Sunday night — and The Newsreader transported so many of us back to 1986 and the epidemic we were living through…

Leaving aside the slightly troubling matter of the ethnicity of some of the characters which may well be a concession to the present rather than a reflection of 1986 — though come to think of it there was a Korean boy in my roll class at Fort Street High in 1981 — Sunday night’s episode of this brilliant series captured exactly the feeling of 1985-86 and the AIDS epidemic, especially the way it was treated in the media.

I have filled Facebook today with material reflecting on those times. First, some posts from my own blogs: Rampant: How a City Stopped a Plague (December 2007); Miscellanea again… 1 (September 2012); Blogging the 2010s — 115 — December 2011.

You can find the documentary Rampant: How a City Stopped a Plague on YouTube in 7 parts. Here is Part 1:

Rampant (2007) is a fascinating documentary about the Australian government response to the AIDS epidemic in the early 80’s.

While most nations condemned already marginalized groups, the Australian government joined forces with gays,prostitutes and drug addicts in the fight against this disease by establishing a unique and controversial precedent that undoubtedly changed the predicted catastrophic outcome into a model response to the world in the fight against AIDS.

Interviews include Australian Health Minister Neil Blewett, the Liberal Party’s wonderful Senator Peter Baume, a very young Bill Bowtell, Dr Alex Wodak, Ita Buttrose and many another hero of those times.

And here is the Oxford Hotel in Darlinghurst on Australia Day 1988. I wasn’t there that day, but I sure was there or nearby on more days than one in 1987, 1988 – and 1989, and 1990… I see a number of faces I know in that shot, which comes from the Facebook page “Lost Gay Sydney”.  One is John Farmilo, whose Bennett Street Surry Hills address was also mine for a good part of 1987.  Not many years on from this John died of AIDS-related illness.

In St Vincents Hospice 2007 — Malcolm, me, Sirdan

In Sunday night’s episode there were so many reflections of what those of us on the scene saw and heard in those days — too many memories almost.

Last night’s episode was co-written by Kim Ho whose brilliant short film made around 2012-3 when he was still at school earned him international plaudits including from Stephen Fry.

On FB I wrote: This is real. I remember this well and much more beside from those years 1985 on, being around the scene as I was. Tonight’s The Newsreader on ABC transported me back. Brilliant TV, absolutely first rate.

The creator of The Newsreader, Michael Lewis, tweeted: “If it seems like we’re over-egging the panic around HIV, check out this eye-popping 85 special, ‘The Truth About AIDS in Australia’. Fred Nile argues that ‘irresponsible carriers’ should be dispatched to Sydney Harbour Heads. Seriously.

Be warned — some of what you will see in that is filthy rotten lies!

Sadly it is not dissimilar to some of the crap floating around social media at the moment about our current pandemic. The lie about US activist Robert Schwab is peddled in this report. There are some OK sections too — including of the clinic where I had my first AIDS test and of the doctor who did it.

On Paul Dexter and his total nonsense see Australian Gay History: Paul Dexter & The Gay Army.

In May 1983 he appeared as ‘the gay community spokesperson’ on a Channel 9 report on AIDS. His credentials were never provided nor was it explained why his views were more important that an organisation like, say, the Gay Counselling Service. Indeed, no one even bothered to ask for evidence that an organisation with the ridiculous name of ‘The Gay Army’ even existed. Nonetheless, he was up there with leading AIDS doctors and commentators like Larry Kramer.

In June 1983 the Sydney Morning Herald – a newspaper that really should have known a lot better – quoted his claim that “left-wing elements” were responsible for the outcry against AIDS publicity. They didn’t even bother to explain just what that ridiculous statement actually meant.

And yet, in spite of the obvious absurdity of this man, his fictitious organisation and his groundless claims, the Herald turned to him again the following year.

Under the headline Gay group slates AIDS statement, Dexter – now “official spokesman for the Gay Army” – declared that AIDS was far more infectious than health experts claimed. “The advertisement suggests that AIDS cannot be spread by sneezing, coughing, breathing or mosquitoes but according to Mr Dexter, medical experts can give no scientific assurance of this.”

Much more positively, consider the heroes of Sydney’s St Vincents Hospital. Do take the time to watch this.