A vintage film projector running a reel of film

Ken Garrahy home movies

Ken Garrahy home movies: documenting gay social life in 1960s Sydney

Documenting 1960s gay social life
 Nick Henderson

Curator Nick Henderson shares excerpts from the home movies of Ken Garrahy, which are unique for documenting gay social life in Sydney in the 1960s.


Snapshot of an Underground Scene

Kenneth (Ken) Garrahy (1933–2021) was an avid home movie enthusiast, documenting his social life in Sydney and his holidays overseas during the 1960s and 1970s.

But what differentiates Garrahy’s home movies from many of the other home movie collections of this period held by the NFSA is that he was documenting his life in the gay (or 'camp' as it was referred to then) community, including the many gay and lesbian social clubs he was involved with.

Garrahy's Super8 footage of his friends and the outings organised by gay social clubs are a unique record of many of these groups. These films are the most substantial known collection of Australian gay home movies to have survived from the 1960s and 1970s.

The 43 films that make up the Garrahy Collection, which were donated by his estate to the NFSA, are a snapshot of an underground scene at a time in which homosexual acts between men were illegal in NSW. Men and women of the time were often harassed or criminalised for wearing clothes that were not perceived to be of their gender.

These films may appear somewhat sedate to our eyes, especially in comparison to footage of LGBTQIA+ events like recent editions of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. But these images of gay men frolicking on the beach in skimpy speedos, or of lesbians cuddling on the sand under an overturned rowboat, could have been considered offensive in the eyes of the law in the 1960s.


Homemade History

Footage from Garrahy’s home movies appeared in a short film series called Homemade History (2008), directed by Robert Herbert and broadcast by SBS.

He offers commentary on excerpts from his films, and describes the oppression that gay men and lesbians experienced at the time. 

In the following clip, Garrahy talks about the social clubs of the era,such as the Boomerangs, in which gay men and women 'all joined in together':

Ken Garrahy home movies featured in Homemade History – Episode 8. Courtesy: Arcadia Pictures. NFSA title: 577161


Pollys at Play

Gay life in 1960s Australia was underground but growing in confidence. The side and back bars that made up much of the discreet public gay scene had been active since the early 20th century, along with a mix of beats, cafes and theatre foyers. But many gay men and lesbians wanted more.

Interest in socialising away from the bars and outside of private homes led to the development of new gay social groups in Sydney in the early 1960s. These included the Chameleons, Pollynesians, Karingals, Tiffanys and Boomerangs.

The following home movie from 1967 – titled Polly-nesians at Play – captures one of the few social clubs of the time that is still active (now as the Pollys Club).

This clip captures Pollys members attending their sport and games day, the 'Pollympics'. Games planned that day included Blow the Balls, Slip the Ring, Puff and Bang, and Toss the Googy, but they finished with a more traditional game of football (soccer) after lunch:

Excerpt from Ken Garrahy home movie Polly-nesians at play, 1967. Please note: this clip is silent. Courtesy: Estate of Ken Garrahy. NFSA title: 1663029


Tiffany Dog Show

The Tiffany Group was formed to raise money for Guide Dogs for the Blind Association of NSW (now Guide Dogs NSW/ACT), holding dog shows, drag shows, balls and other events.

Initially these events supported wider community groups, but in later years provided increasing support to the LGBTQIA+ community, in particular HIV/AIDS support.

In this clip we see a Tiffany Dog Show from 1968, held in a suburban park. It included a number of events, but was mostly an opportunity for socialising:

Excerpt from Ken Garrahy home movie Tiffany Dog Show, 1968. Please note: this clip is silent. Courtesy: Estate of Ken Garrahy. NFSA title: 1663005


Yachting with the Karingals

The Karingals group initiated the Karingals Olympics in 1966, which was subsequently taken over by the Pollys to become the Pollympics.

In this film we see the Karingals on a day trip on Sydney Harbour, from their arrival at the pier through to socialising on the boat:

Excerpt from Ken Garrahy home movie Yachting with the Karingals, 1966. Please note: this clip is silent. Courtesy: Estate of Ken Garrahy. NFSA title: 1663019

To find out more about Ken Garrahy, watch Homemade History – Episode 8, or listen to an oral history interview with Garrahy that he recorded with Bruce Carter of the Pride History Group in 2005.


Home movie collection

The NFSA houses more than 6,000 home movies from the 1920s onwards. Many of these films are focused on Anglo-Australian middle-class life from the 1930s to the 1970s.

We are keen to acquire more films documenting culturally diverse, rural and LGBTQIA+ life, to ensure that the NFSA collection reflects the diversity of the Australian community. Visit our Collection offers page if you can help. 



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