As part of its 21st anniversary this year, NUAA recently held an event in the historic Jubilee Room at NSW Parliament House to celebrate its achievements and to thank those who have supported the organisation over the decades. The event was made possible by the generous assistance of NSW Greens MP Ian Cohen (and his staff), who has supported NUAA since its early days.
September 2010 marks the 21st anniversary of the NSW Users & AIDS Association. It was born in controversy and great peril. It has lived through two decades of resistance, doubt, animosity, opposition and patient support. Truly, it has come of age.
NUAA and its journal, User’s News, by their longevity, demonstrate the Australian commitment to strategies of harm reduction that recognise the AIDS paradox. Paradoxically, the most effective ways to combat the spread of HIV involve reaching out to, and protecting, those who are most at risk of infection. This includes injecting drug users, who comprise one of the most vulnerable groups exposed to the virus. In some countries, injecting drug users are the most vulnerable and the most difficult to reach with messages essential to self-protection, and thus, community protection.
The injecting drug scene in Australia in the 1970s was a different world. The community, such as it was, was small, concentrated and well beneath the radar of public scrutiny. Users deliberately withdrew from society, both for protection and as an act of political defiance. Police tended to turn a blind eye – unless there was a buck in it for the corrupt ones.
“Back then, the cops were selling, we all knew it”, states Jude Byrne, former president of AIVL, Australia’s peak drug user organisation. “We were getting beaten up in police cells, it was pretty bloody ugly.