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Out Here: Gay and Lesbian Perspectives VI

Chapter 11

Friends and Lovers:
Social Networks and Homosexual Life in War-time Queensland, 1938–1948

Yorick Smaal

In early July 1945, Walter,1 a 40-year-old piano-playing cook of medium build was tried in Brisbane’s Supreme Court on one count of sodomy. He was charged with having carnal knowledge against the order of nature with Marvin, a clerk of 13. After four hours of deliberation, the jury was unable to agree on a verdict and the matter was adjourned. Walter was released on bail and required to appear for retrial at the next criminal sittings in August that year. He never showed. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but Walter managed to avoid the authorities, remaining at large for the next three years. His capture in 1948 signalled an end to his run of luck, and when he finally appeared before a second jury, Walter, now 43, was found guilty as charged. In that trial, the Crown Prosecutor alluded to Walter’s ‘association with criminals and undesirables’ including a number of ‘convicted sexual perverts’.2 This claim was refuted by the Defence Counsel. The judge requested further evidence on the matter and the Criminal Investigation Branch hurriedly put together a report on the defendant and his known friends and acquaintances.

The relationship between Walter and Marvin lies at the centre of this particular coterie. The two met at Marvin’s place of employment in early 1942 and began a haphazard sexual relationship, consummated on and off at movie theatres and various locations throughout the Central Business District. In mid-1944, the two lost contact for some time before they renewed their acquaintance later that year. Around August or September at his South Brisbane flat, Walter introduced his young friend to another associate, Henry, a 40-something violin-playing piano-tuner who had six convictions between 1941 and 1944 for the sexual assault of pre-pubescent boys. He and Walter had been associates since meeting in Toowoomba on the Darling Downs, many years earlier. The records are unclear on whether Walter and Marvin picked up their sexual relationship immediately where they left off, although we can be sure that on or about the first Tuesday in November 1944, the older man and the youth went for a drink before retiring to Walter’s flat in South Brisbane, ostensibly for tea and cards. At about 9 pm that evening, Walter put his arms around Marvin’s waist and pulled him onto the bed. He rolled the lad onto his back and switched out the light.

Later that month, Walter and Marvin each found themselves separately involved with another young man, a brown-haired, blue-eyed, 17-year-old named Donald. Walter became sexually involved with Donald after meeting him on Stanley Street, South Brisbane. Marvin and Donald became friends after Marvin (either unintentionally or deliberately – it is unclear whether he had knowledge of Walter and Donald’s involvement) introduced himself to Donald at Lennon’s Hotel where his new-found companion worked as a drinks’ waiter. In his statement to police, made in January 1945, Donald wrote:

About three months ago I was working as a drink waiter [sic], and I met a boy there named [Marvin], and he used to drink in the lounge at dinner time, and one night he asked me to meet him at the Eternal Flame opposite central station, I went there that night and met [Marvin] who introduced me to a lot of other boys, and I relised [sic] by their talk that they were queens. From that night I started to go to the Flame pretty often and some nights I would go up to Wicam terrace… [sic]3

The drinks’ waiter began soliciting Australian and American soldiers by the Flame before taking the servicemen for a tram-ride to a haunt in the bushes behind the Rainworth tram terminus, where he obligingly performed oral and anal sex.

In December 1944, about one month after they had first met, Marvin and Donald ran into each other on Wickham Terrace (either by chance or assignation), most likely at Wickham Park which was a well-known beat, and the two headed off to the Canberra Hotel on the corner of Ann and Edward streets. Here, Marvin introduced Donald to another friend of his, Joseph, a broadly-built, 49-year-old auditor with a fresh complexion, dark grey hair and blue eyes. That afternoon, the three planned a camping holiday to Palm Beach on the Gold Coast. Away on vacation about one month later, Donald and Joseph took off their shorts one evening and became intimate: Donald fucked Joseph on the top bunk as Marvin listened in, the phrase ‘[n]‌aughty, naughty’ echoing from the bed below.4 On returning to Brisbane from their Gold Coast getaway, Joseph secured employment for his younger friend at McWhirter’s Department store. He also provided his telephone number and gave Donald a gold cygnet ring.

Joseph also wrote to Donald. This startling piece of evidence, filed among the depositions, and hidden for the last 60 years, gives us a rarely glimpsed insight into the homosexual opportunities available in war-time Brisbane. It reads:

Things have been happening since I left you at ferry, that young Air Force chap was up at corner of house afterwards, I happened to go out again to the local shop, but did not speak to him. [H]e was all smiles. Next morning got off ferry at town side, I was later than usual, and behold[,] he was standing there on the town side of the ferry: all smiles again[.] I was with some other chaps so never stopped. [H]e sure has been so attentive, and last night I went to town with the intention of going to News Reel, and damn me if he isn’t at corner Edward St and Queen St, with 2 other Air Force lads, so more smiles, well can you guess what a botheration I felt[.] [I]t was embarrassing. [H]e is so attentive and my being not interested, as I told you before when I saw him. If only we could all be shuffled up and really sorted out properly, there would be a lot more happier people [sic].

On top of this at lunch yesterday, at my usual café, another Air Force chap came in, really stunning too, sat opposite me and he just wasted no time being really nice, he is just back from completing his course on Canada, he was at Coolangatta on Sunday, but expects to be going down to Sydney, guess I was hard, I didn’t raise his hopes, in spite of the hints. Perhaps you really may know how I feel, but it was some day. [W]‌hether I looked extremely ‘it’ yesterday I really don’t know, but it was certainly an unusual bright day for being in the boom. [W]hat would you do [?] Loyalty to something is much you know [sic].5

The letter is undated, unaddressed and unsigned, but the supporting evidence clearly identifies the author and recipient even if it is difficult to know whether Joseph and Donald were friends or lovers at the time it was written. The second last sentence reads like a friend seeking advice rather than a question one lover would ask another, although the last sentence is telling of Joseph’s affection and devotion to someone, possibly Donald, especially given the obvious and tantalising availability of other encounters.

