State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 87 May 2011


Michael Hurley
Aspects of Gay and Lesbian Life in Seventies Melbourne

IN May 1970 I lived outside Springwood in the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney. I recall listening to a radio broadcast of a massive anti-Vietnam war demonstration. 100 000 people were marching up Bourke Street in Melbourne. The war moratoriums were national. It was about that time I fell in love with a man. We were, I said, just 'people', and he happened to be male. I doubt at that point I had ever heard the word 'gay', and I did not know that some homosexuals in Australia referred to themselves as 'camp'. Nor had I ever been to a bar where homosexuals congregated, though I think I had heard rumours about the Albury in Oxford Street, but maybe that was later.
I did know a little about opposition to the Vietnam War, the counter culture ('hippies') and the American civil rights movement. I saw Hair in the Metro Theatre, Kings Cross in 1969, and, in I think the same venue, maybe two years later, I watched a double bill of films: Boys in the Band and Fortune in Men's Eyes. Boys in the Band dramatised the lives of nine homosexual men at a birthday party. Fortune in Men's Eyes depicted a version of life for men in prison. I was riveted. Identification quickly became a politics. Homosexual acts were illegal in every state and territory in Australia, and aversion therapy was in its heyday.
The gay and women's gay liberation movements gave a dramatic new political impetus to what was already occurring. The Australian chapter of the lesbian organisation Daughters of Bilitis had been founded in Melbourne in January 1970; though small and not well known, there was TV and newspaper coverage.1 Public lesbian and gay politics changed nationally with the formation of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (Camp) in Sydney in September.2 Society Five, Melbourne's version of Camp, formed in 1971. The shock and excitement of open, self-accepting homosexuality provided by media coverage of Camp was followed by reviews of Dennis Altman's Homosexual: oppression and liberation (1971) in Time magazine in February 1972, the Age in July and the Australian in August. Altman's book documented and articulated a militant 'gay' politics that refused secrecy and shame while also challenging activism that only worked within 'the system'. The television series Number 96 also began in 1972. One character was Don Finlayson, an openly homosexual lawyer.
Activists were not born radicals. Often enough it was the activity and bravery of others that provided personal impetus. In an obituary of one time seminarian John Vergona (1944-2009), journalist Mark Ellis wrote of how Vergona became one of the first people to come out in the media:
He said in the [Age, 1972] article that he saw his work with Society 5 as helping people, much the same as he would have done had he become a priest ... He also appeared on the then Channel O's Dateline program, where his phone number
appeared on screen. There were a few nasty calls but mostly he was inundated with calls from people desperate to talk, with a high proportion from the country ... Vergona knew he would lose his job at [a Catholic school] so resigned to avoid embarrassment to the school. He took to playing piano full-time, seven days a week, and promptly doubled his income. He moved to the Old Melbourne Hotel in January 1973 and continued there for 20 years, a small record in casual music in Melbourne.3

Gay Rights demonstration, Melbourne, c. 1980. Photograph by Graham Willett.

Gary Jaynes, who alerted me to the obituary, said,
Vergona's coming out made quite an impact on me at the time. I was teaching in a country high school, in touch with Society Five and Gay Lib but as a consumer rather than an active participant.4
Sometime late in 1971 after being told by a priest in the confessional that 'I would never be happy', I left the church and the Church for the last time and wandered up
Oxford Street seeking a bar I had heard of called Cappriccio's. I had sought it before, but no-one had told me it was upstairs. That night I found it and after shakily making my way up the stairs I entered. It was loud with voices, somewhat dimly lit and there appeared to be very few men. I recall what seemed to be large breasted women with enormous round eyes, and elongated eyelashes in voluminous green satin or velvet. They were, I realised slowly, men. I fled. 'Cap's' drag shows were later referred to as 'legendary in Sydney's gay history', but any such sense was beyond who I was at the time.5 Others loved the drag shows that accompanied some parts of gay life. I had much to learn about tolerance and open-mindedness, and the multiple ways gay men and lesbians lived their lives.


