1958: Our Wolfenden

The British government’s Wolfenden Committee report into homosexuality created a stormy debate when it was released in 1957, creating many of the ideas that we still use today (the ‘consenting adult in private’, for example).

Less noticed was our very own Wolfenden-style inquiry, conducted by a NSW government committee set up in 1958. The origins of the committee were very similar to those of the British model – intense public debate about the homosexual threat and confusion among the ‘experts’ as to whether it should be punished, cured or ignored.

First suggested during a 1955 parliamentary debate, it took three years for the government to actually announce its members. All the sciences and areas of expertise were duly included. – psychiatry, endocrinology, religion (Anglican and Catholic)… The Prisons Department was represented by someone who doubled as a social work representative!

The experts began their work, toiling away on the ground already gone over by the British group – although its work took very much longer and it was only in 1963 that it was announced that the report was almost ready.

And then – nothing! It simply never appeared, and it has never (despite someone anxious searching by historians) been found.

Rumours abound. The medicos, it has been said, became convinced that homosexuality was not a disease and could not be treated. Not at all what the government wanted to hear. And so it vanished and with it a whole opportunity to have moved the law and society forward.