TV historian Andrew Mercado is investigating how queer people have been portrayed on Australian television over the decades and how every queer milestone happened on TV down under before the rest of the world.
Australian television used to be a world leader. Thanks to our groundbreaking programs in the 70’s, there were more LGBT characters on Aussie TV than the rest of the world combined. And they weren’t niche or one-off programs buried outside prime time, they were the top rating programs of the day, proving Aussies were accepting of queer people on TV.
While the Americans were making The Brady Bunch and The Waltons, we were smashing taboos and making multi-sexual and multi-cultural dramas like Number 96, The Box and Prisoner.
Even drag was mainstream in Australia long before the rest of the world. Three decades before Priscilla hit cinemas, Dame Edna Everage and Carlotta were household names.
Andrew Mercado explains: As a teenager growing up in the 70’s, it is impossible to overstate how important this original representation was. I spent my formative teenage years observing gay people on TV who were accepted, successful and heroic. Television showed me who I could be after school, and that feeling of confidence remained with me for the rest of my life. That's why representation is important and it's why I became one of the first openly gay man on Australian TV.
Queer people disappeared from TV during the AIDS crisis in the 80's. Bringing Mardi Gras to TV in the 90's was hugely controversial. But by the 21st century, reality shows got with the program. So too did Australian drama and comedy which finally began introducing queer characters that were also Indigenous and multicultural.
Today, gay icons like Courtney Act, Kylie Minogue, Josh Thomas and Hannah Gadsby are known all over the world. So let's look back and investigate the trailblazers who paved the way for them.