Gay clubbing in 1918


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.

Getting to the point


Inspector White: “Just the facts, Ma’am”

While British women were being imprisoned for demanding the vote, the fair sex in Western Australia was subject to an even more sinister form of control. We refer, of course, to the notorious anti-hatpin crusade of 1912-13.

It all started in March 1912 in Melbourne, when the Australian Women’s National League resolved to start the crusade. If you were to believe the press (although we never do) numerous people were being blinded by the awful hatpins, and even one case of death where the pin pierced the brain of an innocent man walking by.

Sydney responded immediately with a ban on unprotected hatpins, with a fine of £10 for each offence. By May, Boulder had drafted similar laws. After Perth outlawed these dangerous weapons in August, one Perth drapery firm sold thousands of hatpin protectors in a single week.

And Perth City Council wasn’t joking, officers were appointed to walk the streets and take down the names of offenders for prosecution. In one day in February 1913, forty indignant women were charged with having broken the most serious of all laws.

These Perth women were indignant, claiming that the council was oppressing their freedom to dress as they wished. Sometimes they claimed they didn’t know about the law, which led (male) newspaper journalists to bemoan that the feminine members of the community limit their newspaper reading to the births, deaths, and marriages column and social notes.

A huge sweep was undertaken by Inspector White on 27 March 1913, when seventeen ladies were dragged before the magistrate for having worn unprotected hatpins on Hay and Barrack streets.

One of the ladies successfully argued that her pin was too short to protrude from the edge of her hat, even though the good Inspector White gave evidence to the contrary.

Another defendant, Eliza Tuxford, explained that the protector had fallen off her hatpin, so was fined only five shillings. The remaining fifteen were each ordered to pay ten shillings, and warned to never endanger the lives of the public again.

Most Australian cities dropped the laws quickly after this, leading to the end of this oppression. But Inspector White was determined to press on regardless. He was still bringing cases in 1919, leading to allegations he was on a bonus scheme for increasing the council’s revenue. But that could never be true, could it? Like parking inspectors today, he worked for love, not to aid budget lines.

The Highgate Rain Baby

No, it wasn't there in 1932, but it's still a great tower

No, it wasn’t there in 1932, but it’s still a great tower

There are some things you don’t expect to find in Lincoln Street. A large tower to stop the sewerage smelling, yes. A weirdo dressed only in an overcoat and a pair of shoes, no.

Late one evening in June 1932, 28-year-old Stewart H. carefully folded his clothes and placed them under a tree. It was raining heavily. He told the arresting officer, Constable Weaver, he was simply having a shower. #YOLO

During the subsequent trial the media christened him the ‘Rain Baby’. As a defence, Stewart said he was unemployed and had been declined a chance to get to the Blackboy Hill Unemployment Camp to work for the dole.

The magistrate ordered him to pay costs, and ensured that he was found a place at Blackboy immediately. Sometime it pays to have an unusual shower.

Eighteen years later, Stewart was arrested in Roberts Road, Subiaco, dressed in women’s clothing and with powder and rouge on his face.

The clothing he was wearing was produced in Court. It consisted, as the newspapers carefully detailed, of a woman’s overcoat, dress, brassiere—packed with linen—a scarf, and women’s shoes. He was carrying a handbag and umbrella. Worst of all, according to the media, Stewart was wearing nothing under the dress.

“There seems to be something queer about you,” observed the magistrate.

Four years later in Kewdale, Stewart was charged with “alarming women and children” by lurking while dressed in women’s clothing. He had fled before the police arrived, but had already been recognised.

As the police explained in court, when they turned up at his East Cannington home he was wearing only blue swimming trunks and a dressing gown. This time he got fourteen days.

North Perth. Subiaco. Kewdale. Cannington. At least Stewart’s hobby got him out of the house.

50 shades of grey squirrel


This episode of Dodgy Perth is strictly for our lady readers. And those few gentlemen who happen to own a grey squirrel fur muff.

It’s really annoying, isn’t it, to buy an expensive fur muff in 1916, only to find that by the following year grey is out, and only sapphire blue velvet is acceptable.

Happens to us in the Dodgy Perth offices all the time.

But we know that our feminine readers are too wise and thrifty simply to dispose of their muffs. So what is to be done?

Fear not. It turns out that squirrels are recyclable.

You just need to muster enough courage to take a pair of scissors to your unfashionable fur items and, bingo, they become a delightful grey trim which will show up effectively on a sapphire blue muff.

Go on. Get to it.

She’s got legs, she knows how to use them


Seriously, somebody needs to teach the modern girl how to sit properly.

In the 1920s, the skirt did not so much creep up from the floor, but jumped from ankle to knee in one amazing fashion moment.

The consequence was that all the old rules on how to arrange your legs were useless in an age where sitting incorrectly could reveal a great deal more than stocking tops.

So, to celebrate International Women’s Day, Dodgy Perth presents advice to the international women of the world, taken from the Sunday Times in 1927.

See the young lady above? That’s good sitting.

See the legs below? That’s bad sitting.


Now you know. So we expect better of you from now on.

Those ugly Cottesloe beachgoers


Liked topless Englishmen

Dame Florence Cardell-Oliver, or FloCO as she probably preferred to be called, certainly knew what she wanted. Beautiful topless men.

In 1935 Cottesloe council ordered men to stop rolling bathing costumes down to their waists. FloCO was fully supportive. As the 59-year-old future parliamentarian explained, Australian men weren’t good looking enough.

“I consider that few of our men possess sufficient physical beauty to allow the sight of their bodies,” she said. “And a girl with shoulder blades which stick out like wings, wearing a backless costume, is inartistic and nude-looking.”

FloCO liked to spend her spare time on the best beaches around the world, and never saw anything as hideous as the two-piece bathers worn by common Cottesloe girls.

“I spent the summer before last at Biarritz, where the smart French and Spanish people go,” she explained artlessly, “and they were certainly not nude-looking in bathing costumes.”

It was not impossible to look good topless, the good lady admitted. At one of her many homes—this one in Cornwall—there were several really fine-looking men with costumes without tops. Apparently British men are better looking than Aussie men. Who would have guessed?

The solution? Like the fashionable French Riviera resorts frequented by Perth’s high society, attendants should be employed to wrap towels around bathers.

That would be lovely, FloCO, just lovely. We look forward to it on our next trip to Scarbs.