There are two final nodes in our network. Both involve Walter, the piano-playing cook. In early February 1945, Walter invited an old associate Ernest along with an Indonesian man, Harold, to share his bed at his South Brisbane flat, presumably for a ménage à trois. When they awoke the next morning, Harold discovered that £70 had been stolen from the pocket of the pants he had slung over the back of a chair the evening before. Exactly what happened next is unclear, although we do know that the police later recovered Harold’s money from none other than his fellow bed mate, Ernest, a known ‘sexual pervert’ who apparently produced the tightly-packed notes from his anus after being confronted by the authorities. The final thread in the web involves Walter’s attempts to solicit a 13-year-old boy behind a butcher’s shop in suburban Brisbane, where he enticed the youth with a ‘nude photograph’ of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

This remarkable urban network allows us a window into a broader, multiplex male-centred world; one encompassing adults and adolescents, civilians and servicemen, and Australians and Americans. Taken with other extant evidence – namely, contemporary criminal depositions (both part of, and separate to, the central cohort described here), police and government files, newspaper reports, and a limited number of oral histories – this particular Brisbane case study elucidates some of the processes that informed, enabled and sustained a sense of common identity. This group of friends and lovers met in public bars and on Brisbane streets; they enacted social scripts in public space; used indecent images to solicit others; made mutual friends; went on holidays together; wrote letters, gave gifts and found others employment. And while there are a number of congruent processes at play here, it is those influenced most acutely by home-front realities that reveal the characteristics of Queensland’s contemporary subculture. The overwhelming presence of American servicemen (and local military personnel), male uses of public space, the prominence of intergenerational relationships, and, the exchange of visual imagery, came together to produce a sense of self that would continue in the post-war era. Drawing comparisons to other contemporary Australian urban centres, particularly Melbourne, allows us to extrapolate beyond state boundaries, gesturing to wider national patterns.

The following analysis attempts to recover some of the social and cultural processes that helped define male homosexual life in Queensland in the World War II years and beyond. In particular, it focuses on those who understood themselves to be part of an exclusive social world; those camp men who extracted a sense of self from their communion with others of the same sex. In doing so, this chapter argues that the pre-liberation era did not forge a cohort of powerless and miserable actors blighted by inequality; rather, it reveals a group of individuals who developed coping strategies to operate successfully within the confines which cast them as outlaws and deviants.

Australian and American Servicemen

When American servicemen began arriving in Queensland in late 1941, many women, and, for that matter, adolescent girls, found the exotic allure of these well-mannered, smartly-dressed and affluent foreign men in uniform hard to resist. Joseph’s letter to Donald provides a fascinating insight into the potential parallels of homosexual encounters. Reliable estimates suggest that somewhere around 2 million American servicemen passed through Queensland between late 1941 and 1945, and it is possible that at least 80,000 and as many as 200,000 American servicemen in Queensland were homosexual, or at least inclined towards male-to-male sex.6 A small, but persuasive body of work on homosexuality and the Australian armed forces indicates that ostensibly heterosexual service personnel also participated in male-to-male situational sex, alongside those who preferred the exclusive sexual and social company of men. As Garry Wotherspoon explains, ‘homosexually-inclined men who wished to fight did in fact get into the forces’.7 They did so by keeping ‘that aspect of their life hidden; in the terminology of the time, they acted “square”’.8 His observations are supported by Clive Moore, who argues that men from the camp subculture willingly enlisted in the services.9

There are 21 incidents from the Queensland court records between 1939 and 1948 involving combinations of civilians, soldiers, sailors and airman. One of the best examples involves Vernon, a 25-year-old Australian soldier, with a medium build, fair complexion, brown hair and grey eyes. He had an affair with Jack, an American soldier whose details remain unknown. In his statement to police, Vernon wrote:

About the middle of December, 1943, I met an American soldier named [Jack]… in the bar of the Grand Central Hotel, Queen Street, Brisbane. We had a few drinks and got into conversation. We had dinner together that night at the Belle Vue Hotel, and we became friends. About a week later I met him again at the Grand Central Hotel. We had some drinks, and had tea at the Marie Theresa Café. We then went down… into a side laneway. I cannot remember just where the laneway was. As we walked along the street we were holding hands, and we both seemed to know what was what. I knew that [Jack] was a queen. After we went into the laneway, we put our arms around each other and hugged each other.10

They dated frequently after this, often enjoying drinks together, or taking in a show. Nothing of a sexual nature transpired again until mid-May 1944. By then, young Vernon had left the army and taken residence in Astor Terrace, where the men became intimate once more. Soon after, Vernon moved again, and it was here that Jack came to live with his Australian lover, staying five nights a week for almost two months, before both men were finally arrested by police.

Arguably, the war changed the nature of the Australian camp scene. Interactions between the soldiers who took their pleasures where they could find them, and those men happy to meet their comrades’ requirements, must have exposed an uninitiated, although unquantifiable group of men, to new sexual pleasures and cultural experiences. For some, this exposure informed and confirmed their sense of sexual self. And while the war did not impact upon the development of a homosexual subculture in Queensland in the same way it did in major cities in the United States, the arrival of US servicemen edified local experiences.

