Inspired by the Stonewall riots in New York — and a bottle of whisky he shared with his neighbour Christabel Poll — John Ware took up the fight in 1970 for gay rights in Australia.
The paired formed Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) and in November that year published Australia’s first gay magazine Camp Ink. They attracted mainstream attention and Ware became the first gay man to publicly declare his homosexuality in the media.
Earlier, 32-year-old Ware had returned to university to study psychology, putting him on a collision course with his lecturers. In an exam paper he attacked the notion of homosexual deviance and took this battle into the first issue of Camp Ink, railing against psychology’s use of aversion therapy to “mentally castrate” homosexuals. On the cover a black-and-white illustration depicted aversion therapy as akin to sawing off a man’s penis.
Just 500 copies were printed of that 16-page first issue and it sold for 20 cents.
Camp Ink was the start of a new discussion presenting homosexuality in a positive light. Articles were written debating topics from promiscuity, male prostitution and religion to discussion about law reform, transvestites and the role of beats. It was mailed to CAMP members and key opinion-makers in the media, government and public domain in an effort to draw their attention to gay issues.
Initially, Ware and Poll were the faces and driving force behind both CAMP and Camp Ink. In 1971 Ware gave up study to be a full-time, although unpaid, worker for the organisation.
His management style opposed organisational structure for CAMP, eschewing formalities and refusing to go by titles such as president, a view shared by Poll. Other members in the organisation argued that Ware had become a “de facto leader surrounded by an informal clique of activist friends” and agitated for a structured organisation with defined roles for office bearers. They had their way in April 1972 and Ware retreated from direct involvement in the organisation, although he continued to edit Camp Ink until the end of 1973. By then, no doubt he had had enough after nearly four years with no pay. The magazine changed to quarterly and continued until March 1977.
After leaving Camp Ink, Ware ceased all involvement in gay politics, instead pursuing business interests. He died in May 2011, aged 73.
The great legacy of John Ware and Camp Ink was in opening up for gay men and lesbians the idea that it was possible to have a more accepting society. They had sown the seed of rebellion and pride that would grow wildly beyond all expectation, if not quite to the left-wing revolutionary script some at the time had imagined.
Next week: Bill Munro – Porn for the boys
By BILL CALDER
INFO: Former editor and publisher Bill Calder is researching Australia’s gay and lesbian media history from 1969-2000. Follow his progress at www.gaymediahistory.wordpress.com