At this time of year, the history of Sydney’s gay and lesbian community is frequently mentioned.

At least, one night in 1978 is dwelled upon. But Sydney’s early days of gay sex, drag performance and political activism started long before the Oxford St protest march that begat the Mardi Gras parade.

The Pride History Group has been collecting stories of gay and lesbian Sydney through its oral history project and has, through painstaking research and fascinating interviews, managed to create a map of Sydney’s pink past.

This map, including a who’s who of Sydney’s gay and lesbian history and timelines of venues and activism, goes online this weekend at the launch of the Group’s new website:

Although plenty of information exists about the early activist movement, less is known about what went on in Sydney’s bars and clubs.

Pride History Group secretary John Witte says this is possibly due to the forced underground nature of gay bars in the 1960s and earlier.

The people who were involved in early activism were generally very literate -“ even wordsmiths, Witte says. They wrote a lot about what was happening. The people in the bars didn’t even keep photographs.

Sydney’s gay activism is documented back to 1960, and the first meeting of what would become the Gay Solidarity Group. Details of venues where gay (or camp, as they were known) men and lesbians would meet go back to the 1920s.

Meredith Burgmann MLC and long-standing community photographer William Yang are patrons of the history project, and will host Saturday’s launch.

Guest speaker Sue Wills will present a series of photographs taken during a protest outside the ABC in 1972. The photos were recently discovered when an attendee at one of the Pride History Group’s monthly meetings handed in an undeveloped roll of film without knowing what it contained.

Wills was one of the early leaders of Campaign Against Moral Persecution (C.A.M.P.). Another speaker, Ken Kandy Johnson, will talk about the establishment of a string of early venues. Johnson established and performed at Kandy’s Garden of Eden and the Purple Onion and later established Ken’s Karate Klub.

The Pride History Group is always interested in any photos or documents that could be of relevance to Sydney’s gay and lesbian history. The group is particularly seeking photos from Kandy’s Garden of Eden or the Purple Onion.

The official launch of the Pride History Group website will be held at the Erskineville Neighbourhood Centre, 104 Erskineville Road, on Saturday 18 February from 2pm.

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