Queer Northbridge History

Jo Darbyshire takes a trip through the gay bars of yesteryear, circa 1950-1975, with the people who lived, breathed and drank it.

While more detailed research needs to be done to illuminate the rich history of gay and lesbian drinking holes in the Perth and Northbridge areas, the following anecdotal quotes about bars and nightclubs since the 50s were gathered in the course of researching the Gay Museum, an exhibition held at the WA Museum in 2003.

‘1956, The Palace Hotel – that’s where we all met. The scene? Well, there were the untouchables – gay high society, courtesy of amateur theatre and the ABC… They congregated mainly in the Wintercourt Flats in Adelaide Terrace.’ JK

‘In the 50s, it seemed to be an unwritten law that you went into the Corner Bar at the Palace. Brophy was the barmaid there… Fuck-a-day Faye was famous for doing a strip tease at parties.’ AB

‘I first went to the Palace in 1960. It was Saturday nights then and St Georges Terrace was as dead as a dodo! That worked for us because there were no ‘straights’ around. Edna Brophy was the barmaid there. She would have been about 55-60 then, a great character and she was very accepting, loved us all. The place opened at 7.30 and closed at 9pm. Everyone bought 2 bottles of beer and went to a party somewhere afterwards. Lesbians had their own party at the pub – then they’d come to the party too.’ TT

‘In the 1960s – gay or camp people met and drank at the Saloon Bar – a corner of the old Palace Hotel and the downstairs bar, known as the Sportsmen’s Bar, of the Savoy Hotel.’ RC

‘In the beginning the boys and girls went to the same places… the Palace Hotel in the early 70s, for the best Sunday session in town… most magnificent buffet smorgasbord for $5 and lots of dancing queens! It was the envy of all the hets.’ KB

The Shaftesbury in Stirling Street, opposite the Sunday Times… It was the first time I came across Aboriginal Drag Queens en masse – it was the middle of October but they were sitting there in fur coats… it was a sight to behold! No, there was no racial division in the early 70s, there seemed to be a lot more humour… we didn’t know about being politically correct.’ H

‘In 1970, it was the Shaftesbury Hotel where an old guy, called Cecil or Cecilia played the piano… then all of a sudden we were down at His Maj then the Green Room of the Perth Concert Hall.’ RC

‘I might tell you that Johnny O’Keefe used to come to our little dances at times. I used to meet him when he came over and have a drink with him at His Majesty’s. That was our bar, a popular gay bar in those days.’ Triz

‘Cec followed us to the Balcony Bar at His Majesties where the manager was Kevin Smith. It had been going about 6 months – then they put pool tables in behind it and made the lesbians welcome… and, of course, from that moment it seemed to go downhill – you see in those days the lesbians always had ‘hangers on’ – their girlfriends brothers, and the like, and there would always be fights.’ E

The Pirate’s Den, down on the river, in Fremantle, was open on Sunday nights for the gay community… we used to dance and we had to buy a meal… it was quite an experience… it attracted the ‘rough trade, sailors, etc… this was around 1972.’ H

‘I remember in the early 70s there was a bar in Wellington Street, opposite the Entertainment Centre called the Roaring Twenties. They used to have drag shows there. The dressing room was a walk-in safe. We used to laugh because… if the place burnt down, all the drags would be safe in the wardrobe. Also, The Red Garter – a strip joint up in William Street. Terry McAuley, aka Tina Tinsel, was a female impersonator there.’ RC

‘We all used to go to the Paddington on the corner of Hay and Pier streets, seven nights of the week and Thurs/Fri/Saturday onto Huck Finns…’ KB

‘At 16 I discovered Connections in James Street and immediately felt like I had found ‘home’. Then I was introduced to the Paddington which was a wild place in the 70’s… There was a mixed Sunday Session… It was a rough time with lots of drugs, alcohol, parties and fights… Many people took Mandrax or ‘mandies’, Tuonol or Rohypnol or ‘rowys’. Dykes were continually starting fights at ‘the Club’ and ‘the Session’. It seemed like you only had to look the wrong way or at someone else’s girlfriend and you’d be in trouble, but everyone invariably had a great time. There was also a bar just off the Hay St entrance to the Paddington, which was dark and dingy with pool tables, that was frequented during the week by a strange mixture of people; poofters, lesbians, bikies and crims.’ DS

‘The gay community has grown up – to a certain extent I think people are interested in being part of mainstream society… but I miss the good old days, the ghetto atmosphere. I miss the security of knowing that everybody was there to chat somebody up. If people were at the Paddington or the Shaftesbury, you knew everybody was there for the same reason.’ H

Conversations are with Peter Robinson, Sally Rowell, Karen Buck and Zoe Hart, Donna S, Kris Ritchie, Ted Thurlowe and from oral history Interviews involving Ray Currell, Triz, Ivan King, Hollywood, Alex Buchanan, Ernst, and Johan Knollema.

Do you remember these venues? Have stories about your experiences in others? Share your experiences with the Northbridge History project as they collect oral histories of GLBTI Northbridge. Email [email protected] or check out www.myspace.com/northbridgehistory

Next month, we continue Jo Darbyshire’s collection of anecdotes from The Gay Museum research with a look at the IT bars of the 80s and beyond.