Listening to TrailBlazers, the brand-new podcast from Brisbane-based social enterprise group Wendybird, I cried. Open, unashamed tears.
As with podcasts Queer as Fact and History is Queer, TrailBlazers explores our community’s past, but with a crucial difference – the past is local, and told through the lens of memory from those who not only lived through it, but who ‘dedicated their lives to making ours easier’.
As the description explains “Each week we sit down with a member of our community [who] has… laid foundations, picketed, protested, collectivised, fought for legislative change, cared for and raised our vibrant LGBTIQ family.”
The first (and at the time of writing, only) episode, launched in early September, interviews Phil Carswell, a founding member and inaugural President of the Victorian AIDS Council.
Working closely with the Health Minister and various government agencies at the height of the AIDS crisis, Phil’s story illuminates not only events and attitudes of the time, but offers a beautifully considered and often surprising perspective, while acknowledging that “the closets are deeper in Queensland.”
Indeed, it seems where government obstruction is concerned, Queensland is consistently responsible.
Phil tells stories of his past with ease, connecting us with a sometimes unfathomable once-present. He tells of the infamous Grim Reaper AIDS awareness ad campaign as yes, chilling by today’s standards, but the exposure as a gateway to education and funding.
He talks of the blood donor whose life was blighted by unknowingly donating tainted blood, resulting in the deaths of 4 babies, and who subsequently died in 1985.
A guilt-stricken and isolated ‘Ian’ received support from Phil’s health groups and help networks, and his lasting memorial is a ticket to La Cage Aux Folles, some feathers from a drag costume, and a patch on the AIDS memorial quilt quoting “I never knew I had so much support.”
I cried not because the story was sad, but because Phil found joy and cause in ‘Ian’s’ life. It’s easy to dismiss our collective discriminatory and oppressed past as tragic, but for those who lived through it, progress and personal stories of triumphs, however seemingly small, are reason to celebrate.
There is so much anger and social division currently, but we must learn our past to appreciate how far we’ve come. In only one-hour, Brisbane’s West End local Phil and Trailblazers have taught me to give thanks for the beautiful optimism of those who’ve gone before to make today possible.
It’s the most moving hour of our local history I’ve heard, and I am so excited to hear which local Trailblazer is interviewed next.
Trailblazers by WendyBird is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Anchor, Spotify, and other podcast apps.