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Melbourne Gay & Lesbian History series



listen: ASIO 1950s- 04:24 minutes


The Red Peril, 1950s


In the 1950s, a panic gripped the rulers of the western world. Faced with the threat of communism they turned their attention to the dangers posed to civilisation by ... homosexuals. Obviously.


In their efforts to understand this menace, security officials cast their net wide. And in Melbourne they found themselves a major source. In the ASIO files now available we find a document called 'Some Notes on Homosexuality', prepared in the late 1950s or early 1960s by a Melbourne homosexual.


The unnamed author pointed out that his paper was based on no systematic research. He had no specialised medical knowledge - but he had thought deeply about the issue, as he said, and had read widely. And given how well-informed he is, he was obviously well plugged into the camp scene.


Our Male Homosexual felt called upon to begin his notes with a glossary of terms used in his paper.


'Queer', he said, is used in the 'accepted sense' to mean homosexual.

'Square': a normal person

'Shopping': those homosexuals who are prepared to further their relationship With And if that works really well, we have

'Marriage': homosexuals living to together or having a settled arrangement And among the varieties of homosexuals

'Screamer' [like you need to ask, right?]. Our Male Homosexual was not very keen on screamers.

'Butch': not a screamer. Manly, virile - alright, 'apparently virile'.

'A Convertible' - one who enjoys heterosexual as well as homosexual experiences

And in all of this - perhaps the first recorded use of the word 'gay' in Australia.

'Gay': a word used as a recognition signal. You can drop 'gay' into the conversation and see whether the other picks up on it. If he recognises the specialised usage - he's probably one of us.


For ASIO and the gang, this discussion of homosexual jargon was no doubt all very interesting but what they really wanted to know was 'what are the signs that lead one to suspect a person of homosexuality?'


Our Male Homosexual offered the following helpful tips:

The subject rarely goes out on social occasions with members of the opposite sex and does not obviously pursue them.

The subject goes alone to pubs, cafes or clubs with a notoriously 'queer' clientele.

The subject takes long nocturnal walks, perhaps hanging about aimlessly in parks, railway stations, or at bus stops.

The subject shows an otherwise inexplicable interest in people of the same sex - but of another social class, or in young people of his own sex with whom he could have few interests in common.

The subject is over, say, thirty, is unmarried and has no regular mistress (or lover, in the case of women).

The subject keeps a large or ferocious breed of dog - to deal with pick-ups who turn nasty or try to 'rent' blackmail) him.

The subject lives with another person of the same sex and they show signs of having a settled arrangement (or 'marriage'); such signs including substantial possessions in common - cars, bank accounts, television sets ...... Easy isn't it?

Police Officer, 1965

  © text copyright Graham Willett, Australian Lesbian & Gay Archives 2002





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images: National Australian Archives