Homosexuality must be wiped out in Sydney

Post war hysteria about homosexuality was drummed up in the press. First it was that these perverts were here and must be eliminated. Then, that the problem had reached epidemic proportions and homosexuals were recruiting.  The NSW police Commissioner Colin Delaney called it ‘Australia’s greatest menace, and fastest growing crime.’ At a luncheon in 1953, Delaney told the crowd the police were focusing on two major tasks. Combating the death toll on the roads and fighting the ‘growing cancer’ of perversion (homosexuality).[1]  Then it moved to the fact that the even though arrests were being made the law was not adequate enough to put them in goal as a deterrent.

As the Truth, and we use the term lightly for this tabloid, but in this case, they were telling it, stated in a 1950 article.

‘SEX perversion has reached shocking proportions in Sydney, but the law is such that police and magistrates can do little to stamp it out. A GREAT many sex offenders have been, arrested, in the past three months for varying disgusting acts of perversion, But because of the law, most of them can be charged only with offensive behaviour, maximum-penalty for which is a paltry £5 fine.’[2]

In an article a month later, the solution it was suggested that a vagrancy law, The Vagrancy Act of 1929, which had been enacted to deal with a rise in prostitution, be extended to include homosexuals who then could be arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned with hard labour.

The Consorting Act made it possible for the police to arrest any person who ‘habitually consorts with reputed criminals or known prostitutes or those who have been convicted of having no visible means of support.’ This made such persons liable at once, on conviction, to imprisonment with hard labour for a term not exceeding six months. Here, then, Truth suggests, is a chance for the Government to add once more a paragraph to the Vagrancy Act. It could read that a person who ‘habitually consorts with reputed homosexuals or known male prostitutes, or persons who have been convicted of having: no visible lawful means of support,’ be liable to arrest and prosecution under the Vagrancy Act, and to a term of- imprisonment. This will help the police and will help rid Sydney of these pests. We suggest this should be done as quickly as possible. [3]


Under the existing laws at that time gay men could be convicted of soliciting (prostitution) or wilful and obscene exposure[4] and therefore liable to imprisonment for six months while the maximum penalty for an indecent assault on a male was five years. By the way, indecent assault meant two men having consensual sex.  Mr. Claude Matthews, the NSW Chief Secretary, told Truth that he would propose amendments to the law with the substitution of a gaol term for the present maximum fine of £5 for offensive behaviour and secondly the inclusion of a new section carrying heavy penalties for sex offences now classed as offensive behaviour.[5]

Eventually, not only were penalties increased, but also new ‘crimes’ were created to increase the powers of the police and therefore enable more arrests. Now you could even be charged and tried on multiple offences.  As author and historian Gary Wotherspoon points out there were additional repercussions.  ‘The imposition of these higher penalties meant that many of the offences were now indictable, and so were moved to the higher courts, rather than remaining in the jurisdiction of the magistrates’ courts. While in theory there ought not to be any specific legal disadvantage in this, there were certainly a range of other disadvantages, ranging from financial (extra costs etc.) to social (far greater publicity).[6]

Australia wasn’t the only country looking for more ways to harass or arrest homosexuals. The New York police used a dated anti-masquerade law re-interpreted to make dressing in drag or a lesbian dressing as a man against the law. At gay venues like Stonewall, when raids happened cross-dressing patrons had to prove they were wearing three items of gender specific clothing or be arrested. Just in case you are wondering why such a law existed in the first place it was created in 1845 because subversives were attending political rallies with masks on, so they wouldn’t be identified. Other US states created specific laws so anyone cross dressing could be arrested, obviously targeting the gay community, events and establishments.[7]

Other laws used in the US to arrest and harass were the liquor laws. Serving alcohol to known homosexuals was considered ‘disorderly conduct’ and bars lost their licences.[8]

Post war, a variety of laws could get you arrested for being a homosexual. Another was for ‘disorderly conduct’ or ‘loitering with lewd intent’, which was cruising.[9] I don’t know about you, but I think there is something cute about the term ‘loitering with lewd intent.’ I’m planning on using it regularly when people ask me what I’m doing.

The Australian newspaper, the Truth, became increasingly adamant about a solution to ensure homosexuals received the full weight of the law. One of the most substantial articles was a 1,500 word article titled, SHOCKING MALE VICE MUST BE WIPED OUT IN SYDNEY. It didn’t let up for a single minute. Here are some extracts.

Gaol and the lash are the only way to put a stop to shocking homosexual perversion in this State before it gets out of hand. The time for namby pamby so-called psychiatric treatment advocated by what this newspaper designates as medical crooks, has passed. Give them the only treatment they will understand — the lash and gaol. Then perhaps, these revolting creatures will be restrained.

Police Commissioner Delaney made the alarming statement this week that homosexuality in Sydney was worse than anything overseas. This, coupled with the Commissioner’s direct appeal to the public to help in controlling this loathsome perversion, should jolt Sydney from its peculiar attitude of tolerance towards homosexuals.