Moore argues that some of the American troops would have been camp when they arrived in Queensland, and as Wotherspoon explains, these men would have fitted into the subculture here, passing on information about bar life in large American cities such as San Francisco, New York and Chicago.11 The adoption of an American vernacular by some Queensland men is one clue which suggests that the American influence lingered long after the troops had departed. The term ‘fruit’, for example, which was part of the terminology circulating in Los Angeles hotels during the late 1930s, was adopted from the ‘cultural baggage’ imported by US troops.12 The American phrase ‘blow-job’ also appears in the records in 1944; picked up by our Australian soldier Vernon:

we have done ‘Blow-jobs’ for each other on a fifty-fifty basis. I mean by this that sometimes he sucks me off and sometimes I suck him off. When he comes in my mouth I spit it out and I have seen him doing the same thing.13

‘Cock-sucker’ also appears to have entered the Australian lexicon during the war, and the words ‘fairy’ and ‘queer’, self-imposed labels by American homosexual men, were also used here by visiting servicemen.14

Public Space and Camp Infrastructure

It is well recognised that public space has been a defining feature of modern homosexual subcultures.15 Donald’s testimony indicates that the Eternal Flame was important landmark for like-minded men in war-time Brisbane and this is borne out by other court material. The oral evidence of Errol, another contemporary Brisbane teenager, also supports Donald’s claims. It was on the steps of the Shrine that Errol first met his friend, ‘Diana’, and while he was unaware at the time that it was a beat, he remarks with hindsight that it was aptly named ‘because it was “like moths gathering around a flame”’, a reference to its popularity among homosexual men.16 It is tantalising to speculate whether Errol might potentially have been part of the network detailed here: was he in fact one of the ‘young queens’ Marvin introduced in late 1944? We do know that Errol was part of another contemporary (effeminate) network involving men known as ‘Gladys’, ‘Diana’ and ‘Christine de Winter’. This group shared literature, such Noel Langley’s English novel, There’s a Porpoise Close Behind Us, and participated in more complex rituals on the streets of Brisbane.17 Errol calls these practices ‘carrying on’, an attitude that was ‘all fluttery, and high pitched and sending up’.18 He remembers that his friends used to delight in ‘send ups’, often in front of family and friends. They’d clap their hands and say, ‘up you go Mary… up you go Mary, up to the chandelier, dear’.19

Other public spaces were also an integral part of male-only networks. Donald’s forays to ‘Wicam terrace’ were most likely to Wickham Park, one of Brisbane’s oldest beats. Nearby Albert Park also operated during and beyond the 1940s; the Botanical Gardens next to the Parliament House were a favourite haunt for heterosexual and homosexual liaisons alike, and the North Quay precinct, including the William Street bus-shed and Victoria Bridge, appear repeatedly in the records.20

Added to this were a number of commercial venues. Like other establishments in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, they were not homosexually-exclusive, but nonetheless provided a range of raffish and demi-monde settings for camp men to gather with other unconventional folk; to exchange ideas, to gossip, and to generally find fellowship with other men and women who pursued alternative lifestyles. Moore has detailed a number of Brisbane establishments including the infamous Pink Elephant café along with other less prominent venues such as Littleboys café, the Colony Club, Christies, and Casa Mara.21 We can add to these the Dingle Dell tearooms, ‘situated in the City Buildings, Edward Street’, where the proprietor, Paul, took young air-force men for tea,22 and the Marie Theresa café, where Vernon and his American lover had a romantic outing in late December 1943.

Public bars were also part of camp infrastructure on the home-front, but unlike the gay-specific venues of large American cities during the period, Australian establishments were mixed venues which brought together a patchy, but male-only clientele.23 Even so, the camp community recognised their utility for social gatherings and sexual pick-ups even if, as one contemporary observed, you had to watch your ‘Ps and Qs’ around other patrons.24 There were reputed bars in both Sydney and Melbourne, and a host of establishments in Brisbane, located in and around Queen and George streets. The most popular of these was the Grand Central Hotel, where Vernon and Jack met. Others included Lennon’s, where Donald was employed, the Long Bar at the Criterion, the Circular Bar at Her Majesty’s, the Grisham, and perhaps the Windsor Hotel.25

On entering these bars, a clear division between the crowds was evident to the astute observer. The camp men would meet in one spot and squares would congregate in another. The two spheres remained separate until closing time when, as Errol recalled, you could ‘always [find] a bit of trade from the straight section that you could drag up to your net’.26 Clearly, trade was more likely to sidle up to the camp end of the bar after imbibing their fill of drink, less concerned than they otherwise would have been about the implications. A close reading of the sources discloses that alcohol was a factor in about one-third of the cases examined here. It could be used to mitigate any potential resistance from the object of one’s desires, especially where adolescents were concerned, but it also acted as a social lubricant for others, allowing some men to act on feelings they usually kept repressed or hidden. In these circumstances, drinking was used by defendants to excuse, or at least explain, their activities if they were caught. ‘I have managed through the use of a bit of will power to control myself’, one Brisbane man recorded in a typical statement from 1942, but ‘when I have a few drinks that sort of thing always comes over me’.27

Intergenerational Relationships

The relationships between Joseph and Donald and Walter and Marvin suggest that meaningful interaction between older and younger men was not uncommon on the Queensland home-front. Detailed analysis of the criminal depositions shows that at least seven youths under the age of 17 were indicted on charges of male-to-male sexual activity. Information from the ‘Report of the Commissioner of Police’ indicates that in the four years between 1945–1946 and 1948–1949, juveniles under the age of 21 committed around one-fifth of sex offences.28 And if we examine the age of all complainants (where they exist) for offences of sodomy, attempted sodomy, and gross indecency between 1939 and 1948, we find that more than one quarter were boys aged between 14 and 16, with a further nine young men aged between 17 and 19. These figures exclude the indecent treatment of boys under 14 and as Walter himself noted, age was an important factor in finding an apposite same-sex partner. Before introducing his piano-tuner friend, he told Marvin: ‘H[enry] has got himself into trouble. It’s his own fault. If he wants to play around with boys who can’t blow, he deserves what he got’.29

