An archival celebration for Auckland Pride 2020

To celebrate Auckland Pride 2020 (1–16 February) and support the library’s events for this festival, I have selected three Archives & Manuscripts collections from Auckland Libraries’ Heritage Collections to highlight. This includes the archival records of gay groups, as well as those with components that touch on matters relevant to rainbow communities.

The first of these three collections is the Auckland Lesbian Archives (NZMS 1184). It comprises individual collections of lesbian archives, papers relating to the formation of the Lesbe-Friends of the Archives Trust, publications and posters, and spans the period from 1985-1995. If you are interested in finding out more, this archive has an inventory or listing you can browse online.

In order to give a bit of a background to this collection, we need to go back to the 1990s. In 1992-1993, a collective was formed from various women’s groups, including Lesbian Support Groups. These groups had been operating from the Auckland Women's Centre in Ponsonby since 1978/1979. Recognising the historic importance of the women’s movement, the collective applied for a Lotteries Commission heritage grant to preserve the documentary heritage of the women’s groups located at the Auckland Women's Centre. The application was successful, and work began on the records in 1995. This in turn led to the formation of a lesbian community-archiving group, the Lesbe-Friends of the Archives Trust. The trust focused on collecting and conserving material on lesbian life in Auckland through a formal arrangement with Auckland Public Library. However, it was only operational for a few years and the lesbian archives were transferred to Auckland Public Library when the Women’s Centre moved to new premises.

Ref: Cover of Lesbian Lip, May-June 1982 from the Auckland Lesbian Archive Records.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZMS 1184


Collection highlights include the Sue Fitchett papers, which relate to the Lesbian Coalition, a political action group based in Auckland and Wellington. The group was involved in advocating and petitioning for the Homosexual Law Reform Bill 1985, which came into effect in August 1986 and decriminalised sexual relations between men aged 16 and over. Sue Fitchett was also involved with the Auckland Women’s Health Collective based at the Auckland Women's Centre and wrote for Broadsheet magazine between 1978 to 1993. A clinical psychologist by trade, Fitchett has focused on writing poetry since the late 1990s and early 2000s, and co-edited 'Eat These Sweet Words: The New Zealand Anthology of Lesbian and Gay Poetry' (1999).

Other notable items in the Auckland Lesbian Archives are the New Zealand Lesbian & Gay Community newsletters and magazines, such as Lesbian Lip (Wellington) and LIP: Lesbians in Print (Auckland). The latter ran from 1985-1992 and was mainly produced at the Auckland Women’s Health Centre. Gay and Lesbian Community fliers from the 1980s are also represented in the collection and reflect the increased visibility of local community-based events at this time, such as the ‘Summer Out-ing’ at Grey Lynn Park. This event was organised by the Gay/Lesbian Community and fliers from 1986 and 1987 show activities involved music, a dog show and tug o’peace, as well as information and stalls.

The second archive featured in this post is the Fifth Season Garden Group (NZMS 2097). The group is a network of LGBT gardeners who have gardening or horticultural interests and arrange social events, including visits to gardens around Auckland. The archive contains committee and AGM minutes, the group’s constitution, events, correspondence, newsletters and financial records. The group’s objectives are to promote the enjoyment of plants and gardens amongst people of similar interest; and develop a supportive environment and foster an interest in learning about plants and appreciating their value. This has resulted in garden tours, television documentaries, book publications and the Heroic Garden Festival, which was run by Geoffrey Marshall and his partner John Hayward.

The Heroic Garden Festival was initiated to raise funds for Auckland City Mission’s Herne Bay House (1990s-2000s), a respite and treatment centre for people living with HIV and AIDS, and subsequently for Mercy Hospice Auckland. From 1997 when the festival first started, up until 2019 when it ceased, around $1.2 million was raised. The 2019 programme gives a flavour of the calibre of the gardens around Auckland the public could visit and the events on offer; whilst the inclusion of the garden festival in past Auckland Pride Festivals indicates the importance of this charitable horticultural initiative to LGBT communities.

In their book, 'Space, Place, and Sex: Geographies of Sexualities' (p71), Johnston and Longhurst relate the Fifth Season Garden Group to a comment made by renowned writer and filmmaker Peter Wells about being gay and the power of gardening. Specifically, after visiting Geoffrey Marshall and John Hayward’s Auckland garden, Wells noted:
Gay men have often been leading proponents of style, be it in gardening or in other imaginative spheres. It seemed to me, as I close the garden gate and left behind this magical world, that part of the reason could be that gay people have historically had little control over wider aspects of society, and indeed small control over laws which affected our lives so directly. To create a small kingdom – an area of sovereignty – has been an essential survival strategy. More than this, it is, in some sense, a triumph. Creating – as in this case, gardening – is how we stay sane.

