Gay clubbing in 1918

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1910s professional female impersonator, Julian Eltinge

What was it like to go to a gay club in 1918? To find out we need to follow an undercover reporter and his friend into one of the best Perth had to offer. At least he said he was ‘undercover’. Strangely, our hack seems to know almost everyone present. But we’ll play along, and assume he was there strictly for journalistic reasons.

Back in the gold boom days, the best gay club in town was ‘Flora Dora’, which was so established it seems people didn’t mind being seen there, but there were others. But just after World War I, only one club was up and running for men who wanted to hang around with other men, unless you count such places as the Weld Club. Which we won’t.

In 1918, underground advertisements for ‘The Misogynist’s Ball’ started circulating. We assume the event name was ironic, or perhaps a simple way of being able to not invite the wife. “Darling, I’d love you to come, but you would hate all those misogynists.” The sale of tickets was kept very private, only available to those in the know, and almost everyone attending wore fancy dress and a mask to keep their identity secret. Or, at least, to pretend to keep their identity secret. The advert ran:

Almost all the social elements of a large city have their club or meeting place—the fat, the bald, the bachelors, the widowers—why not the misogynists?

The location was one of Perth’s well-known dancing halls, and our ‘undercover’ pair entered around midnight. Dancing was going on, to the music of a good orchestra. Naturally, it being the past, the air is thick with tobacco smoke, preventing the newcomers from making out the details of the scene. Most of the people were masked, and very few in formal dance wear of suits and ballgowns. But now our intrepid couple can make out one lady, who pirouetted in front of them, cigar in her mouth, and with a small beard half-hidden by makeup. She was now talking to someone dressed as an angel, in tights, with an exposed breast and bare arms. You won’t be surprised, and nor was our journo, to find out these were “men dressed as women!” [Exclamation mark in the original.]

Someone dressed as a clown was speaking “tender words” to a ballet dancer, with his arm around her waist. Despite her good figure, her brilliant earrings, her necklace, her “shapely shoulders”, and all the other hallmarks of the fair sex, the ballet dancer also turns out to be a man.

On the other hand, some who are clearly identifiable as men are behaving effeminately. With his carefully trained mustache, makeup and blackened eyebrows, a salesman from one of the larger confectioners is sporting an elegant black gown, gold bracelets and a fan held in white gloves.

Perhaps in another corner, our journalist explorers can discover some normality. Several elderly gentlemen are gathered round a group of ladies who have amazing breasts, although they are all drinking and cracking indelicate jokes. These, at least, must be real ladies, declares our hero. His companion corrects him. The one on the right with the brown hair is a barber, the blonde with the pearl necklace was a tailor who appeared tonight as Miss Ella, while the third was a well-known female impersonator from Perth’s stages, the famed Lottie.

Our hack is shocked. Lottie has a great waist, an amazing bust, and delicate arms! Even so, Lottie was once an accountant, and now makes a living by being a professional woman, tonight singing in an experienced contralto voice. Somehow our ‘undercover’ reporter is well acquainted with the fact that this former accountant wears an embroidered night-dress after dark. Let’s not ask how he knows this.

Perhaps unexpectedly, there are cis women at the ball. But they seem to keep to themselves, while the males ignore them. Perhaps some cis women went to a gay club like some might today: to find a space where they can have a good night out without anyone hitting on them.

Anyway, Perth’s gay and transgender community was very much present in 1918, as they were before, and have been ever since. They were here, queer, and it seems a pity it took so long to get used to them.

Carnival corpses of walking tongues

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Thrilling maybe. Prohibited, certainly.

As a good Western Australian parent, you wouldn’t want your child to read ‘The Carnival of Crawling Doom’, would you? Let alone ‘Dead Tongues of Terror’ or ‘The Little Walking Corpses’. Of course not. Because you are a good parent, and you know Perth led the way in having such stories banned.

The federal Customs Act 1901 meant anything obscene, indecent or blasphemous or seditious could (and usually was) banned. Better still, the public was rarely told what was forbidden, and almost never the reasons behind such decisions. Like in 1933, when Aldous Huxley’s obscene Brave New World was prohibited. For some reason or other.

