Expansion of services

On completion of renovations to the building in Collingwood, the GMCHC moved the Centre Clinic from its temporary location at the Melbourne STD Centre. The clinic, part of the VAC/GMCHC Personal Services Program, began operations at the rear of the ground floor of the Johnston Street building in February 1988, providing a range of free services for gay men. HIV antibody testing was offered, as well as a hepatitis B vaccination program and a needle-exchange scheme.10 From 1991, the Centre Clinic was able to dispense AZT to clients through arrangements made with the Melbourne STD Centre.11

Bill O’Loughlin, who joined the VAC as a support volunteer and became Welfare Officer and counsellor with the GMCHC, recalls that the philosophy of the clinic was simply ‘working with gay men and whatever they needed. It was a general practice for gay men with an HIV speciality in terms of the medical services’.12 Hypnotherapy and acupuncture were available, and a research study into the impact of naturopathic medicine on people with HIV began in 1990. Similarly, the counselling service specialised in helping gay men with issues to do with HIV, but also worked with them on any other issues in their lives, such as dealing with coming out. O’Loughlin remembers that many men the GMCHC dealt with at that time were having so much trouble coming to terms with their sexuality, that ‘you might actually talk to them for two to three sessions before they would tentatively say, “Look, I think I might be gay”’.13 He found that working with such men was one of the most rewarding aspects of his involvement with the GMCHC. Importantly, the HIV epidemic led not only to improved healthcare services for the gay community, but also sparked the development of services to support gay men with other issues they faced in their lives.

The counselling service successfully applied for funding for a psychologist and was able to appoint Brian Hickman and Eric Timewell, each part time. They had previously been providing their services on an honorary basis. Despite the addition of paid employees, as well as Anthony Kennedy on secondment from the Ellery Clinic and a handful of volunteer counsellors, the counselling service struggled to meet demand. Following the move to Collingwood the Centre Clinic increased its hours from three to four sessions per week and saw demand ‘almost double in the space of one month’.14 By 1989, the clinic enrolled its 1000th client and increased to seven sessions per week, expanding to 13 weekly sessions the following year. The number of counselling clients increased by 250 per cent, from 847 in 1988/89 to 2,064 in 1989/90. Convenor of the Personal Services Program in 1989, Laurie Marcus, commented that ‘the remarkable growth in demand for services is a reflection of the quality of the service and its staff’.15

In 1990, the GMCHC dropped the word ‘Community’ from its title and became known simply as the Gay Men’s Health Centre (GMHC).16 Sue Stone came on board as Manager of the Personal Services Program that year, which proved a great help in dealing with this huge growth and resulted in more effective day-to-day management and coordination of all the program’s activities.17 Lack of space to expand the counselling service at the Peter Knight Centre was one of the greatest limitations, but in 1991 the VAC/GMHC obtained a permit to establish a community centre and clinic in St Kilda.18

The David Williams Fund, which had been established to provide financial assistance to people with HIV in 1987, continued to build, assisting more and more people each year. Demand for this service increased from $22,531 provided in grants to individuals in the second half of 1990, to $56,631 in the following six months. This dramatic rise was attributed to an increase in diagnosed cases of AIDS, longer survival rates and the effects of an economic recession. Funds were bolstered by the hard work of staff and volunteers organising popular fundraising events, including auctions, parties, film nights, cabaret performances, circus shows, theatre productions, fashion parades, canoe races and a range of other entertaining events.19


VAC staff 1990

VAC/GMHC staff at the Peter Knight Centre in Collingwood, August 1990.



Standing: Chris Day, Gary Ferguson, Dr Ron McCoy, Steven King, Maureen O’Brien, Richard Clayton, Andrew Williams, Gabriel Noriega, Helen Cherry, Barbara Fogarty, Dr Tim Hunt, Bill O’Loughlin, Laurie Marcus, Kelly Garland.
Seated: Bruce Parnell, Sue Stone, Richard Watts, Dean Michael, Gary Nicholas.

Leigh Klooger

VAC committee 1990

VAC/GMHC Joint Advisory Committee, August 1990.




Standing: Paul Morgan, Ian Gould, David Menadue, Gary Ferguson, Michael Bramwell, Colin Britton
Seated: Keith Harbour, Barry Horwood, Betti Knott, Peter Grant, Chris Day.

Leigh Klooger