by ANDIE NOONAN
There is something instantly heartwarming about the relationship between Malcolm (Mac) Ronan and Geoffrey Allingham, and it’s not simply because they defy the relationship trends of their generation.
As I speak to Mac over the phone, he talks generously about his experiences being in a relationship with a man for the last 60 years -” half of which was when homosexual activity was illegal.
The couple’s 60-year partnership was celebrated at the recent Lesbian and Gay Archives’ 30th birthday gathering in Melbourne.
Well-known in the community, Mac says he and Geoff enjoyed the night and caught up with some familiar old faces such as Val of Val’s Coffee Lounge.
For years, people used to gather in Val’s in the semi-darkness. It was a very popular spot, and quite sophisticated because people were drinking cappuccinos for the first time after the Second World War, he said.
Mac and Geoff met at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre in 1948 after a show, introduced by a mutual friend. Both attended Melbourne Teachers College and took jobs as teachers in country high schools, often meeting in Melbourne on weekends. Their romance grew when they travelled overseas together a few years later.
Since then, the longest they’ve spent apart is when Mac, at 42, embarked on a PhD, spending two years away from Geoff in the US.
I always say we belong together. I knew from then on that Geoff was for me and nothing was going to separate us, he said.
Mac said they haven’t celebrated their anniversary much in later years, because they felt they might be courting disaster.
When you’re on a good thing, stick to it, but that doesn’t mean celebrate it because you might fall in the fat, he said.
The two are well known to the community as founding members of the ALSO Foundation, which was established shortly after the Victorian government decriminalised homosexuality in 1981.
I was lying awake one hot summer night and thought there ought to be an organisation within the gay community, because the gay community was furtive and half-closeted. The public was not receptive until the law change, Geoff said.
Mac said he sometimes used to hide his sexual orientation professionally, but would never deny it if asked directly. Although flying somewhat under the radar, he rejects any notion of the difficulty of coming out in a time when it was actively legislated against.
I know a couple of people of our vintage who get quite angry when they have students ringing up saying, -˜Can I interview you about the sort of persecution you suffered?’ Bloody hell, I didn’t suffer persecution, he said.
It’s a widely held view and it’s a myth to a large extent. Then again, people who were more extravagant in their behaviour and a bit more overt in their behaviour may have courted a bit more trouble and might have put themselves in vulnerable positions.
We never felt persecuted, we used to read Truth magazine and read about -˜deviants’ being sprung in bed together, beaten up on a beat. Well, people who cruise around in unsavoury places, homosexual or not, are likely to get into trouble, beaten up and mugged -” it happens in all big cities.