Candlelight vigils and the creation of quilt panels have played a critical role in commemorating, celebrating and remembering the lives of those lost during the AIDS epidemic.
The first Australian candlelight vigil was held in Melbourne in 1985. In Gay Sydney, historian Garry Wotherspoon writes movingly that the annual candlelight vigil held at the height of the epidemic was:
a way of remembering those lost to the epidemic…not far from the Archibald Fountain, during an emotional ceremony, the names of those who had died were read out. All around, one could hear the sounds of people weeping. It was a distressing time.
The first Sydney AIDS Memorial Quilt, then comprising of 35 panels, was launched in Sydney on World AIDS Day by Ita Buttrose in 1988. The panels are a moving way of reinforcing the sheer scale of loss caused by the epidemic.
The skill of quilting has been taught by many volunteers. One woman who helped train others explained that it was a way she was able to support the loved ones of those who died.
The Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt is believed to be the largest in existence outside the United States. It was donated to the Sydney Powerhouse Museum in 2007.
AIDS Memorial Quilt panels. Images courtesy of Thorne Harbour Health and the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives.
Patricia Davidson – a Newcastle perspective
Patricia Davidson volunteered with the Quilt Project in Newcastle, New South Wales, through ACON Hunter (the Newcastle branch of ACON was established in 1988). In the audio extracts below, Pat reflects on the process of creating quilts, and on two specific quilts she was involved with making.