William Yang has brought his very personal recollections of Sydney’s gay scene to life through his images, and now his one-man show as part of Sydney WorldPride 2023. The people, places and memories are brought to life through his gentle recollections of the beginnings of the Sydney Mardi Gras, the AIDS crisis and the mainstreaming of queer culture in Australia.
There is a stillness to the event, presented at Seymour Centre’s York Theatre. Yang narrates as his photos are projected on screen. Combining his observational photography as well as his more artistic works, the audience is transported back in time to a rougher Australia, still figuring out its identity and dealing with the changing social forces within it.
With a beautiful musical accompaniment by Timothy Fairless, Yang opens up about his own sexual awakening, racism, and racial fetishes within the gay community; Sydney’s hidden sex parties, the world of long shuttered saunas, and drag bars. His circle of friends—artists, writers, designers and performers like Dennis Altman, Peter Tully, David McDiarmid, and Phillip Mills (aka drag superstar Doris Fish)—are seen through Yang’s disarming lens and there’s a charming cheekiness that sneaks into his personal observations.
What’s on screen is captivating. Sharply revealing photographs of parties in the “gay ghetto” of Darlinghurst in the 70s, naked men frolicking in the pool of Ken’s Karate Klub (a gay sauna) in the 80s, and the evolution of Mardi Gras from a “cheap and cheerful” community event and protest, to the mega budget, corporate era. Yang is frank and honest about his glee at discovering the multiplicity of gay and lesbian life, the reclamation of the word “queer” in the 90s, and the new wave of gender diversity and fluidity.
We’re lucky that LGBTQ+ elders like Yang chronicled their time and are still here to share it. For those with a love of queer history, personal stories and classic photography Gay Sydney: A Memoir will shine.
By Chad Armstrong
Gay Sydney: A Memoir runs at Seymour Centre, Sydney from Feb 19th – 23rd as part of Sydney WorldPride 2023. Click here for tickets and more info.