Melbourne gay couple’s 1920s romance celebrated, a century on


victoria australian queer archives photo lgbtiq queer history report melbourne gay couple ben morris harry bruin
Photo: Australian Queer Archives/QNews.com.au

This year marks 40 years since Victoria decriminalised homosexuality in the state. To mark the occasion, the Australian Queer Archives has released an amazing report listing 100 icons of the state’s LGBTIQ+ history.

The report, A History of LGBTIQ Victoria in 100 Places and Objects, covers queer people, places, objects and stories of significance to Victoria’s LGBTIQ+ communities.

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Featured in the wide-ranging report are venues like Tasty Nightclub, Mandate and Val’s Coffee Lounge. A map of Melbourne’s gay beats from the early 1970s is also included.

Also featured in the list is Melbourne couple Ben Morris and Harry Bruin’s love letters to each other, dated 1919.

The letters, a rarity for the era, only survived because police confiscated them in October 1919 in a bid to prosecute the men for gay sex.

A friend’s mother reported the men’s relationship to police after initially trying to blackmail Bruin. Bruin had refused her demands.

However police later had to drop the case without laying charges against the men. This was because their letters contained no descriptions of the “unnatural offences” the men were accused of. It was not illegal to express love for a person of the same sex.

Nonetheless, the report explains Morris and Bruin’s moving letters show the “deep romantic affection between two men in their own words.”

“Letters like these are rare as potentially incriminating correspondence between men was usually destroyed by the writers or the recipients, to prevent it falling into the hands of the authorities, blackmailers, or disapproving third parties,” the report says.

A History of LGBTIQ Victoria report stretches back to 1830s

AQuA, with Heritage Victoria, spent 14 months on the report. They gathered submissions and recorded queer stories of “struggle, love, lust and accomplishment” across decades.

The history stretch right back to the 1830s through to the 1970s Gay Liberation Movement and beyond.

AQuA patron Joan Nestle said the “objects, maps, love letters, cabaret signs, petitions, banners” and more all tell the community’s story.

“In Victoria’s major cities and in country towns, LGBTIQ+ people – sometimes under duress, sometimes in joy – created their culture,” she said.

“While Victorian-centred, [the artefcats also] deepen the nation’s understanding of itself, of resistances to erasure and of complex cultural intersections.

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“Every time an LGBTIQ+ person suggested one of these places and objects for this public moment, it was an act of trust, of belief in their right to have a history.”

Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne said in the report, the state’s LGBTIQ+ community “proudly claims and tells its history.”

“Our LGBTIQ+ past is important and understanding it enriches us all,” he said.

Read the full report at the Heritage Victoria here.

Australian Queer Archives moves into Victorian Pride Centre

The Australian Queer Archives (formerly known as the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives) is based in Victoria. The non-profit collects and preserves a wide variety of historical LGBTIQ materials.

Since its establishment in 1978, AQuA has become the largest repository of such material in the country.

AQuA is moving into the new Victorian Pride Centre, the permanent community hub opening in St Kilda soon.

The new home at the Centre will allow easier access and exhibition of AQuA’s collections.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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