A while back, during a bout of insomnia mixed with vivid dreams when I did sleep, I woke from a dream where I had seen Ken, or 'Joe', as he liked to be known later in his life. In 1972, Ken was celebrated in a piece of Carlton graffiti: 'Free Ken McClelland'. Like others, he had been imprisoned in Pentridge, as an anti-conscription draft resister to the Vietnam War. He had been taken by police from the classroom where he taught near Port Fairy. Ken was released soon after the Whitlam government was elected in December of that year.6 Whitlam withdrew Australian troops from Vietnam, freed those imprisoned and 'recognised' China. When I met him in 1979 in Clifton Hill, Ken was in the process of connecting with gay activists. In the early 1980s he became a stalwart in the Victorian response to AIDS, and the first convenor of the teams caring for people living with AIDS north of the river. He died in his Northcote home in 1992. The graffiti disappeared sometime later.
Pentridge was not foreign to gays. Noel Tovey, now an activist for indigenous rights, and a noted performance artist, ended up there at 17 after 'growing up in the slums of Carlton in the 1940s and '50s ... and a police raid on a drag party in Albert Park'.7 As did others, he left Australia for many years. Still others, like Brian Finemore, the country's first ever curator of Australian art at the National Gallery of Victoria, as Ian MacNeill put it, 'stayed and defied'. Finemore was murdered in his East Melbourne home in 1975. Melbourne was 'shocked and scandalized' and the crime has never been solved.8
Joe's courage paralleled that of many activists. My friend Jude, from a good Salvation Army home, stood alone on Melbourne city intersections in about 1971 distributing a leaflet she had produced calling for decriminalisation.
The stigma of being homosexual ... will continue to exist until public ignorance is changed to understanding and tolerance ... Let's change that now famous line from the play Boys in the Band 'Show me a happy homosexual and I'll show you a gay corpse' and not punish homosexuals for doing what for them is the most natural thing in the world'.9
It was Jude who some years later pointed out to me the street where Brian Finemore
was murdered. She joined Gay Liberation when it formed at Melbourne University in 1972.10 In Sydney, I, too, like many others, burst from my people's closet. My boyfriend and I began to attend parties at the Camp Inc offices in Darling Street, Balmain, opposite the fire station, and university gay liberation dances. In hindsight, I am surprised at how we did not let our own fears hold us back in so much of what we did. For students like myself, universities were relatively safe places where liberal attitudes were dominant, and many were also part of the waves of 1960s political radicalism that swept into the early years of the seventies – the anti-war movement, women's liberation, black power, and Aboriginal demands for land rights.


'I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.'11
I moved to Melbourne in the months after the Whitlam government was sacked and Malcolm Fraser became Prime Minister. I stayed till the end of 1984 before returning to Sydney. I came back to Melbourne for a second time early in 2001 and moved to Northcote from Collingwood in 2005. While I was involved in some of the events mentioned here, the essay is a hybrid collection of recollections. I mix my own reminiscences with those of friends and acquaintances, quotes from contemporary media commentary, books, articles, and websites. I also use materials and databases held in the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives.12 I seek to give a sense of some of what was occurring, the social and political relations between some gay men and lesbians, and a feel for how some people thought about what they were doing at the time or in hindsight.
Decades are not neatly contained ways to slice history or memoir or friendships. The seventies in this essay begin in 1969 with Stonewall and Jan Hillier's dances. They end with the fifth national homosexual conference in 1979 and the opening in 1980 of The Peel, Club 80, the Laird, Inflation, and Ryders. I wanted a critical 'feel' for what was occurring in those years, without closing-off 'the times' to the research that is still needed.
Jenny Brown wrote in the early seventies magazine William and John of Melbourne's camp dances:
By 1970 you could feel it. A surging, glistening, electric underground current. It sang a high tension hum behind the droning conversation in the hetero bars and discoteques [sic] ... an estimatable frustrated energy-force was bubbling toward a surface. Not all of us realised; it was the city's latent homosexuality on the rise.13
William and John described itself in the first edition in January 1972 as a 'camp Australian magazine. We are homosexual and proud of it'. It was the first of eight issues. Used in this way 'camp' was a social identity rather than a specific sensibility ('that's camp') or mode of wit based in a celebration of artifice and theatricality, though they did often overlap. Camp was about to be supplanted by 'gay', an emerging politics of social identity that in its more radical forms also challenged how heterosexuality and gender were socially organised. In that sense gay liberation, like women's liberation, directed

Cover of early issue of adults only magazine, William & John.

itself toward radical social change through direct political challenge rather than to law reform.
The dances, dancing and venues Brown writes about involved for many participants their early if not first experiences of homosexuals en masse. They were dancing bodies. She positions the dances as part of the counter culture, avant-garde events that challenged mainstream dance and party culture. They were 'new'. The dances were organised by, directed to and primarily attended by, camp women and men, effectively reorganising the boundaries between public and private.
Brown wrote of two regular dances, 'Spangles', and 'Jan's Dance'. Jan was Jan Hillier who became a major entrepreneur in the Melbourne lesbian and gay bar scene, much as Dawn O'Donnell was in Sydney. 'Spangles' was a moveable dance not a fixed venue. It was held initially at the church hall on the corner of Punt and Toorak Roads until the church realised what they were hosting and pushed it out. 'It then moved to reception halls', she says:
The St Windsor Regis was one, a balconied 50's [sic] ballroom with wall to wall everything, and a liquor licence. Spangles bought the right to privacy, money whispered in the right ears ... it moved through Melbourne's reception-joints like gay lightening from Fitzroy St, St Kilda, back to Toorak Rd, to South Yarra and down on St Kilda's Esplanade again.
The breathlessness of 'wall to wall everything' marvels at glamour and extravagance, at what was possible with money. 'Jan's Dance' provided competition for 'Spangles', sometimes on the same night. It too changed venues frequently. Spangles appears to have been mixed, was weekly on a Friday night, had a $2.50 entrance fee, ran to 2 or 2.30am and required easily gained private membership.
They could even afford to forget advertising ... The camp market was a huge, largely uncatered for one, haloed by a nebulous throng of bi-sexuals, friends and joy riders ... the doors always overflowed, while Melbourne's two remaining discos, Berties and Sebastians,14 seemed to have run out of soul and inspiration ... three medium sized camp venues in two weeks is nothing in a city of two million people.
Brown uses Berties and Sebastians to contrast the newness of the camp dances as 'underground' forms of overtly homosexual socialising:
tight-knit knots of younger homosexuals dotting the city began to recognise each other and choose social gathering points – mainly pubs. Their counted numbers grew erratically . . . The acceptance of camp social gathering-places made homosexuals realise just a fraction of their numbers; then private parties weren't enough; a private dance was next.
The dances were being organised by people like Hillier who had often long been part of the camp scene. Garry Wotherspoon noted of Sydney that 'many of the major social events of the sub-cultures, particularly the parties and dances' were organised from within specific friendship networks, as were private homosexual clubs.15 Brown implies, however, that many of the attendees were not from the private, domestic party networks amongst older homosexuals, but from wider disco dancing cultures. The private party

