Inner West Independent

Foundational LGBTQI+ activist warns that there is ‘still much more to be done’ as historic signage is unveiled in Balmain

Peter de Waal next to the new signage outside Balmain Town Hall. Photo: Damon Amb.

By PATRICK MCKENZIE

A foundational member of an LGBTQI+ activist organisation established in Balmain has warned that there is “still much more to be done” in reaching equality, 50 years on from the country’s first public gathering of gay and lesbian people.

Inner West Council celebrated the work of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) with a flag-raising ceremony at Balmain Town Hall as part of its 2022 Mardi Gras festivities last Wednesday and unveiled a new sign recognising the organisation on its 50th anniversary.

CAMP was founded in February 1971, just down the road from the town hall at 393 Darling Street, Balmain. The organisation marked the first public gathering of gay and lesbian people in Australia and quickly expanded beyond Sydney to establish branches in Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane by the early 1970s.

Speaking to City Hub, foundational CAMP member Peter de Waal – who spoke at the event – was elated at the progress that has been made since he met his late partner Peter “Bon” Bonsall-Boone in 1966.

“To have marriage equality is something we couldn’t even have dreamed of … the changes have been phenomenal, but of course, we shouldn’t forget that there is still much more to be done,” he said.

“For many younger people, to be part of the Mardi Gras parade can be an enormous boost to how they feel about themselves.”

While enthusiastic about greater freedoms, de Waal noted that community work is important while global attitudes and governments continue to challenge the rights of LGBTQI+ people.

“For marginalised communities, we are the first to be targeted by these forces and organisations, because we don’t fit into the box of how they perceive life to be,” de Waal said.

“Our so-called leaders need to stand up and give us some public recognition. Show some solidarity and understanding that we still need a lot of their support.”

De Waal regards community support and activism as a twofold practice.

“For me, activism has been on two levels: Very public and upfront, demonstrating in the street and giving oral evidence to royal commissions, but also a lot of work with individual people,” he said.

Council commemoration

The unveiled signage provides a detailed overview of CAMP’s early initiatives, including a volunteer lesbian and gay telephone helpline called ‘Phone-A-Friend’ as well as ongoing public education initiatives.

De Waal said that he was “overwhelmed” when he first saw the sign.

“[It] is like a monument, something physical people can go to … instead of doing something on paper or giving a talk, it’s a permanent thing.”

De Waal also praised Inner West Council’s ongoing initiatives, such as the annual ‘Feel the Love’ Mardi Gras reception, and the seven rainbow benches installed throughout the area to commemorate local activists in 2018, including one in Rozelle dedicated to him and Bon.

“I often take friends there, we sit on the seat and I tell them a bit of history.”

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