In the 1970’s, Darlinghurst was a very different place to what it is now. The Department of Main Roads had cut a swathe through the suburb and bought up many properties for the creation of an expressway, leaving them empty and derelict.
Post-Whitlam and pre-Aids, we were in the midst of a major recession – there were little or no jobs to be had, so many artists settled for living on the dole and squatting in these vacant properties, or living in big communal houses where the rent was cheap and living was crowded but convivial.
Consequently, a great sense of social camaraderie prevailed, with most sharing a common gay anarcho-feminist politics and lifestyle.
The suburb had a colourful history, having been the scene of the razor gangs, brothels and underworld queens Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine in the 20’s and 30’s, and settled by Italian migrants after the war. Good and cheap Italian cafes prevailed, and big abandoned properties such as the old Marist Brothers High School in Liverpool Street and the Shepherd and Newman printing warehouse became home to artist collectives who put on workshops, exhibitions and performances. A recycled church on the corner of Stanley and Palmer Streets became Stanley Palmer’s Culture Palace, a government-funded drop-in centre and social welfare organisation run by Peter Collingwood.
The prevailing gay culture created an inner city ghetto, inside which for the first time gay men and women could live almost entirely inside a supportive gay community, often having little or no interaction with the outside ‘straight’ world. This supportive community gave rise to a fertile gay culture, which manifested itself in cabaret, theatre and the visual arts. It was also fertile ground for political activism and for the challenging of the status quo, which was to manifest itself powerfully in the events of 1978 and the advent of the Gay Mardi Gras.