In Depth

A lesson in humanity: remembering the Illawarra's response to the AIDS crisis

TV
By Tareyn Varley
Updated March 26 2021 - 6:44am, first published 4:30am
Photo courtesy of Trish Regal.

While many in the Illawarra shunned those afflicted with AIDS, a rare few were caring for the sick and dying and helping to prevent the spread. More than 30 years later, they share their stories with the Mercury.

The early years

VIVIENNE CUNNINGHAM SMITH (COUNSELLOR): The Commonwealth Minister for Health Neal Blewett negotiated a bipartisan approach that would put health dollars into AIDS, so that's how the Port Kembla sexual health clinic got established. Dr Ross Price was the inaugural clinic director. I started work in February 1986 with my six-week-old baby in the pram, while Ross was teaching us about STDs and HIV. I had a lot to learn. My position as counsellor was accidentally advertised as full time and the clinic only ran for 12 hours a week so I had 20 odd hours a week that were purely focussed on education and prevention. We developed strategies to meet the needs of the medical and health community, the sex industry worker community, the gay community and the broader community. Needle Exchange programs were introduced in 1988 to address the issues in the injecting communities.

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Tareyn Varley

Digital journalist

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