I was born in Adelaide, which is a great city if you’re under 15 or over 80. It’s really flat, so if you’re over 80 you get on one of those drive-on things, and thousands of them do have them.
I got out by joining the circus. Ashton’s Circus had a job for a travelling tutor because the kids did correspondence school. I put my age up by 10 years and gave myself a degree and a diploma in teaching and talked my way into the job.
That was during the Whitlam years. It was a great way to see Australia, travelling around the backblocks of the country and going to places that television hadn’t reached and seeing the absolute end of an era.
I left the circus in 1975 during a season at Wentworth Park. I was 21 and cute and Kings Cross and its gay scene were there. I thought, If I don’t jump here I could end up out the back of somewhere in Queensland.
I fell in and out of jobs for a while and then started psychiatric nursing, which was a guaranteed income. I’ve been doing that for 25 years pretty much.
I’d been doing some journalism from 1975. Campaign started in the mid-1970s and it was the first national gay paper and I got bits and pieces of gay journalism work from there, but you couldn’t make a living out of it.
I worked for other gay publications such as the Star and the magazine that became Outrage. I also wrote for Burn magazine in the 1990s and then came back to the Star for a few years.
But I was basically a fiction writer who had been co-opted into journalism. In 1983 I was an editor of Edge City, which was the first gay and lesbian anthology published in Australia.
It was the first openly gay project to get funding from the Australia Council. We would have done more but that was the beginning of the whole HIV era. The other man involved in the project died in 1985, one of the first people in Sydney to die from HIV.
My first book had come out the year before and was doing really well and then suddenly it all collapsed in a heap. We had to ask ourselves, Where do we go from here?
A whole lot of things we’d planned to do suddenly seemed pointless. This was against the backdrop of the media being really nasty, and there was a whole lot of blatant homophobia going on.
My second and third books were based on experiences from that period. It was a time of madness, but a strong sense of community came out of it too.
In the late 1980s there was a publication called Love And Death, which I believe was the world’s first AIDS-related anthology. After that I thought there was a possibility of getting back into gay publishing more seriously.
Then Laurin McKinnon turned up. I knew him from when he was an activist in Queensland. He and Jill Jones, a poet, had decided they wanted to do a gay and lesbian literary magazine and wanted some advice.
My advice was don’t do it because it would be so much work. But they went ahead and did it under the name Cargo.
Then Laurin started doing small books and then from there we did a boys’ anthology and Jill and her partner did a lesbian anthology. They sold really well and from there suddenly BlackWattle Press -“ which had grown out of Cargo -“ was doing books.
It always seemed important to me that we see our own writing. That had always been the problem with gay and lesbian writing -“ it was continually set in London or New York and it wasn’t about us.
A number of gay writers, like Christos Tsiolkas and Graeme Aitken, were associated with BlackWattle in the early stages of their careers.
The company ran for about 14 years, until a couple of years back. Each book paid for the next but it wasn’t really profitable, and the GST was the final straw. So Laurin decided to finish it up.
My current whinge is that there’s no one offering that starting point now, unless you’ve had a few bits in print somewhere.
Laurin had talked about archiving all the things that BlackWattle had done. One option was to dump the whole lot at the Mitchell Library. The other was to put some sort of website together, and I still believe we need to see our own stories in print.
We came up with the idea of the gay-ebooks website to hold archival content as well as publishing new material.
We tested the waters this year at Mardi Gras by putting together a PDF from the Perverse Verse literary event and giving it away free for people to download from the website.
It worked and as the months go by the number of downloads increases. Basically it’s there as a resource -“ it’s free, so we don’t have to worry about bank accounts or GST or any of the boring stuff.
We put up one of my books, As If Overnight, and one of the people who downloaded it was in Turkmenistan, which just blew me away. I had this vision of someone sitting in a yurt looking at a computer screen reading about Sydney drag queens.
We’re currently taking submissions for a boys’ summer collection, which is an anthology we hope to have out by the end of the year.
The idea is to put together a smorgasbord on what’s being written now by known Australian male authors and also new ones. I still believe we need to see our own stories in print.
For more information visit the gay-ebooks website. Submissions for the boys’ summer collection are due by the end of August.