Two photos of Jan Hillier and friends having fun at Luna Park, c. early 1960s. The bottom one has Hillier (in suit and tie) sitting with her girlfriend on famous 'Moon Seat' in the Photo Studio at Luna Park. Unknown photographer.

networks had allowed homosexuals to socialise in relative safety 'away from the public gaze',16 but, in Brown's account, the dances drew on people who wanted 'camp socialgathering places'.
Sometimes the 'insider' influence was dismissed as involving the actions of elites but there are complications here. Police harassment was common, and bars sometimes operated in close relation with organised crime, especially, but I doubt only, in Sydney.17 The bars, dances and cafes were regulated by liquor licensing, the illegality of male homosexual behaviour and limited social legitimacy.
Domestic parties were also part of student life. Jocelyn Clarke describes how in the early seventies, after she begins 'sleeping' with women, she
became part of a group of lesbians who had a party every week at someone's house. I had little in common with these women; nonetheless I looked to them for my definition of a lesbian and hence my definition of myself.18
In the process she began to doubt that 'lesbianism had to be concealed from everyone in the outside world except very close friends, [or] that it involved some playing of "butch" and "femme"'. Her doubts, however, did not take shape until she became involved in women's and gay liberation. I note that 'butch' and 'femme' came from lesbian bar cultures, and posed difficulties for some lesbian feminists.19
In Clarke's account, socialising was associated with a re-forming of the self. Sometimes this was expressed as finding one's 'true' self,20 but it involved a straying from the self – moving away from one's own conventional understandings of femininity, masculinity, and the values of institutionalised heterosexuality (marriage, children, monogamy). The paradox here is that extraordinary discipline was exercised in order to create a freer self in a different world. The pleasure was often in the passion of doing it together, forging a sense of a shared project, and often accompanied by headiness.
One demonstrator in a 1972 action against the ABC's banning of a program on homosexuality carried a placard saying 'We're not fucked up, we're fucked over'.21 I recall another piece of (Fitzroy?) graffiti – 'Break out, not down'. For some, bravura was the style du jour as we forged our own places in the world.


Maintaining equanimity as one rejects the exclusivity of romantic love, combats institutional power in all its forms and learns how to do politics was often messy, as well as radicalising, daunting, confusing and exhilarating. Robert Reynolds noted the utopian vision of liberation offered 'few guidelines on how to live in the present'.22 Sue Jackson, an early participant in women's and gay liberation is quoted as saying,
What I think we were predominantly trying to do then was to live the postrevolution before we'd even figured out anything about what was even the structure of what we were living in, and how you might actually go about changing it.23
Similarly, looking back in 1980, Di Otto wrote in the Lesbian Newsletter,
We make the mistake of assuming that lesbianism, in itself, is a radical position ... It is as ludicrous as believing that every working-class person is a communist.24
Just as many of the more politically active often distanced themselves from existing lesbian and gay cultures and politics, responses from 'the scene' to these new moves varied – support, fear, suspicion, hostility. Melbourne's private parties, social groups and camp social scene still await extensive description. Parts of this milieu were, as Willett has said, 'cautiously public'.
Brown had a fine early eye for market potential, and what was later called the 'pink dollar'. What was less evident from her article was that there were groups that did not identify as camp, and that there were also non-commodity relations linking politics and socialising.
Just as some people moved between both politics and the scene, some men and women remained friends and others organised together. This 'mixed' politics was particularly evident in conference organising, in the work of the Gay Teachers and Students Group and the teachers unions around anti-sexism and homosexual teachers, in the campaigns in defence of Penny Short and Greg Weir and their right to train as teachers, in the production of Young, Gay and Proud, in the campaigns against Mary Whitehouse and fundamentalist Christian opposition to the legitimacy of homosexuality, and in the monthly production of Gay Community News.25 While women and men working together had its challenges, it did continue.


