When Sydneysider Ken Garrahy took Super8 footage of his friends in the 1960s, he didn’t imagine it would ever be projected on the big screen in front of an audience of lesbians and gay men. It was so long ago his friends weren’t really even gay and lesbian, they were all just camp. Queer was a dirty word and same-sex coupling was illegal and gay marriage the stuff of science fiction.
The opportunity to share his private films presented itself in a call for submissions by producer Sophie Jackson and director Robert Herbert, in an article printed in Sydney Star Observer in October last year. Jackson was calling for footage to be part of a 13-part series on SBS TV and Garrahy was intrigued.
I thought it over for a little while and I thought, well, our community really should be there, Garrahy said. We are part of the [broader] community, and it’s good if we are part of the series.
Director Robert Herbert was thrilled with Garrahy’s films -“ the only response by the lesbian and gay community.
It’s exactly what we were after, Herbert said. It was the most incredible thing because we actually wanted to get a broad cross-section of all kinds of people who make up Australia and it was very important to me that we have a gay or a lesbian story amongst them.
That type of story, that is, picnic days maybe back in the 60s or something, was exactly what I was imagining but didn’t dare hope for -¦ Then in waltzed Ken with his home movies.
The SBS series Homemade History has begun airing, with the five-minute films screening every Thursday night at 8:20pm. (Garrahy’s screens on 2 October.) Garrahy’s film is priceless in both senses of the word. Men frolic on the beach in incredibly skimpy Speedos while lesbian friends cuddle on the sand under an overturned rowboat. Moustached hikers mince down a mountain track on a social excursion to the Blue Mountains; the flame arrives at a Polly-lympics, carried by quite the flamer. Narrating the action is Garrahy, who intersperses his thoughts on the difficulty of life at the time. The juxtaposition is moving, but makes me wonder if possessing the films back then wasn’t dangerous in itself.
There was nothing that was illegal except of course that our community was not decriminalised at the time, Garrahy said. I suppose it was a risk factor in a way that we were going out and having open air functions, but it was all part of a surge at the time, with the university students and other people protesting about different things -¦
We were just getting fed up really with being suppressed the way we were. And of course the churches had everybody in a missionary position at that time, he laughed.
In a telling moment of enthusiasm, the publicist for Queer Screen was keen for both screenings of the film to be discussed: the Queerdoc opening night event and the decidedly free SBS screening. What was important, she said, was that people see the film.
Watching it on a small screen, however, seems to take something away from the romantic and vivid qualities of Super8 stock. Herbert shared this love of scratchy but vibrant amateur film.
We decided we only wanted to deal with home movies, that is, stuff shot on actual movie film, because with the advent of home videos it’s become so easy and so sort of disposable in a way -¦ Herbert said.
When you shot a home movie, you had a three-minute reel of film, which was not as cheap as videotape that’s for sure. So you kind of planned what you were going to shoot, you were more careful about what you shot and what you shot was more special, because you weren’t just rolling the camera for two hours at a christening -¦
So the resulting images -“ and this was reinforced by what we saw -“ were more special things, more special moments, he said. Whereas I hate to think of going through people’s home videos and doing the same program, because it would just be relentless.
Garrahy’s film is beautiful and hilarious but will also be an education for some. Homo-socialising for Garrahy and friends involved belonging to one of a number of clubs, who held events ranging from picnics to yachting trips. Garrahy was a member of the Boomerangs, a club that was active from 1967 to 1995. Groups including the still-running Pollynesians held mixed functions, and the clubs had male and female members.
The film starts off with the Pollynesians having an interclub football match, Garrahy said, then laughed. Of course whoever had the most women in the club usually won!
Times have changed and Garrahy is not involved with the community at present, though still meets with original members of the Boomerangs for a monthly dinner. I think probably the young ones -“ the scene’s changed -“ they’re probably having just as good a time in a different way, he said.
The only real criticism is the film is tantalisingly short, but Garrahy is philosophic.
Five minutes to cover a lifetime is better than nothing at all! he said.
The Home Movies Of Ken Garrahy screens on Thursday 4 September at the Chauvel Cinemas, Paddington. The film screens with two more shorts: a re-dubbed lesbian porn short Matzo Maidels and a mockumentary on lesbian parenting Teaching Tao; plus the feature Out For Laughs On The Ocean, a doco about entertainers on a gay cruise. Bookings can be made on 9645 1611 or at www.queerscreen.com.au.