“Tom Hughes was Lucy Turnbull’s dad”, I whispered into the ear of my friend Graeme. Though it wasn’t specifically mentioned on the Mardi Gras History Walk, it was something I knew which added to the story. Historian, Robert French was talking about a meeting of the Liberal Party of NSW held in the early 1970s. Tom Hughes, as Attorney-General was considering a range of homosexual law reform, Robert explained, and was being opposed by conservative forces in the Liberal Party. The irony of the situation now facing Lucy’s husband, the Prime Minister, and the similarity to the situation facing her father almost fifty years ago was not lost on me.
There’s all manner of phrases about “learning from history” and how “history never repeats”. But, honestly it does. And if you look to history about how different types of people have reacted to issues/situations in the past, you can better understand human nature, and some of the human motivations for current issues.
And that’s why I like history in general, and the annual history walk for Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, organised the by Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, in particular. I’ve been on a few of these walks previously, and they’re always very interesting.
Robert French is a gifted tour leader, providing the perfect combination of anecdote and understanding, locating the issues of the past within a contemporary context. Drawing upon the work of some terrific people like Gary Wotherspoon and Lex Watson, Robert really makes history “live”. Even my friend who came with me on the walk, who was somewhat sceptical about why he should get out of bed earlier on a Sunday morning, said he really enjoyed the tour.
Next year marks forty years since the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and undoubtedly there’ll be lots of commemorations (and celebrations) around the event to be held in the first week of March 2018, and rightly so. But before Mardi Gras, there was a lot of other activist activity, and so while I think Mardi Gras is important, I think it’s worth recognising the previous work of lots of others, and that’s what you learn on walks like this. Fabulous stuff.