FROM THE ARCHIVES: The Early Years Of Star Observer

FROM THE ARCHIVES: The Early Years Of Star Observer

On July 6, 1979, a few hundred copies of a 16-page gay newspaper were dropped off at a few local gay hotspots. Forty-five years later, The Sydney Star, now the Star Observer, pays homage to our roots and those first few issues of Michael Glynn’s maverick paper. 

The Star Observer started as a directory of gay-owned or gay-friendly businesses, venues and events, at a time when sex between men was illegal, and would remain so for a further five years before being decriminalised in NSW in 1984. 

What started as a directory – punctuated with a few cheeky editorials and ads for local bars and saunas – became so much more. Local and international news, serialised fiction, health advice, saucy personal ads and lashings of gossip were soon added.

But beneath the shifting format, size and content, The Star’s heartbeat remained steadfast – a calling for connection in a hidden and sometimes fractured community.

“If we had a strong sense of community, a real feeling of support from friends and others, then we might be able to face the conflicts that rage about us.”

In his early editor’s notes, Glynn espoused not just the need for solidarity within the community, but improved social cohesion, calling for less infighting and warning of the risks of gossip at a time when rumours could have “the possibility of ruining their lives”. 

By the third issue, The Sydney Star had added a ‘Health’ section, and just before its second birthday, The Star would become the first Australian newspaper to report on a “new pneumonia linked to gay lifestyle.”

The Sydney Star organised the first Annual Sydney Mr Leather Contest, but it wasn’t without controversy, as certain members of the leather community accused the Star of “commercial exploitation” of a highly personal scene, where many members were “basically very much in the closet”. Gossip column Dora’s Dirt said of the contest “Haven’t seen so much leather since David Jone’s (sic) last handbag sale.” 

Articles in subsequent issues discussed sexuality, health, community and entertainment. News came from near and far, with selections of international interest including the sentencing of Dan White for the murder of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, and local news discussing the plight of gay students and teachers, and the push to censor a title about homosexuality in schools.

The fifth issue also ushered in the return of the Horoscope section, which had disappeared after the first issue but was back and harsher than ever, offering hilariously scathing characterisations of all star signs.

In the early days, the publication struggled financially, fluctuating from 16 to 24 pages due to a lack of advertisers. Advertising was a huge part of the early editions, providing visual interest with salacious illustrations and much-needed funds, and audiences responded. Glynn’s mantra of ‘think gay, buy gay’ rang true, and advertisers benefitted from an uptick in custom from their loyal community.

The Star was published fortnightly, then weekly, then fortnightly again, and would flourish and struggle throughout its’ entire history – narrowly avoiding closure in 2019 when it was acquired by Out Publications at the 11th hour – but one thing always rang true, it was feisty, it was timely, and it was by and for the gay community. 

Today’s Star Observer seeks to continue in that spirit of Glynn’s initial vision. Sharing news that is both entertaining and educational, that demands change from our governments and institutions and speaks truth to power when they let us down, and that celebrates the diversity in our community and calls for us to be better, kinder to each other.

Learn more about Australia’s oldest LGBTQI+ media organisation and sign up to access to the Star Observer Archives here.

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