The police have an unwholesome job in trapping these filthy creatures, and it is one which no policeman relishes. Truth has every sympathy for police officers who have the nauseating task of dealing with these offenders But the police should be given every public support. Parks, lavatories and playgrounds are the hunting grounds where these pests seek their victims. They also openly frequent cafes and night clubs, nor is it uncommon to be accosted openly by one of these creatures in the street. A Vice Squad detective said this week that in Sydney there were as many practising homosexuals as there were prostitutes. In their thankless task of bringing the offenders before the court, the police have to face all sorts of filthy innuendoes. And, as a startling number of the perverts are artists, authors, stage celebrities, professional and business men — all members of the so-called upper strata — the police have to exercise the utmost caution, and be 100 per cent sure of their facts before they make an arrest.

Mr. Delaney has made an urgent appeal to the public to report suspicious actions, and watch the activities and associates of children. It is imperative that this cry should not fall on deaf ears. In many cases the parents have had the awful knowledge forced on them, through court proceedings, that their sons have been turned into the same unnatural monsters as those who debauched them, leaving them with no desire for a decent, normal life. Discovery of the depravity too often comes too late to mould the boy’s sex life along normal lines. And it is to be fervently hoped that Mr. Delaney’s remarks will find a prompt and echoing response from those who administer the law.

Too frequently, this human garbage which practises homosexuality, is sent away for a short prison term, or let off with a fine or a bond! It is not uncommon to find the same men repeating their disgusting, filthy and vicious practices soon after their release In fact, it would appear that a gaol term only intensifies their unnatural tendencies. Truth demands that judges and magistrates exercise the law to the full against these perverts. Too often, a judge or magistrate confesses himself perplexed as how to deal with these degraded offenders. They say that gaol is not the cure. With this Truth entirely agrees, but a taste of the lash as well could well prove to be effective.

Many on the bench refer to ‘special treatment’ for these creatures who masquerade under the title of males. Possibly, they have vague ideas of shock treatment. Shock treatment has become among some’ psychiatrists, the cure-all of all ailments from the D.T.’s to murderous tendencies! In any case, some of these so called psychiatrists, are, in Truth’s opinion, better named medical crooks. They advocate tolerance and understanding of the ‘unfortunates.’ They submit that the man in the dock, is really sick, and requires special treatment. Truth demands that the offenders be put where they will have no opportunity to defile children or carry out the rites of their disgusting order with others of their ilk. Truth goes further and suggests that a liberal dose of the lash will curtail their ugly inclinations.

Not long ago, in the Sydney Quarter Sessions Judge Berne said that the use of the lash against persons convicted of male perversion should be considered.  Describing the prevalence of male sex perversion as a disgrace to the community, the judge said he believed the use of the lash was permitted under an amendment to the Crimes Act. He added: ‘It is useless to treat offenders with kid gloves. It is necessary to treat them without mercy. The supreme law is the safety of the public, and everything must be subordinated to that . . . This is an offence that even the lowest of wild animals would not commit.’ Judge Berne continued: ‘The serious part is that their desires are to pollute others. The public has the right to be protected, and if the courts do not do so, then assuredly people will take the law into their own hands and act upon the instruction of ‘an eye for an eye.’[10]

The first time I read this article I was horrified as I’m sure you are. It’s almost inconceivable that such language, terminology and bias could be used in a daily newspaper.

‘Gaol and the lash’, ‘revolting creatures’, ‘loathsome perversion, ‘filthy creatures’, ‘unnatural monsters’, ‘human garbage’, ‘a liberal dose of the lash will curtail their ugly inclinations’, ‘treat them without mercy’, and a Judge suggesting the public ‘take the law into their own hands’. Such was the hysteria and panic being created in the 1950’s as I was growing up. And imagine how how shocked I was to recently discover that Colin Delaney and my father knew each other.

Above is an extract from Anthony Venn-Brown’s upcoming book ‘The Quest to Cure Queers’

More information and first chapter available HERE

[1] Sydney Morning Herald  2 December 1953

[2] Truth (Sydney)Sunday 1 January 1950

[3] Truth (Sydney) Sunday 12 February 1950, page 6

[4] As they sometimes were for sunbathing in the nude inside a men’s dressing shed at the beach. Clad in swimming costumes Vice Squad officers kept the Bondi dressing sheds under surveillance on Sunday, September 17. After watching the disgraceful behaviour of naked and semi naked men, the police swooped. Truth (Sydney)Sunday 1 January 1950 p 10

[5] Truth (Sydney) Sunday 12 February 1950, page 6

[6] ‘The Greatest Menace Facing Australia’: Homosexuality and the State in NSW During the Cold War. Author: Garry Wotherspoon. Source: Labour History, No. 56 (May, 1989), pp. 15-28

[7] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/arresting-dress-timeline-anti-cross-dressing-laws-u-s

[8] As we are talking about the 1950s it is almost unbelievable that while other Australian states were reducing criminalising homosexuality, in November 1985 the conservative Queensland Government passed legislation amending the Liquor Act. The new law made it an offence for a publican to serve liquor to, or to allow to remain on licensed premises, “perverts, deviants, child molesters and drug users.”.

[9] http://ndsmcobserver.com/2010/04/compulsory-discrimination-against-homosexuals-and-sex-perverts-1935-1969/

[10] Truth, Sunday 6 December 1953, page 10