Over the next few years, people (read: the press) began to fret about American pulp fiction being imported into Perth. Enter Special Magistrate Alwyn Schroeder, who had his finger on the pulse of 1938. When one person pleaded to him that their “downfall” had been caused by an overseas nudist magazine, Alwyn decided something had to be done.

“I am not a prude,” Alwyn said, somewhat unconvincingly. After all, he had seen action in Egypt during WWI, which was somehow relevant in his mind. But it was quite clear to him that all the current social problems of immorality and depravity were directly linked to young boys and girls reading American magazines. Especially ones with horror and crime stories.

Alwyn demanded Canberra do something and, unfortunately, they listened to him. One month later, the Daily News declared ‘Perth Gives Lead to Canberra on Magazine Ban’. The Commonwealth Government started banning any title they disliked without having the inconvenience of mentioning which ones were now prohibited. The secret list grew month by month. By August 1938, 49 magazines were illegal and that was just the start.

Perth boys and girls were now safe, thanks to ‘Weird Tales’ being on the list, from reading H. P. Lovecraft, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Robert Bloch, and their eyes were saved from seeing illustrations for Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetry.

We should thank Alwyn Schroeder for the great care he took in protecting us from such evils, and call upon the government to do even more to stop us reading horror, crime and Romantic poetry.

Dodgy Perth thanks Chris Nelson’s amazing zine, Mumblings from Munchkinland (August 2012) for having inspired this post. Also, Alwyn Schroeder appears as a character in Deborah Burrows’ recent Perth-based novel, Taking a Chance, which is all about crime. So you probably shouldn’t read it.

Bad seating and the flirt

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We recommend you bring your own cushion

Apparently everyone but us knew the above building on Eighth Avenue Maylands used to be a cinema. We should have guessed from the shape of the rear of the place, but we didn’t. In any case, welcome to the Lyric Theatre.

Opening on 31 August 1923, there was a small hiccup because the circle had not yet been inspected for safety regulations, so only the ground floor was available. This didn’t stop the owners, though, who weren’t going to put off showing their opening flick, ‘The Flirt’.

This pre-Hays Code movie was based on the best-selling novel by Booth Tarkington. Unfortunately, we have been unable to find out much about it (many films of this era are now lost, and this may be one of them). But it was remade in 1931 as ‘The Bad Sister’ which marked the screen debut of Bette Davis, who apparently had eyes. If you have a spare hour, enjoy it here:

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Lyric, and in 1949 patrons complained that management had raised ticket prices despite torn seats with springs protruding through the covers. The theatre was unmoved, claiming customers should be grateful the seating was upholstered at all.

The Lyric closed in June 1961, after which it became an electrical goods showroom, then a growers’ market, a Red Shield Op-shop, a BWS, and now hosts a coffee shop, which makes a great skinny flat white as we found out this morning.

As Maylands continues to bloom perhaps it’s time for a micro cinema in memory of the Lyric. But with better seating.

Inglewood presents…

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Civic Theatre looking all theatrical

As the Dodgy Perth team were due some well-earned R&R yesterday, we all headed to the exclusive Civic Hotel in Inglewood to sample their wine list. First of all, naturally, we ensured we were compliant with the dress code: singlet (check), sleeve tattoo (check), making Tarquin call himself Davo all night for his own safety (check).

Out in the courtyard, listening to the acoustic guitarist covering Aussie classics for the sole benefit of his two bored mates, we wondered if Inglewood had once had more thrilling entertainment. Rummaging through some fading Xpress Magazines in the corner of the room, we discovered the Clock Tower had once been the Civic Theatre.

When it opened in 1936, the press went a little overboard, describing it as “one of the most modern and beautiful of suburban theatres” and praising its interior as having “walls of texture finish in bronze and gold”.

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Mr Kay at the Civic Theatre Restaurant, 1969

But we were not interested in 1936. No sir. We wished for a modern-day Doctor Who to transport us to the greatest year in history (1969), when the building was known as the Civic Theatre Restaurant and people of that year (lucky, lucky people) would have been entertained by Max Kay himself, and a variety of scantily-clad dancers.

