Working together

Following a tense period within the VAC and the GMCHC and an extensive review by external consultants in 1987, the Victorian AIDS Council and the Gay Men’s Community Health Centre were finally integrated in 1988, forming the VAC/GMCHC.

With renovations to 117 Johnston Street, Collingwood – which became known as the Peter Knight Centre – completed by the beginning of 1988, moving into the building together cemented the new relationship between the two organisations. It was not simply a coordinated working relationship, but a complete integration, albeit with the VAC and GMCHC maintaining their separate identities. All administration was combined, including office management systems and the management of staff and finances. A Special General Meeting was called in April 1988 and a Joint Advisory Committee – known as the JAC – was created, consisting of members of the VAC Committee and the GMCHC Board, with newly-elected President of the VAC, Keith Harbour, as Chairperson.

The debate over whether to integrate the organisations had exposed simmering tensions around the running of the VAC. Keith Harbour addressed this in his report in the first issue of The Journal, a newsletter for the newly-created VAC/GMCHC that was first published in mid-1988. He wrote that the debate had ‘forced us to acknowledge some hard facts about our operation’. With the demand for the VAC’s services ‘increasing alarmingly … we need to ensure we have administrative, financial and management systems clearly defined so that our broad ranging programmes can deliver all the necessary services and information without overtaxing us all’.4 A particularly pertinent issue was the formation of the VAC as a primarily volunteer-controlled organisation; a structure that some of the qualified and experienced paid staff found increasingly difficult to work within.5 Certainly, not everyone was happy with the decision to integrate. Following the Special General Meeting there were several resignations, including those of Monica Morcos, who had been Manager of the GMCHC since 1985, and Rob Eldridge, who had succeeded Laurence Carter as VAC office coordinator in 1987.6

The integration provided an opportunity for the Joint Advisory Committee (JAC) to redefine the organisation’s purpose and structures, with the fundamental principle of the VAC/GMCHC as a community organisation ultimately run by its volunteers, firmly re-established. The JAC was put in place to streamline operations and essentially ensure that both VAC and GMCHC were consistent in their policies and united in their approach to HIV and AIDS issues. This created a straightforward single management structure. The appointment of Alan Hough as the first General Manager of the VAC/GMCHC and Erik Michielsen as Business Manager took administrative and financial responsibilities off the hands of volunteers, who could then concentrate on running programs and activities.7 The aim of these changes was essentially to improve communication throughout the organisation, pool all available resources and ensure that roles and responsibilities were clearly defined. This meant that the organisation could make the most effective possible impact on the epidemic, with staff and volunteers that were less likely to feel pressured and overworked in the face of increasing demand. Bill O’Loughlin recalls that Alan Hough ‘came in at that time when the organisation needed to solidify and expand, and was a remarkable manager’.8

Keith Harbour titled his annual report for 1988 ‘Working Together’, commenting on the importance of having a shared workspace in which to create a positive working environment for the once separate organisations to come together. Although integration had been ‘a painful process’, he wrote, ‘it is pleasing to report that with hard work the process has paid off in the maximising of resources and in establishing clearly defined management and decision-making structures’.9 After the tensions of the past few years, it was a fresh new start and with the VAC/GMCHC forming a united force against the HIV epidemic, there was a feeling of positivity and hope for what the renewed organisation could achieve.


Keith Harbour

Keith Harbour, President at the time of the VAC/GMCHC merger, was an articulate advocate for positive people and coined the phrase ‘Talk with us, not about us’.

Living Positive Victoria

The Journal issue 1

The first issue of The Journal, VAC/GMCHC’s newsletter, June/July 1988. The cover illustration reveals the turmoil the VAC and GMCHC were in at that time, as they worked through the process of integrating into the one organisation.

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World AIDS Day began in 1988, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared 1 December a day to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. Today, AIDS Awareness Week runs from 24 November to 1 December, ending with World AIDS Day, which often features the release of balloons to commemorate those who have died.