This is not to suggest that boys could who ‘blow’, to borrow Walter’s phraseology, were complicit in homosexual activity, nor to belie the very real trauma suffered by those who experienced sexual violence or predatory advances. But what the numbers do show is that a significant number of adolescents and young men were caught up in homosexual behaviours prosecuted in the courts. And although none of these younger complainants was charged, a critical reading of the evidence suggests that some may not have been the powerless recipients of unwanted advances the authorities often considered them to be.30 Justice Mansfield, for example, recognised Marvin’s complicity in Walter’s actions, even though he placed responsibility for the offence with the older man:

this is a very very [sic] serious offence, the debauching of a boy of 13 [h]‌owever willing or perverted the boy, himself, may have been, the blame must rest with you because if it were not for people of your description this boy would not have had an opportunity of following his inclination in the way he did.31

Commenting on the lax moral standards on the Queensland home-front, one Reverend in 1947 lamented, that ‘many [city] children and adolescents’ had ‘illicit sexual knowledge’ during the war;32 an awareness arguably compounded by shortages of war-time accommodation and the overwhelming influx of Americans. In his assessment of the war, Moore has noted that ‘[w]illing youths joined the more seasoned camp men in competing with their sisters for American largesse in short and long term sexual relations’.33 He cites the case of one 14-year-old Townsville youth who performed sexual services for willing American troops while his mother thought he was cycling to the shops on other errands.34

Supporting oral testimony from war-time Melbourne bears out this pattern. One man, Philip, thinks that these age-disparate relationships would have been about ‘fifty-fifty’.35 Bob, born in 1918, recalled that that ‘in my day we always went with men… at least ten to fifteen years older, twenty years older than ourselves’.36 One reason he gives for this phenomenon was the economic freedom older men provided during the Depression.37 For Michael and Reginald, born a decade after Bob, older men represented social freedom. They suggest that for many people still living at home, it was less suspicious to go out at night with someone older. Older men were also more likely to drive a car, which proved another avenue of liberty.38 Other men note that the presence of a father figure was important, and this may have been accentuated during the forties with many fathers absent serving in the war. It is important to note that these relationships were not financially motivated. As Reginald recalls, ‘I think we sought somebody who was experienced in the homosexual world and we felt a little bit more relaxed and comfortable and protected by them’.39 In his landmark study of New York, George Chauncey also acknowledges the prominence of intergenerational relationships, noting that older men could be mentors, introducing their lovers to the hidden world before them: ‘[t]hey… taught newcomers slang, folklore and how to survive in a hostile world’.40 Most importantly, they introduced their young lovers to their circle of friends.41 Was Walter expanding Marvin’s world when he introduced Henry at his South Brisbane flat (although Henry’s identity was geared towards pre-pubescent boys rather camp sensibilities, and our young clerk was already very familiar with camp life)? Perhaps Walter was also at Lennon’s the night that Marvin and Donald met? The speculative possibilities are enticing.

Indecent Images and Health Magazines

In an era when homosexual pornographic material was difficult to obtain, visual material – ranging from sexually explicit photographs, to bodybuilding pictorials, to innocuous and artistic images of the male nude – was a secret source of erotic contentment for openly camp men and those unwilling or unable to acknowledge their desire for others of the same sex. During the 1930s and 1940s, Queensland police received numerous public complaints about the circulation of indecent material, usually publications such as Sydney-based magazines, Man and Man Junior, which contained ‘numerous photographs and drawings of nude or near-nude females’.42 Tijuana Bibles, pornographic comic books produced in the United States between the 1920s and the 1960s, were popular with American servicemen visiting here and immoral photographs, it was alleged, were in wide circulation in hotels in Brisbane city and suburbs.43 There are three cases between 1939 and 1948 where adult men attempted seduce youths using these kinds of images: one example is Walter’s use of a 9 inch x 6 inch photograph of nude movie stars.

There is an additional Brisbane case from 1943 which focused on representations of the male form. It involved 33-year-old Watson and three youths who spent an afternoon developing photographs following a nude romp and anal sex. And while there is no reference in the 1943 file as to what these photos actually were, the details from an earlier case in 1938 clearly indicate that Watson had a history of keeping pictorial mementos of sexual exploits and a penchant for collecting other sexual imagery.44 In that matter, the police discovered a ‘very comprehensive photographic record’ in Watson’s possession: an astonishing 700 images.45 The collection contained pictures of the complainants and defendant, along with ‘indecencies of every description’.46 So shocking was the material that the judge ordered that all images be ‘sealed and lodged in the safe of the Registrar of the Supreme Court, and burnt after the expiration of twenty-one days’.47 The 1943 evidence suggests that Watson was not deterred by his earlier conviction nor did he seem concerned with the corroborative potential of photographs; indeed, he appears to be repeating older patterns, possibly beginning a new collection of provocative images to replace those destroyed by the authorities five years earlier.

