Living History

You know you’re starting to get old when you begin to hear yourself say things like, “Oh yes, I remember when that happened” and… “Oh that used to be so-and-so the dry-cleaner, before they tore it down to make way for the high-rise”. I found myself both thinking and saying similar things today during a Mardi Gras History Walk.

It’s not the first time I’ve been on one, of course. Last year’s walk focussed on Kings Cross and Darlinghurst during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, including the very first Mardi Gras. I’ve also been on another walk which focussed more heavily on colonial history, especially in the area around Hyde Park.

This year’s walk was more heavily focussed on the emergence of a gay male subculture around Oxford Street during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. And that’s where I stopped being an observer of history and began to realise I was actually there for part of it. I was there when the Unicorn Hotel and the Albury Hotel had regular drag shows. I remember having lunch at the Green Park Diner. I remember having to go through the men’s toilets to get to the dance-floor at the Exchange Hotel. I think I even may have gone to Patches, long before it became DCM, or whatever it’s called now.

Having lunch after the walk I heard two American visitors relfecting on their experiences of the walk. “So what did you think?”, one asked the other. “It was good though there was probably too much detail. Too many reminiscences about things I had no idea about”. I think I would agree to an extent. What I have loved about previous walks has been the degree of fact-checking that occured before the walk. This time around there were several people providing input, and often times it was more opinion than fact, which led to a couple of disagreements. That said, I love going on this walk each year, and I can’t wait until next years.

I don’t generally do all that much for Mardi Gras these days. Although it’s partially because I’ve gotten older and the idea of standing around in some poof bar surrounded by thousands of others no longer has the appeal, but it’s also because I have so many other things happening in my life. A few weeks back I went through the program for Mardi Gras and made a shortlist of those events I wanted to do. Through a series of events I’ve managed to miss most of them, though I will probably take a walk up to Oxford Street to watch the parade (for a while) on Saturday night, unless of course it rains.

A colleague who has only recently moved to Sydney asked me the other day if I thought the parade was worth seeing. She’s about six months pregnant at the moment, and starting to feel a little weary, and so wanted an honest opinion of whether it was worth the effort. “Well it’s the thirtieth anniversary”, I told her, explaining that it would probably be fairly special this year compared with previous years. And when she then answered my questions about where she lived in Paddington, I told her she would have time for a quick walk there, a quick look, and she could still be home in time to watch “The Bill”.

The other Mardi Gras-related event I went to the other night was the play “Blowing Whistles” at Belvoir Street. The play tells the story of a couple who met 10 years ago at Mardi Gras and how their relationship had become quite dysfunctional. The play was well written – though I thought the second half was a little bit too long – well-cast and well directed. The play also had the audience totally in mind, connecting extremely well. I was able to relate to many of the references in the play, and to the obvious personal reference to my own circumstance of meeting someone at Mardi Gras in 1998. More living history! Downstairs at Belvoir Street was also the perfect venue, given the intimacy of the space. And did I mention there was nudity in the play? :)

  1. Aaah. Memories.
    The very last time I set eyes on you James was at the Mardi Gras parade in about 1992 or ’93. You walked past me and I said hello, but I’m not sure if you recognized me!
    I remember (and went to) both Patches and DCM. Is it still DCM now?
    Have just been on a trip down memory lane with a few friends about the bars in Brisbane, including my personal favourite, “White Chairs”.
    I think all this melancholy is just a craving for alcohol on my part – ha!

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  2. Hi Cathy, OMG really? In 92 or 93 I was involved in some of the early Wagga Wagga floats. I also have some great memories of Brisbane bars, including The Terminus. I blogged about it a couple of months ago actually. I dont actually remember White Chairs, though I have vivid memories of dancing at the Hacienda on an alternative music night with you one Thursday night. In the midst of The Cure, Siouxsie and the banshees etc the DJ played Wham Rap, thus commencing a lifelong love affair for me with Wham. James

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  3. Wham, bam – I am, a man
    Job or no job, you can’t tell me that I’m not
    Do you, enjoy what you do?
    If not, just stop – don’t stay there and rot

    I remember! And then we couldn’t stop singing this song! Now that’s a great memory. My trip down memory lane was triggered by this article;

    I have a photo of you dancing & singing to that song at Tarragindi (near Heather’s beautiful heated water-bed!). I’ll have to dig it out and put it on facebook!

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  4. Would love to see that photo as I dont actually have a lot of pics from that period of my life.

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  5. James

    I went to the last night of Blowing Whistles tonight. Your paragraph about the show was up on the notice board as one of two “Blog reviews.” So now you have your name in lights (except that the show has closed now).

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  6. Oh, how funny. I also got a mention on the Sydney Uni US Studies page for my review of their Super Tuesday event. Me thinks a new career is beginning to emerge… though hopefully not like when Homer Simpson became a food critic.

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