Craig Johnston was a former alderperson for the City of Sydney Council from 1984-1987. He was always drawn to politics, first inspired at high school after reading John Maynard Keynes General Theory of Mon-ey and by growing up in the Whitlam era. It was no surprise that Craig joined the Labor Party in his last year of school, however he quickly moved further left to Marxism when he was studying at Sydney University.
Being an activist and ‘fighting against oppression in a capitalist society’ also meant fighting for gay rights. Craig came out as gay in the early 1970s, and gay rights was close to his heart, as was unionism, workers’ rights and being part of the development of Sydney Mardi Gras.
Craig talks about rejoining the Labor Party, the gay demographic within the party at that time as well as the Gay Rights Lobby fighting for the laws prohibiting sexual activity between males to be changed. He was elected as a Labor ‘alderperson’ in his early 30s and continued advocating for social justice and gay rights equality. Craig discusses the political make-up of the City of Sydney Council, the various amalgamations, the new stream of left-wing councillors with the Labor Party and the Community Independents, as well as the changing political landscape over the years.
I was living at North Bondi at the time, so I re-joined the Labor Party when I was still living at Bondi – that was in the early 1980s, I think that was must have been about ’79, there was a big growth of the development of the growth of the gay scene in Sydney, especially focusing on Oxford Street, obviously it began before those dates. I spent a lot of my time around gay bars in and around Oxford Street, Surry Hills and was getting drunk a lot, commuting from Bondi and I was still working at Sydney University and I decided to move into Darlinghurst, East Sydney, for lifestyle reasons, to deepen my engagement with what was a very exciting time in terms of new forms of economic and cultural expression. That was when Oxford Street became Oxford Street…. So I moved into Darlinghurst and I moved into obviously a different Labor Party branch, I was still a member of the Labor Party.
I was immersed very much in a gay and lesbian subculture; development of Mardi Gras, which I wasn’t a key figure in, I went to the early meetings that moved the event from winter to summer and all these things that are a part of Mardi Gras’ history, but I wasn’t a key organizer… but I was interested in gay electorialism and very much involved in gay political campaigns and a member of the Labor Party. So somehow or other those were all background which were seeking to get elected to the council, the Sydney City Council, as an openly gay person. And doing so from an area that the geographic area that actually had Oxford Street in it, because where I lived that commercial strip was in my ward and there was a relatively gay population in there, it was certainly seen as the gay part of Sydney.