In 2015, WA AIDS Council celebrates 30 years of incorporation.
In that time the HIV/AIDS landscape has changed significantly and the Council’s role has been redefined again and again.
Today, we still provide much needed support to people living with HIV, but the focus is only Living Well, not dying with dignity, as it once was. Programs now educate a much larger proportion of the community on the importance of sexual health and healthy relationships.
The timeline below traces the history of WA AIDS Council, from the early 80's to today. We'll continue to update this page with stories, images and more to come.
In March, the Council completed and officially launched its Reconciliation Action Plan. It is our hope that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will connect with our services in a culturally secure manner and to strengthen our solid foundation of respect, relationships and opportunities with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and health organisations.
A large contingent from the Western Australian Blood Borne Virus sector landed in Melbourne in July for the 20th International AIDS Conference. Staff from the WA AIDS Council designed, constructed and manned an exhibition in the Global Village, alongside staff from the WA Department of Health and partner organisations; while others attended the full conference program. The Council was also able to sponsor 6 members of the PLHIV community to travel and attend the conference.
In 2014, M Clinic welcomed its 3,000 unique client through its doors, in just its 4th year of operation.
The Sex in Other Cities brand was overhauled in the first half of 2014, with a new logo, style guide, advertising collateral, Facebook page and website. The new strategy for the brand is to focus less on STI’s and the risks apparent at various places around the world and more on fun, parties, festivals and popular city destinations. The website showcases a number of festivals from around the world and offers tips and suggestions to make the most of them. The aim is to provide travellers with the useful information they are already seeking, and then provide the safe sex message as a secondary consideration. The strategy is based on capturing the attention of those considering a trip to such a festival, and aims to reach them when Internet searches are conducted. Website traffic increased by 636% after the site was redesigned.
Following a successful tender process, the Clinical Services team commenced delivering the SHAPE (Supporting Health and Personal Empowerment) program. This program is an outreach service for people living with HIV that face significant complex issues.
After its first, highly successful year of operation, M Clinic relocated to larger premises in West Perth. Testing was also conducted weekly at Perth Steamworks.
M Clinic, the first sexual health clinic of its kind in Australia, catering exclusively for gay and other men who have sex with men, opened in West Leederville. The peer-based model provides a safe peer/clinician co-lead environment for men to be tested for the full range os STIs.
Between December 2007 and February 2008, WA people saw sexual health advertisements on television and in cinemas for the first time in over a decade. The campaign was originally conceived by NSW Health and featured a strong condom awareness and reinforcement message for heterosexual people aged less than 30 years and homosexually active men less than 45 years. It focussed on STIs, namely Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes, syphilis and HIV. Gemma Crawford coordinated the implementation and the evaluation of the campaign and Nadine Toussaint created a website to complement the advertisements, resources and written materials. The evaluation showed there was TV high recall with a very high proportion stating that the campaign was believable. Other information gathered showed that there were differences regarding between people in relationships versus those not in relationships
Social marketing via in-flight magazines (Tiger, Skippers, Air North and Skywest), brochures and posters at airports and a specially designed website (www.sexinothercities.com.au) presented key messages for people to take and use condoms when they are overseas and undertake HIV and STI testing done before and after travelling.
Tenille Wightman and Gail Jones participated in the Sexual Health Week ‘Love Bug Tour’ in collaboration with the Kimberly Aboriginal Medical Service, Pilbara Population Health and Midwest Gascoyne Population Health. Sponsored by Novartis, the purpose of the two week long Love Bug tour was to take the safe sex message to rural and remote communities in a fun, creative way, providing interactive education opportunities for local people and information and support for health professionals. Three VW ‘Love Bugs’ drove over 6000 kilometres from Perth to the Midwest and the Northwest to provide sexual health message. Aboriginal and non Aboriginal communities, schools and health services were targeted.
The book BEING +: Reflections on Twenty One Years of the WA AIDS Council was launched by Dr Neale Fong, the Director General of Health in WA and Ian Rankin, the President of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations in November 2006. Funded by Lotterywest, written by Chloe Britton and sourced from archival material, interviews with key people and information garnered at a community forum, it serves as a social commentary on the enormous changes seen during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in WA.
STYLEAID was introduced in 1998 and quickly established itself as Perth's premier fashion fundraiser. The first STYLEAID was held in the Grand Ballroom at the Hyatt Hotel. Designers showcased included Morrissey, Ruth Tarvydas, Ray Costarella and Alex Perry.
Freedom Centre started out in 1994 as a part of the “Other Voices” program in Gay Men’s Education at the WA AIDS Council (WAAC). It began to provide and ongoing social space for the young men that participated in the gay education courses. It was a space to provide the young men with social opportunities outside of the “scene”. Over time through the Youth Sexuality Project run by WAAC, the Freedom Centre became an all genders space and got its own premises and recurrent funding.
