In exhaustive detail, playwright Campion Decent’s verbatim project tells the story of one of the most significant struggles for law reform undertaken in this country.
Until 1997, Tasmania’s criminal code prescribed harsh punishments for those convicted of homosexual acts. Were the full force of the law applied, homosexual acts between consenting adults in private could result in a prison sentence of 21 years.
Tasmania’s body politic was likewise infested with relics of colonial and convict-era thinking and homophobes draped in banners including For A Caring Tasmania, TasAlert, Concerned Residents Against Moral Pollution (CRAMP) and HALO, the Homophobic Activists Liberation Organisation.
Seriously, you can’t make this up.
Beginning with a clumsy ban on a pro-gay rights stall at Salamanca Markets, and police harassment of those protesting it, The Campaign charts the nine-year crusade for reform that finally resulted in the overthrow of Tasmania’s anti-gay laws in 1997.
The story – which twists and turns considerably – is told largely though university student-turned-activist Rodney Croome, whose political awakening forms the spine of Decent’s information-dense theatrical documentary.
A cast of five (Mathew Lee, Simon Cocker, Jane Phegan, Tim McGarry and Madeline MacRae) play something like 30 characters, some of whom you’ll know by name (including Green MPs Christine Milne, Bob Brown and jurist Michael Kirby), many you probably won’t, and some you’ll be happy to never hear from again (several state parliamentarians and the notably repellent Ulverstone councillor Rodney Cooper among them).
Directed by Kim Hardwick (this is a co-production between White Box Theatre and the Seymour Centre), The Campaign is presented poor theatre-style, with just a couple of trestle tables, a few chairs and a backcloth of interleaved tarpaulins.
The style is direct address, the delivery warm and engaging, which helps mitigate the journalistic tone of the exercise to some extent.
We’re struck not just by the determination of these activists but also by their wit and creativity, which included compelling police to arrest them for homosexual acts painstakingly detailed in affidavits they brought with them to the station.
Though The Campaign ends with a win, Decent also makes the point that there were many who lost out before change was implemented: people who led less than full lives; who were denied opportunity; who simply left for the mainland and took their talents and acumen with them.
It’s hard to calculate what damage that did to Tasmania but there’s no doubt it was considerable. The Tasmanian renaissance we observe today – in the arts, food and wine culture, tourism – is in no small way indebted to the changes to the legal system set in train by these campaigners.