About Dominic O’Grady

Dominic O’Grady is a journalist and a media adviser at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

When he’s not at the Commission, he writes and dreams about travel, most recently to Norway in search of the Northern Lights.

His travel blogs and freelance travel stories include Paris, Rome, Dijon, the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre; and in Australia, Maria Island, Nitmiluk, and the Bullo River.

Dominic holds a Doctor of Arts from the University of Sydney, a Master of Arts (Hons) in Australian Literature from the University of Sydney, and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

He is a former editor of the Sydney Star newspaper and the author of  Preaching to the Perverted: the life and times of Michael Glynn.

Dominic is a member of the Australian Society of Authors and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance.  He lives in Sydney with his partner Malcolm and their cattle x kelpie, Ruby.


The past is made of paper

“The past is made of paper … records, documents, newspaper stories, eyewitness reports, gossip and rumour and opinion and contradiction … if you’re after the truth, the whole and detailed truth and nothing but the truth you’re going to have a thin time of it if you trust paper; but with the past, it almost all you’ve got.” – Margaret Atwood

The golden age of gay and lesbian print media?

Michael Glynn
Michael Glynn was found dead in his Glebe Housing Commission terrace on Wednesday 10 July 1996. To paraphrase Auden’s Funeral Blues, no one stopped the clocks or held the presses. It was deadline day, after all, and the page proofs for that week’s edition of the Sydney Star Observer – the newspaper Glynn founded almost two decades earlier – had to be at the printers by 6pm. It wasn’t until the following day that reports of Glynn’s death filtered into the Star office on Oxford Street, a noisy thoroughfare lined with gay bars and clubs and known as Sydney’s golden mile.

Glynn had emigrated to Australia from the USA in 1971. He was a good-looking 23-year-old then, still shy about embracing his sexuality but aware, after seeing in Boston the surf film Endless Summer, that Australia had erotic appeal.

“The guys in Endless Summer were travelling around the world, following the sun and the surf,” Glynn recalled in a 1995 interview with a former editor of the Star, Larry Galbraith.

“They went to Melbourne, then they came to Sydney, but on both occasions it was overcast and raining and the waves weren’t doing much. Then they ended up in Darwin. And I saw these men wearing Speedos and of course I grew up with boxer short swimwear, so the Speedos were a bit of an eye-opener. And that’s about the only thing I knew about Australia before I came down here.”

Glynn, who taught high school English and drama for several years after he arrived in Australia, would have expected his death to make the front-page of the Star, and it did. Glynn’s photo appeared underneath the Star masthead on 18 July 1996, next to a photo of a fellow American drama queen, Truman Capote. Glynn’s photo pointed readers to a tribute on page three, penned by a long-time Star contributor, Gary Dunne, who described Glynn as a lanky American with no shortage of attitude and chutzpah.

I was one of three journalists who worked at the Star at the time of Glynn’s death. Ben Widdicombe and Julie Catt were the other two staff journalists, and we reported to Bernie Sheehan, who was the newspaper’s second lesbian editor in 17 years. All of us knew of Glynn as the Star founder but none of us had any contact with the man whose vision for a gay community newspaper we had inherited.

Certainly, we were fiercely protective of the newspaper and its reputation. We valued its status as an independent and critical voice within Sydney’s gay and lesbian community and its role as the community’s journal of record.

The Star we worked for in the mid-1990s had evolved into a much more polished version of the newspaper Glynn founded in 1979 but it nevertheless remained true to Glynn’s original vision. We reported on breakthroughs and setbacks in AIDS treatments; and on continuing street violence against lesbians and gays. We pushed back against the Wood Royal Commission and its conflation of homosexuality with paedophilia; and we celebrated court victories that included insurance payouts to same-sex partners and human rights rulings against discrimination.

We carried arts reviews and scene photos, lists of event information and community contacts, and humourous columns about love and lust. We boasted an audited, weekly circulation of 24,682 and were frequently cited by mainstream media as a source for stories about gay and lesbian issues.

Digital services such as Gaydar and Grindr were unheard of at the time. Instead, the Star carried page after page of classified advertisements from sex workers, escorts, and masseurs; and columns of ‘personals’ from gay men seeking casual or long-term connections: “31YO, 5’8 70kg. Turned on by stocky man with hairy chest, mo. Into anything that’s safe. Very b’minded”.

