Cairns’ Hidden Gay History Revealed In New Book

Author Ian Byford has revealed Cairns’ hidden gay past in his new book Passing Glances, which explores the local LGBTI community from the city’s establishment in 1876 until statewide homosexual law reform in 1990.

“Gays hid from history for fear of draconian laws which threatened 14 years’ jail with hard labour for homosexual acts between consenting adult males in private,” Mr Byford explained.

“But the lack of records does not indicate a lack of history or of homosexuals.”

The book – illustrated with photographs – also recalls the Gold Diggers Club, which ran secret gay expeditions to an isolated beach past Yarrabah in the 1960s, the restaurants in Cairns which doubled as covert sanctuaries for gay people during the 1970s and ’80s, and also the devastating AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.

“The book describes all of what happened in that time and how the community got together and supported people who were sick,” he said.

Mr Byford first began research for the book in 2002 with his friend Rex Masters, a well-known Cairns volunteer and activist who sadly passed away in 2010.

The book also tells the story of little-known pioneer Ted Kelk, a teacher and librarian at Parramatta State School for more than two decades, who up until his final years had lived a closeted life.

“When faced with his own mortality, he burst out of the closet, railing against the authorities, chaining himself up outside the Cairns Post newspaper,” Mr Byford explained.

“He alienated even gays who thought he aimed for too much, too soon.”

But Mr Kelk lived just long enough to see his efforts rewarded in the passage of gay law reform in Queensland under the Goss Government in 1990.

Passing Glances is available from Cairns Books at Cairns Central, and a display at the Cairns City Library featuring quotes from the book and illustrations will be set up on September 18, in time for the region’s Tropical Pride Festival next month.

The festival runs from September 30 until October 8 and includes historical events, art displays, parties and family-friendly events across the city. For more information, visit the Cairns Tropical Pride website.