It's World Aids Day today. A day to reflect on how modern life has so thoroughly changed the way many of us interact. How such a cruel and infatiguable disease has been responsible for so much heartbreak and the loss of life. A day to remind us to be ever vigilant and to not take for granted the immense toll four letters have brought with them.
I'm catching up on things. I finally got around to watching Behind The Candelabra this week. Dubbed in Italian of course (urgh). I'm told Liberace wasn't really well known in this neck of the woods, but the movie's message went beyond being a simple, enjoyable biopic.
Liberace's AIDS related death in the mid 1980s was realistically, if briefly portrayed in the film. But it was enough to bring back memories of what it was like growing up in the eighties in the shadow of HIV/AIDS and the fear and pandemonium it sparked.
I don't know what it was like for you growing up where you did, but I have two really clear memories about the AIDS epidemic from back then.
Beyond the tragedy of it all, I have really vivid memories about how awful we were in Australia. How the media in particular played such a huge role in a scare campaign that was often cruel and lacking in compassion.
The most vivid of my memories was based on an infamous public service announcement that aired regularly. It's referred to as the Grim Reaper ad, and even now, it's still chilling.
It was an ad that really represented how little we knew and how much we feared.
The breakthroughs that have made HIV more manageable today weren't existent back then. Being school aged I remember people being terrified of bodily contact, of how ideas like using a restroom was suddenly dangerous. Of how the stigma of the disease took shape and took hold.
Of how prejudice and witch hunts were the norm in Australia.
If anybody embodied the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic for Australians, it was little Eve Van Grafhorst.
Born prematurely in 1982, she'd contracted the virus from one of a dozen or so blood transfusions as a newborn. Her condition quickly led to Eve and her family being on the receiving end of all kinds of uninformed prejudice and harrassment in Australia, and to her being expelled from her kindergarten she attended for fear that she would infect the other children.
A witch hunt, faithfully covered by the Australian press, ensued and life in Australia became unbearable for the family. The family was welcomed with open arms by the town of Hastings in New Zealand where they were forced to start a new life, where Eve would go on to become the public, human face of the disease.
In New Zealand, her presence was a reminder of the compassion of the country's people and of the Australian community's intolerance. Despite her young age, Eve played a vital part in educating the public in Australia and New Zealand about AIDS and AIDS sufferers.
There's a lovely commemoration over at Stuff reminding us what Eve taught us and I've included a video below that commemorated her life and death.
There have been medical advances and we've managed to shake off some of the stigma attached to HIV and AIDS. But we need to do more, to be constantly vigilant and to ensure that the younger generations rid themselves of the false sense of security that seems to be infiltrating the community again.
Get tested. Get informed and do your part in stamping out ignorance.
Dave Di Vito
Subscribe to the mailing list for information about upcoming releases and a free excerpt!
Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
For information about upcoming writing projects subscribe to the mailing list.
Dave hates SPAM so he won't trouble you with any of his own. He promises.