Australia’s bipartisan political response to HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and early 1990s, along with partnerships between government officials, medical experts and affected communities, have received due credit for helping Australia lead the world in terms of managing the epidemic. 

A critical element of Australia’s response to HIV and AIDS is yet to be fully explored — the incredible role of volunteers. Many from marginalised backgrounds themselves, including members of the LGBTIQ community, sex workers, injecting drug users and people living with HIV and AIDS, made crucial contributions in this way.

This digital exhibition complements the physical pop-up exhibition, A City Responds to Crisis: Volunteers & the HIV & AIDS Epidemic in Sydney 1980-1990s. The exhibition was curated by Dr. Shirleene Robinson and ran at Sydney’s M2 Gallery from 29 November to 11 December 2018. In this digital exhibition, we draw on rich archival material and a collection of over 60 oral history interviews (recorded between 2016-2018) to share the stories of the volunteer-driven efforts to respond to crisis during the HIV and AIDS epidemic. 

The community experienced something unimaginably devastating that was akin to war. Among such grief and loss, there were heroes. This exhibition pays tribute to them and remembers all those lost to the epidemic. 

Guests at the launch of A City Responds to Crisis, including several HIV/AIDS volunteers who were interviewed by the project (from left to right – unknown, Tess Ziems, Nicola Addison, Barrie Brockwell, Perry Head, unknown, and Norma Nicolas). Photo by Hayden Brotchie.
Bill Bowtell AO, who played a leading and instrumental role in Australia’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, launched A City Responds to Crisis at Sydney’s M2 Gallery. Photo by Hayden Brotchie.
Nic Parkhill, CEO of ACON, who supported the development of, and also launched, the exhibition. Photo by Hayden Brotchie.

Viewers should note that the historical material capturing this painful era could inadvertently cause distress.

The following applies to all images reproduced with the permission of ACON (formerly AIDS Council of NSW): “ACON Campaigns contain sexually explicit contents is intended for the information and educational purposes of adults and is not suitable for persons under the age of 18 years. It may also include images of people who have since deceased.”

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