Review Blog

Apr 12 2010

Closets are for Clothes, a History of Queer Australia by Rachel Cook

cover image

Black dog books, 2010. ISBN 978 1742031040.
Published in black dog book's The Drum series, this title adds significantly to the literature available at secondary level outlining the history of homosexuality in Australia. Beginning with the First Fleet, an overview of each historical period is given, showing the activity within that time frame. Each chapter relates its history and then adds to the bare facts with letters, epistles and stories of individual people. Many of these are real people, but some are fictionalised first person accounts, giving a sound authenticity using the facts from the times. So in the first chapter, A New World, White Settlement of Australia, the facts are presented in a text format giving the reasons for the First Fleet and what it represented for Australia. Interspersed are stories of individuals, such as Rebecca Cooper, Arthur Palls, Robert Pringle Stuart (a magistrate) and Lt Charles Bowen. Each story relates a differing point of view.
Little is known about the nineteenth century, so much of the text is devoted to the late twentieth century when attitudes were polarized. World War 2 made quite a difference to gay men and women, but it seems that once over, things went back to the way they had been. During the 50's and 60's, the medical profession came to view homosexuality as an illness, and the book outlines the 'cures' used over the world. In Australia, aversion therapy was used widely, and it is salutary to read of the attempts made using this barbaric treatment.
The 60's saw an upswing in movements for freedoms across the board, and the gay community stood up to be counted, resulting in demonstrations, arrests and threats. The onset of AIDS, Mardi Gras, the call for equality before the law, and so on are covered briefly in this book
A comprehensive index, glossary and time line, reference guide and acknowledgments accompany the book, making it an indispensible aid to studies at senior level. It makes salutary reading to realise that although things have changed, many of the attitudes remain the same and that there are still battles to be fought and won. 
Fran Knight

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