To mark WorldPride 2023 and the 45th Anniversary of the Sydney Mardi Gras, the National Library has curated a selection of books on the LGBTQIA+ experience and culture. From the personal to the political, from Australia and around the world, explore just a few books and items from the Library’s collection on display in the Main Reading Room.
On 23 March 2017, I was sitting in my car at the Canberra Theatre carpark unable to drive home as I was overwhelmed with emotion after experiencing what was supposed to be Hannah Gadsby’s comedy-career farewell show, Nanette.
In Nanette, the self-deprecating anecdotes from her comedy shows were revealed in their – sometimes terrifying – context as Hannah shared the truth of those experiences in the wake of her ADHD diagnosis, and her reasons for leaving the world of stand-up comedy. But Nanette wasn’t your typical ‘comedy’ show; as Hannah said, it was more a “narrative” and this new style, along with her recent ADHD diagnosis,
“gave me permission to say what I wanted to say, even though I didn’t mean it [about retiring] at the start.”
However, whether she intended to retire or not, in June 2018, Nanette was shared with the world via its release on Netflix and its reception, though mixed given Hannah was reinventing stand-up comedy, was still overwhelmingly positive. Her courage, so beautifully and artistically expressed, inspired, and empowered people from all walks of life! She decided not to retire, just yet.
You can read more about how Gadsby’s personal experiences helped shape her career – such as growing up in Tassie where homosexuality was a criminal offence until 1997 – in her 2022 “memoir situation”, Ten Steps to Nanette.
Were you one of the few people who missed Rainbow Champion Magda Szubanski’s award-winning 2015 book, Reckoning: A Memoir? While much has been made of Szubanski’s father and his wartime experiences, it is the author’s beautifully written account of her own self-discovery, particularly regarding her sexuality, that is so moving – and funny.
Two years after the publication of her book, Szubanski was with LGBTQIA+ activists and campaigners from all walks of life in Canberra for the announcement of the results of the 2017 Marriage Equality Postal Vote. Magda’s fellow marriage equality activists and campaigners also feature on the Library’s display, including Margaret Simon’s biography of Senator Penny Wong and Ian Thorpe’s autobiography, This is Me.
The life and music of Peter Allen, the man who gave us one of our most iconic, unofficial national anthems, and is celebrated in Stephen MacLean’s 1996 biography, The Boy from Oz. Peter Allen became an award-winning singer, songwriter and performer. He made an international name for himself as one half of the Allen Brothers with Chris Bell, and with the patronage of Judy Garland (whose daughter, Liza Minnelli, Allen married in 1967).
For budding performers, the Library holds scores for many of Allen’s songs, including I Still Call Australia Home, and for the ARIA, Tony and Helpmann Award musical biography starring Hugh Jackman, The Boy from Oz.
The title of political commentator and comedian, Tom Ballard’s book is certainly a ‘pick me up and read me’ title. In I, Millennial: One Snowflake’s Screed Against Boomers, Billionaires and Everything Else, Ballard rages with serious humour at the state of Australian politics and the complete and utter mess those mentioned in the title are making of the country. Time for “radical change,” Ballard writes. Hear, hear and vive la révolution!
Bob Brown and Christine Milne
The autobiographies of two former politicians and LBGTQIA+ activists, Bob Brown and Christine Milne are also on display. Cycling legend, Sir Hubert (Oppy) Opperman, in his letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser about the Franklin River Dam protestors, labelled Brown and Milne as “theorising law-breakers and ragamuffin ratbags.”
Another recommendation is the biography of Patrick White, by David Marr. White is a celebrated author, political activist and the first Australian author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. In addition to White’s writings, both in English and various translations, the National Library is custodian of the Patrick White Papers.
Growing up LGBTQIA+ in Australia
As custodian of Australia’s history and ‘memories’, we’ve also got several recommendations on the history and experiences of the queer community in Australia.
Our librarians recommend Maeve Marsden’s Queerstories, an edited collection of stories from Australian writers, including author Benjamin Law, that show “there’s more to being queer than coming out and equal marriage.”
Trans-rights activist and Rainbow Champion Georgie Stone recently guested on former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Not Now, Not Ever tour impressing audience members with her confident and impassioned speech. Stone’s mother, Rebekah Robertson, has penned a thought-provoking and inspiring book, About a Girl: A Mother’s Powerful Story of Raising Her Transgender Child that leaves readers with no doubt where Georgie Stone gets her courage and passion from.
Other titles include Peering Through: Sharing Decades of Queer Experiences, Living and Loving in Diversity: An Anthology of Australian Multicultural Queer Adventures, CAMP: Australia’s Pioneer Homosexual Rights Activists and, most appropriately for the 45th Anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Richard Wherrett’s edited collection titled, Mardi Gras! True Stories: From Lock Up to Frock Up.
More LGBTQIA+ Reading
The Library’s Research Guide, ‘Gender and Sexuality Protests’, is a gateway to collection items illustrating Australia’s LGBTQIA+ history. From Governor Arthur Phillip’s establishment of the death penalty to rid the new colony of perpetrators of, in his opinion, the two crimes deserving of such a fate, murder and sodomy; to ephemera collected during 2017’s Marriage Equality Postal Vote.
The Library has many more LGBTQIA+ reads, which you can discover at the Pride 2023 Recommendations in the catalogue. We also have a book display featuring these titles and more in our Main Reading Room. If you’re looking to view a book that’s not on display, register for a Library card to request it ahead of your visit.