Ref: Cover for Johnston, Lynda and Longhurst, Robyn. c.2010. Space, Place, and Sex:
Geographies of Sexualities. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

The final collection is the Broadsheet Collective (NZMS 596). This large collection, for which an inventory is available (see link above), covers 1971 to 1999 and consists of administrative records, posters, magazines, newspaper clippings, photographs and correspondence. The latter includes a letter from Lisa Sabbage on lesbians and AIDS (1989), as well as correspondence from Auckland Lesbian and Gay Youth (1990s), and newspaper clippings featuring Gays against the Springbok Tour of 1981. A major part of the collection is the Broadsheet magazine and photographs (some of which were used in the magazine). Broadsheet was New Zealand’s first feminist magazine focusing on debating women’s issues at depth and information sharing on a national and international level.

The Auckland Women’s Liberation group was one of New Zealand’s second-wave feminist groups who petitioned for women’s issues, such as realising pay equity, and women’s legal and medical rights. The group distributed its first newsletter in February 1971 from their office on Karangahape Road. They then drew up a development, organisation and progress document in July 1971, which identified a “demand for “home-grown” literature – articles, opinions, and facts relevant to New Zealand” (NZMS 596, Series 2.1 Broadsheet 1971-1972). This subsequently led group members (who included Sandra Coney, Anne Else, Rosemary Ronald, Sharon Alston and Kitty Wishart), to form the Broadsheet Collective and produce Broadsheet magazine (July 1972, issue 1 – Winter 1997, issue 214). It only took a relatively short time for the magazine’s readership/membership and written contributions to grow beyond a solely Auckland reach, as well as an increase in sales and distribution on a national scale. In 1987, the magazine was redesigned and received a glossy cover as part of a push to gain more advertising and appeal to a wider audience. However, despite this revamp and Broadsheet’s role as a powerful mouthpiece for feminist issues, it was never particularly profitable. From 1991, the numbers of issues were reduced to four per year and the glossy cover was replaced by the original colourful card cover and simpler format. These changes were not enough to make the magazine sustainable though and the final issue, which marked Broadsheet’s 25th birthday, came out in Winter 1997.

Up until 1978, the editorial team was made up of twelve women representing both heterosexual and lesbian interests. After a difference in opinion, some of the lesbian members left the team but the magazine continued with some lesbian support. Issue 10, produced in June 1973 prior to these changes, featured the first lesbian front cover. Titled ‘Gay Women Are Sisters ….’, this issue prominently featured lesbian content, such as the ‘Gay Liberation (University) Manifesto’, an advert for Gay Pride Week 24-20 June 1973, and articles about gay liberation and feminism in Aotearoa New Zealand, including sexual discrimination. The manifesto was a petition for societal change and acceptance, which were positioned as basic human rights. Action was proposed through education, pickets and marches, campaigns against discrimination and fundraising. The manifesto ends with “Gay is Proud”, echoing the ethos of the present-day Auckland Pride Festival. The issue also includes a powerful editorial, a regular feature of Broadsheet, which relays the personal experiences of lesbian feminist Sharon Alston (1948-1995). In this short piece, Alston, also the artist responsible for this issue’s cover, recounts how she battled societal prejudices during her youth and early twenties but became empowered through her involvement with Gay Liberation, Auckland.

Ref: Cover of Broadsheet by Sharon Alston, issue no 10, June 1973.
Courtesy of the University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services / Te Tumu Herenga.

As I hope I have illustrated in this blog post, Auckland Libraries’ Heritage Collections include rich archives that chart the history of rainbow communities in Auckland and reflect their struggles for equality and acceptance.

Author: Dr Natasha Barrett, Senior Curator Archives and Manuscripts, Sir George Grey Special Collections

Bibliography

Auckland Lesbian Archives. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZMS 1184.

Fifth Season Garden Group. Records. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZMS 2097.

Broadsheet Collective. Records. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZMS 596.

Digitised issues of Broadsheet (1972-1997), University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services / Te Tumu Herenga.

Cahill, Maud and Dann, Christine (eds). 1991. Changing our lives: women working in the women’s liberation movement 1970 – 1990. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books.

Fitchett, Sue et al. 1999. Eat These Sweet Words: The New Zealand Anthology of Lesbian and Gay Poetry. Christchurch: Giant Press.

Johnston, Lynda and Longhurst, Robyn. c.2010. Space, Place, and Sex: Geographies of Sexualities. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Rosier, Pat. 1992. Broadsheet: Twenty years of Broadsheet Magazine. Auckland: New Women’s Press.

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