Cairns’ hidden gay history revealed in new book

Passing Glances Ian Byford Cairns

Author Ian Byford reveals the hidden gay history of Cairns in his new book Passing Glances. The book explores the local LGBTIQ community from the city’s establishment in 1876 right up to the present day.

“Gays hid from history for fear of draconian laws which threatened 14 years’ jail with hard labour for homosexual acts between consenting adult males in private,” Mr Byford explained.

“But the lack of records does not indicate a lack of history or of homosexuals.”

The lavishly illustrated book also recalls the Gold Diggers Club. The furtive organisation ran secret gay expeditions to an isolated beach past Yarrabah in the 1960s.

Passing Glances documents restaurants which doubled as covert sanctuaries for gay people during the 1970s and 80s.

Ian Byford said the book provides an important record of the devastating AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.

“The book describes all of what happened in that time and how the community got together and supported people who were sick,” he said.

Ian Byford first began researching the book in 2002 with friend Rex Masters, a well-known Cairns community organiser. Rex died in 2010.

Ted Kelk in Passing Glances

The book also tells the story of little-known pioneer Ted Kelk. A teacher and librarian at Parramatta State School for more than two decades, until his final years Ted Kelk lived a closeted life.

“When faced with his own mortality, he burst out of the closet, railing against the authorities, chaining himself up outside the Cairns Post newspaper,” Mr. Byford explained.

“He alienated even gays who thought he aimed for too much, too soon.”

But Mr. Kelk lived just long enough to see his efforts rewarded in the passage of gay law reform in Queensland under the Goss Government in 1990.

Passing Glances is available now by contacting Ian at Ian.Byford[at]

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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