Way back in 1533, the English Parliament passed the Buggery Act, defined in courts as outlawing anal sex and bestiality – with the maximum penalty of death. When the English arrived Down Under 250 years later, those anti-gay laws came with them and not much changed when Australia became a nation in 1901.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1949 that Victoria made a giant leap in liberalising things by downgrading the punishment for anal sex from the death penalty to 20 years in jail.
Public opinion began to turn… slowly
By the late-’60s, there were steps to address the harsh legal climate, beginning with the 1969 founding of the ACT Homosexual Law Reform Society in Canberra and followed by the establishment of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) and Society Five in the early 1970s.
Calls for reform escalated in South Australia when Dr George Duncan drowned in the Torrens River after being thrown in by a group of men suspected of being Vice Squad officers patrolling a gay beat. In 1972, the state softened the laws on gay sex, and decriminalised male homosexual acts three years later (equalising the age of consent in the process).
The ACT followed suit in 1976, albeit with a higher age of gay consent, but things weren’t as pleasant in the neighbouring state of Victoria, where police raided the home of a gay couple, who ended up deported to South Australia. Over the course of the 1976-’77 summer, Victorian police arrested more than 100 men in a massive operation that involved entrapment at gay beats.