The move towards wider social acceptance was slow, but steady, though it was not always very visible in everyday life. Changing religious, political, legal and social attitudes were often masked by the more public activities of homophobes. One major arena of change involved interactions between gay and lesbian activists, feminists and the union movement, especially, but not only, the teachers' and social welfare unions. Shane Ostenfeld documents these interactions in detail, including how the Australian Women's Trade Union Conference in 1976 promoted the Working Women's Charter. It called for an end to discrimination 'on the basis of sex, race, country of origin, age, religious belief, appearance, marital status or sexual preference'. The Charter was adopted by the Actu in 1977.26
The first Women's Liberation conferences took place in Melbourne in 1970 and 1971. Much of the focus was on equal pay and women's right to work. Other women were critical, arguing that the role of the family under patriarchy (institutionalized male domination) needed much more attention to childrearing, domestic work, laws limiting abortion, taxes on contraception, access to education and control over their own bodies. Women's liberation was developing systematic critiques of gender, sex and relationships, but many lesbians began to question assumptions about heterosexuality within the women's movement. At the same, time, they questioned male sexism within gay liberation.
These matters have been discussed extensively. Several feminisms were involved, and lesbians were involved in all of them – socialist feminism, radical feminism, lesbian separatism. Looking back in the later 1980s, Liz Ross wrote,
Lesbian separatism continued to be one of the major issues in lesbian politics. Lesbian separatism means the separate organizing of lesbian action groups, without either heterosexual women or gay men. I think that how lesbians organise, whether separately or not is a tactical question.27
Here Ross distinguished between lesbians who were also feminists, and a politically powerful separatist lesbian-feminism.
The first national lesbian feminist conference was held in Sorrento, outside Melbourne in 1973. It was organised by Melbourne Radicalesbians – 'an off-shoot of the Gay Women's Group which had come into existence within Gay Liberation'.28 Several lesbians were also involved in the formation of The Melbourne Women's Film Group in that year including Barbara Creed and Pat Longmore.29 Longmore (1931-1992), an active women's liberationist, later made the Kingston Hotel in Highett Street, Richmond, a pub for women. Others like Jenny Brown, Destiny Deacon, Virginia Fraser, Kerryn Higgs, and Finola Moorhead were starting out as artists and writers, often appearing in anthologies such as Mother I'm Rooted30 and Stories of Her Life.31 Deacon was active in Koori politics and the women's movement and is now a major artist, as is Fraser who co-edited with photographer Carol Jerrems A Book about Australian Women.32 In 1975 Higgs (pseud. Elizabeth Riley) wrote Australia's first openly lesbian novel, All That False Instruction (set in a fictionalised Melbourne).33 These women signify the cultural and political vitality of the seventies, and the variety of sites on which feminist politics was done.
The first national homosexual conference was held at Melbourne University in August 1975. It was probably at that point the largest political gathering of homosexual men and women ever seen in Australia. I came down from Sydney for the conference by train, just as others came from all over the country and moved down 'permanently' soon after. By then Gay Liberation House was in Fitzroy (Brunswick St, then Moor Street). In the first eighteen months I lived in group houses in North Fitzroy and North Carlton, then criss-crossed the river, still in group houses for several years, then shared with Jude, before settling by myself in St Kilda. The group houses were mixed: lesbian and heterosexual women and gay, and occasionally heterosexual, men. Feminism was a shared commitment, as were the politics of radical social change. Like many activists then, we identified as socialists and often as communists.
The first national conference involved both women and men, and was auspiced by the Women's Officer at the Australian Union of Students (AUS) but organised by an independent collective. AUS gave considerable impetus to women's and gay politics in the mid-seventies and later. It nourished local activists (Laurie Bebbington, Phil Carswell, Gary Jaynes, Jude Munro, Ron Thiele, Margaret Lyons, Steve O, Ken Howard) and brought others to Melbourne from interstate as office holders for periods of time
(Gaby Antolovitch, Jeff Hayler [1953-2006], Craig Johnston, Peter O'Connor, Gay Walsh). It had national clout through its structure and media, and its ability to run national campaigns amongst students. It was based in Drummond Street, Carlton.
The national conferences continued until 1986, playing a key role in maintaining a national activist constituency.34 Liz Ross remarked that 'involvement in liberation movements is a very good education.'35 Johnston argued that the conferences 'provided the movement with a national grass-roots network which has not been replicated since.'36 In the seventies he had argued that Gay Liberation ended organisationally in about 1975, morphing into a 'movement'.


