Featured artist: Shannon Crees

Activism in Marrickville

Featured artist: Shannon Crees
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Activism in Marrickville

Paul Van Reyk (third from right) in the 'Gay Liberation Quire', Belmore Park, 1981

Paul Van Reyk (third from right) in the ‘Gay Liberation Quire’, Belmore Park, 1981

 

Marrickville has a long history of LGBTIQ activism and community organisations. Well before the heyday of protest and rallies in the 1970s, the Pollys, Australia’s longest-running gay and lesbian social group, was established in Marrickville in 1964, and held its first dances at Petersham Town Hall. In an era of widespread homophobia and intolerance, being openly ‘out’ like this was highly political. While male homosexual relations were illegal, the authorities seemed to turn a blind eye to the group.

Later, as the inner west became a hub for students, artists, and bohemians during the social and political upheaval of the late 1960s and ‘70s, the locus of LGBTIQ activism began to shift towards the Marrickville area. The Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP Inc) was started by Sydney University students in 1970 and based in the inner west. Meanwhile one of the first high school gay liberation groups in Australia was set up at Fort Street High School in 1972. Shared houses, often doubling as spaces of political organising, also proliferated in the area: some of the earliest lesbian collective houses in Sydney were ‘Canterbury Castle’ on New Canterbury Road and ‘Crystal Palace’ on Crystal Street in Petersham. The political ferment and the build up of activism in this period culminated in Sydney’s dramatic first Mardi Gras protest in 1978, in which 53 people were arrested.

LGBTIQ activism in Marrickville continues to this day. In the 1990s, after a series of high profile homophobic murders, the Gay and Lesbian Street Patrol was formed to patrol inner west streets, and as recently as 2010 a collective of homeless LGBTIQ activists and artists prominently squatted at the site of the old Marrickville Hospital. That Marrickville is seen as a haven for the LGBTIQ community is in many ways the result of this long history of social struggle.

 

Brent Thorpe: “People forget that the first Mardi Gras, in ‘78, that wasn’t a Mardi Gras – it was a civil rights march. 53 people were arrested that night. And their names were published in the Sydney Morning Herald the following Monday and most of them lost their jobs.”

Garry Trotter: “People could be jailed. So I was a radical in my day and used to protest and go up and down George Street and all of those sorts of things to say: ‘I’m a gay man. There’s nothing wrong there. How dare you discriminate against me?’”

Paul Van Reyk: “It did shift. As kids growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s it wasn’t acceptable. But as more people came out, and the more we were willing to say we were there, there was a space created and there was less willingness from people to challenge us.