It’s Summer 2019, my friends and I are wandering through the stalls of Mardi Gras Fair Day. The sun is unbearably hot, and our faces are greasy with the layers of sunscreen and glitter piled onto them . We stop in the shade of an empty stall and take a moment to look around the crowd swarming Victoria Park. But I am distracted by a sign in the stall next door that’s far more exciting. It’s a sign for a pride festival later on in the year, but to my surprise it’s for my hometown – Newcastle.
When we were asked to pick a community organisation for a history project, I had no idea where to start. Having only moved to Sydney in 2016 (and into four different suburbs since then), I’d never properly connected with any local organisations. But after being asked in this course to reflect on the communities and values I deem important, I knew I had to do something to connect two of the biggest, yet most separate communities in my life – Newcastle and the queer community.
Growing up in Newcastle I was never exposed to anything related to queerness – while it definitely existed, Newcastle’s history of queer lives and experiences was very much hidden from the average Novocastrian. When I moved to Sydney for university I was incredibly surprised, and grateful to find such an open and honest community of people. I couldn’t believe that Newcastle, only a 2 hour car trip away, was so different, and its queer community so concealed. It’s for that reason I have chosen to work with the Hunter Rainbow History Group for my history project.
The Hunter Rainbow History Group, a queer history group operating in the city of Newcastle, was formed to ‘record and collect the stories and experiences of LGBTIQ people in Newcastle and the Hunter, to preserve and illuminate the hidden histories of this vital and resilient community’. Their work involves the digitising, archiving and collecting of queer stories in Newcastle – the results of which I believe do incredible work to avoid the confusion and isolation of growing up queer away from a capital city. Currently, the group are working on recording the experiences of HIV/AIDs survivors and victims in Newcastle’s two HIV/AIDs designated hospitals – the Royal Newcastle Hospital and MacKillop House. The last few weeks I have had the pleasure of being in conversation with John Witte, a member of the group, who has suggested I could assist with digitising photos for MacKillop house, and working with the Sisters of St Joseph Lochinvar who were part of the creation of MacKillop House in the early 1990s.
I am beyond excited to be working with this group and hope that I am able to bring more visibility to queer histories as an essential part of public history. Most of all, I am grateful that I am able to work with a group that are able to connect the younger and older generations in Newcastle – allowing us to connect to a long-standing community that has too long been left to be forgotten.