The Cronulla Gay Group started in 1976. A small ad had been placed in a local paper inviting people to turn up to the Taren Point Pub on a certain day, with a newspaper under their arm to identify themselves. From there, the group met in members’ homes, and it was up and running.
I grew up in Sylvania Waters, but didn’t come out until I was 26 and living in the US in Bloomington, Indiana. I had a friend at the university and he belonged to the gay group, and that is how I got started with groups. I later moved to the UK and became involved with the Harrow Campaign for Homosexual Equality. It was a social group, but it had a politician agenda as well. I had my first boyfriend then, but that collapsed after two and half years, and so in 1978 I decided to come home.
Even though I was radical in political thought, I was conservative socially. I would not have even thought about coming into somewhere as risqu?s Oxford Street, as I was very much into suburban life and had moved back in with Mum and Dad when I arrived home from England. It was a stretch to come out to my family and they didn’t handle it well. It was easier telling friends, and even though I didn’t come out at work, I am certain everyone knew.
The next priority for me was finding like-minded people, and in those days there were two gay groups in the Sutherland Shire -“ Sutherland Camp and Cronulla Gay Group. I went along to the Cronulla Gay Group in a house in Jannali with some trepidation, but they all turned out to be very friendly. They told me they had a membership list which was on a piece of paper and it would be burnt if there were any problems with the law. They were discreet, and had to be -“ remember, this was the late 1970s. Their bank account was a box kept under someone’s bed.
I was just so happy to know there was a gay group in my area and there was something I could do. It was a purely social group and we had parties at homes, nights at the movies, and picnics were popular. We would also travel to the Bong Bong Races in Bowral, and the Queen’s Birthday Ball in the Blue Mountains.
This became my social circle and they became my gay family. In one way or another, every gay friend I have ever met has been through one of the gay groups around town. This is the only gay life I have ever had in Sydney. I did dabble sometimes in the Oxford Street scene, but I was usually too busy with the activities our group had arranged.
There were some people who didn’t like the politics, so we had a sub-group that was involved in the political things of the times, like the kiss-in in front of the law courts. I remember walking past the first few Mardi Gras parades when they were in winter and seeing people shivering. I thought there was no way I would take part in that -“ it was just too cold. When Mardi Gras moved to summer, I was much keener.
Being in Mardi Gras is the biggest thing we do every year. It is a fun event and brings people together. Everyone loves doing it. We would sometimes build the floats in the back garden of my house and assemble them in the street. We had a Neptune float which was the sun rising over the seas, and another year we had a volcano with fireworks. The float Cronulla Queen won an award in the late 1980s. This year our entry was a giant red dragon to mark Chinese New Year.
At our largest, the Cronulla Gay Group had 100 members. These days, it is about 15-20. Since 1984 with the law reform, I don’t think the latter generation sees the need for these groups, as younger people seem to have more mixed groups of friends. We were all forced together in many ways because of the way society was. It’s changed now.
The group is like a group of long-term mates and there are always enough of us to have a good time and to do the Mardi Gras float. I am the vice-president and public officer and have been a member for almost 30 years. For a while there, we were trying to get new members all the time, but then we just consolidated the people we have and made the most of what we do. We exist pretty well from year to year.