We are setting up an on-line petition to demand the Civic Hotel give us less Chase the Ace and more dancers and Max Kay. You’ll sign, won’t you?

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I think I can see her knickers. Civic, 1969

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Aren’t you cold in that? Civic, 1969

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She’s got legs… Civic, 1969

WA’s worst poet?

He was a poet and he did not rhyme

He was a poet and he did not rhyme

Today we want to celebrate one candidate for the position of Western Australia’s worst ever poet. Step forward Rhys J. Edmunds of Northam. In the 1910s Edmunds was attached to the Northam Courier, which was one of the few places brave enough to publish him.

When a Sunday Times reviewer described Rhys’ sentimental verses as “horrible”, the great poet himself stepped up with a riposte entitled “They call me poet”. We cannot bear to reprint the whole thing here, so will leave you with just the final four lines:

Had I the tongue to reach the heart,

This is the message I would impart:

“Honor the Poet, for it is he

Who defends us all i’ God’s imagery.”

During World War I, it is said Edmunds collaborated with a poet from the Lands Office to produce some jingoistic verse to be set to music for the use of local cadets. It is not clear if this project was ever finished.

To be fair, while he had some shortcomings in the poetic departments, Rhys worked valiantly to improve the surroundings of Northam, and after the weir was built did a lot of work for the local birdlife.

So Rhys J. Edmunds of Northam, Dodgy Perth salutes you and your efforts to improve the intellectual life and wildlife of your home town.

Fancy a nude at the beach?

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The Dodgy Perth team takes a break from reseach

One day Dodgy Perth will tell the story of the building of Naval Base. It was basically one terrible government decision after another, wasting thousands and thousands of tax payers’ hard-earned money.

Wait. That is the story. So let’s move on to how a much better use for the disaster was found in the early 1930s.

By 1933, it had become the most fashionable spot on the coast for nude bathing parties.

Nude parties had long been popular along the Swan and at beaches closer to town, but the police started taking a more proactive line and few people wanted to spend the night in the slammer.

So those who sought to shed civilisation along with their clothes and frolic free with only the waves to envelop them had to find new locations.

So Coogee it was, and particularly around the Naval Base. There nude parties became nightly events. Regular readers of Dodgy Perth will not be surprised to find the media shocked to discover that it was not just the working-classes attending these parties, but perfectly respectable types too.

And more than one party of girls—and fairly high-class girls at that—have taken the opportunity to bathe in the moonlight at Naval Base.

If these were only single-sex parties, it seems hard to find anything wicked in them. But some young types had—we shudder—gone to Naval Base with the intention of having mixed events.

Take for example, the tragic case of five Fremantle girls, all from quite well-to-do families. They drove out to Naval Base for a “quick nude” at the beach one night.

They stripped off in the car park, and walked down to the sand. But imagine their consternation when they saw several young couples already playing on the water’s edge, every one in their birthday suits.

And as they turned to retrace their steps to seek a quieter spot two more car loads of nude bathers raced down the beach, and plunged in.

Having blushed their way back to the car they donned their clothes and made off for home. But on the way they were noted many other nude parties—mostly mixed—at Coogee and the Smelters.

This may not be the ideal time of year for a quick nude by Kwinana Power Station. But if you are going, do drop the Dodgy Perth team an invite.

We want the real museum back

Dutch sailor, 1935

Dutch sailor, 1935

Earlier this year archaeologists got all excited about discovering skeletons resulting from the slaughter after the Batavia shipwreck.

These were the most major discoveries, they said, since the first bones were unearthed in the area in 1960.

Perhaps they should have asked the Western Australian Museum which has had a collection of Dutch skulls wrecked on the Abrolhos Islands since the museum opened in the 19th century. Although, it must be said, they’ve kept them somewhat under wraps recently.

In the good old days, anyone could visit the museum and experience the thrill of looking at the skulls of the Dutch mariners, the pipes they smoked, and the flagons from which they quaffed their wine.

Not to mention a collection of associated rosaries, cannon balls and other ship’s gear.

We the public have a right to know why the museum is keeping all the interesting stuff from us.

Where are our four-legged chickens? And where are our shipwrecked sailors’ skulls?

Why would we want to look at anything else?