We had made good on our inheritance. But we were too busy to spare much thought for the Star’s origins. Thankfully, others did.

Gary Dunne interviewed Glynn in June 1994 for the Star’s 15th anniversary edition, and Galbraith recorded an interview with Glynn in December 1995. Those two interviews are unique in that they allow Glynn to provide a public account of his life.

But of course that’s not the full story. There exists a shoebox full of Glynn’s personal papers and diaries, a collection that reveals some of Glynn’s torturous interior life. As well, Glynn’s surviving friends, lovers, co-workers and peers have their own memories and their own versions of events. One of them is the gay activist and former Sydney City Councillor, Craig Johnston, who was commissioned by Dunne to write a brief reflection on Glynn and the Star for the newspaper’s 15th anniversary edition. Johnston’s account provides the starting point for this story:

For me, I guess, the Golden Age of the gay/lesbian print media will always be Michael Glynn’s Star. I first came across it when Michael and friends like Dennis Scott were handing it out from a little table, night-time, just near Capriccios.

It took on a tabloid format, personified the passion and commitment of Michael, was full of infuriating typing mistakes, upbraided the gay male community into maturity, was loved and hated, depended on volunteers, printed absolutely everything you gave it (which was great for the homosexual law reform campaign and my campaign for election to Sydney City Council), happily antagonised advertisers, lived on a shoe string (which couldn’t last) and was entirely maverick and unpredictable – except for its unshakeable commitment to gay power and community development.

In these days when poofs and dykes who work for the homosexual print media are just as likely to wear red braces as purple overalls, our media could do worse than remember the eight pillars of homosexual politics expressed in the first Star. Sexuality. Identity. Community. Gender non-conformism. Camp. Enterprise. Militancy. Radical social critique. Think about it for a while, if you want.

The Star’s first edition, July 1979

In July 1979, a young American expatriate by the name of Michael Glynn began publishing a fortnightly guide to gay life in Sydney.

Readers could pick up their copy of this free newsletter from one of several gay venues that flourished along Oxford Street, in the inner-city suburb of Darlinghurst.

Glynn called his publication the Sydney Star, in honour of his friend Christine Smith, a former Australian Olympic skier who had committed suicide two months earlier.

Glynn recalled that Smith’s death had made the front page of Sydney’s tabloid newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. “They used the exact words ‘the Sydney Star’,” Glynn said, referring to the Telegraph report. “That’s where the name came from. It was a tribute to her, a straight woman.”[i]

The Sydney Star styled itself as a “gay business and entertainment guide”[ii] rather than a newspaper. It was funded entirely by advertising, mostly from gay sex clubs and discos, and it provided readers with a comprehensive list of the city’s gay nightclubs, bars, steam baths, hotels, gyms and escort agencies. Addresses and telephone numbers included.

The first edition of the Star also listed local businesses that welcomed gay clientele. This list included the Alternate Bookshop at 382 Pitt Street; a psychologist on Crown Street in East Sydney; a solicitor in Knox Street, Double Bay; La Lorraine Restaurant in Chalmers Street, Surry Hills; and Louis French Casuals, at 205 Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross.

Broadly speaking, these entertainment and business listings marked the parameters of the commercial, social and sexual world the Star sought to describe.

The Star’s first edition carried just a few paragraphs of news. There was a two-paragraph news item about a Sydney Council inspection of gay nightclubs, and a cursory one-paragraph summary of a Candlelight Rally held as part of Gay Pride week.[iii]

Glynn’s attitudes to publishing news that spoke to the specific interests of Sydney’s homosexuals changed before the year was out: “We started out purely as a business and entertainment guide. Then we realised that there was a hell of a lot of news out there and we turned gradually into a newspaper.

“We had a policy in the early days that we’d print virtually anything that came into the office, as long as it wasn’t defamatory. If we didn’t have space this issue we’d hold it over and give it priority in the next issue. We tried to reflect what the community wanted.”[iv]

[i] Dunne, Gary, The Star is Born, Sydney Star Observer, 15 July 1994, p 25.

[ii] The Sydney Star, Number 1, Volume 1, July 1979.

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Dunne, op cit, p. 25.