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Speaker: Queen City: A Secret History of Auckland

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  • Greg Wood,

    Nice work. Thank you so much -- it's great to add another warp to the fabric of my understanding of our fine, fringe-of-the-known-world city, and to celebrate some of the people who sacrificed a hell of a lot to help others. The chronology also brings back many a fond memory of late 80s / early 90s inner-city living and early Hero parties and parades (note to self: must hunt out my astounding slides from Ponsonby Rd Hero), along with some slightly weirder memories of an unusual man I once knew (not in the biblical way) who would drag (not that kind of drag) me past the saunas and through Staircase, hoping some of it would, er, rub off on me (oh stop it). Lovely chap, just not my type.

    Now back in Aucktown • Since Dec 2006 • 86 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson,

    The Charlotte Museum in Western Springs was also created to preserve and remember New Zealand’s lesbian history.

    For those interested, the Charlotte Museum website is at www.charlottemuseum.lesbian.net.nz.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 615 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth Ward,

    An excellent read, thankyou. And some pretty powerful questions posed at the end...

    Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1727 posts Report Reply

  • wendyf,

    Thanks from me too, David. I helped support a man with AIDS during the 80's and he used to talk of 'the old days' when he sometimes performed in drag. I was living in Auckland at the same time, though I didn't know him. But I was aware of the culture.

    Your story illuminates so much of what the city was back then. And what it was in the 80's, when my son was part of the scene. They were fun days, yes, but tense. Many many funerals, though not, thank goodness of my son.

    I remember going to the hospital with my friend for him to take part in a trial of some sort, to do with HIV. It involved having an infusion and there was him and another man taking part. At one time my friend left the cubicle for some reason and the other man spoke angrily to me. He talked of how gay men came from all sorts of places, not just the educated career people, the 'nice' people, but from the gutter as well. (I can hear him now, with a rough Scottish accent). I was taken aback at the violence of his speech, but it was something that needed to be said. Still is.

    Was it George Gair, National, who swung the vote in parliament?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 88 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey,

    Thanks David for writing this up - it is important to have our history recorded.

    I came out in 86, just after Gay Law Reform, and in the first full flush of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Interesting times then, and interesting times since.

    Living in Auckland since 96 I've been privileged to witness some wonderful times, and some awful civic history.

    R.I.P Neil, Kevin, Arthur (particularly Arthur, a beautiful man), and a few others I knew by sight.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 659 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Brislen,

    Lovely piece that helps frame up how far we've come (and how far we've left yet to go). Thanks for that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    And who remembers the KG Club – the Karangahape Road Girl’s Club or the Kamp Girls Club?

    I do. And Alfies and the Out bookshop, where we used to buy amyl.

    There were not so many people in the city back then, and I think the gay community, obliged to dwell on the perimeter, provided infrastructure for everyone else who felt a bit different.

    I still have something of this relationship with gay men and lesbians my age and older. We share some sense of otherness.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22830 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming,

    Lovely work, David, as always.

    On the question of community, it's easier to come together when you have a common enemy and harder to create something positive when there's nothing to push against. It can be done, as the many communities of interest in society prove, and a big part of it will be the social scene - there will always be a need for gay clubs, pubs and other venues. If equality means anything, being gay should societally be just another tickbox on the census form, but this doesn't mean that gay men and women (in all our Heinz varieties) have to merge invisibly with the 'mainstream'. We will, however, have the communities we want to have, not the refuges we've been forced to inhabit on the outskirts in the past. So it's up to us to decide what it is we want.

    For the record, bisexual man since 1980, never been much of a big deal to me, but found my community in theatre.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2933 posts Report Reply


    A neat reminder of [almost] another era. My introduction to gay Auckland was...The Gladiator. Located in upper Queen Street, it was a labrynth of filthy floors and rooms that centred on an equally filthy hot tub. Aaaaaaargh...heaven on a stick! Whatever happened to all those old LP covers that were attached to the ceiling in the changing room? I recall one night going there, getting my rocks off, going home and then going back again! What a dirty, filthy, disgusting, wonderful pig I was. And I loved every minute of it.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2013 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • dykiegirl,

    Thank you, David. Classy and informative.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2013 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    Backstage covered two stories and worked on a system where an entry fee of $7 covered the night’s drinking. It was the height of the disco era and the dance floor hustled with over 200 people a night. It was also an illegal venue and its opening hours, until 5am in the morning, were a novelty for Auckland

    Can't walk past the back of The Classic without looking down at that door and smiling.

    One of the things I'm most grateful for, and something hugely influential in the way I've seen and interacted with the world since, was living in that wonderful flat with seven gay guys in Parnell, yourself included, in the late 1970s. Best time of my life.

    And, let's not forget, Backstage also had the best tunes in town...

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to nzlemming,

    We will, however, have the communities we want to have, not the refuges we've been forced to inhabit on the outskirts in the past. So it's up to us to decide what it is we want.

    THIS! I'm not going to pretend 2012 New Zealand is Homo-topia, but having a significantly older partner -- you know, who lived the good old days where being outed out see you unemployed and homeless with jack shit you could do about it -- can be a *cough* useful corrective to excessive romanticism about the fabulous past.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young,

    And being (cough cough hack) somewhere on the grey end of the rainbow is a similar such corrective. I'm becoming olde and crinkly enough to remember these alleged 'good old days' myself and they weren't. I tended to pal around with dykes rather than spend much time with the narrow minded brain dead scene queens of ChCh as it was in the early eighties. And we could do with the brutal and repressive homophobia against PLWAs in the early days of HIV/AIDS, thanks very much.

