Public intimacies: the royal commission on human relationships

28 Apr 2013

The 1970s was a time of social and cultural transformation in Australia. The rise of women’s liberation, gay liberation, and the so-called ‘permissive society’ meant that the line between private behaviour and public life was beginning to break down.

There was a new willingness to speak up about experiences of discrimination, and new urgency to push for change, especially to laws around homosexuality and abortion.

The Whitlam government was full of reforming zeal when it was elected in late 1972. But while it couldn’t change the laws around abortion, it did create something much more complex: a Royal Commission on Human Relationships.

This inquiry into family and intimate life would go on to provoke fierce outrage and resistance. But it opened up conversations about private life that we’re still having today.

This project was supported by the National Archives of Australia, through the 2012 Frederick Watson Fellowship.


Bobbie Burke
Former staff member of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships
Anne Deveson
Writer and broadcaster
Robert Eillicott
Former Minister for Home Affairs in the Fraser government
Elizabeth Evatt
Former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia
Gabrielle Hyslop
Daughter of the Royal Commission’s official secretary, Robert Hyslop
Elizabeth Reid
Former advisor on women’s affairs to Prime Minister Gough Whitlam
Faye Roberts
Former staff member of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships
Peter de Waal
Former activist and member of CAMP NSW (the Campaign against Moral Persecution)
Sue Wills
Former activist, researcher for the Royal Commission on Human Relationships, and historian


Michelle Arrow
Supervising producer
Catherine Freyne
Sound engineer
Timothy Nicastri
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