A friend recounts a 1971 visit to a lesbian bar south of the Yarra. She cannot remember the name of the bar, but remembers she went with some of her friends at the time, including, she thinks, Barbara Creed. They were students at Melbourne University, feminists and lefties. I look at lists of gay and lesbian bars in the early 1970s and it seems probable that they went to the Imperial Hotel in Chapel Street, South Yarra. I ring Barbara, reintroduce myself and tell her the friend's memory. Initially she cannot remember the bar either – this is a call out of the blue about long ago times – but when I mention the possibility of the Imperial she thinks it is the most likely: 'It was on the left side, down Chapel Street. I can visualise a few women in a long, narrow bar'. We talk about the times. Barbara refers to the Gay [Liberation?] Centre in Davis Street, Carlton, which predated Gay Liberation House in Fitzroy. Barbara believes the Centre began in the living room of a house she co-rented. Amongst the participants she mentions Peter M, Ross M, Simon K, Harriet, Kaye M, Jess M, Jim, possibly Jude Munro and Ron Thiele. 'We had a consciousness raising group.' 'Mixed [female and male]?', I ask. "Yes', she replies. In 1974 Barbara wrote and directed Homosexuality: a film for discussion for schools. It was widely distributed and attacked.
Peter Williams talks in a similar way of going to Maisies at Her Majesties Hotel on Toorak Road in about 1971: 'it was ten o'clock closing, and we'd find out where the party was that night. The address would go round the bar. If that failed', said Peter, 'you could always trawl Toorak Road after the pub closed'.
Jan Hillier ran mixed dances from the late 1960s to about 1973 (initially in Richmond), as did Society Five (1971-1983) and Gay Liberation. The Society Five events were part of a weekly drop-in. Women's Liberation ran dances for women, and in September 1972, the Women's and Gay Liberation groups at Melbourne University organized Sexual Liberation Day 'including a public meeting, street theatre, discussion groups and a dinner dance'. The dance was cancelled 'after ugly scenes erupted between gay libbers and science education students'.37 The Gay Liberation dances were reputedly popular, attracting more than political activists. It is possible they faded away in 1975 in part because of competition from the emerging bar scene.
For all this, hours and options for public socialising were restricted. Peter Langford wrote in 1975 that 'night life in Melbourne finishes at 11.30pm except for the coffee scene'.38 This partly explains the attraction of the weekly Society Five drop-in nights. At this point the biggest concentration of venues (3-4 at a time) was in the city. Gary Jaynes notes that some of the bar owners particularly Max Poyser (Isabellas, the University Club) gave access to the Homosexual Law Reform Coalition during the 1976 election to talk with patrons, and for a public meeting in 1977. In the early seventies, Women's and Gay Liberation dances were announced in the newsletters for those on mailing lists.
It was not until the mid and later seventies that venues could advertise extensively. In the later seventies, as the number of gay and lesbian bars and clubs increased, along with gay media, marketing and advertising also increased. Melbourne venues were first listed extensively in Campaign,39 and later in what were often referred to somewhat disparagingly as the 'bar rags' – small magazines directed toward reporting life on the bar 'scene' and associated events and personalities. Ivan Polsen who began Klick! (1979-1983, the first edition was titled Click) had attended the first national conference in 1975. I remember dancing with him on the Saturday night. Click had articles on Pokeys at the Prince of Wales, the Pig-n-Poke Bar (Saturday nights, mixed, the Metropolitan Hotel in the CBD), the Last Laugh (Collingwood), and the fifth national homosexual conference. Jamie Gardiner wrote on law reform.
Police persecution was a major problem. Raids on beats, including Black Rock Beach, were sporadically intense, if not frequent.
In November and December 1976, the phone service operated by Gay Liberation and Society Five noticed a marked increase in requests for legal advice by men arrested on the beats ... [later] the mainstream press were onto the issue. The Age reported that police had opted to 'go gay to lure homosexuals' [after which] within a few days sixty-eight men had been arrested for soliciting with homosexual intent ... the issue of entrapment techniques worked to divert attention away from sex and toward the role of law and its enforcement ... amid the storm of protest widespread support for decriminalisation was revealed.40
The Homosexual Law Reform Coalition persuaded Saulwick pollsters to do a poll on the issue. Fifty-seven per cent of Victorians thought the law should treat homo- and heterosexual acts equally; 30 per cent were opposed. The law was eventually changed by the Hamer Liberal government at the end of 1980 and came into effect early in 1981.41


