Julie Bates has been awarded an Order of Australia for her advocacy for sex workers and other marginalized Australians.
Julie Bates laughs at the way she instinctively responded when the emblem of the Crown bobbed up on an email in her inbox a few weeks ago.
“I thought ‘Oh my God, what have I done now?’” It’s been 23 years since the sex industry was decriminalized in NSW, and still, sometimes, “the only thing you expect first thing in the morning is a knock on the door from the cops … that kind of trauma and instinct still sits with you, no matter how many years ago it was.”
The email, however, bore good news: the 68-year old becomes an officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the Queen’s Birthday awards, recognising the work she’s done over decades to champion the rights of sex workers and mobilise the sex industry against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
It’s hard now to remember the sheer terror that accompanied what seemed to be a looming HIV/AIDS epidemic in the early to mid-1980s. Ms Bates was then a single mother and sex worker in her early 30s, based in East Sydney. She became keenly aware of the threat. “We needed representation and later our lives depended on it,” she told Fairfax.
At a drop-in centre in Kings Cross she saw a notice about an embryonic research project on sex workers and HIV/AIDS, and within three days she and others were writing a grant application. That led to funding for a revived Australian Prostitutes Collective, which later morphed into the pioneering Sex Workers Outreach Project ( SWOP) – a model of peer education in combating HIV/AIDS transmission which was so successful that she became a consultant to the World Health Organization.
One of Julie Bates’ first successes was to convince the owner of Sydney’s largest brothel, the Nevada, that he’d go bust unless he insisted on condom use.
I never felt more satisfied or optimistic than when I rode the river in my youth.