Chetcuti was a member of the Australian Gay Multicultural Council, Pride Victoria, the Overseas Committee of the Institute of Catholic Education and the Review of the Commonwealth Multicultural Education Program – Report to the Commonwealth Schools Commission. He was vice-president of the Victorian Association for the Teaching of Maltese, president of the Maltese Literature Group (Victoria) and chairperson of the Victorian Association of Multicultural Writers. He is a life member of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, by virtue of the fact that he is a 78er.
ACTIVISM IN AUSTRALIA
Chetcuti ‘came out’ in late 1972 when he joined Cross-Section, a subgroup of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP), Australia’s first explicit gay political organisation. In September 1973, he agreed to be a contributor to Homosexuals Report Back – A Report (1974), a modest but important publication by Cross-Section, which was Cross-Section’s response to the Report on Homosexuality (Report of the Ethics and Social Questions Committee to the Synod of the Church of England Diocese of Sydney).
Sometime in 1973, Chetcuti briefly joined his first gay demonstration, most probably that of Saturday 15 September 1973, when around 300 supporters—a big crowd at the time—assembled at Sydney Town Hall, police eventually arresting 18 of the protesters. In May 1974. he and other members of Acceptance picketed the Sacred Heart Church in Darlinghurst. He took part in other demonstrations including that of 19 October 1975 outside Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral, following the decision by a Marist school in Eastwood to sack Michael Clohesy. In April/May 1976, he helped Graeme Donkin, a member of Acceptance who stood for the seat of Bligh, distribute How to Vote Cards.
Chetcuti is a 78er, having joined Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras at Taylor Square on 24 June 1978. With other 78ers, he marched to Kings Cross in breach of the police permit—where police arrested 53 demonstrators—before moving on to Darlinghurst Police Station, staying there until the early hours of the morning of 25 June 1978. He also attended the Second National Homosexual Conference (17-19 August 1976) and the Fourth National Homosexual Conference (25-27 August 1978).
During the 1970s, Chetcuti belonged to a band of poets—he affectionately refers to as ‘the glebe school of poets’—who read their poems at public venues such as Sydney’s Martin Place. The group included Joanna Burns and the late Rae Desmond Jones. Chetcuti’s poems made explicit reference to his homosexuality. His poems have been published in the Saturday Book of Poetry Club, Your Friendly Fascist, ETZ, Love and Death, Outrider, Contempa, Foundation, Uncle Sam, Fitzrot, Ploughman, Khasmik, Ganymede and other publications. In March 1976, he was invited to be part of Writers’ Week (Adelaide Festival of Arts) in a session dedicated to ‘alternative poetry’.
His other written contributions have appeared in various publications and journals, both in Australia and overseas, including Edge City on Two Different Plans (1983), Being Different (1986), Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II (2001), Who’s Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day (2001), the Journal of Intercultural Studies, the Melbourne University Magazine of Literature, the Institute of Catholic Education Journal, Australasian Gay and Lesbian Law, the Oral History Association of Australian Journal, the Journal of Australian Studies and the Australian Book Review. He has also presented papers at various conferences.
Incredibly, Chetcuti was the only contributor to The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins (2001) to make mention of homosexuality. The mention of homosexuality, it was claimed, ‘offended’ many leaders of the Maltese community in Australia, a reaction he greatly cherished. In 2007, the Maltese Community Council of Victoria—aided and abetted by the Missionary Society of Saint Paul—banned him from giving a speech on homosexuality at its Parkville Centre, believing such a speech would offend the ‘religious sensibilities’ of the Maltese.
THE MALTA 'INCURSION'
In 1995, Chetcuti gained fame or notoriety—depending on one’s viewpoint—when he appeared on Pjazza Tlieta, a popular television program on Maltese television, becoming the first Maltese professional to come out publicly on television—possibly even in the local media—and the first homosexual in Malta to debate homosexuality with a representative of Malta’s Roman Catholic curia. He was a guest on many radio and tv programs including Il-parlament tal-poplu (Live FM), Xarabank and Fil-Mira.
His book, Il-Ktieb Roża: Dnub, Diżordni u Delitt? (The Pink Book: A Sin, Disorder and Crime?) (1997), was the first book on homosexuality in the Maltese language. It attracted wide media coverage and criticism from Malta’s conservatives, arguably triggering the emergence of a gay movement in Malta. The book was launched by the Hon Evarist Bartolo MP, Minister of Education, on Il-parlament tal-poplu (Live FM).
In 2016, Chetcuti presented a paper (‘From Assimilation to Liberation: A Personal Journey’) at the IV Convention for the Maltese Living Abroad 2015, organised by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (Malta, 2016). By then, much had changed in Malta, a new Labor reformist government at the helm, and it appears the Maltese are no longer ‘outraged’ by the outrageous behaviour of homosexuals who give as good as they get.
For further information see:
Michael Hurley, A Guide to gay and lesbian writing in Australia, 1st edn, Allen & Unwin/ALGA, 1996, Sydney, p. 53, and
Michael Schiavone, Dictionary of Maltese Biographies (A-F), Volume 1, 1st edn, Pubblikazzjonijiet Indipendenza, Malta, 2009, p. 572.
JOSEPH CARMEL CHETCUTI holds a MA Hons, in political science, from the University of NSW, an LLB Hons, from the University of Melbourne, and a Licentiate in Theology. He lectured at the Philip and Footscray Institutes of Technology (as they were called then) and the former Institute of Catholic Education (Ascot Vale).
Chetcuti was admitted, as a barrister and solicitor, by the Supreme Court of Victoria, in 1993, and, as a solicitor, by the High Court of Australia, in 1994. Between 1994 and 1996, he worked in the Townsville office of Legal Aid Queensland, practising in the areas of family and criminal law. He now works in several areas of the law including criminal, family, migration, and probate law. He has appeared before courts and tribunals in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.