In a society where there wasn’t a community for LGBTQI Australians as there is today, CAMP Inc was a powerhouse in instilling LGBTQI people in Australia with a sense of hope many had never had before.

Peter de Waal, one of CAMP Inc’s founding members, stated that before CAMP was created he and his partner Bon used to say “if only there was an organisation we could join.” He remembers opening the Australian newspaper on September 10, 1970 and seeing Janet Hawley’s now infamous article. 

“It was such an exciting moment to realise that there was an organisation that we could join and could play a role in bringing about change.”

Of course, when CAMP Inc first began, male homosexuality was illegal in Australia. For this reason, it was more than just a place for community gatherings and events. It was an organisation ready to enact real change in Australian society to improve the lives of LGBTQI Australia.

In an article in the first edition of CAMP Ink, CAMP Inc’s journal, founders Christabel Poll and John Ware posed a number of questions to readers such as “What official stand should be taken on various issues?” and “What can be done about the law?” In asking these questions and urging LGBTQI Australians to express their opinions, Poll and Ware explained that CAMP Inc would provide “the communication link between all members.”

 In conjunction with CAMP Inc, the ABC National TV Chequerboard program openly screened two homosexual couples in 1972, Sue Will and Gaby Antolovich and Peter de Waal and his partner Peter Bonsall-Boone, better known as Bon and Peter. Bon and Peter became the first male homosexual couple to kiss on national TV in Australia.

CAMP Inc was also involved in creating the first not-for-profit coffee shop for the LGBTQI community in the CAMP Centre from 1973-1981. In what Peter de Waal considers one of his proudest moments as a member of CAMP Inc, in 1975, International Women’s Year, CAMP was awarded a $4,000 grant by the Federal Government to conduct seminars and activities that highlighted specific experiences and discrimination faced by lesbians.

Peter and Bon were also instrumental in setting up the first volunteer-led Phone-A-Friend service for LGBTQI Australians. Interestingly enough, this service came about purely as a result of other LGBTQI people finding their phone number after the Chequerboard program and calling their home. It wasn’t until a friend, who had been involved in a similar service in Sweden, offered to help that this Phone-A-Friend service was born in their living room.

Since CAMP Inc’s inception 50 years ago the LGBTQI community in Australia has achieved so much including decriminalisation, marriage equality and general acceptance within Australian society.

 But it is also incredibly clear that CAMP Inc played a significant role in influencing people’s lives on a more individual level. Peter spoke to Star Observer at length about many of CAMP’s greatest achievements, but also reflected on how, 50 years ago, he was a shy individual who “wasn’t very confident”. Through participating in CAMP, and continuing to advocate for LGBTQI rights he “gained more confidence” and “learned to be freer, to be liberated.” Similarly, he remembers a fellow 78er who had seen him and Bon on Chequerboard and realised that to be gay was not necessarily negative, as many at that time had believed.

So much progress has been made for LGBTQI Australians in just 50 years, largely as a result of the efforts of organisations like CAMP Inc. As CAMP Inc celebrates its 50th anniversary, we can reflect on the profound impact it has had on the lives of LGBTQI Australians from 1970 until today.

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