To celebrate the 40th anniversary of gay activism in Australia, the Pride History Group has brought the annual Homosexual Histories conference to Sydney.

Usually run by Victoria’s Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, this 10th Homosexual Histories conference, titled Into The Streets, is a partnership between Pride History and the University of Technology Sydney’s Cosmopolitan Civil Societies and Public History research centres. It will be held at UTS’ Broadway campus from September 24 to 25.

Pride History’s Robert French told Sydney Star Observer many people in the community had no idea how far back the roots of gay activism went in Australia.

“Many people think that gay and lesbian activism in Australia began in 1978 with the first Mardi Gras — but that’s actually dead wrong,” French said.

“The symbolic beginning of gay and lesbian activism in Australia is really September 19, 1970 when John Ware and Christobell Poll announced the formation of an organisation called CAMP in an article on the front page of the magazine section of The Australian newspaper.”

French said these two founders of CAMP, or the Campaign Against Moral Persecution, were the first Australians to publicly identify themselves as homosexuals and have their pictures taken voluntarily by the media — many in the past had been photographed against their will in police raids or court appearances.

“Within about 12 months groups calling themselves local CAMP groups had formed in each capital city and soon there was this informal network around Australia.”

“Towards the end of that first year some of the younger, more university-trained people came to see CAMP, at least in Sydney and Melbourne, as being a bit conservative. Coming out of the anti-Vietnam war movement, and with the influence of the women’s movement and black liberation, they broke away and formed Sydney Gay Liberation.”

“And once again, liberation groups formed around the country. That’s really the beginnings of activism in Australia and that’s what the conference is aiming to look at.”

Almost within that first year the first gay rights protest in Australia was held.

“The first demonstration took place in October 1971 outside the Liberal Party headquarters in Sydney when a right-wing Christian fundamentalist stood against Tom Hughes for pre-selection,” French  said.

“Hughes was the [federal] Liberal Attorney-General and had spoken out in favour of limited homosexual law reform, so CAMP mounted a demonstration.”

French said the conference is open to anyone — veterans of the early campaigns and younger people interested in Australia’s gay history alike.

Entry to the conference is $20 for one day or $35 with events commemorating the foundation of CAMP on Saturday, September 25.

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