Unlike Watson’s pictorial record of offences, bodybuilding images were one source of erotica that were unlikely to arouse the suspicions of the authorities. As Alasdair Foster explains, ‘the man’s body could be looked at, admired, venerated and even desired, safe in the knowledge that one was only interested in abstracted aesthetics, a concept which was reinforced by the use of “physical culture”’.48 In short, they were legitimised partial nudity. These images of sculpted and athletic male bodies could be found in the pages of magazines such as Physical Culture, a New York publication roughly spanning the first half of the twentieth century. And although these kinds of publications were not designed exclusively for homosexual consumption, a commercialised industry of physique magazines increasingly catered to a camp audience by the end of the 1950s. These later magazines varied in style, ranging from those promoting health and fitness to artistic periodicals and poorly disguised homosexual erotica.49

But how widespread was the use of photography and magazines by camp men during the 1940s and did they contribute to the development of identity and subculture? They were certainly recognised as a source of personal satisfaction by the men of the era. One young Melbourne youth, who attended high school in the late 1930s, remembers being aroused by photographs of attractive men and collecting these images.50 Michael and Reginald remember the ‘health and strength’ magazines of the late 1940s and early 1950s well: ‘in those days you could buy a particular brand of physique pictorial or something – it was Dutch or Danish, and the bodies were clad only in an inked g-string that covered the loins’.51 They went on to explain that if you were lucky enough to find one of those, you could wet your finger, erase the ink, and ‘see cock for the first time’.52 While Foster acknowledges that these magazines were a ‘potent if limited source of sexual fantasy’, he argues that they ‘kept the individual in isolation’ and did little to indicate the existence of a coterie, or promote a sense of community.53 There is, however, evidence from the 1940s which suggests otherwise.

An article published in the Adelaide Truth (also syndicated in Melbourne) illustrates how these magazines operated outside the individual sphere, not only to provide images for private viewing, but also it seems, contact with other like-minded individuals.54 The story, which ran in 1941, concerned Sydney, a ‘star window dresser’, who was charged with sending an indecent photograph through the post after he wrongly addressed a letter bound for Melbourne. The correspondence contained three photographs and the proof of a photograph, all of an ‘indecent character’. When the police subsequently searched the floor walker’s home, they found hundreds of similar images along with notebooks containing the names and addresses of ‘scores of men in other states’.

According to the police investigations [Sydney] was first inspired to this strange choice of ‘careers’ as one of a number of exchanges for international smut by gazing on pictures in certain magazines that tell how measly weaklings become supermen by submitting to a course of treatment.55

It turns out that Sydney had actually collected a global network of pen-friends with whom contact had been initiated through health magazines. The article also articulated the connections between nudism and perversion, reporting that the purveyor of the images was a confessed nudist.

In Queensland, health magazines were also the medium of choice for one mysterious man named ‘Henry’, whose request for youths interested in nudist adventures, was detailed in a Brisbane Truth exposé in late 1940.56 For other men, these publications may have also provided clues on how they might present an image of sexual availability to like-minded others as the conversation between one defendant and a police officer reveals:

I [the police-officer] said… you then caught the bottom portion of your coat with your hands and pulled it open and at the same time pulled your trousers tight and said… ‘Look at mine. Isn’t it nice [?] Is yours like mine?’…

I [the police-officer] said ‘What did you mean when you pulled your coat and trousers tight and passed that remark [?]’

Defdt [sic] said ‘There is nothing in that. I dress on the right side and was wondering if he did. A lot of men in France dress like that.’

I said ‘How do you know [?]’

Defdt said ‘I have read about it in health books.’57

Together, these cases suggest that indecent images, photography and physique magazines, not only provided pictures of semi-clad or naked male bodies for individual erotic consumption, but that the collection and exchange of these images fostered a postal network of men interested in the male form, which, depending on the nature of the images, provided a legitimate social avenue for men seeking contact with men.58

Friends and Lovers

The negative construction of male homosexuality so prominent in the justice records belies the diverse nature of these relationships and the wide range of feelings and emotions experienced by men who desired the social and sexual company of other men. And while elements of situational circumstance are recognisable in a good portion of the criminal cases, there is deliberate and intentional motivation in others. At least 11 men had a prior history of homosexual offending or were repeatedly charged in the period under review. A further 15 had a suspicious criminal past, and either acknowledged their penchant for other men during police questioning, or were dogged by persistent rumours. When confronted by the police in 1943, one 46-year-old, for example, admitted: ‘I have been doing these things since I was a kid and I can’t help myself when anyone lets me have them on’.59 Our central actor, Walter, was confident in his conception of self. For him, the female form held no sexual allure: ‘[l]ook, if a nude woman stood in front of me I wouldn’t get a kick out of it’, he said, ‘but if I’m out with a boy, or in a room with a lot of boys I just can’t hold myself’.60 Donald’s identity also appears self-generated; he bluntly rejected any negative construction of his sexuality when he was questioned by the police:

I [Detective-Constable] said ‘Do you mean you had sexual intercourse with him against the order of nature [?]’

He [Donald] said ‘Yes, if that’s what you call it.’ [my emphasis]61

Wotherspoon has observed that ‘many men who had plenty of previous homosexual experience, and thought of themselves as camp, continued to have homoerotic experiences and even love affairs during the war’.62 Sparing the feelings of his long-term companion, Alfred, Dingle Dell tearoom proprietor, Paul, explained to one Detective-Constable why he had asked an undercover agent (who he had solicited) to lie about how the two of them had met.

Defdt [sic] said ‘I didn’t want to hurt Alfred’s feelings.’

I said ‘How could you hurt Alfred’s feelings by introducing him to a friend of yours [?]’

Defdt said ‘You don’t understand. Alfred and I have been mates for a long while.’63

Alfred later clarified that he and Paul had been involved:

for about the past seven (7) years and [I] have visited his home practically two or three times a month for the Sunday evening meal. On occasions I have stayed at [Paul’s] home, and on such occasions I have occupied the same bed as he.64

Two other men, Alvin, a 33-year-old nurse, and Howard, a 19-year-old apprentice electrician, also maintained an intimate relationship, residing together for over 12 months in a two bedroom house in Scott Road, Herston, between 1946 and 1947.65 Sharing the residence with Howard’s sister, Betty, the two men slept in a three-quarter bed in the main room. During the first three months of 1947, young Howard was confined to bed with rheumatic fever and during this time he was nursed by Alvin.

