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.

Let them eat cake

Lord Mayor James Franklin, and wife Alice

Lord Mayor James Franklin and wife Alice

For some reason Dodgy Perth has decided to look at a time when Lord Mayors tried to restrain spending on hospitality, not simply indulge in it. It’s not like it’s a topical issue at the moment, or anything.

A century ago, Perth City Council was entitled to spend up to three percent of its revenue on running the council itself. This included entertainments for guests and treats for councillors. Stirred up by the media, ratepayers used to get very cross about fat elected officials drinking port and smoking cigars while the honest man was suffering the effects of the Great Depression.

To counter the outrage, in 1932 Lord Mayor James Franklin ensured each councillor was issued with twenty coupons a fortnight. Each coupon could be exchanged for one drink, one cigar or one packet of cigarettes. On principal, four of the twenty-five councillors refused their share of coupons.

But by mid-1933 the system was already on the verge of collapse. Somehow more coupons were being used than supplied and the budget was running into debt. More seriously, though, was that sometimes the Lord Mayor had to dip into his own pocket when receiving overseas visitors and take them to the local hotel when he had run out of vouchers.

Can you imagine a Lord Mayor dipping into their own pocket, rather than just corporate hospitality’s? Practically unthinkable in 2015.

After several councillors expressed dissatisfaction with the whole scheme, Perth City Council did what councils always do. They referred the matter to a committee to come up with a report.

Referring things to committees is always better than making decisions. Always.

The weed of madness


In the late 1940s, Reefer Madness once again took hold of Perth’s media.

The dreaded marijuana was running rampant throughout all levels of society.

As is well known, even trying marijuana once leads to murder, suicide, murder-suicide, rape, hallucinations, hallucinations about murder and rape, and eventual but certain descent into insanity.

Worse still, “the weed of madness” was leading to wild out-of-control parties in Perth. We assume that Dodgy Perth’s invite is in the mail.

As usual, Yankee sailors were mostly to blame for corrupting the innocent youth of Western Australia. And—as was the pattern in the States—most especially feared was the drug-pushing American Negro.

These scum would ply girls of a tender age with a single reefer containing the “evil sex drug”. Just one toke would see a previously chaste young lady start to behave in an outrageous fashion and be prepared to sleep with anyone.

Quite often, the poor victim of marijuana would not even remember what she had done the previous night.

It is time that police action was taken to stamp out the drug responsible for the most inhuman crimes in history.

It is a drug which is reducing our decent boys and girls to savages.

It is inconceivable that the media was exaggerating the effects of a single toke of grass. Inconceivable, I tell you.

Won’t somebody think of the children?