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Gay Pride 1973 - Gay Liberation hits the streets of Sydney

Much attention has been paid to the history of the Mardi Gras in Sydney and its origins in 1978. The late sixties and early 1970s saw a profusion of gay and lesbian political groups such as Campaign Against Moral Persecution (C.A.M.P.) and Gay Liberation. Gay Pride Week in 1973 was a celebration, a coming out, a protest, and a dialogue with the mainstream.

The diary entry below details some of the celebration and protest events of Gay Pride week in Sydney during September 1973. It was written by an 18 year old nascent anarchist John Englart in his personal diary. It provides a quite interesting eyewitness account of the events of the week. It also provides implictly the extent of homophobia in the reaction of Council officers, police, and some members of the public when confronted with homosexual relationships displayed proudly in public.

Homosexual Law Reform and attitudes to homosexuality in the community have come along way in the last 30 years, but I can't help but think that much radical political action on gender has been coopted along the way - what Sasha Soldatow described as "a matter of emerging gay capitalists smelling the dollars that could be milked from men's cocks."

May 2003

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Sunday 9th September 1973

Gay Pride in Sydney Domain 1973
Gay Pride in Sydney Domain
Gay Pride in Sydney Domain 1973
Gay Pride in Sydney Domain
Dancing with the Hare Krishnas
Dancing with the Hare Krishnas in the Sydney Domain
Gay poetry reading in Sydney Domain 1973
Gay poetry reading in the Sydney Domain

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Monday 10th September 1973

This is Gay Pride Week. I have come out. Yesterday (Sunday) and today I participated in Gay Liberation rallies - each had its own spontaneity. Todays gay outrage in Martin Place was eventful in its own way.

At about 12.30pm we proceeded (about 11 or 12 of us) up to the cenotaph and handed out the Gay Pride broadsheet. We were going along good when two city council officers came up to us and told us we couldn't hand out material without permission from the Town Clerk. We argued with them and they threatened to fine us ($20) if we handed anymore of the broadsheets out. But the worst was yet to come.

We strolled over to the sidewalk and decided to sit down as a protest - we made sure we were'nt blocking the sidewalk and were still in Martin Place (by building alignment). There were about a dozen of us sitting and 6 standing talking. The two council officers kept close watch on us. Twice people came up to us and asked for a broadsheet.

Next thing we know a paddywagon pulls up across the road (George St). Three police officers hop out and strolled across the road. They join with the three council men and encircle our circle. The crowd gathers around - over 100 at least. Police say we are causing an obstruction and that we were told to leave and haven't. They accuse one woman of handing out a broadsheet and the police officer had told her not to. None of us saw this happen. The woman refuses to give her name and finally after some argument provides a name and address. A fellow stands up and addresses the crowd about why we are here (to public express our homosexuality), why we protest so (because of sexual discrimination) and why the police are forcing us to leave (because we are publicly expressing that we are homosexuals).

We then all stand up and walk a few yards away and stand around talking - the police leave but the council officers keep a steady eye on us.

About 2.10pm we leave for lunch hand in hand. It was hilarious to watch peoples' faces when they saw the two guys up front with their arms around each other. When we came to the Cafeteria in Coles we had the feeling that everyone was looking at us.

Council Officers in Martin Place
Council Officers in Martin Place tell us we can't give out written material.
Sit down protest in Martin Place
Sit down protest in Martin Place in protest at Council Officers preventing us handing out material
Sit down protest in Martin Place
Police men and council officers harass us. Our brother gets up and explains to the crowd that we're homosexuals and we are being harassed by the police. That they wouldn't allow us to hand out written material or even sit quietly on the ground.
Gay protest in Martin Place
After being told we couldn't sit down in Martin Place we stand around, before moving off to Coles Cafeteria.

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Wednesday 12 September 1973

Standing around Cenotaph we are told to move on by council officers. We go to the GPO steps while around the Cenotaph council officers threten to call police about an alleged assault.

There are about 18 of us protesting at this time. About 5-10 minutes later two detectives call and try to drag one of us away - they accuse him of assaulting a council officer. There are arguments and one guy stands up and explains to the crowd gathering what we are and what is being done to us by the police and council workers. The person accused of assault is persuaded to go with the detectives and we all attempt to follow. The police take him to an unmarked car and drive off, saying they are going to the Central District Police station. They lie. After going to Central Police Station we are told to try Phillip St Police Station. Bail money is collected ($200). Two more people show up (Denis Freney is one). In discussion we realise that no one saw the alleged assault take place and it appears to be a trumped up charge, a case of harrassment.

Earlier in the day a group of 12 gay activists had invaded the Macquarie Street offices of a doctor famed for his lobotomies as a cure for homosexuality. The group had first offered lambs brain to passers by. They then entered the building and went to the doctor's surgery reception. The poor Secretary said the doctor was not available so the group emptied out the lambs brains on the floor of the surgery reception and trampled them in. After this, the group left the building and walked down Martin Place to the Cenotaph where six of us had congregated.

