The Chapter House of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral was constructed in the late nineteenth century and is located above the gateway that opens between Flinders Lane and Chapter House Lane. It was designed by prominent Melbourne architect Joseph Reed. The Chapter House has served as a meeting place for the cathedral chapter and other community organisations, as well as a venue for lectures and exhibitions. The building also has particular meaning to LGBTIQ+ communities as the site of the founding of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution in Victoria, later Society Five.
The Anglican church in Victoria has a long tradition of liberal attitudes, and in the 1970s, the Chapter House played an important part in Melbourne’s queer history. In September 1970, a small group in Sydney decided it was time for homosexuals to start speaking up for themselves. They called their group the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP). The name was a play on the word ‘camp’, which many homosexuals (women and men) used to refer to themselves at that time. When an article about CAMP appeared in The Australian in September 1970, the response was electric. Press, radio and television clamoured to interview them. It became clear that this was something homosexuals all over Australia had been waiting for. Many wrote excitedly to the CAMP’s post office box asking how they could be involved.
It soon became clear that there was a need for branches in other cities. In November 1970, CAMP’s Sydney founders sent David Widdup, one of their earliest and most enthusiastic supporters, to establish a branch of CAMP in Melbourne. He contacted local supporters to arrange a meeting. Among them was Anglican clergyman David Conolly, who was well connected to Melbourne’s Anglican community, including the administrators of St Paul’s Cathedral. He gained permission for the group to use the Chapter House for its inaugural meeting.
It was there in November 1970 that around 40 people gathered to form a Victorian branch of CAMP, which was later named Society Five. Male and female co-chairs were elected, as well as an interim committee.
The group planned a program of social events to be held in members’ homes. The Chapter House had served its purpose and the committee and members took responsibility for future meetings – first in private houses and then in various headquarters in and around Melbourne’s CBD.
It was a modest start, but for the next 18 years, until it folded in 1988, the organisation served as an important voice, support service, and haven for homosexual men and women.
Victorian Heritage Register, St Pauls Cathedral Precinct (VHR H0018)
‘Chapter House, St Pauls’, Victorian Heritage Database, https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/9830, accessed 21 September 2020.
Graham Willett, Living Out Loud: A History of Gay and Lesbian Activism in Australia, Allen and Unwin, St Leonards, New South Wales, 2000, pp. 40-41.
Graham Willett, ‘Society Five’, in Graham Willett, Wayne Murdoch and Daniel Marshall (eds), Secret Histories of Queer Melbourne, Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, 2011, pp. 109-111.