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An Australian History




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Homophobia is a prejudice with effects that extend far beyond the gay and lesbian community.  While its physical, emotional and social effects have been charted to some extent, the development of homophobia in Australia has yet to be fully explored.

Homophobia: An Australian History is the first book to consider homophobia in a distinctively Australian context. In this collection, thirteen well-known scholars examine the embedded homophobic attitudes that Australian gay and lesbian activists have fought to change. The book traces the evolution of homophobia, from its expression in Australia’s past as a colonial settler society, through to manifestations in present day society.

The compilation of this text is timely, given the 2007 release of the Same Sex: Same Entitlements report of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The release of this report, which focused on institutionalised and legal homophobia, has raised public awareness of these issues and sparked broader debates about homosexual rights. The thirtieth anniversary of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras earlier this year also offers an ideal opportunity to reflect on the past gains and future goals of the gay and lesbian rights movement.

The collected chapters in this book argue that homophobia developed in conjunction with the growth of a modern homosexual identity in the second half of the nineteenth century. To various extents, the legal and medical professions and other social institutions have perpetuated homophobic attitudes. Homophobia: An Australian History raises awareness of the devastating impact these attitudes can have on individuals and on society.


At the commencement of Page IX, Dr Ruth Ford’s name and academic position was omitted. Dr Ford’s biographical entry under Notes on Contributors should read:

Dr Ruth Ford is a lecturer in Australian history at La Trobe University. She has published extensively on Australian lesbian, queer and gender history. She is currently attempting to combine motherhood with researching, writing and teaching. Her publications include articles in Labour History, Gender and History (UK) and Australian Historical Studies, as well as book chapters in ‘Madness’ in Australia: histories, heritage and the asylum, edited by Catharine Coleborne and Dolly MacKinnon, Gender and War: Australians at war in the twentieth century, edited by Joy Damousi and Marilyn Lake and Sex, Power and Justice: historical perspectives on the law in Australia, 1788-1990, edited by Diane Kirkby.


Shirleene Robinson
Mapping Homophobia in Australia
Michael Flood and Clive Hamilton
‘What They Were Doing With Their Clothes Off I Don’t Know’: Homophobia, Lesbian History and Responses to ‘Lesbian-Like’ Relationships, 1860s-1890s
Lucy Chesser
Homophobia in Fin de Siecle Colonial Queensland
Yorick Smaal and Clive Moore
‘Filthy, Obscene and Mad’: Engendering ‘Homophobia’ in Australia, 1940s-1960s
Ruth Ford
From ‘Vice’ to ‘Homosexuality’: Policing Perversion in the 1950s
Graham Willett
‘Hit Him With Your Handbag!’: Homophobia in Australian Magazines of the 1960s
Julie Ustinoff
‘Someone Who is Sick and in Need of Help’: Medical Attitudes to Homosexuality in Australia, 1960-1979
Emily Wilson
‘The Continuing Homosexual Offensive’: Sex Education, Gay Rights and Homosexual Recruitment
Steven Angelides
On the Frontline: The Queer Press and the Fight against Homophobia
Shirleene Robinson
Older Gay Men’s Recollections of Anti-Homosexual Prejudice in Australia
Peter Robinson
The Repeal of the Sodomy Laws in Tasmania in 1997 and the Status of Homophobia in Contemporary Australia
Alan Berman


Just as homosexuality has a history we need to understand, so does hostility towards homosexuality – homophobia. This book explores that murky history in a scholarly but highly readable fashion, and in doing so illuminates a tangled story. We are living a paradox: homosexuality has never been more accepted in Western societies, but the virulence of the fear and loathing against it remains a nasty minority sport. The book helps us to understand how this has occurred, but also inspires the continuing resistance. It documents the horrors, but also encourages hope that homophobia can be overcome, by human agency.

Jeffrey Weeks, Professor, London South Bank University, author of ‘The World We Have Won’.

[an] important anthology…the volume is a considerable achievement. Its accessibility and the general clarity of the writing it contains is also a welcome feature.

Australian Historical Studies, 40, 2009