Thirty years ago this month the Queensland National Party alerted voters to a looming homosexual invasion. As the dying government flailed in search of a lifeline, they latched onto homosexuality as a lifebuoy.
The Canberra Times reported on Premier Russell Cooper’s battle cry.
A Labor victory would, “open the floodgates and see a sea of sodomites flooding into Queensland.”
The Nats produced a television commercial in which two ‘Kings Cross homosexuals’ lisped about moving north on the election of a Goss Labor government.
When a reporter asked Cooper about payments to the ‘homosexuals’ in the advertisements, his response came straight from the playbook of disgraced former premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
I beg your pardon?
What sort of a question is that?
Do you come from NSW, Kings Cross?
Sounds like it.
However, his outrage proved feigned. The media consequently exposed the ‘homosexuals’ as amateur thespians – a couple of country boys recruited to act out the National Party’s idea of lisping gay stereotypes.
Innocent students of goat husbandry
Ian Warden of the Canberra Times described them as “innocent students of goat husbandry at a Toowoomba educational institute.”
Although the Nats lost their nerve and pulled that ad, they continued to threaten Queenslanders with the homosexual bogeyman. In another ad, an outraged voice-over warned of the danger of a Labor government.
“Labor even plans to make homosexuality legal.”
“That’s a floodgate the Nationals will never open,” vowed Cooper.
The homosexual invasion and the National Party
The National Party was on the ropes and knew it. After the ouster of long-time premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen over corruption, the party elected the more moderate Mike Ahern. Although he attempted to modernise the government, he insisted on retaining the electoral gerrymander which at one time enabled the party to rule with less than 20% of the vote.
Meanwhile, Bjelke-Petersen and fellow troglodytes worked from outside the party room to undermine Ahern and other progressives. Just two months before the election, the Nats replaced Ahern with Joh clone, Russell Cooper.
As Police Minister, Cooper previously ordered a police crackdown on a gay couple in his hometown of Roma and on a gay Gold Coast couple for sodomy.
In an infamous case prosecuted in Mitchell, just down the road from Roma, one gay man actually went to jail in the dying days of the regime for private, consenting, adult same-sex acts.
However, times were changing. On the Gold Coast, a magistrate dismissed the complaint against the gay couple as ‘frivolous’. One of the prosecuted men, Doug McAllan, went public, mocking Cooper’s ‘fixation’ with homosexuality. Cooper’s Labor opponent Wayne Goss began to ridicule him as a ‘gaybuster’. The major churches released a statement warning Queensland voters to ignore tactics designed to distract them from the government’s corruption.
The homosexual invasion: Nats should have checked closer to home
Ironically, while Cooper fumed about a homosexual invasion, it seemed everyone in the world except him knew one of his senior staff members was gay.
Of course, Russ Hinze, Joh’s ‘Minister for Everything’ who resigned because of corruption allegations the year before, knowingly employed a gay man as his press secretary for years. That, despite his willingness to wax lyrical on homosexual depravity when it suited his political purpose.
Also, those in the know joked about the proximity of National Party HQ Bjelke-Petersen House to one of Brisbane’s main gay bars, the Alliance Hotel.
Journalist Andrew Fraser who bartended at the Alliance while a uni student remembered the fun times when the finish of a National Party meeting coincided with the bar’s closure.
“On one corner, a collection of National Party heavies, on the other, a collection of moustached men, clad mainly in leather, touching each other on the bottom and camping it up for their unexpected audience.”
Andrew Fraser recalled the jokes resulting from the National Party’s tendency to gift each other knighthoods.
Ken, more commonly known as Gladys, called out, “Oh look. They’re all knights on that side and we’re all queens on this side.”
While many in Queensland’s resilient LGBTIQ communities managed to cope with the persecution of Joh’s autocratic regime through dark humour, others suffered terribly.
Nev Warburton, former Opposition Leader and later a minister in the Goss government, said it best.
Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a leader who wrecked, without sympathy, the lives of too many decent Queenslanders, for short-term political ends.
