Historian Clive Moore is emphatic. Queensland was extremely retarded, he says.
If you think that gay law reform started in South Australia in 1972 and it didn’t get to Queensland until 1990, Queensland was extremely retarded. And that largely is to do with Joh.
Until you’ve lived through Joh, you can’t comprehend it. I don’t think young people realise how reactionary and conservative he was.
I lived through Joh as a child and teenager but not as a gay man, but remember my parents’ perpetual frustration.
There was anger at the marches held in Brisbane in October 1977 when 600 people were arrested for simply trying to march, an activity Joh had banned.
There are memories of the state’s electricity board strikes, of my father’s enthusiasm for supporting the workers -“ all of whom were sacked in Joh’s extraordinary anti-union solution.
My parents grimaced the night Joh ordered Cloudland razed to the ground. Like so many Brisbane couples, they wooed at the landmark ballroom as young lovers. Then one night, as with the beloved Bellevue Hotel, it was bulldozed.
And so, at an election barbecue the night Labor won power there was genuine jubilation, and for gay men like Moore the glee was profound. He knew homosexuality might finally be decriminalised, and less than a year later his wish came true.
Law reform just was not feasible while he was premier, he says. There were no civil liberties in Queensland. What he did was so debilitating, and the effects can be felt even today.
It’s a period covered in detail in Moore’s book Sunshine And Rainbows: The Development Of Gay And Lesbian Culture In Queensland, published by the University of Queensland, where Moore teaches history.
His publishers are apt, for UQ was the hub of early political gay activism, with organisations like Campus Camp attracting students such as Michael Carden, who also teaches at the university.
Carden remembers the Joh years with considerable horror, as the premier’s reign also saw a blossoming gay scene demolished.
There was Camp Club, and Campus Camp at UQ, and various events happening. And there was a gay movie shown at the old Paddington cinema, called A Very Natural Thing, he says.
Everyone went to see it, but it was around then Joh and his government began a clampdown. That film, which was so innocuous, was banned, because Queensland had its own censorship stuff in those days.
A gay scene did exist, Carden said, but under appalling conditions.
The cops were so corrupt, and we were a big money spinner for them. There was a sauna in the city in the 70s, but it lasted for a few months and then got raided by the police and closed down.
I remember in the early 80s in a bar one night during the week seeing a couple of very un-gay guys in suits hanging around the bar, and someone said that’s a couple of the Valley detectives here for their payoff, he said.
In 1985 the government passed this law that it was illegal for bar staff to knowingly serve perverts, deviants and drug dealers. It was unenforceable, because what’s a pervert? But the law was on the books, so if the cops wanted to get nasty they could.
Corruption was Joh’s undoing, of course, or at least corruption in the police force while he was premier.
Though avoiding conviction for perjury (thanks to a young National’s flimflam, in what became known as Joh’s jury), four of Joh’s ministers and his police commissioner were thrown in gaol.
Then there was the arrival of HIV/AIDS in Queensland. Carden was involved in the Queensland AIDS Council from the earliest days, and said the government didn’t want anything to do with it.
They totally opposed the AIDS Council being a community-based organisation, Carden said. When Neal Blewett was beginning the national response, the Queensland government refused to attend meetings when there were community members present.
They were quite explicit once HIV turned up, that the aim was to drive us all south of the border. And for many people Sydney was just down the road, and they left.
Curiously, Carden believes AIDS was part of Joh’s political unravelling.
When the premier sent in the cops to remove condom vending machines from UQ (in a typical night-time raid), he found opposition from health minister Mike Ahern, who would eventually succeed him.
Carden and Moore insist that times have changed in Brisvegas, that the reputation of the state as the deep north has as much to do with Pauline Hanson as the late premier.
For Moore, Joh’s legacy is just scarring, although Carden said Joh once did something good.
Riding around the countryside promoting Joh for PM (despite being ineligible by not running for any seat), Joh did manage to upset the ambitions of another conservative politician.
The only good thing Joh ever did was to sabotage John Howard’s campaign back in 1987, Carden laughed.