Gay Protest - steps of the Sydney GPO
GPO steps: In the presence of two detectives, a Council Officer accuses Richard J. of an alleged assault
Taken away
Richard J. being led away by detectives from GPO steps

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Saturday 15th September 1973

Gay Pride Week Poster
Gay Pride Week Poster 1973
I feel grief for those arrested and all our sisters and brothers kicked and punched by NSW finest thugs in uniform: the police force. I also feel triumph because we fought back against the police charges. For the first time gay liberation came out in the streets of Sydney in large numbers and defied the police. This time we were still very passive and only fought back when the police charged. Next time we will have more people - many more - and we will riot. The remarkable thing about this protest was the spontaneity of the demonstration. The commandeering of the two buses at the end was a really wonderful tactic - completely fooling the police - and attracting plenty of attention through the city streets.

That day about 18 people were arrested of the 300 or so who marched. I took about 25 photos and would have taken more if I had not run out of film. I spent precious time trying to find a chemist to buy more film. When I did catch up to the tail of the march outside centrepoint, I witnessed a number of people being roughly manhandled and thrown into a paddywagon. There was some confusion with people yelling to go regroup at Hyde Park, around St James Station, while the main march fought its way to Martin Place.

The day started peacefully enough. At 9.30am a crowd of people had gathered on the steps of the Town Hall. Our numbers grew - we had a couple of banners, a few placards and plenty of flags - a pink triangle against a black background, the symbol the Nazi's used for persecuting homosexuals in Nazi Germany.

A little later the Skull (aka Ross May) showed up and tossed into the crowd a pink carton, with the label '15 quarts of vaseline'. The CPA fellow from the USSR trampled it into the pavement. The Skull stayed around for a few minutes longer holding his placard (dressed in a full Nazi uniform with swastika and armband, etc) until he was told to move on by the uniformed Sargeant of Police.

I waited around and took several photographs before we started marching. The police told us we could only go down Park Street to Hyde Park but we wanted to go down George Street. They wouldn't let us cross Druitt Street. I was a little apart from the crowd and started across Druitt Street with other pedestrians. A detective stopped me part way and asked me if I was with the demonstration. I told him I wanted to get across the road and he let go of my arm. When I was half way across I turned and looked back and saw a row of uniformed police struggling to restrain the march from spilling onto George Street. I started back to the Town Hall and climbed the wall that overlooked the intersection and the crowd.

The police kept on restraining the crowd, pushing people back onto the footpath. A few scuffles broke out but there was noone arrested. The organisers decided to change plans and march up Park Street. Here I ran out of film and ran down into Town Hall Station looking for a chemist, without luck. When I emerged on the street the march was no where to be seen - it had proceeded up Park Street. I found a chemist while following the tail of the march. At the intersection of Pitt St, the march turned left, with me trying to catch up and load the camera on the run while avoiding the Saturday morning pedestrian crowds.

I came upon the packed corner of King and Pitt St and pushed and weedled my way through to the front of the crowd in time to see a bucket of water cascading out of the centerpoint/Grace Brothers pedestrian bridge... and onto the police down below. Whether the bucket of water was aimed at the protestors or the police I do not know. Police cars and paddywagons are all over the place blocking the intersection. I see the tail of the march on the other side of King St. Next thing I see three police drag a fellow out from the protestors and attempt to throw him in the back of a paddywagon. They treat him very roughly. The second person, a woman, really fights being roughly manhandled and the police have some trouble pushing her through the back of the paddywagon.

While these arrests were happening I was taking photos. A bloke next to me kept on yelling "shoot 'em", "They should be shot". I turned around to him and said "it's people like you who are sick". Astounded that anyone could accuse him of deviance, he asked "Are you a poofter too?" to which I replied a very simple "Yes". He spent a second contemplating my response before moving away yelling out "There's another lttle poofter, there!." While he had been cheering the brutality of the police, I had been equally vocal in booing the police. It really sickened me to hear and see such a person who had lost touch with his humanity.

A minute or two later the police allowed pedestrians across King Street. The march was continuing down Pitt Street being constantly harrased by the lines of police and fighting its way towards Martin Place and the Cenotaph. Confusion reigned at centrepoint for the stragglers like myself. Some one told us to go to Hyde Park and reassemble there. Walking up to Hyde Park I talked to a couple of dykes and asked them what they had seen. Evidently a photographer had his camera smashed, people were attacked and beaten. From what I can piece together Denis Freeney had taken a picture of a detective or detectives; he was then surrounded by the police, had his camera equipment smashed and was pushed around.