While many men got practical and emotional support from other men, Chauncey argues that ‘they were also likely to be enmeshed in similar relations of independence with their natal families, work mates and other non-gay associates’.66 He calls this ‘the double-life’. The process of ‘coming out’ was not the rite of passage which is now synonymous with contemporary gay identity. By keeping a strict division between their private and public life – between their square work world,67 family life, and their private world – men were afforded some measure of protection in a community generally hostile to love between men.68 Errol did not reveal his life to anyone outside his camp circle of friends, and certainly not his family. He made excuses to get into city when he needed to, especially on weekends.69 One Melbourne man who was in his early forties during the war kept his sexuality a secret despite suspecting his mother ‘sensed his position’.70 For many relatives of camp men, the idea that their sons, brothers, or nephews might have been attracted to other men was never countenanced. Despite never finding a girlfriend or wife, Milton another Melbourne man, was simply considered by his kin to be ‘a heterosexual man that never married’.71

However, with social expectations of marriage and children, many men were pressured to find a companion of the opposite sex and suppressed their desire for other men. The court records show that more than 8% of the defendants charged with homosexual activity were married. Vernon (who maintained a love affair with American soldier Jack) had been living apart from his wife, while another man in this study, Roger (whose story appears below), was certainly leading the ‘double-life’. Of course, not all men appeared to keep this side of their lives hidden from their families. Betty, who lived with her brother, Howard, and his partner, Alvin, must have had some suspicions about the nature of their relationship and despite his protestations that any court case would ‘kill mother’, Paul was quite open about his sexuality in company with his family, much to the shock of the undercover operative lunching with them.72


Along with the central network explored here, and the cohort described by young Errol, another police report alludes to one other potential plexus by way of introductory services provided by Andrew, a fifty-something bald shop walker and window dresser at Finney Isles department store.73 The information on this particular network came about after police were tipped off by a suspicious wife whose mistrust was aroused after her husband, Roger, began arriving home late with no explanation. His acquittal on a charge of gross indecency 18 months earlier would not have eased her fears. During that trial, she had discovered a letter in her husband’s pocket which read: ‘[l]ad, It was nice seeing you on the ---- of December, Hoping to hear from you soon. If you ring B4290, and don’t ask for anyone, as I will answer the [t]elephone myself. [Andrew]’74

After some amateur sleuthing, Roger’s wife traced the phone number listed in the letter to a man (Andrew) whom she believed to be a known ‘pansy… the leader of a group of perverts… [who] makes the meeting place of different men’.75 Suspecting her husband’s predilection for other men, and assuming that her husband was again meeting ‘men for the purpose of committing [i]ndecent [a]cts’, Roger’s wife contacted the police in late January 1943 and provided the evidence she had earlier discovered. Four months later, her husband was arrested in company with another soldier on a charge of gross indecency. This time he was convicted. Although other correspondence filed with this case indicates that Andrew was in fact ‘a reputed sexual pervert’, no information was found linking him to Roger.76

That we can find evidence for two or possibly three distinct homosexual networks operating in Brisbane during the 1940s speaks to the relatively complex urban infrastructure of commercial coffee shops, tea houses, bars and hotels, and certain public spaces that enabled communion between camp men. These men aligned themselves with like-minded groups of social misfits in the bohemian world, generated social networks through nudism and physique magazines, and read novels, which ostensibly cast them as deviant, for pleasure. It is difficult to assess accurately the impact of the US servicemen on the Queensland home-front and this is an area which warrants further research in order to tease out fully the interactions between the local subculture and foreign homosexual visitors. But despite the limited information, it is clear that US servicemen passed on ideas about subcultures in large American centres, which may have served as a model for the development of an Australian identity in later decades.

Taking an uncritical reading of the justice records, it would be easy to assess generally these groups as sexually mechanical, devoid of any richer emotional tapestry. And while some relationships were quick and furtive, satisfying little more than a physical need, these must be set among others involving deeper, passionate connections and enduring companionship. The ways these actors met, socialised, leisured, and fucked, brought together different strands of interest, experience, and friendship informing a camp sensibility in war-time Queensland; one which echoed into the decades beyond. Men like Walter, Marvin, Donald and Joseph formed complex webs of emotional support, companionship, and sexual outlet; a world of friends and lovers.


I’d like to thank Chris Brickell, Lisa Featherstone, and Graham Willett for comments and criticisms on earlier drafts of this chapter.

Endnotes - Chapter 11

1 In accordance with the conditions governing the use of restricted state-held criminal records, the names of defendants and complaints have been changed to protect anonymity. In each case the initial of Christian names is correct although the name itself is altered.

2 Deposition no. 115/48, in Information, Depositions and Associated Papers in Criminal Cases Heard in Sittings in Brisbane, 10 May 1948 – 28 June 1948, Queensland State Archives (QSA), SCT/CC436.

3 Deposition no. 27/45, in Information, Depositions and Associated Papers in Criminal Cases Heard in Sittings in Brisbane, 26 February 1945, QSA, SCT/CC410.

4 ibid.

5 Deposition no. 26/45, 1945, QSA, SCT/CC410.

6 Here, I have used Allan Bérubé’s reckoning. Applying Alfred Kinsey’s civilian war-time surveys to the military, he calculates that at least 650,000 and as many as 1.6 million American servicemen were homosexual. See, Allan Bérubé, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two, New York: Free Press, 1990, p. 3.

7 Garry Wotherspoon, ‘Comrades-in-Arms’, in Joy Damousi and Marilyn Lake, eds, Gender and War: Australians at War in the Twentieth Century, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 212.

