An artists’ collective researching lesbian and gay pioneers from Melbourne’s west has sparked a search for a “Sunshine gay girl” who wrote a letter to the Sunshine Advocate in 1980.

Wild Books Collective, comprising Stephen Louis, Susan Miller and Gennivieve Collier, found the letter while searching the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives for an exhibition titled Other: Queer Stories, Past and Present, showing at Altona’s Joel Gallery until
February 15.

Among those featured are Sunshine’s Leigh Bowery, who ran a London nightclub, and Gordon Doak who, in 1973, walked to the city through the streets of Sunshine, Tottenham and Footscray with a banner proclaiming: ‘I am proud of my homosexuality. Please change the repress[ive laws] against homosexuals and let us live in peace’.

Also featured are Williamstown’s first lesbian mayor Geraldine Schutt, miner Edward De Lacy Evans, who is thought to be Australia’s first transgender person, and cross-dressing Max Du Barry who is buried in Altona.

In her letter published July 23, 1980, “Sunshine gay girl” states it was only when her best friend confided that she was a lesbian that she realised she wasn’t alone.

The letter by “a Sunshine gay girl” published in the Sunshine Advocate, July 23, 1980. (Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

“We soon became involved and I began meeting other young gays who have grown up in Sunshine, Braybrook, St Albans and all over the western region,” she wrote.

“Before this I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, hiding within my shell.”

Ms Miller said the collective hoped to find the letter writer to document her story.

“It was published in 1980 and the way she talks about how she went to school … we figured that when she wrote this she must have been in her early 20s which makes her now in her 50s or 60s,” Ms Miller said.

“We just thought it was pretty intriguing what happened to her because she was involved in setting up Western Gays [as outlined in her letter] so she was an activist … and so she would be an elder of that community.

“We’ve made these ‘missing’ posters and put some of them around Sunshine and different western suburbs. We haven’t had any response yet.”

The collective can be contacted on wildbookscollective@gmail.com