Activism & ACT UP

First group marching to draw attention to HIV and AIDS in Sydney in 1985 including Bruce Verperman (left, in the check shirt) Craig Johnston (wearing the red bandanna). Image courtesy of Robert French.

On 10 April 1990, more than 80 people met to form a Sydney ACT UP chapter, based on the group founded by Larry Kramer in the United States. A number of people involved had earlier attended an emergency drug meeting that had been called by People Living With AIDS (PLWA) NSW to discuss a lack of treatment and urge the formation of ACT UP. Members of other marginalised groups, including sex workers, were also part of this activism.

First Australian ACT UP action, Talkabout, n.8, May-June, 1990, p.9. Image courtesy of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

The first Sydney ACT UP protest involved more than 50 members who demonstrated at the federal health department, targeting the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee, which was responsible for drug licensing and for AZT only being available for people with CD4 counts of 200 or fewer.

Andrew McCormick (left) with Bruce Brown (right) delivering his Act Up speech at Darling Harbour for World AIDS Day, 1991, Talkabout, Vol. 2, No. 5, Jan/Feb 1992. Photo by Jamie Dunbar. Image courtesy of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

ACT UP was highly active across Australia in the early 1990s, with protests, actions and zaps. ACT UP also drew attention to other issues, such as the treatment in the media of people living with HIV and AIDS.

Unidentified protester writing on the front window of the USA Consulate, Sydney, during an ACT-UP Sydney protest, 19 June 1990. Photo by Glenn Collier. Image courtesy of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

By 1993 it became clear that the type of activism practised by ACT UP was in decline. Emotional exhaustion had taken atoll on many members. Others had been affected by ill-health or had died. The 1991 Baume Report had appeared to address many of the concerns ACT UP held about the approvals process and access to medication for people living with HIV.

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