Robert Reynolds reviews 'Gay Sydney: A history' by Garry Wotherspoon

Robert Reynolds reviews 'Gay Sydney: A history' by Garry Wotherspoon


by Garry Wotherspoon

NewSouth $29.99 pb, 373 pp, 9781742234830

Historian Garry Wotherspoon's history of gay Sydney was first published in 1991 as City of the Plain. Over the years it became a classic text, perhaps the classic text, of Australian gay male history. I have a well-worn copy myself with copious notes in the margins and dog-eared pages. A quarter of a century later, Wotherspoon has revisited the original text and changed its title, lightly rewritten the existing chapters, and added three new ones. Few historians get a reprint of a monograph, let alone a second edition, so Wotherspoon has good cause to feel vindicated. Writing gay history in the 1980s and early 1990s was still an exotic vocation for the academic historian; it was a risk and it took courage. Times change, a key theme Wotherspoon emphasises throughout Gay Sydney: A History. Today, queer-inflected research and teaching litter humanities faculties, from the citadel of cultural studies to the outpost of legal studies and beyond.

This book, however, is unashamedly written for a general audience. City of the Plain, while eminently readable, kept the form of academic writing with an explicit foray into historiography and method. Gay Sydney discards this academic convention and concentrates on conveying a ripping yarn of change and, to a substantially lesser degree, continuity.

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Published in May 2016, no. 381
Robert Reynolds

Robert Reynolds

Robert Reynolds is an Associate Professor in Modern History at Macquarie University. He is the author of From Camp to Queer (2002), What Happened to Gay Life (2007) and co-author with Shirleene Robinson of Gay and Lesbian, Then and Now: Australian stories from a social revolution (2016), published by Black Inc..

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