There are many known venues from the seventies that were gay or lesbian or had gay or lesbian nights. I list some of those we know of from several sources, including a database of venues currently being produced by the Archives.42 This includes some that opened in the seventies but had longer lifespans. Venues included in alphabetical order: Annabels (1975-1976, mixed, with a women-only night); Ashleys (1979-1980?); Chaps and Babes Discos at the Chevron, St Kilda Road (1977-1982); the Club Bar (Maisies), at Her Majesty's Hotel (1956-c1972); the Dover (1975?-1977?); Goldies (?-1973?, said
to be similar to Capriccios); the Imperial Hotel, Chapel St (lesbian, late 60s-early 70s?); Jakes at the Menzies Tavern (1979-1980); Keller Bar, Savoy Hotel (9 months, 1973-1974. Reported in Nation Review in an interview with Doug Lucas as 'Melbourne's first, exclusively camp bar'); front corner bar, Old Melbourne Motor Inn (1973); the Pig 'n' Poke at the Metropolitan Hotel (1977-1980, mixed, mainly women) in William Street; PBs at the Elizabeth Hotel, (1979, mixed, also Pips in 1982); Pinkys (1973); Smarties at the Carron Tavern (1978-1980); Sylvesters (1979-1980, mixed, with men-only nights); Sweethearts (1979) which became Mandate, St Kilda (1980-1989); Tramps (1979-1981); some nights at the Union Hotel in North Carlton (1975-1977); the University Club in Collins Street (1976-1981, mixed and men-only nights); the Woolshed Bar at the Australia Hotel (1970-1979).
Club 80 (Collingwood), and the Laird Hotel (Abbotsford) appear to have opened in 1980, as did the Last Laugh Piano Bar (Smith and Gertrude Sts). Inflation and Ryders Disco were both 1980-1983. The Kingston Hotel was also early eighties.
There were also long running cafes, including several run by Val Eastwood for lesbians and gay men from the early 1950s to the mid '70s,43 and those run by Trish (Jon) Barrie, in North Melbourne, 1969-1994: 'Trish along with Jan Hillier fought for years to have recognized gay venues and functions'.44 Gay and lesbian friendly restaurants came and went and there were bookshops, and attempts at travel agencies. Klick #2 claimed the Beat Bookshop in Commercial Road, Prahran (1979) was 'Melbourne's first gay shopfront'. For men there were also saunas – Caulfield Sauna (1970-), Caulfield Sauna 2, previously the Continental Baths (1979-1980); Club 280 (1979-1980); Spa Guy, Abbotsford (1978-) – and beats.
From these simple, incomplete lists, we gain a sense not only that bars and other venues existed, but also of their geographic dispersal, and the absence of easily identifiable, ongoing, openly gay and lesbian commercial 'precincts'. (The precincts consolidated in Prahran and Collingwood from about 1980.)45 There was a tendency for a proportion of venues to open and close relatively quickly. Much still depended on word of mouth, and the development of a critical mass of people prepared to attend them. This process accelerated, arguably, with the opening of Pokeys, and the various bars in the Chevron Hotel.
My own gay friendship networks were political. I knew almost nothing of bar life. That changed only a little after I moved to Melbourne (the Union Hotel, the University Club). My memory says that the Key Club was in Gertrude Street Fitzroy in the later 1970s, and that it was a lesbian bar open on Sunday nights. You had to knock, and be looked-over through a slot that slid open in the door. Eyes scrutinised you, whether for familiarity, a 'look' or whatever, I do not recall. I raise the Key Club with Mitch, but she remembers things differently. She thinks the Key Club was mostly straight and had another name, that the lesbian night was Thursdays and maybe Sunday was a gay men's night. We are not sure of the detail. Memory does not get us there. This does not make it 'untrue', but it is vague, and as it turns out unreliable.
Mitch and I had met sometime in the later 1970s, maybe at a party. She was a teacher. On occasion she and I spoke to students about gay liberation, once at RMIT, another time in Ballarat. We see each other still. That experience of friendship was common. It took many forms. David Menadue tells a story of his group of nine male friends in student housing at Melbourne University in the early seventies. They discovered they were all gay – 'a shared experience that was to bond us for many years to come' – and 'delved into a much more active exploration of the relatively hidden gay underworld that existed in Melbourne'.46
I email Gary who has been associated with the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Melbourne since its beginning. (The Archives were founded at the fourth national Homosexual conference held in Sydney in 1978.) I ask him what the Archives can tell me about the Key Club. He consults the holdings at the Archives and tells me the club opened 12 December 1978 and closed June 1989. The address was 22 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, in the Carlton Club Hotel. Mitch was partly right, and yes we did have to buzz. Neither of our memories had fully allowed for changes over fairly short periods of time. On Friday nights the bar for women was called Squizzies. In 1979, operating as the Key Club, disco nights were Friday and Saturday. By June 1980, Thursday nights were 'girls only', Friday nights were 'mixed' and Saturday nights were for males.
Dave says on his website,
Fortunately, I "came out" in 1978, and lived through an era when gay men did not have to feel any conflicts between their masculinity and being gay. There was a real brotherhood feeling back then. I remember one night in the "Key Club" in 1979, it was very crowded and there was no room for dancing, So all the men took their shirts off, put their arms around one another and moved up and down to Patrick Hernandez's 'Born To be Alive'.47
I note the reference to 'brotherhood' and the significance of music, in this case a disco classic, for the linking of communal togetherness with individualised selfexpression. A new gay culture was emerging, reclaiming some traditional aspects of masculinity and refusing to mask their relation to desire. Communality and desire did not, however, always sit easily together. Greater visibility of the leather subculture at this point challenged many, yet it was often there that some of the arguments about gay masculinity and shared understandings of community were positively articulated.


