Duck News: Qld’s 1980s gay community newsletter

Duck News
Images from Duck News, Toye De Wilde on left and popular male dancer Carey, centre. The Grim Reaper campaign, right.

During the peak of the HIV crisis in Queensland, a group of dedicated people kept the gay community updated and unified through the monthly Duck News.

In 1985, 17-year-old Corey Prickett ran an antique shop on Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley. Right across the road was the corner store of Queensland AIDS Council President Bill Rutkin. In addition to his day job running the store, Bill and other dedicated QuAC volunteers worked to support HIV patients at a time when few would. They also endeavoured to educate the public on the disease, something the state government refused to do. In a state where gay sex remained illegal, the members of QuAC dedicated their lives to ensuring that affected members of the gay community received support.

QuAC and Duck News

One day, Bill discussed the lack of community knowledge of the new virus with Corey. Mainstream media reports were usually strong on sensation and light on information. QuAC wanted to increase community outreach and keep gay community members up-to-date with the latest medical developments.

Corey suggested that he, along with Peter Kerr, Noel (Roxy) and Scott Riley compile a monthly newsletter aimed at educating the gay community on HIV. They knew they needed a creative name – something catchy. And so, Duck News was born, a play on the Queensland AIDS Council acronym.

Compiled on an ancient Commodore computer, Duck News appeared monthly. Featuring contributors including Destiny Rogers, Sybil Von Thorndyke and Toye De Wilde, the magazine content engaged readers with local queer culture references. More than just educating- it brought the community together.

Brunswick Street – bitchier than Dynasty

Duck News highlighted educational material such as the ground-breaking HIV research of QuAC member, Dr Malcolm McCamish. There were social snaps. Scott Riley attended various queer events and venues and took pics, achieving the intended result of increased engagement. Everyone wanted to see themselves in Duck News. (Everyone ‘out’, at least.)

The newsletters also included word searches, advice columns and possibly the most popular feature: Brunswick Street. The monthly print soap opera included everything an eighties television devotee could desire. Scandal, betrayal – even murder. “Brunswick Street – Oilier than Dallas, Bitchier than Dynasty, Knottier than Knots Landing!”

“The dances he will never dance, the loves he will never love.”

Bill says a large purpose of the newsletter was behaviour modification. When news of HIV first spread, people were not interested in changing their sexual behaviour. There was little information available on safe gay sex and gay men did not immediately embrace condoms. Corey, as a young actively-engaged member of the community, knew that humour was an important tool. He says that even in the midst of crisis when some predicted the extinction of the gay community, humour helped people survive.

Drag performer Destiny Rogers, now a QNews feature writer, penned a regular humour column. In an early February issue entitled ‘Safe Sex With Destiny’, she talked about changing risky sexual behaviour: “Remember AIDS is on the loose and the days of five men in a night are gone (ok girls, ok – it was a quiet night – fifteen).”

Duck News
Duck News encouraged gay men to wear safety pins as an indication they would only agree to Safe Sex.

Although light-hearted, the magazine included serious content that shone a light in dark times. One issue features a diary entry by Peter Groth explaining what it’s like to volunteer for QuAC. Peter discusses the sadness of visiting an AIDS patient and watching their condition decline. “Sitting by his bedside in the darkness, I think of the dances he will never dance, the loves he will never love.”

Drag, Grim Reapers and a Kissing Booth

The Duck News crew also played a large role in the fundraising efforts for QuAC. The boys proved popular at the annual Queens Ball. Dressed in drag, they distributed condoms and waved donation buckets. Corey says they may not have been the prettiest girls at the ball, but you couldn’t miss them. At the 25th Queens Ball, the boys dressed as Grim Reapers, inspired by the 1987 Australian Government campaign. Another year, they set up a kissing booth. They proved a popular bunch, collecting a thousand dollars in donations that night.

Duck and Cover!

Duck News promoted condom usage through a campaign headlined ‘Duck and Cover’. Back in 1951, the American Civil Defence Council played a song in schools teaching kids what to do in the event of an atomic bomb blast. It was about Bert, a turtle who seeks shelter inside his shell when he senses danger. The Yankees called the campaign ‘duck and cover’. The Duck News crew updated the old campaign for modern usage.

The magazine’s popularity peaked around 1987. In those pre-digital days, the Duck News crew hand-delivered copies around Brisbane. Their efforts received recognition from Federal Minister for Health Neal Blewitt for the newsletter’s contribution to HIV/AIDS education and enduring impact in a time of inequality.

Bill Rutkin wrote in the magazine about the importance of a combined community effort.

“We must live and act not only to save ourselves but also our own, our gay brothers. Every act of discrimination, prejudice, and hatred must be resisted and recorded. If we speak together, our cry for justice will be very loud.”

Also: QuAC’s early days – Old activists and unlikely allies reminisce after 30 years.

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Brooke Tindall

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

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