8 ibid.

9 Clive Moore, Sunshine and Rainbows: The Development of Gay and Lesbian Culture in Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 2001, p. 105.

10 Deposition no. 200/44, in Information, Depositions and Associated Criminal Cases Heard in Sittings in Brisbane, 6 November 1944, QSA, SCT/CC408.

11 Moore, Sunshine and Rainbows, p. 108; Garry Wotherspoon, ‘City of the Plain’: History of a Gay Sub-culture, Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1991, p. 96.

12 Walter Stewart Cornyn, ‘Hotel Slang’, American Speech, vol. 14, no. 3 (October 1939), p. 239. Moore records the memories of one effeminate young Australian soldier who was told by an American counterpart: ‘My God, you are “fruit”’. See, Moore, Sunshine and Rainbows, p. 108.

13 Deposition no. 200/44, 1944, QSA, SCT/CC408.

14 Moore, Sunshine and Rainbows, p. 108; Gary Simes, ‘The Language of Homosexuality in Australia’, in Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon, eds, Gay Perspectives: Essays in Australia Gay Culture, Sydney: Department of Economic History, University of Sydney, 1992, p. 55; Gary Simes, ‘History of Naughty Words’, Outrage, no. 57 (February 1988), p. 20; Wotherspoon, ‘City of the Plain’, p. 97.

15 See, for example, George Chauncey, ‘Privacy Could Only be Had in Public’, in Joel Saunders, ed., Stud: Architectures of Masculinity, New York: Princeton University Press, 1996, pp. 224–266; Matt Houlbrook, Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918–1957, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2005, esp. ch. 2, ‘Geographies of Public Sex’, pp. 43–67.

16 Errol, interview with Barry McKay, 10 November 2000, Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (ALGA), typescript log, p. 6.

17 Noel Langley, There’s a Porpoise Close Behind Us, London: Arthur Barker, 1936. Although only one person amongst his group had a copy, ‘it was passed on from one to another… and considered the thing to read at the time’ [original emphasis]. See, Errol, interview with Barry McKay, typescript log, p. 7.

18 Errol, interview with Barry McKay, typescript log, p. 6; see also, Michael and Reginald, interview with Graham Carbery, 9 November 1993, ALGA, transcript, p. 6.

19 Errol, interview with Barry McKay, typescript log, p. 6.

20 See, Yorick Smaal, ‘Revisiting Queensland’s War-Time Sex Panics: Moral Alarm, Male Homosexuality, and Policing Public Space, 1939–1948’, in Robin Archer and Shirleene Robinson, Crime Over Time: Temporal Perspectives on Crime and Punishment in Australia, Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2010, pp. 111–141.

21 Moore, Sunshine and Rainbows, p. 130.

22 Deposition no. 90/42, in Information, Depositions and Associated Papers in Criminal Cases Heard in Brisbane, 29 June 1942, QSA, SCT/CC396.

23 John D’Emilio explains that exclusive gay bars were discernable in large port cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, and also evident in the relatively smaller centres of San Jose, Denver and Kansas City by the end of the 1940s. See, John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983, pp. 31–32.

24 Errol, interview with Barry McKay, typescript log, p. 7.

25 ibid.; Moore, Sunshine and Rainbows, p. 130. There is also some evidence to suggest that the lavatories at the rear of the Exchange Hotel, on the corner of Edward and Charlotte streets, were being used for sexual purposes. A 41-year-old labourer propositioned a 16-year-old boy at these toilets at lunch-time on a Friday afternoon in late September 1940. The lavatories at the Brisbane Hotel were also used during weekday lunch hours by one defendant who was having sex with a 15-year-old boy. See, Deposition no. 18/42, in Information, Depositions and Associated Papers in Criminal Cases Heard in Sittings in Brisbane, 23 February 1942, QSA, SCT/CC394; Deposition no. 136/40, in Information, Depositions and Associated Papers in Criminal Cases Heard in Sittings in Brisbane, 1 April 1940 – 20 May 1940, QSA, SCT/CC384.

26 Errol, interview with Barry McKay, typescript log, p. 7.

27 Deposition no. 65, 1942, QSA, SCT/CC396.

28 Juvenile offenders accounted for 18.292% of sex crime for 1945–1946; 17.343% for 1946–1947; 15.969% for 1947–1948; and 20.3 percent for 1948–1949. See, ‘Report of the Commissioner of Police for the 12 Months Ended 30 June 1947’, Queensland Parliamentary Papers (QPP), vol. 2 (1947), p. 5 [p. 867]; ‘Report of the Commissioner of Police for the 12 Months Ended 30 June 1948’, QPP, vol. 2 (1948), p. 5 [p. 629]; ‘Report of the Commissioner of Police for the 12 Months Ended 30 June 1949’, QPP, (1949), p. 8 [p. 658].

29 Deposition no. 115/48, 1948, QSA, SCT/CC436.

30 In Queensland, boys were not considered capable of physical penetration if they were under the age of 14 years; see, R v Moody (1897) 8 QLJ 102. For further discussion, see, Yorick Smaal, ‘More than Mates?: Masculinity, Homosexuality, and the Formation of an Embryonic Subculture in Queensland, 1890–1914’, MPhil Thesis, University of Queensland, 2004, pp. 125–126

31 Deposition no. 115/48, 1948, QSA, SCT/CC436.

32 ‘Lax Parents Blamed for Obscene Scribblings’, Courier-Mail, 14 March 1947 [cutting], in Advertisements (Indecent) (Also includes items relating to Nudism, Indecent Costumes and Film Censorship), 1 January 1896 – 31 December 1959, QSA, A/44695.