    All social movements tend to go through a utopian stage, as a reflection of their marginality. However, the more effective ones settle down to the hard, practical slog of legislative reform and forming strategic professional alliances to advance pragmatic, incremental objectives. And I speak as one who shouldered his fair share of picket signs back in the day...

    Ye goddes, I agree with Namesake again. Must be mellowing in my 'middle youth" (shudder)...

    Craig Y :)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 569 posts Report Reply

  • David Herkt, in reply to Simon Grigg,

    Thanks, Simon. I recall it very fondly as well, from the burning clothing on the clothes-line to the party that Chris Knox invited the whole Windsor Castle to...and, let's face it, you and I had the two best rooms in the house...

    I think of Backstage quite a bit when in the vicinity too. I'm still extraordinarily impressed with the music we danced to, which was odd given NZ was so far down the music supply-line in the late 1970s - and currency-restrictions on how much could be imported...

    The Backstage set-up with the $7 covercharge paying for a whole night of drinks was also fun. When I worked there we carried buckets around when we ran out of glasses because there was no impetus for people to keep track of their drinks and they'd just get another... So I know exactly the colour fifty barely-touched glasses of alcohol makes when poured in a bucket. And one of the enduring memories I have (besides trying to sweep the floors at 5am while tripping once) is the fashion for 'Brown Cows' (kahlua and milk) amongst young gay men then and Stan having to unpack pints and pints of milk to satisfy demand.. "Fucking milk!" ...

    I have tried to source pics of Backstage for everything from Queer Nation to express to JACK magazine, and they don't seem to exist. Stan lost his photos in a fire and I've never heard of anyone who has one...

    Auckland • Since Sep 2007 • 53 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    This made for such beautiful reading, thankyou, David. I remember the 80's, particularly, very well. It was a grim time in many ways, but I do remember the joy that the first Hero Parade brought to me. And later on, I was a marshall at a few of the parades and there for the death throes of the organisation. Whilst there has always been much debate around the "cleaning up" of the parades, I, for one, was always really pleased to be a part of that Auckland history.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young,

    Which isn't to say that I didn't rather enjoy David's stroll down memory lane. Excellent work.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 569 posts Report Reply

  • TracyMac,

    I just missed the KG club, which met its demise just before I became part of the queer community.

    But thanks for the reflection on where we were and how much things have really changed (while a few things remain the same).

    I would like to mention the fact that lesbians weren't just playing in softball/soccer teams or creating newsletters (although those were important cultural icons). In the 80s and 90s, we were also dancing away at clubs like Juliana's, Tongue n Groove, whatever that bar was upstairs in Albert St with the iconic pool night, and Lasso upstairs in Staircase in its latter incarnation on K Rd.

    Also, I'd like to acknowledge the important role Rainbow Youth (formed out of ALGY) has played for many GenX and Y youths (and young people like my nephew now) in supporting their coming out process and other advocacy. I never directly participated in their groups, but many many of my friends did, from the gay, lesbian, bi and trans subgroups. A fantastic support organisation.

    Canberra, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 701 posts Report Reply

  • David Herkt, in reply to TracyMac,

    Thanks, TracyMac. I’ve bound your extra info into the bigger copy. Much appreciated.

    Auckland • Since Sep 2007 • 53 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Siu,

    This is probably the only place on the Internet where I can mention this; I was at a muffins and tea event after the Anzac dawn service and out of nowhere, a veteran started telling me, out loud, how many US servicemen he, um, bang using this new thing called "blow-job". A young man rush over and apologised after how his granddad is just "plain talking". They left as I sat there with my muffin.
    Great article by the way.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 82 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Tony Siu,

    Possibly the very thing that made the war bearable for him - good job too. Likee.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    Anyone Wellingtonians here who got to see Carmen during his lifetime?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5429 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    Mum and I are off, in March, to see the NZSO performing works dedicated to her. It should be fabulous.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    Yup, Went to Carmen's Coffee bar a couple of times out of curiosity but left even more puzzled,

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2557 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    Thanks for this David, a fascinating article.

    BTW I think the photographer is Neil Trubuhovich :-)

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey, in reply to David Herkt,

    Actually, I'm not surprised that you danced to good music during this time David.

    In my research on public plazas in the CBD, I discovered that the National Mutual plaza, built in 1972 or thereabouts, on Shortland Street, was a direct copy (albeit smaller in size) of one in London. The style was international modern. On the property file are (IIRC) references to international architectural magazines, and I think a copy of an article about the London plaza.

    I realised then that NZ wasn't necessarily the backwater I supposed it was. Architectural styles, and presumably other kinds of fashionable styles such as dance music, flowed down to NZ by various means.

    One common way is for people coming home from London to bring stuff with them. I recall quite a number of gay men in Wellington during the late 80s who would return from London with the latest records (House music), which inevitably got played at the 'cool' nightclubs and at Victoria University Queer Dances (community dances).

    If you read Dress Circle, you can see the same mechanism at work here as well. Fashion flowed here from London constantly, thanks to a system of people bringing magazines and materials back, which was translated into NZ conditions.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 659 posts Report Reply

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