Dennis Altman wrote in 1980:
The changes that have gone on in Australia were brought home to me when I spent a week in Melbourne in late 1978. I had lived there for a period in the late 1960s, and found it a dull and uptight place. Ten years later the changes seemed quite striking ... a much greater diversity in lifestyle, at least in the inner urban areas.48
More than anyone else, Altman, now Professor of Politics at La Trobe University, described the social, cultural and political changes as they affected gay men and, to an
extent, lesbians in the 1970s – Homosexual (1971), Coming Out in the Seventies (1979), Rehearsals for Change (1980), and The Homosexualisation of America (1982). His books had considerable salience for what was occurring in inner city Sydney and Melbourne. Otherwise at that time, with a few exceptions, Australian readers were heavily reliant on overseas titles.49 While theatre grew increasingly lively, local television and film moved slowly. On television bisexual reporter Vicki Stafford enlivened The Box (1974-1977) and Prisoner began in 1979, later developing a cult following among many lesbians and gay men in Australia and internationally.
The growth of a more consolidated commercial scene (bars, saunas, shops of all kinds, media) enabled an experience of community. Pokeys (1977-1992), for example, was advertised in Campaign and the bar magazines. It was run by Hillier together with drag impresario Doug Lucas, who ran the gay bar at the Union Hotel in North Carlton.
An on-line history of the Prince of Wales in St Kilda notes that '[I]n 1977 the gay dances organised by Jan Hillier since the late 1960s, [were] migrating to various venues across Melbourne, perhaps to avoid police raids, settled into regular Sunday nights at the Prince of Wales. This was 'Pokeys' nightclub held in the first floor Band Room'.50
Hillier and Lucas approached the then hotel manager who doubted their claim that a drag show could fill the pub's entire first floor, including the main showroom, a long piano bar and the Regal Room. On the opening night of Pokeys only the showroom was made available; 300 customers were reputedly turned away.51
In 1980, Rose had a male partner. She applied for a job in the newspaper for a casual barmaid at the Prince of Wales. She was 21. Some of her friends snickered when she told them where she was going to work. She did not know why.
People were 12 deep at the bar for the entire shift in Pokeys. On other nights I worked in the adjacent piano bar. It was gay too, but in a different way, quieter, often older, and I liked Arthur who played the piano. He had a theatre background as a dancer I think, but was on the pension, and needed the job. He lived alone in a tiny room somewhere in St Kilda. We were friends.
Rose and Mitch have now been partners for the past 15 years.
In October 1979 Klick! magazine reported that on some nights, as Pokeys entered its third year, there were more than a thousand in attendance. A St Kilda Historical Society publication says, 'Almost half a million customers paid to see Pokeys between 30 October 1977 and 13 March 1992'.52
It is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of this growth in open socialising made possible by the increase in commercial venues, ongoing activism and social tolerance. The combination had a direct affect on initially mostly gay male politics and over time on lesbian and eventually on what has become known as GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) politics. The pressure created led many activists to move away from 'movement' to a 'community' politics unthinkable in the early seventies. It also, however, brought people from the scene into activism.53 This in turn further strengthened demands for legalisation of male homosexuality, opposition to police raids
and harassment and a few years later, the organised response to HIV and AIDS. Much of the scene, if not 'community', is now taken for granted, as if it had always been there.
The Archives has posters advertising a Cabaret at the Pram Factory in Drummond Street, Carlton, 31 August 1979 and The Spring Follies Women's Dance at St Mark's Church Hall, on the corner George & Moor Sts, Fitzroy, on 1 September. My first thought was these events had to do with the fifth national homosexual conference, held at the Universal Workshop in Victoria Street, Fitzroy, 31 August – 2 September. It too had a gay dance on 1 September at Storey Hall, RMIT, featuring The Dots and The Kevins. In Liz Ross' account, she says, however, that 'there had been considerable debate about whether to run separate lesbian and gay male conferences. Eventually the Lesbian Action Group did organize separately'.54 David Menadue, who was also involved, gives a similar account.55
The fifth conference arguably revitalized mixed gay and lesbian politics in Melbourne. (It was, however, probably the last time the 'movement' could speak with a loosely unified national voice.) The Victorian Gay Trade Unionists Group took-off (Alan Hough, Bruce Sims, Ken, Steve), and other links were made in the conference newsletter group between activists such as Gary Jaynes and newer participants like Danny Vadasz, Graham Willett, David Menadue and Alison Thorne. Together with others, including Pru Borthwick and Adam Carr, they produced Gay Community News (1979-1984). The second issue (December 1979) lists 19 people as production contributors.56 There were constant negotiations in GCN over the 'commercial' aspects of the scene, sex and sexual objectification. Graham Willett has said that 'the debate about how the movement should relate to the sub-culture Was waged more intensely in GCN than anywhere else'.57 (Gay Information also made a major contribution to this debate after 1980.) Melbourne activists, with the exception of some such as Phil Carswell, were arguably more uncomfortable with 'community' politics than many of their Sydney counterparts.
The networks which emerged, whether through participation in 'the scene' or in politics, along with the community media, and the growth in venues, enabled a mass coming out of gay men and lesbians. They also intersected, creating a strong awareness of civil rights amongst many lesbians and gay men. Together they made community: unity in difference.


Liz Ross, 'We were Catalysts for Change', Journal of Lesbian Studies, vol. 13, no. 4, October 2009, pp. 442-460.


On Camp and on the seventies generally, see Denise Thompson, Flaws in the Social Fabric: homosexuals and society in Sydney, St Leonards, NSW: Allen and Unwin, 1985; Garry Wotherspoon, City of the Plain: history of a gay sub-culture, Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1991; Graham Willett, Living Out Loud: a history of gay and lesbian activism in Australia, St Leonards, NSW: Allen and Unwin, 2000; Clive Moore, Sunshine and Rainbows: the development of gay and lesbian culture in


Mark Ellis, 'Brave campaigner for some of society's most marginalised', Age, 25 September 2009. See also, Max Beattie, 'Homosexual speaks out "to help cause"', Age, review section, 22 July 1972, p. 9.


Gary Jaynes, personal communication, 21 December 2010. I acknowledge the detailed, generous assistance of Gary with many matters in this article and thank him for it.


Wotherspoon, City of the Plain, p. 158.


A poster for a demonstration demanding Ken's release earlier in 1975 can be seen at (accessed 30 July 2010). See also, PLWHA (Vic) Legends. Positive and Proud: a Victorian perspective, exhibition catalogue, Melbourne: PLWHA (Vic), 2000, pp. 12-13.


'Tovey or not Tovey', Age, 16 January, 2005.


Ian MacNeill, 'Brian Finemore', Art Monthly Australia, no. 183 (September 2005).


Judith Munro, leaflet, 'Some facts concerning homosexuality', c. 1971 or 1972, acquisitions 2009-0043.tif, Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, Melbourne.


Willett, Living Out Loud, p. 37.


