The Campaign: Connecting with our past

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In 1988, more than 100 arrests were made at Hobart’s popular Salamanca Market when the Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group defied a ban to gather signatures on a petition to decriminalise sexual activity between consenting adult males in private / Jasmin Simmons.

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It’s a 90 minute dramatisation of highlights from a 9 year battle that overturned the criminalisation of homosexuality in Australia’s state of Tasmania and ultimately forged a path to same sex marriage equality a decade later.

It’s amazing to think that up until 1997, intimacy between homosexual couples was punishable by incarceration of up to 21 years and an entire generation has grown up with the liberties of this fight possibly unaware of our nation’s sordid history.   That’s 7 years longer than the maximum sentence for assault and rape (at that time).  It centres around Rodney Croome and the key players in his inner circle that relentlessly initiated and pursued social and legal campaigns slowly changing the negative perception of the LGBTIQ+ community by almost two thirds.  The unprecedented and highly publicised arrests grew into Australia’s largest-ever gay rights civil disobedience, which began a campaign to change the Tasmanian law – the most draconian in the Western world in terms of its penalty and, by the time of its repeal, the last of its kind in Australia.

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The stage documentary  draws from personal testimony, parliamentary transcripts, media reports and archival sources from the people involved – including Rodney Croome, Nick Toonen and Christine Milne – The Campaign chronicles Tasmania’s journey from exclusion to inclusion, from opposition to acceptance, and from hatred to embrace. From playwright Campion Decent (Unholy Ghosts, Three Winters Green), The Campaign won Best New Writing at the 2019 Tasmanian Theatre Awards.   The triumph of this case would later serve as a blueprint for the mainland as the nation worked to the legalisation of same-sex marriage, the genesis of the Sydney Mardi Gras parade / Jasmin Simmons

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Matthew Lee, Madeline MacRae, Simon Croker and Jane Phegan portray the key activists within the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights group (THLRG) as well as multiple characters they encountered along the way on both sides. It’s a great historical account that opens our eyes to a key moment in time when it was not uncommon for gay males to be associated with paedophilia due to misconceptions.  The flip on gender equality in this case sees the lesbian personna completely invisible on this matter as we’re told in one of Madeline MacRae’s monologue as Lee Gwen Booth.

Tim McGarry would have had the most fun though, playing some of the most comical right wing characters the group had to oppose. Adding his flare, it’s funny now, but in retrospect, the arguments being used against the homosexual community were quite disgusting.

The script is fact focused offering tender moments that humanises some of the legends in the LGBTIQ+ community.   It’s documentary style story beautifully executed on stage with a nice flow as the audience is introduced to dozens of characters throughout the show with the ocassional break in song and dance lightening the tone.

It’s a reminder for the Australian LGBTIQ+ community of its perserverance and triumph, it’s a reminder to all Australians of its past, it’s a connection that many will resonate with also facing the same challenges in the social injustices and issues they represent and fight for.

The Campaign is one of the essential moments of the Sydney Mardi Gras season that needs to be experienced in order to inspire the next generation of activists fighting for today’s causes.   The blueprint of its success is a timeless tale uncovering harsh realities, demonstrating patience, focus and strong will that will help keep the fire of social equality campaigns in its newer forms at their peak.

 

WHERE & WHEN:
Tuesday to Saturday – 7pm; Sundays – 5pm (until 28th February)
The Seymour Centre, Corner City Rd and Cleveland St, Chippendale

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Photography: Jasmin Simmons
Editor: Rebecca Varidel, Sydney Scoop

3 comments

  1. This was a great review and I really hope Sydney-siders get along to the last few shows.
    However, one minor nit-pick. I am played by Madeline MacRae not Jane Phegan – who most notably plays Christine Milne and Beverly Croome.

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