Also, it appeared Cooper intended running a government just as reactionary, if not worse, than Joh’s.
Early in the campaign, he agreed with a call from the extreme right-wing Logos Foundation, based in Toowoomba, to bring back hanging.
The homosexual invasion in provincial Queensland: Goombungee
The National Party did not intend their anti-gay advertising for a city audience. They meant it for rural and provincial areas where, under the gerrymander, votes counted for much more.
Despite the mockery their overblown rhetoric inspired in Brisbane, they trusted it to round up votes outside the south-east corner.
Goombungee, outside of Toowoomba, won four Tidy Town awards in the late 70s – early 80s. However, the tidy people apparently died or left town, because the little town notched up no further wins.
During the 1989 election campaign, the local National Party MP held a rally in the main street. After he hooked up a PA to his car battery, a retiree warmed up the crowd with a few jokes and commentary on city folks just wanting ‘cheap meat’, a legitimate complaint. Australia’s family farms still receive a shockingly pathetic return for their efforts.
After some other speeches, local National Party president Alex Robertson took to the mic. Robertson regaled the crowd with predictions of a future Goss government building a Berlin-like wall through Brisbane but with “holes in it to let the homosexuals through.”
Across the length and breadth of Queensland, the Nationals poofter-bashed at every opportunity.
The homosexual invasion in provincial Queensland: Cairns
I moved to Cairns in late 1987. Besides wildlife shows, I worked part-time compering strip shows. Let me now confess, that not all of those shows were completely compliant with the laws of that time. Or, indeed, of any time.
One notable show took place at a football clubhouse in an isolated part of town. The surrounding sporting fields and bushland ensured no neighbours or passing strangers would see or hear what went on.
A somewhat notorious older woman booked all the performers. She provided talent for such events in Cairns over many years before going legit after a conviction for prostitution.
We all went in together – me, the topless waitresses and the strippers. Oh… and the sex-worker who would give the night’s raffle winner the time of his life on a pool table at the end of the show. The climax of the evening – so to speak.
Porn, gambling, obscenity, and prostitution
X-rated porn showed on huge screens. Kids today could never understand the excitement generated by porn in an era when the government banned even depictions of nudity.
Those punters able to drag their eyes from the enormous projected thrusting genitalia gathered at green baize tables. There, they gambled on poker, roulette and other games of chance.
In the days before responsible service of alcohol and similar modern inconveniences, we timed the entertainment at such events to maximise grog sales.
So, during the course of the evening, I liaised with about the only sober person present, the very pleasant local businessman who organised the whole shebang.
A couple of months later, I saw him again – on television – in a National Party election advertisement.
This thoroughly decent man was now the National Party candidate for the state seat of Cairns.
He walked towards the camera with students swarming around him as they emerged from Cairns High at the end of a day’s schooling.
And he looked into that camera and warned of the waves of homosexuality and associated depravity that would submerge Cairns in the event of a Labor election win.
Furious, I rang an acquaintance, the Cairns correspondent of the Australian newspaper.
She rang him, and being an honest and decent man, he refused to lie.
She printed the story and he lost the election. In truth, he likely would have lost anyway, but it was nice to know that at least one National Party candidate paid even a small price for their hypocrisy.
At the election held on 2 December 1989, a landslide victory handed power to the Goss Labor Government. That government decriminalised homosexuality soon after.
Mike Ahern resigned from parliament within six months of the election. Cooper remained in parliament until retiring in 2001.
However, one nasty hangover remains from those days. Bob Katter, a member of the Bjelke-Petersen, Ahern and Cooper National Party governments later moved into federal politics. Eventually, he founded his own party.
That party has more than once deployed anti-gay advertisements just as ridiculous as those the Nationals produced in 1989. Sadly, Katter appears to enjoy better results than the Nationals did.
The homosexual invasion: for political tragics, here’s an hour of highlights of the ABC’s 1989 Queensland State Election night coverage.
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