It’s been over 7 weeks since the Australian public voted yes on marriage equality, but I’m still playing my “Victory” playlist as I drive to work each morning.
Victory! (content warning: may contain traces of Taylor Dayne)
I suppose this playlist is a tribute to the heady days back in the early 1980’s when I made my first (slightly underage) foray into gay clubs in Brisbane. It was tricky back then, we didn’t have the internet, and the clubs didn’t exactly advertise themselves, and there was no such thing as a gay magazine. It was all somewhat underground. Being gay was illegal.
The state government in Queensland at that time could best be described as a criminal gang which owned the police force, answerable to no-one. Homophobic attacks were commonplace, police raided clubs as a fun activity, and the then Premier of Queensland, (Sir) Joh Bjelke-Petersen, regularly went on the record to vilify the “disgusting and deviant” lifestyle of homosexuals. He stated that AIDS was a punishment from God, and went so far as to try and prevent indigenous communities from accessing HIV tests, as he believed it was some sort of divine cleansing. Australia had its first recorded death from AIDS in 1983, and Sir Joh was quick to act, but not in favour of the affected community. He banned condom machines and safe sex campaigns, and even tried to have gays banned from public swimming pools in case they might spread AIDS.
Joh’s infamous “Special Branch” police squad kept files and photos in a huge database of anyone they thought potentially subversive. It didn’t take much to get in – simply turning up to a street demonstration would draw you to their attention. It was hardly any wonder that Brisbane had the reputation of “pig city”.
And so I find it very disturbing to see our Prime Minister, upon the death of Joh’s widow, Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen, fawning over both her and her husband, describing them as visionaries to whom Queenslanders owe some sort of debt. Clearly we lived in alternate realities back then. There is no place for such misleading rewriting of history.
So the playlist represents a culture that was forced to reside in the shadows. However, although it was somewhat underground, I don’t remember it feeling dark or seedy. Well, maybe as I walked through the Valley at 1am! But once inside it was an explosion of excitement and jubilation, larger-than-life drag queens, proper disco dancing, people being open about their desire for one another, tight jeans and cheeky bartenders, but above all else a universal implicit understanding that we weren’t meant to exist – but we did, and it was fun! Not everyone survived that dark time. So many fell victim to soul-destroying vilification, assaults and murders, and so many beautiful young people succumbed to that terrible virus. But those of us who did survive knew this: we were family.
If you couldn’t open my Spotify playlist, here is the song list: