Gay and homosexually active Aboriginal men in Sydney 

Murray Chapple and Sue Kippax

with assistance from Michael Bartos and Juliet Richters 

National Centre in HIV Social Research
School of Behavioural Sciences
Macquarie University, NSW 2109, Australia

I dedicate this report to the people interviewed in this research, particularly my
two friends who have passed away, and express my thanks for their
encouragement and support.
Murray Chapple
INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS - Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders - form only 1.6 per cent of Australia's population. So far they have not been overrepresented among people diagnosed with HIV infection or AIDS. However, there is evidence that the rate of HIV infection is still increasing among indigenous Australians although the overall Australian epidemic peaked in the 1980s. Further concerns are that rates of other sexually transmitted diseases are high among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and that the proportion of HIV diagnoses attributed to heterosexual contact is increasing. STDs are a marker of sexual risk for HIV and also facilitate HIV transmission. Injecting drug use is common in some urban and rural indigenous communities. Health problems such as malnutrition, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases and lack of primary care, particularly in some rural communities, contribute to the risk posed by HIV. Under these conditions a major outbreak of HIV infection is likely (Feachem 1995: 94). This would further widen the present 20-year gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.  

The Australian Government has funded education and prevention activities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities; programs received an estimated 11 per cent of expenditure in 1994-95 (Feachem 1995: 93). However, factors limiting the effectiveness of such programs have been identified:

inadequate health infrastructure; competing primary health needs; a lack of intersectoral coordination; inadequate training and support for indigenous health workers; a reluctance on the part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to see HIV/AIDS as a priority; and a reluctance by communities to confront particular practices such as homosexuality or injecting drug use (Feachem 1995: 94).
Social research receives 10 per cent of total HIV/AIDS research finding, but little of this work specifically concerns Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Indigenous Australians are wary of researchers - too many health and welfare studies in the past have yielded yet more data about the appalling conditions under which many Aboriginal people live, and produced prestigious publications or higher degrees for the researchers, but no appreciable improvements for the people researched. Many researchers are now aware of this history and are refraining from doing voyeuristic research in communities they do not live in. As a result, a 'Catch-22' appears to be in operation: there are few if any indigenous social researchers, but white researchers are reluctant to blunder into a field where they lack credibility and expertise. This small-scale study aimed to explore urban Aboriginals' views on male homosexual practice and identity, with the hope of finding a way forward for education and prevention initiatives for homosexually active Aboriginal men. 


Funded by a Commonwealth AIDS Research Grant to the AIDS Council of New South Wales (ACON) and the National Centre in HIV Social Research (NCHSR). Thanks for useful discussions provided by J. Beckett, M. Hurley, R. Saunders, J. Wafer, R. Turner and the ones that came before them.  


© HIV, AIDS and Society Publications 1996 
This report may not be copied without the express permission of the copyright holder. 
ISBN 085837 832 9 


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