At the MAG meeting on 12th October there was a performance of The Pink Files by five members of MAG.
They presented episodes in the lives of four gay Adelaide men whose sexuality brought them into conflict with the law in the era before homosexual law reform. We ourselves live in conservative times yet as most MAG members know, the social climate before the legalisation of consensual sex between men in private, was harsher.
During the 1940s and 1950s many gay men were arrested and imprisoned. In the late 1970s, Adelaide gay historian and activist, John Lee, interviewed between 40 and 50 older gay men about their lives. He also did research that accessed court records and newspaper accounts from earlier times, in order to write a gay history of Adelaide.
Unfortunately, John died in 1991 before he could finish that work but the interviews that John had conducted were already transcribed and these transcriptions were read by one of John’s fellow activists, Ian Purcell. Ian knew that he had to find a way of sharing these amazing stories of strength, struggle and survival. He selected four stories focused on the theme of legal persecution of gay men and used his experience in theatre to put them into a form which could be presented to an audience.
Why “Pink Files” ?
The title “Pink Files” is an ironic South Australian reference to the police version of gay men’s lives in the 1940s and 1950s. The South Australian police had a Special Branch which held files on so-called subversive individuals and organizations. It was suspected that Special Branch and the Vice Squad held many files which contained information on “known or suspected homosexuals”. These were referred to by the gay community as the police’s “Pink Files”
In 1975 homosexuality was decriminalized in South Australia but the gay community suspected that the police still had their “pink files”.In 1978, the Premier, Don Dunstan (who had outraged conservative members of the South Australian Parliament when he appeared in pink shorts!) evidently discovered that Special Branch had still not destroyed their files on “subversives”. The Police Commissioner, Harold Salisbury in a report to Parliament had denied the extent of the files but a Judicial Enquiry and later a Royal Commission found them to exist and to be “scurrilous” and “totally indefensible”. Dunstan promptly sacked Salisbury for having misled Parliament and the files were ceremoniously burnt in the furnaces of a crematorium!
Later in 1978, the Adelaide Homosexual Alliance sought assurances from the Premier that the feared “pink files” had also been destroyed. The Premier was able to quote the report from his new Police Commissioner, Mr Draper, to the effect that there were no longer any “pink files in existence” and that cards held by the Vice Squad on homosexuals had been destroyed.
For social, cultural and political reasons gay communities need to make themselves aware of events in their past and I believe that the MAG meeting on October 12th would make a contribution in this direction. To a background of photos of members when aged 18 and a guessing competition we would hear some voices from the past via the presentation of the Pink Files. It would be especially productive if we could also embark on a project to preserve some of our stories by writing them down and I would like to suggest that we should do so.
Recording our own stores
“May you live in interesting times” is said to be a Chinese admonishment. Certainly, it may be said that most MAG members have lived through interesting times and no doubt we all have found different ways of dealing with the challenges arising from our sexuality. Most of us listen to the stories of our friends at every MAG meeting. However, these remain in the sphere of the spoken word and are ephemeral until some effort is made to put them (even if anonymously) on the record.
Maybe we should begin a project to collect the “stories” of MAG members. The project might have three stages:
- STEP 1 : Small discussion group to identify the kinds of personal issues we might raise. The transcripts used in The Pink Files were compiled in response to questions and this does seem to be the best way to stimulate people’s memories.
- STEP 1 : Tape record people’s stories.
- STEP 3 : Transcribe stories and work out a way for MAG to make these accessible.
If there are other members who would be interested in participating in this story project (perhaps by interviewing a friend and taping his story) you could fill out the contact sheet which I would hand out before the presentation of The Pink Files on 12th October 2002.
– Peter Trist