Queers of the Desert

AIDS Quilts (1990)

The first AIDS conference in Central Australia was held in 1990. A feature of the event was the display of panels from the Australian section of the Quilt Project. On that occasion quilts commemorating the lives of three local residents were presented for inclusion. Images of them are displayed below with brief notes about the lives they represent.

Peter Challacombe lived and worked as a chef in Alice Springs for many years. It is believed that he was the first person to test positive for HIV in the region.

Pete chose to stay and keep working for some time after he was diagnosed, but eventually went home to the Northern Rivers of NSW where his health soon deteriorated. His quilt was designed and made by his close friends Bron and Laurie and Paul.


Bruce Loader was a long-term resident of Alice Springs. Unlike most others in the early days of the epidemic he elected not to seek treatment in a capital city, but remained in town until his death. So, he was probably the first person to actually die with AIDS in Central Australia.

His partner Richard designed the quilt which features the colours of Bruce's favourite shirt. A small plastic pocket on the lower right contains the ring that Bruce exchanged with Richard years before, as well as thirty cents to make sure he would always be able to call home; their long-standing promise to each other.


Eric Japanangka Michaels' quilt was designed by his Warlpiri and kardiya friends from Yuendumu. It features a traditional painted design representing the links between communities and other locations made possible by the television networks he helped to develop.

Although HIV/AIDS is now often thought of as a chronic manageable disease, it has still taken the lives of many people who have lived in Central Australia, just as it has elsewhere. Only a few of these people's lives have been celebrated by the production of a memorial quilt.

John Hobson


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