film Festival.
The full digital exhibition was formally launched on November 28 2016 by the Rowena Allen, the Victorian Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality. It is freely viewable online at Culture Victoria at www.cv.vic.gov.au/stories/a-diverse-state/out-of-the-closets-into-the-streets/.
Screenings and Events
Film Premiere: 2pm Saturday 8 October, Theatre Royal, 30 Hargraves Street, Castlemaine, Castlemaine Local and International Film Festival.
Project Launch: 4:30 pm Monday 28 November 2016, the Daylesford Hotel, Daylesford.
Project Name: Out of the Closets, Into the Streets
Production Company: Wind & Sky Productions
Project Creative Producers: Lucinda Horrocks, Kathie Mayer and Jary Nemo
Featuring:Dennis Altman, Barbara Creed, Andrew Hansen, Peter McEwan, Jude Munro, Graham Willett
Film Running Time: 12.22 minutes
Film Directed by: Jary Nemo
Digital Gallery Curated by: Nick Henderson with Lucinda Horrocks
Commissioned by: Culture Victoria
Funded by: Creative Victoria
In Collaboration with: The Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives
About Wind & Sky Productions
Wind & Sky Productions is an independent film production company specialising in short documentaries.
Working mainly in digital video, they produce stories for smaller screens, web and digital formats. They are based in Ballarat in regional Victoria. They take on commissions and also produce self-driven projects where they develop story concepts, source funding, and bring together project partners and collaborators. Their remit is to produce stories which promote positive change and social responsibility.
Wind & Sky Production’s work is often distributed online, projected at special events, viewed on plasma screen installations or produced on DVD.
More information about Wind & Sky Productions is available at http://windsky.com.au/
Lucinda Horrocks, Producer, Wind & Sky Productions, firstname.lastname@example.org, (03) 5339 5469.
Images available on request.