Action!

And so with a speed and enthusiasm government departments could only dream of, the VAC launched its first education campaign with a poster proclaiming ‘Great Sex! Don’t Let AIDS Stop It’ and a brochure ‘AIDS: Trying to Reduce the Risk’.43 A beat sticker campaign was organised by Lee Visser and 2000 stickers were printed and distributed around Melbourne’s known beats.44 Ian Foote was a teacher at the time and joined the VAC education group as a volunteer. He remembers the sticker campaign:

I remember we spent a long, long time trying to decide what the wording could be. We thought … we’ve got to be very sensitive, these will be going up in public places …. I can remember getting caught in a toilet sticking it up on the wall – I thought I was going to get bashed up.45

Marcus O’Donnell also began working with the VAC education group around this time and set the wheels in motion for the first National AIDS Conference. Meanwhile, Peter Knight had already started organising volunteer support and training.46 The VAC completed the official incorporation process in January 1985. With an office, one paid staff member and a dedicated committee of volunteers, the VAC immediately set to work organising education campaigns and expanding existing plans to provide care and support that it was anticipated would be needed in the very near future. Securing funding was essential. An initial grant of $500 from the ALSO Foundation was quickly spent and during the first 12 months, the VAAC survived on donations and subscriptions. When more money was needed, gay venue owners and businesses were approached for funding. At the meeting on 6 December when it was decided to become incorporated and change from the VAAC to the VAC, donations were collected to the tune of $2200.47 This paid for the initial office set up and staff member, however, the VAC needed more to achieve all that it wanted.

The need for funding meant writing grant applications, letters and proposals to the government, as well as making appeals to gay-run businesses and the local community. Submissions were made to the federal government for funds to hire administrative staff and a full time worker to ‘promote reliable, non-hysterical information on AIDS in workplaces’.48 The VAC also supported an application by Outrage magazine seeking funds to hire a journalist to work on AIDS material, and thus increase the awareness and education of AIDS within the gay community.49 The initial government allocation of $3.7 million, to be split between the states, was intended for education, support and counselling. However, the government did not want to be seen as directly funding political and activist organisations. Initially, while the VAC did have support programs and networks set up for people with AIDS, their main focus was advocacy and preventative health. While the VAC was careful to provide a united front for these two areas of work – support and preventative health – other AIDS organisations, like the AIDS Council of NSW (ACON), which was a federation of existing, separate groups, found themselves divided and fighting internally for funds and resources. Because Victoria was not immediately inundated with HIV cases, the VAC was ideally positioned to review the way AIDS organisations operated elsewhere, while readying itself for AIDS cases to appear. ‘We had the ability to spend more time’, remembers Bill O’Loughlin:

For example I was on the first care team, and after that experience we sat back and looked at what had happened and then we revised our programs, and our protocols, and all these sorts of things. So we had the luxury of the time to be able to develop our systems better. Sydney were in the crisis from the word go, it was a different setup.50

The VAC was determined to continue to represent a single voice speaking out on behalf of the Victorian gay community. However, maintaining this uniformity within different areas of the organisation remained a challenge as it grew. ‘It gave us the media credibility politically’, argues Carswell, ‘but organisationally it meant that we had a broad church and inherently division and conflict’.51 With the establishment of the Gay Men’s Community Health Centre and later the Positive Living Centre, in combination with the relentless ferocity of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, there soon came a crisis point; one that almost divided the organisation in two.


References


Phil Carswell and Adam Carr

Phil Carswell and Adam Carr examine the VAC‘s first safe sex brochure.

Phil Carswell

Can We Talk brochure AIDS reducing the risk brochure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Can We Talk?’ (left), a safe sex brochure developed by the Harvey Milk Lesbian & Gay Democratic Club in San Francisco, provided the inspiration for the VAC’s first education campaign brochure ‘AIDS: Trying to Reduce the Risk’ (right).

Phil Carswell

Great Sex poster

The VAC’s first education campaign poster, ‘Great Sex! Don’t Let AIDS Stop It’.

Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

Safe sex badge

Early safe sex badge.

Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

First beat campaign 1First beat campaign 2

 

 

 

 

 

The VAC’s first beat campaign involved the distribution of 2000 stickers around Melbourne’s known beat locations in early 1985.

Phil Carswell