An Open and Shut Case? A celebration of 40 years of gay law reform in South Australia

An Open and Shut CaseOn 17 September 1975 South Australia made history when it became the first state in Australia to decriminalise male homosexuality. To celebrate 40 years of gay law reform in South Australia, the State Library of South Australia presents the exhibition, An Open and Shut Case? on display until 8 November 2015.

This enlightening exhibition tells the story of how the tragic drowning in the River Torrens of law lecturer Dr George Duncan in 1972 led to legislation being introduced into South Australian Parliament to enact gay law reform. Two further bills were introduced in 1973 and 1975 before law reform was finally achieved.

Traveling back to 1837, the exhibition takes you on a chronological journey of the attitudes towards homosexual men, through to the present day. Displays draw extensively on original materials from the State Library’s collections including archived books, posters, photographs, newspaper articles and other documents. The centrepiece of the exhibition is the original decriminalisation Act document signed into law in 1975 by the State Governor, Sir Mark Oliphant.

“In telling the story of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in South Australia, we’ve also included what happened before 1972-1975, and what happened after, up to the present day,” says Co-curator Ian Purcell AM. “What’s been achieved over the last 40 years is remarkable and deserves to be celebrated, even more so given the history of persecution and oppression that came before. It’s important for people to know that history.”

As a cultural institution the State Library has a proud tradition of connecting people with the history about our State. “At a time of debate in our society, we are pleased to be hosting this exhibition about an important part of our State’s history,” says Alan Smith, Director of the State Library. “By sharing the memories and stories of previous generations, we can learn from the past and help to improve our understanding of society as it is today and into the future.”

A series of entertaining and thought-provoking community events have been planned around the exhibition. This includes a talk on the life of Dr Duncan from historian Tim Reeves, and a panel discussion, From Camp to Queer, when members of the LGBTIQ community will share their lived experiences and changing priorities over 60 years. Dr Gertrude Glossip, celebrity exhibition tour guide, will also entertain us with her knowledge of the historic events shown in the exhibition.

An Open and Shut Case? A celebration of 40 years of gay law reform in South Australia
Treasures Wall – State Library of South Australia, North Terrace, Adelaide
Exhibition continues to 8 November 2015
Free entry

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: courtesy of State Library of South Australia