ANDIE NOONAN
The Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (ALGA) have welcomed the first-ever state government grant to help preserve the history of gay and lesbian Victorians.

Victorian Arts Minster Lynne Kosky said the government would fund the Archives to the tune of $3200 to preserve five unique scrapbooks which document the life of gay and lesbian Victorians dating back to the 1920s. The funding is part of a $350,000 boost to local history collections across the state.

The grant will also cover costs involved in conserving a collection of 200 photos from the ’70s and ’80s which are  beginning to deteriorate.

These projects tell some fantastic stories that show the diversity of Victoria and reflect our everyday life, our triumphs and our struggles, Kosky said.

These local history groups are largely volunteer-based, and I commend all the volunteers who give their time, energy and hard work to preserving, promoting and sharing the stories of their communities.

ALGA vice-president Esther Singer said she was delighted with the amount of funding received which matched the amount requested.

Although the archives received a small grant from a federal government environment and heritage scheme last year, this is the first time the group has received state government funding.

The Archives is a community-based organisation which generally relies solely on membership fees, fundraising and tax-deductible donations.

According to Singer, scrapbooks and photographs housed by the archives are among the most popular for researchers and visitors.

The scrapbooks are probably one of the most valuable parts of our collection. They give an insight into what people in different times were thinking and what was going on in different parts of the queer community.

One of the most significant is a scrapbook belonging to Ballarat-born Ethel Monte Punshon, known in the 1980s as being the oldest lesbian in the world. She died at the age of 106.

She’s got stories of women who’d passed as men, stories of women who were pilots, women who were doing traditionally masculine roles, and she’s also got some pictures of women she liked the look of, said Singer.

Punshon was born in 1882 and went against her family’s wishes from the outset by joining the theatre. She later worked at the Tatura detainment camp in WWII, looking after prisoners of war in north-eastern Victoria.

Never hiding her same-sex attraction from friends, Punshon understood her sexuality from a young age and said she always preferred the company of women. Her first relationship with a woman named Debbie lasted for 12 years.

Singer said Punshon’s scrapbook was compiled between 1920 and 1930 using news clippings and stands as a rare example of the mindset of a lesbian in Victoria in this era.

The Archives will also digitalise images from the Queen’s Birthday picnics which started in Victoria in the 1950s and became an annual gay and lesbian event before the advent of the commercial gay scene.

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