A reporter for Stallion magazine also said he had some fine photos of the vicious police attacks outside Centrepoint. About a dozen of us congregated on the steps (near St James Station entrance) to Hyde Park. After a while we saw the march coming down the middle of Elizabeth street and we cheered its entrance to Hyde Park.

An impromtu rally occurred which discussed the events of the morning and the march. Few people had left at this stage, excepting those arrested. Here I first learned of what had happened to the march in my absence. It had continued down Pitt street to Martin Place. An attempt was made to lay a wreath on the cenotaph for all the homosexuals killed in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The police had attacked the people attempting to lay the wreath, throwing them back on to the rest of the crowd, both protesters and bystanders.. I was told the police sealed both ends of the street off and charged all the people on the GPO steps. Remember this is Saturday morning with many shoppers and tourists around, people posting letters. The police attacked indiscriminantly - one small girl of about 3 or 4 years was hurled to one side by a sargeant; and another woman had an arm, which was already mending in a sling, rebroken. The protestors resisted and some 14 people were arrested at Martin Place - the police were arresting pretty indescriminantly.

At the rally in Hyde Park we discussed what we would do now. There was the usual platitudes to organise an even bigger gemonstation of Gay Liberation, and condemnation of the brutality of the NSW POlice Force. One speaker called on us to march on Phillip street police station to call for the release of our brothers and sisters. About 30 people assembled to march - most people had decided not to continue the protest. When the march left, a lot of people decided to joined us anyway. About 100 people marched along the footpaths of the city streets chanting:

Ho Ho Homosexual!
2, 4, 6, 8 Gay is just as good as straight
1, 2, 3, 4, We don't want your Fucking Law

Give me a G - G,
Give me an A - A,
give me a Y - Y,
what does it spell - GAY,
what does it feel like - GOOD

We also sang We Shall not be moved, with appropriatley modified verses.

Gay Liberation on the streets
Gay Liberation - taking the streets and marching to the police station in solidarity with those arrested
As we were marching down Phillip Street (I was running ahead, trying to get some good photos), I decided to climb up onto the wall of a private parking lot to take some shots.. While standing on top of the wall I watched the demonstration approaching. The police were marching beside them on the road. I saw one officer point up to me - obviously talking about me to his fellow officers. After taking the photos, I hopped down and around to the back of the demonstration. The same detective who had grabbed me earlier at the Town Hall to prevent me from crossing Druitt street approached me again and said "You shouldn't have done that!". I then slowed right down and crossed the road getting away from the detective. A freelance photographer said to me that the detective was from the Special Branch and I was being singled out. Two other detectives asked me how I was going. It was a frightening situation knowing you have been singled out for attention. I kept on the other side of the road from the demonstration outside the Phillip Street Police Station. A couple of people apparently were arrested at this point.

After this we marched along Bridge Street. The Police wouldn't let us march up George street, they wanted us to go up York. We Refused. A couple of women ran over to a stationary bus, banged on the doors and pleaded with the driver to open them. The driver opened the doors to allow the women on board and suddenly their was an exodus for the bus. We crowded on so fast his attempt to close the doors failed. Those that couldn't get on the first bus got on a second bus.

The few passengers were quite astonished at this disturbance to their boring journey - so were the police as we waved to them as we went past. Posters on the windows, flags, balloons and streamers flying, shouting out messages to astonished pedestrians. People kept getting off the first bus and getting on the second bus, a most humourous thing to watch. In front and behind the buses we soon had paddywagon escorting us - it was a surreal procession. The buses proceeded down through Broadway and Parramatta Road, turning into Glene Point Road. There we departed the buses and entered the premises of Gay Liberation at 33A Glebe Point Road.

We were filled with the exhilaration of the successful 'hijacking' of buses to take us back to Gay Liberation and avoid further confrontations with the police. The spontaneity and directness of the tactic had thrown the police off their guard initially, and they were content to escort the buses to our destination and then leave us alone. Every demonstration should be so directly spontaneous, anarchic and gay!!!!

After 3.00pm those arrested were released on bail (some $1700 was raised for bail money), and there was scenes of celebration at Gay Liberation.

Gay Pride march outside the Sydney Town Hall
Gay Pride march outside the Sydney Town Hall
Gay Pride - Smash Sexism
Smash Sexism banner - Gay Pride march outside the Sydney Town Hall
Ross May, neofascist thug
The one person counter demonstration by Ross May (aka The Skull) dressed in his Nazi uniform, holding a placard which says "The National Socialist Party says Stop the Queers. Keep Australia Clean."
Crowding the footpath
Gay Pride march outside the Sydney Town Hall
An arrest! Gay Pride march in Pitt St
Gay Liberation takes the streets
Gay Pride march in Elizabeth St
Gay solidarity with those arrested
Marching down Phillip St to the Police Station
to express solidarity with those arrested
Outside the Police Station
Outside the Police Station expressing solidarity with those arrested

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Last modified: May 26, 2003

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