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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 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.