THE THREE AMIGOS
RON AUSTIN was born in Maitland, a city in the Lower Hunter Valley of NSW, where he grew up. Born into a Roman Catholic family, he was the eldest of five children. At age 16, he enlisted with the Redemptorists, completing six months as a postulant before being admitted into the novitiate. After that, he took simple vows. Around 1951, he left the Redemptorists to return to the family dairy business.
His next stop was Newcastle’s National Art School where he completed an arts program under sculptor Paul Beadle before heading for Sydney’s National Art School in Darlinghurst. To supplement his income, he took up part-time employment quickly becoming wrapped up in his work. He spent most of his adult life working in an after-school care centre for teenagers in the working-class suburb of Erskineville (NSW), first as supervisor and then as supervisor-in-charge.
In 1971, he joined CAMP at its headquarters in Darling Street Balmain on the very day that members were busy thrashing out a constitution for the organisation. He served on PAF, visited countless institutions as a representative of CAMP and helped draft CAMP’s submission to the Royal Commission into Human Relationships. He attended numerous demonstrations including that of 20 October 1975 in support of Michael Clohesy. In 1978, when a ‘right-wing faction’, as he describes it, took over CAMP, he and others left the organisation to form the Gay Task Force.
Significantly, on Sunday 21 May 1978 while watching Word is Out at the Paris Theatre, then at 205 Liverpool Street, he came up with the idea of a street party. A street party, he hoped, would draw bar patrons along Oxford Street – mostly men – into the political arm of the movement.
Ron Austin retired from work in 1989. He now lives in an inner Sydney suburb, not far from 33A. In 2013, Mardi Gras named him and Julie McCrossin Chiefs of the Mardi Gras parade (see photo), part of a contingent of 78ers that led that year’s parade. On 27 February 2014, Lady Mayor Clover Moore of the City of Sydney officially recognised his contribution to Sydney’s gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, organising a bash at the Town Hall to celebrate his 85th birthday.
Inducted in the Hall of Fame on 1 May 1995.
LANCE GOWLAND, an amiable but strong-minded activist, was a member of CAMP, SGL and the SL&MH. He was also a Communist. In 1978, he was one of three significant activists to make Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras happen. He also did most of the work. He completed and signed the application for the ‘street party’ before lodging it with Central Police Station. He hired the sound truck, secured the public address system, with others selected the music to be played during the street party, and drove the lead truck at Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras.
Lance Gowland was born in Melbourne on 4 November 1935. At age 20, he travelled to Europe, the US and Israel. He was in Washington to hear Martin Luther King Junior deliver his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. On returning to Australia, he went to work on the Snowy Mountains Scheme before enlisting in the public service.
In 1969, he signed up with a gay group in Goulburn. After coming out as a gay man, he resigned from his post as secretary to the Goulburn Trades and Labour Council and the Progress Association. He then took up employment with the Quarantine Service (Customs) in Sydney.
Lance Gowland’s parents were die-in-the-wool communists. In an era of ASIO surveillance and anti-Communist hysteria, they suffered discrimination day-in day-out, often forced to move houses because of their political sympathies. Lance Gowland was a born-and-bred communist; for him, communism was more of a religion, a set of beliefs he subscribed to … but differently from many converts to Communism, he was a good-natured one, not an irritating ideologue who toed and regurgitated party lines. Certainly not one of the Communist-Manifesto-thumping variety! In 1972, he along with Denis Freney, another Communist, successfully lobbied the CPA to support gay and lesbian rights.
For a short time, Lance Gowland took up residence at 67 Glebe Point Road, the headquarters of SGL, while he and Ron Austin were having an affair. He later joined a ‘commune’ of gay men in Cleveland Street Chippendale. Lance Gowland was a sociable person with a great sense of fun. He loved a party which probably helps explain why he ran with the idea of a Mardi Gras.
Lance Gowland stuck it out with Mardi Gras. In 1979 he lobbied strongly against the participation of commercial and gay venues in the parade but in 1984, his team failed to secure any positions on the Mardi Gras board. Subsequently, he withdrew from gay politics to continue his activism in other areas. He died on 6 October 2008, not inappropriately Labour Day, of all places at the Sacred Heart Hospice, a strange environment for a Communist and a militant atheist but an irony he enjoyed, the hospice being located near Green Park and opposite the (in)famous Wall.
Inducted in the Hall fo Fame on 26 April 1992.
MARG McMANN, the woman who gave Mardi Gras its name, was born in Albury on 5 January 1939. She taught at an exclusive private school on the North Shore of Sydney. She joined CAMP after watching the television program Chequerboard, screened on the ABC on 21 October 1972. Chequerboard featured two gay couples Peter de Waal and Peter Bonsall Boone, and Gaby Antolovitch and Sue Wills.
Following the resignation in 1974 of Lex Watson, Sue Wills, Gaby Antolovich and Peter de Waal from CAMP’s executive, Marg McMann joined Peter Bonsall Boone as co-convenor of CAMP. Kym Skinner remembers a generous and humane woman, with a warm and funny personality but stubborn nonetheless!
Marg McMann was a gay rights activist. She was also a feminist. In 1975, she and Robyn Plaister received a Commonwealth grant to conduct research on lesbians in Australian society and run educational programs in the hope of changing attitudes towards lesbian parents. They organised two conferences and distributed booklets to school counsellors, members of the medical and legal profession, politicians and the mass media. Marg McMann wrote and contributed to numerous submissions, many dealing with the repeal of legislation criminalizing homosexual acts between consenting male adults. In 1976, she helped organize the Tribunal on Homosexuals and Discrimination and presented information to the Tribunal on the Discrimination of Homosexuals.
Marg McMann was also a presenter of the Coming Out Show (1976), an ABC program about women and lesbians, where she interviewed women in ‘atypical’ gender roles, among them train drivers and apprentice train drivers.
Marg McMann wrote and promoted poetry. In 1974, she and Stephanie Bennett produced and edited Khasmik, a national quarterly literary journal, with Robyn Plaister taking on the role of secretary. The journal included contributions from male poets such as Philip Roberts, Ken Bolton, Rae Desmond Jones, Grahame Pitt, Kevin Day, Robert Adamson, Gary Oliver, πо and the present writer. Men did not ruffle Marg McMann. She dedicated the first issue of Khasmik to Australian poet Kenneth Slessor.
Marg McMann chaired the GSG meetings after the riots. She was a friendly but equally strong-minded woman. She died in 1986.
Inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1998.