Gay and homosexually active Aboriginal men in Sydney


Methodological and ethical approach

This project was conducted in 1994-95. Cooperation was achieved after extensive liaison with appropriate Aboriginal community bodies. Networking in the Aboriginal community was integral to the approach. All negotiations, interviews and analysis of responses were done by one researcher (Murray Chapple).  

In reporting this research, we endeavoured to produce a collaborative work. We wanted to take a stance on the politics of representation, but it has also been a pragmatic strategy. Aboriginal people are understandably cynical about research and in order to get Aboriginal gay and homosexually active men to participate, the researcher engaged in extensive fieldwork. The ensuing interaction and discussion, which elucidated -the views and concerns of these men, informed the whole research process. The researcher also talked to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal health administrators and workers, finding further informants through 'snowballing'. He used qualitative (close-focus) interviews, group discussions and fieldwork, and employed 'Grounded Theory' methodology to pursue and develop the themes and issues that emerged as the interview work progressed.  

It is no longer excusable in Australia to write about Aboriginal subjectivity without at least providing a platform on which their experience can be represented. Aboriginal people have been objectified in representation and their voices silenced. In this context, the interview is an appropriate method in terms of a politics of representation. However, we acknowledge that in order to document the view of the interviewee as social actor, to authorise his subjectivity, a reporter is necessary for the narratives to come into being. Therefore the text is a created one, where imposed order and interpretation play a significant part. However, this text is not intended as definitive. We have reproduced the narratives in this report with as little editing as possible, allowing subjective experience an interpretative space in the production of meaning. Authorial interpolations are in square brackets; ellipses represent material omitted, generally repetition or verbal 'fillers'. Although several men's views on a topic are often presented together, they are from separate interviews, not part of a group discussion.  

This report, using a thematically based approach, aims to reveal the concerns and experiences of the Aboriginal people involved and to raise issues that require urgent responses. It is in a sense a mapping exercise and does not suggest that, at this stage, there is an easy policy response. However, the work will continue.  


The interviewees

Qualitative (close-focus) interviews were conducted with 10 Aboriginal men. Their pseudonyms and some basic information about each man are given in the box.

Aboriginal men interviewed


Aged 21, Sydney born and based, HIV-negative, works for a government department. Regular male partner (white). 


Aged in his 30s, Sydney based, HIV-negative, former HIV community worker. Casual male partners. 


Aged 29, Sydney based, HIV-negative, unemployed, does paintings for future sale. Gambler. Lives with female partner and has casual sex with men. 


Aged in his 40s, Sydney based, HIV-positive, died late 1994, Aboriginal cultural worker. Former sex worker. 


Aged 25, Sydney raised, HIV-positive, sex worker. In relationship with white male lover. 


Aged 33, Sydney based, HIV-negative, works in Aboriginal cultural organisation. Regular relationship with Aboriginal man, recent casual sex with non-Aboriginal men. 


Aged 25, grew up in Penrith (west of Sydney), now in inner city, HIV-negative. Worker in tertiary education and artist, in relation- ship with white male lover. 


Aged 35, now living outside Sydney, HIV-negative, HIV worker. Not in relationship. No casual sex at present. 


Aged 34, HIV-negative, cultural worker, married when younger, currently in long-term relationship with white man; also casual sex with white and Aboriginal men. 


Aged 33, HIV-negative, cultural worker, infrequent casual sex with white men. 
Key informant interviews were conducted with Aboriginal HIV/AIDS educators and policy workers (eight people in total). 

Key informants interviewed

Michael McCloud


Peter and Martin

former sexual health educators, Sydney (Martin died in 1995.) 

Luke Close

former Aboriginal youth and health worker, Sydney 

Malcolm Cole

Former Aboriginal sexual health worker, Sydney (Died in 1994.) 

Vlad Williams and
Janya McCalman

AIDS Bureau, NSW Department of Health 

Kathy Kum Sing

HIV/AIDS educator and policy adviser 


Homosexually active men differ in the degree to which their sexual lives are continuous with their domestic, social and working lives (Kippax, Connell, Dowsett and Crawford 1993). In applying 'race' to the investigation of homosexuality it was also necessary to map the social and cultural milieu of the men interviewed. This has been done through an analysis of the interrelation of certain themes alongside sexual practice. These themes (see box below) are explored in the context of the tensions they reveal about identity and to analyse the emergent dynamic of Aboriginal gayness. An interplay of sexual practice, complex identity, cultural dynamics and HIV/AIDS is revealed. 

Themes explored

Sexual practice:

Sex work, Black-White sexual relationships and practices, and safe sex.  





Aboriginal and/or gay milieu



'White man's disease', contact with the epidemic, AIDS and the Aboriginal community, and future directions. 
© HIV, AIDS and Society Publications 1996 
This report may not be copied without the express permission of the copyright holder. 
ISBN 085837 832 9