33 Moore, Sunshine and Rainbows, p. 108.

34 ibid., p. 109.

35 Philip, interview with Graham Carbery and Mark Riley, 14 July 1990, ALGA, typescript log, p. 12.

36 Bob, interview with Graham Carbery, 19 January 1983, ALGA, typescript log, p. 11.

37 ibid.

38 Michael and Reginald, interview with Graham Carbery, transcript, p. 11. This was particularly important given low car-ownership in Australia in the 1940s. Humphrey McQueen notes that during the 1950s, the ratio of car ownership increased from one vehicle for nine people, to two cars for seven people; Humphrey McQueen, Social Sketches of Australia, 1888–2001, St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2004, p. 192.

39 Michael and Reginald, interview with Graham Carbery, transcript, p. 10.

40 George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, New York: Basic Books, 1994, p. 277.

41 ibid., p. 278.

42 G. Smith, State Licencing Inspector, to Commissioner of Police, 30 June 1938, typescript correspondence, in Advertisements (Indecent), 1896–1959, QSA, A/44695.

43 ‘More Immoral Photos in City’, n. d. [cutting], in Advertisements (Indecent), 1896–1959, QSA, A/44695.

44 ‘Newspaper Employee Sentenced: Seven Years’ Imprisonment with Male Persons’, Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, 16 February 1938 [cutting], in Advertisements (Indecent), 1896–1959, QSA, A/44695.

45 ‘“Should be with Niggers”: Scathing Bench Comment’, Truth (Brisbane), 20 February 1938, p. 23.

46 ‘Newspaper Employee Sentenced: Seven Years’ Imprisonment with Male Persons’.

47 ibid.; ‘“Should be with Niggers”’.

48 David Bianco, ‘Physique Magazines’, available at,, date accessed 15 October 2007; Alasdair Foster, ‘Getting Physical’, Outrage, no. 65 (October 1988), pp. 15–18.

49 Foster, ‘Getting Physical’, p. 17.

50 Lionel, interviewed by Geoffrey Stewardson, 9 July 2001, ALGA, typescript log, p. 3.

51 Michael and Reginald, interview with Graham Carbery, transcript, p. 6.

52 ibid.

53 Foster, ‘Getting Physical’, p. 17.

54 ‘Australian Vice Ring’, Truth (Adelaide), 22 June 1941, p. 11; ‘Sensational Vice Ring Alleged: Swift Action by Police’, Truth (Melbourne), 14 June 1941, p. 1. For an alternative analysis of this case, see, Wotherspoon, ‘City of the Plain’, p. 85.

55 ‘Sensational Vice Ring Alleged: Swift Action by Police’, p. 1.

56 Moore, Sunshine and Rainbows, p. 115.

57 Deposition no. 90/42, 1942, QSA, SCT/CC396.

58 Allison Laurie has argued that these magazines formed part of a vibrant, although hidden community during the period; see, Allison Laurie, ‘Pre-1960 Transnational Lesbian and Homosexual Connections – The New Zealand Links’, Paper presented at the Australian Homosexual Histories Conference, no. 8, Melbourne University, 12–13 July 2008.

59 Deposition no. 74, in Information, Depositions and Associated Papers in Criminal Cases Heard in Sittings in Brisbane, 5 April 1943 – 9 August 1943, QSA, SCT/CC400.

60 Deposition no. 115/48, 1948, QSA, SCT/CC436.

61 Deposition no. 27/45, 1945, QSA, SCT/CC410.

62 Wotherspoon, ‘City of the Plain’, pp. 82, 88.

63 Deposition no. 90/42, 1942, QSA, SCT/CC396.

64 Deposition no. 90/42, QSA, SCT/CC396.

65 Deposition no. 24, in Information, Depositions and Associated Papers in Criminal Cases Heard in Sittings in Brisbane, 16 February 1948, QSA, SCT/CC434; Indictments, in Information, Depositions and Associated Papers in Criminal Cases Heard in Sittings in Brisbane, 16 February 1948 – 20 September 1948, QSA, SCT/CC432.

66 Chauncey, Gay New York, p. 274.

67 There is some evidence showing that the workplace could play an active part in some men’s homosexual life: floor walking and window dressing, for example, were more conducive to the camp lifestyle than other professions.

68 Chauncey, Gay New York, p. 276.

69 Errol, interview with Barry McKay, typescript log, p. 6.

70 Ben, interview with Geoffrey Stewardson, 9 July 2001, ALGA, typescript log, p. 5.

71 Milton, interview with Graham Carbery, 11 March 1983, ALGA, transcript, p. 17.

72 Sergeant Morley Box: ‘It was very peculiar to grab my penus [sic] while his [defendant’s] mother and sisters were there and while we were having tea. It was almost unbelievable. At the time we were on the settee his own mother, brother-in-law and nephew were in the room. This was the time he grabbed K. by the penus. It is almost unbelievable unless you see it [sic]’. Deposition no. 90/42, 1942, QSA, SCT/CC396.

73 Deposition no. 71, in Information, Depositions and Associated Papers in Criminal Cases Heard in Sittings in Brisbane, 5 April 1943 – 9 August 1943, QSA, SCT/CC400.

74 ibid.

75 ibid.

76 Deposition no. 71, 1943, QSA, SCT/CC400.

Cite this chapter as: Smaal, Yorick. 2011. ‘Friends and Lovers: Social Networks and Homosexual Life in War-time Queensland, 1938–1948’, in Out Here: Gay and Lesbian Perspectives VI, edited by Smaal, Yorick; Willett, Graham. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing. pp. 168–187.

Out Here: Gay and Lesbian Perspectives VI

   by Yorick Smaal, Graham Willett