"With young guys in those days because they were just becoming sexually active so it was just like, “Well, now that I’m choosing to have sex, this is just something I need to do,” Mark Reid. The lesson about condoms certainly hit home for older gay men when they noticed the men missing from their community. The loss of lives in this community in the early eighties has been likened by some survivors to living through war – some talk about the Post Traumatic Stress associated with losing multiple friends.
From the outset the majority of people who were HIV positive were men. As increasing numbers of positive women became involved with the Council there was a need for specific support to assist these women as most of the medical information that doctors were working with was focussed on men.
Whilst it was more difficult to take creative risks with providing safe sex messages in public, private parties were another story. WAAC promoted ‘fuckerware’ parties in which sexual health educators would present safe sex information and products to small groups of friends.
"Readers of the West Australian choked on their morning muesli on 5th of October  when they stared at a full page advertisement of two naked men embracing..." Debate raged about the appropriateness of safe sex advertising, and meanwhile WAAC campaigns continued to push boundaries, sometimes unsuccessfully. The explicit safe sex imagery of the first safe sex summer campaign raised the ire of anti-pornography wowsers who were eventually successful in having the brochure censored.
WAAC’s gay men’s health workers have had to come up with innovative ways of providing information and support about sexual identities and safe sex. WAAC opened a bisexual men’s phone line and in the first two days took over fifty calls. [In 1990] the beat outreach workers would speak with more than 1000 men.
By 1988, 29 people were living with AIDS in WA and a further 31 had died. Death, remembrance, grief and loss became more salient themes for those affected by HIV. Perth participated in its first International Candlelight Vigil which in subsequent years emerged as a potent community ritual to publicly acknowledge the impact of AIDS. "We started the Candlelight Vigils in the gardens of St Mary’s Cathedral outside Royal Perth Hospital so the people who were in Ward 10 could sit on the balcony and see. The third year it had become so big that we couldn’t have it in the grounds so we met there and we walked down to Forrest Place. For two or three years we filled the whole of Forrest Place with people", Mark Reid.
The gay community got behind the AIDS crisis, using their existing social networks to provide fun occasions with a cover charge which went straight to WAAC. The community held Rainbow Parties, BlockAIDS Black Dance Parties, World AIDS Day events and even "The Ita Buttrose Gala Dinner Bash”
WA AIDS Council worked closely with sex-on-premises venues to provide information and safe sex materials. "The initial response of the authorities in San Francisco and New York was to close down the bath-houses and saunas where it was felt that uncontrollable orgies would take place... and that these places were seen as a kind of breeding ground for the AIDS virus. Authorities in Australia, to give them credit, realised that the saunas in fact provided a marvellous opportunity for safe sex education. The AIDS Council has provided condoms to that sex on site venue since 1988..."
Some HIV positive people chose not to go on treatments after seeing the impact of early treatment regimes on their HIV positive friends. The difficult aspect of trialling new drugs was balancing the impact on the immune system of medicines which caused side effects which then required more drugs to treat.
In these times before the internet, the need for information was paramount. The first responsibility of WAAC to Western Australians was to find, create and update the information that would answer all the common questions. Many people were too afraid to ask doctors about HIV/AIDS, and so many people in the early ‘risk groups’ depended on rumour and supposition. When the AIDS Helpline, later the AIDSline, was established Western Australians took the opportunity to ask every possible question.
The WA AIDS Council (WAAC) was initially established in May 1985.After a series of public meetings called by CAMP, GAGs (Gay Activities Group) and other groups, the community decided that it was necessary to create an independent organisation to focus on AIDS – the WA AIDS Council. WAAC was initially staffed by three people and funded by GAGs.
Western Australian gay community groups were quick to respond and eager to take responsibility both for preventing the spread of AIDS and presenting another side to the much discussed ‘gay culture’." There was a group in Perth called GAGS that decided this was a health problem that we really needed to address. basically they put their money into establishing the AIDS Council and did a lot of work with – well, what then happened, from my memory, is the AIDS Bureau was established through the Health Department and the AIDS Council was established", Mark Reid.
In 1983, Des Perry, who would later become coordinator of the AIDS Council, distributed Australia’s first safe sex information to gay men in Connections nightclub.
The early years of the epidemic were characterised by fear, confusion and rumour. Reliable, up to date information was difficult to find. "No one actually suspected the magnitude of the epidemic that was in the making. However, evidence of the gathering storm was starting to arrive", Stuart Craigen. Worried members of the gay community who had seen television and magazine reports about ‘Gay Related Immune Deficiency’ (GRID) began to demand information.
In 1981, when the epidemic was in its early stages, the illness was a medical mystery. No one knew the condition which would come to be known as AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Epidemiologists, specialists studying how diseases spread, theorised that this curious immune condition was contagious but were not yet able to determine how it might be transmitted. Some speculated about the ‘gay lifestyle’, promiscuity, party drugs and known sexually transmissible infections. 1981 was the year the world first became aware of what would later be known as AIDS. Sandwiched somewhere between dengue fever and measles, a medical report bleakly noted that five young gay men had strangely depleted immune systems.