Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert Bernard (Bobby) Goldsmith (1946–1984)

by Anne-Maree Whitaker

This article was published:

Robert Bernard (Bobby) Goldsmith (1946-1984), symbol for the gay community, was born on 8 March 1946 at Hurstville, Sydney, second child of Alan Goldsmith, fitter, and his wife Nancy Gunn, née Hodgman, both born in New South Wales. Robert began his education at Burcher Provisional School (between Condobolin and West Wyalong). From the age of 6 he boarded with his elder sister at St John’s Anglican Hostel, Forbes, while a pupil at the local public and high schools. On a scholarship he attended (1964-65) Teachers’ College, Sydney, and in 1966 was posted to Captain’s Flat Public School. After a few months he forfeited his bond and entered the Commonwealth Public Service in the National Library of Australia, Canberra, studying part time at the Australian National University. Two years later he moved to Sydney, where he worked in the Commonwealth Repatriation Department (later Department of Veterans’ Affairs).

Known as Robert to his family and Bob or Bobby to his colleagues and friends, Goldsmith was a charming and open person with an excellent sense of humour. He was particularly fond of opera and of social activities, especially `nightclubbing’ and dancing, and he regularly travelled overseas. A surfer in his early days, Goldsmith always maintained a trim physique and suntan. He was a keen recreational swimmer who, at the inaugural Gay Games in San Francisco in 1982, won 17 of the Australian team’s 21 medals: 4 gold, 11 silver and 2 bronze. A participant in all four strokes plus the individual medley, he swam distances from 50 to 800 yards. His gold medals were for the 100- and 200-yards butterfly and 400- and 800-yards freestyle events, all in the 36-45 age category.

It is likely that Goldsmith contracted the human immunodeficiency virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome during one of his visits overseas. By 1983 he was terminally ill. His many friends rallied round to care for him and to organise a fundraising event, held under the auspices of the Gay Counselling Service on Mother’s Day, 13 May 1984, at a gay venue, the Midnight Shift, Oxford Street, Sydney. Some of the money raised was used to buy a commode, a video player to enable him to watch opera, and a support mattress to enable him to remain at home rather than in hospital. He died of acquired immune deficiency syndrome at his home in Surry Hills on 18 June 1984. His was the first publicly acknowledged HIV-AIDS death in New South Wales. After a funeral with high Anglican rites at Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney, he was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the sea between Bondi and Tamarama. His estate was divided between his partner, Kenneth Raymond Bryan, his father and his sister.

The initial benefit function had raised over $6000; following his death a trust was set up in his memory to assist other AIDS patients. The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation was formed in July 1984 to provide community-based care and financial and practical support for people living with HIV-AIDS.

Select Bibliography

  • Star (Sydney), 10 Sept 1982, p 1, 18 May 1984, p 1, 28 June 1984, p 4, 26 July 1984, p 7
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 27 Oct 1984, p 573
  • Bobby Goldsmith Foundation archives, Sydney.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Anne-Maree Whitaker, 'Goldsmith, Robert Bernard (Bobby) (1946–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 March, 1946
Hurstville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


18 June, 1984 (aged 38)
Surry Hills, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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