The Victorian AIDS Council will celebrate its 25th anniversary at a community picnic this weekend.
A group -” including partner organisations, volunteers and friends -” will gather in Fawkner Park, South Yarra this Sunday to eat cake and drink bubbly to celebrate the Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre’s silver anniversary.
The VAC was established in the early 1980’s as the AIDS crisis came to a head. Starting as a grassroots volunteer group, the Victorian AIDS Action Committee as it was then known then had its first public meeting in 1984, seen as the organisation’s official birth.
Current VAC/GMHC president Kevin Guiney, who joined the organisation in 1992, first got involved in a support group for people recently diagnosed before rising to the board of management within a few months.
Guiney has seen many changes within the organisation from what he describes as the -œbunfight early years to the current time when VAC promotion work is significantly funded and the VAC/GMHC a well known and entrenched health organisation.
-œWe want to focus on the achievement of the organisation and what it’s been able to do stepping outside the box, but also what we might be able to achieve in the future, he told Southern Star.
Guiney said external politics and pushing governments had been the greatest obstacle in mounting a response to the virus.
-œThe VAC has been at the forefront of pushing the envelope, pushing the boundaries, he said.
-œYou’re talking about what people do in the bedroom and that’s a loaded thing, all the other diseases, such as cancer and leukemia and so on are something quite okay to talk about, they don’t want to talk about sex, but that’s the reality of what’s happened here in Australia.
Guiney said the VAC had been trail-blazing in its work with the community and said on an international level, Australia punches above its weight in HIV research.
-œWe’ve always done research and we’ve done really good research, we stand out head and shoulders above the rest of the world in how much research we do for a country as small as it is, he said.
-œAustralian’s are pragmatic -“ they want to know why, and the best thing to do is find out … [Australia] has the smallest incidence of HIV anywhere in the world, purely because we’re pragmatic.
First VAC president Phil Carswell said the climate of fear around HIV is much less today than the terror of the AIDS crisis in the early -˜80s.
-œI think for some young people today it’s different being gay and being in that environment and the threat of AIDS doesn’t seem to be that ominous threat as it was for us, Carswell said.
-œBack in 1983-84 we didn’t know whether we were going to be alive in two years time.

info: The VAC/GMHC 25 years of Achievements picnic is on Sunday 5 Aprilat Fawkner Park from 1pm (near Toorak Rd). BYO picnic and drinks, cake and a glass of champagne provided.

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