Sydney’s first gay and lesbian radio program Gaywaves has been inducted into NFSA Sounds of Australia for 2021.

The ground-breaking LGBTQIA+ radio show was one of 10 sound recordings, which also included the National Apology to the Stolen Generations and the most successful Australian song of the 2010s added to the collection.

Gaywaves first aired November 1979, at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in Australia, and aired their final show in 2005.

The program, produced by an independent gay and lesbian collective, was initially broadcast as a half-hour pre-recorded program on Wednesday evenings. As the show grew in popularity, it was extended to a three-hour live weekly broadcast on Thursday evenings. 

‘Everyone Was Expected To Talk On The Program’

Prue Borthwick. Image: Supplied

Prue Borthwick first joined the collective when she moved from Melbourne to Sydney in 1980. She found out about the program from her roommate Chris Nash, a journalism lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney.

“I was a freelance artist at the time so I thought I would just be doing work related to that, but when I got to the collective, I found out everyone was expected to talk on the program,” Borthwick said.

“Even if you had no experience, they would train you up and everyone on how to host the show and run the meetings and everything else.”

“Another great thing about the collective is it was mixed collective of gay males and females, which was unusual at the time. The collective also made sure to have 50% or more females involved, so not only were we tackling things from a gay perspective but also a feminist one.”

Covering Protests And Police Raids

Greg Reading carrying the Gaywaves banner at Mardi Gras 1984 with Barbara Cameron. Image: Supplied

Greg Reading was one of the volunteers who was heavily involved in the production of Gaywaves until the program’s final show. During his time Reading covered a number of important protests and events related to the LGBTQIA+ community.

“I always came from a gay male activist point of view. When I first started making segments for Gaywaves, gay sex was illegal and there were regular rallies and demonstrations. So I made sure we covered these things and broadcast them.”

“In 1983 and 1984, police started raiding gay sex on premise places. The gay community reacted to this and responded to it so I covered it.”

During his time on the show Reading also covered HIV/AIDS protests and Mardi Gras events.

Fred Nile Targets Gaywaves

Gaywaves team at Mardi Gras Parade March 1994. Image: Supplied

Since Gaywaves was one of the first ever radio programs in Australia to cover LGBTQI issues in depth, the show faced a lot of opposition from various conservative and religious groups and individuals, including Australian politician and Christian Democratic Party founder Fred Nile.

“Fred Nile took exception to some Christmas songs set to the tune of Christmas carols sung by the Gay Liberation Choir that we broadcasted in 1981,” Reading said.

“We worded them to make them gay songs like ‘god bless ye merry poofs…’ and he (Fred Nile) decided these songs were blasphemous and indecent and tried to have our license taken away.” 

Having overcome all the challenges Gaywaves faced during its 26 years on air, Reading said it is great the show is now being immortalised in Australian history.

“For a show like Gaywaves to be acknowledged in Australian history is a great example of social change. Before all this, gays and lesbians were largely invisible, but now we are living more openly, and our history is being celebrated.”


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