Lillian Hellman, Pentimento: a book of portraits, London, Quartet Books, 1980, p. 3.


See also the 'Living in the Seventies' issue of Australian Feminist Studies, vol. 22, no. 53, 2007.


Jenny Brown, 'Melbourne's Camp Dances', William and John, 7, December 1972, pp. 7-8. Emphasis in the original.


Berties (1966-1973?) and Sebastians were Melbourne's two premier live music discoteques. Both were unlicensed. See, (accessed 21 July 2010).


Wotherspoon, City of the Plain, pp. 134, 136-7. See also (accessed 23/10/2010).


Wotherspoon City of the Plain, p. 72.


Craig Johnston, A Sydney Gaze: the making of gay liberation, Sydney: Schiltron Press, 1999, pp. 64-67.


Jocelyn Clarke, 'Life as a Lesbian', in Jan Mercer, ed., The Other Half: women in Australian society, Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin, 1975, p. 335.


See, Joan Nestle, ed., The Persistent Desire: a femme-butch reader, Boston: Alyson, 1992.


See Reynolds, From Camp to Queer, chapters 5 and 6.


Johnston, A Sydney Gaze, p. 19.


Reynolds, From Camp to Queer, p. 105.

23, accessed 29 July 2010.


Quoted in Ross, 'Escaping the Well of Loneliness', in Verity Burgmann and Jenny Lee, eds, Staining the Wattle, Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin, 1988, p. 107.


Willett, Living Out Loud, p. 137.


Shane Ostenfeld, 'Interactive Movements: Gay Lib, the Women's and Student Movements, and the Trade Unions', in Garry Wotherspoon, ed., Gay and Lesbian Perspectives III, Sydney: University of Sydney, 1996, pp. 189-206.


Ross, 'Escaping the well of loneliness', p. 103.


See Chris Sitka, 'A Radicalesbian Herstory'. Available at (accessed 30/10/2010) and 'The Melbourne Gay Women's Group', in Jan Mercer, ed, The Other Half.


Annette Blonski, Barbara Creed, Freda Freiberg, eds, Don't Shoot Darling! Women's independent filmmaking in Australia, Richmond, Vic.: Greenhouse, 1987, p. 63.


Kate Jennings, ed., Mother I'm Rooted: an anthology of Australian women poets, Fitzroy, Vic.: Outback Press, 1975.


Sandra Zurbo, ed., Stories of Her Life: an anthology of short stories by Australian women, Collingwood, Vic.: Outback Press, 1979.


Virginia Fraser and Carol Jerrems, A Book About Australian Women, North Fitzroy, Vic.: Outback Press, 1974.


Kerryn Higgs, All That False Instruction, second edition, North Melbourne, Vic.: Spinifex Press, 2001.


Willett, Living Out Loud, pp. 122-127.


Ross, 'Escaping the Well of Loneliness', p. 103.


Johnston, A Sydney Gaze, p. iv.


Graham Willett, 'From Camp to Gay. The Homosexual History of the University of Melbourne, 19601976', Working Paper No. 6, History of The University Unit, University Of Melbourne. Available at


Peter C. Langford, 'A Fleeting Impression', Campaign, 2, October, 1975, p. 11.


See, 'Guide to a Gayer Melbourne', Campaign, 32, May 1978, pp. 21-25, 36-39.


Willett, Living Out Loud, pp. 149-150.


See (accessed 22 Ocotber 2010).


I thank Gary Jaynes for giving me access to the database which is still being developed. The major gay and lesbian histories in note 1 also contain many mentions of bars.


Ruth Ford, interview (1995) published in Val Eastwood, The Travelling Mind of Val Eastwood, Parkville, Vic.: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, 2009.

45 (accessed 24/07/2010). See also obituary, 'Goodbye Trish: 1922-1999', Focus, no. 35, Spring 1999, p. 22.


More detailed research is required. The location and number of venues often changed. Gary Jaynes referred me to 'a map that was printed in City Rhythm for a period of about 18 months (issue #3, Feb 1982 to #17, Aug/Sep 1983). In the map in Feb, '82 it's clear the Commercial Road precinct was well established by then (less so Collingwood)', personal communication, 21 December 2010.


David Menadue, Positive, St Leonards, NSW: Allen and Unwin, 2003, pp. 32, 122.


Dave's Bear Den,; (accessed 31 December 2010).


Dennis Altman, Rehearsals for Change, Sydney: Fontana/Collins, 1980, p. 65,


See Michael Hurley, 'Gay and Lesbian Writing and Publishing in Australia, 1961-2001', Australian Literary Studies, vol. 25, no. 1, May 2010, pp. 42-70.


'Prince of Wales Hotel', in A Place of Sensuous Resort. Buildings of St Kilda and their People, St Kilda Historical Society, 2005. Available at (accessed 24 July 2010).


Peter Davis, 'Men in Frocks', Age, 19 November 2007. Available at (accessed 26 July 2010).


'Prince of Wales Hotel'. The chapter provides no information on how these numbers were derived, though they possibly relate to takings based on a per head cover charge over the specified time period.


See Menadue, Positive, pp. 148-158.


Ross, 'Escaping the well of loneliness', p. 106.


Menadue, Positive, p. 150.


Willett, Living Out Loud, p. 210.