The Sydney AIDS Candlelight Memorial was held Sunday, May 15 at the Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst, Sydney.

Members of the community came together to remember those who passed away from HIV/AIDS.

Community Members Invited to Submit the Names of Loved Ones

Organised by ACON and Positive Life NSW, the annual event is held on International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day, the 3rd Sunday of May, and community members are invited to submit the names of loved ones to be read out by members of the community.

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HIV advocate David Polson, was one of those who read out the names of friends and acquaintances who had passed away.  Talking to Star Observer about the importance of the Candlelight Memorial, Polson said, “Well, the straight world has Anzac Day. That is their day of remembrance where they remember people who were killed in the war. We have our own war. That war was HIV and it killed so many of us. I think remembering all those people that died is so important.” 

Speaking on the impact of the AIDS pandemic on the community, Polson said, “This was a pivotal moment in our community. It brought the community together like no other event ever has. Even the same-sex marriage campaign. The unity and community spirit was so strong, so wonderful.

“I have never seen such an outpouring of compassion and humanity as I did in the days of the HIV pandemic. And it showed in the candlelight parades.

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To walk down Oxford Street to get to Hyde Park and turn around and just see a sea, I mean, literally a sea of lit candles. Thousands upon thousands of people walking down Oxford Street was incredible. And this must never be forgotten. The people who died must never be forgotten.”

Professor Basil Donovan Spoke

Speaking this year was Professor Basil Donovan, program head of the sexual health program at the Kirby Institute.

According to community advocate and longtime friend Julie Bates, “Basil was literally on the front lines of the AIDS Pandemic in Australia when the first cases were diagnosed 40 long years ago.” 

Recalling the gravity of the time, Donovan recalled, “Sometimes I don’t know how we survived. I think primarily it was the colour and the humanity and the capacity of those patients.” 

Addressing why he avoided attending past candlelight memorials, he said, “I have to plead guilty to having deliberately stayed away from this thing, this event for the last 30 years because I didn’t think I could cope. To me, those names were familiar to me.” 

Polson understood Donovan’s hesitancy. He said, “The memories he’s got. The people he’s seen die. He hasn’t just seen 20 or 30. He’s probably seen about two or three thousand, maybe more, people die. And most of them were under his care. So he’s, you know, he’s very, very close to the whole thing. So for him to get up and speak was a huge event.”

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