Queensland’s Historical Gay Convictions: The Case Of Alf and Freda Mae West


Freda Mae West

By Rod Gardiner and Destiny Rogers

The Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017 will finally see Queensland men convicted of consenting homosexual acts before decriminalisation in 1991 able to apply for their convictions to be expunged from the record.

Last October, the state government passed legislation to establish a process to allow such men to apply to have their convictions expunged. The scheme is expected to be up and running before the end of June.

Under the legislation, a person will be able to apply to the Department of Justice and Attorney General to have records expunged for eligible offences if they were charged or convicted under the law, as it stood, before Queensland decriminalised gay sex.

But what of those who have died?

The Bill allows for application for expungement of the deceased person’s conviction by a personal representative, their spouse at the time of death, parent, adult child, adult sibling or a person who was in a close personal relationship immediately before death.

Sadly, the convictions of many men will never be expunged with no one eligible left to apply on their behalf. These are men who suffered imprisonment, lost their homes, their jobs, the roof over their head, were shunned and reviled by family and community. These are men who sometimes took their own lives.

Queensland’s most notorious police officer Terry Lewis, rightly, will never have his corruption convictions expunged. Nor will one of the state’s most notorious drag queens, Alf Stanton (aka Freda Mae West), have his consensual gay sex convictions expunged. Alf passed away in 2010 and there is no one eligible to apply for an expungement on his behalf.

For almost half a century, from the Swinging Sixties to the early 2000s, drag queen Freda Mae West was omnipresent in Brisbane’s gay bars—either as a customer, a performer, behind the bar… or under it!

Terence Murray “Terry” Lewis was inducted into the police force in 1949 before being “plucked from obscurity” by premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen and rapidly rising to the rank of Police Commissioner, a role he performed from 1976 to 1987. It was on the night of October 9, 1954, early on in their respective careers, that their paths were destined to cross.

Alfred William Stanton (aka Freda Mae West) grew up in one of Norman Park’s oldest and most respected families. His paternal great-grandfather served 23 years on the local Balmoral council, many of them as chairman, while his maternal grandmother owned the Grand View Hotel at Cleveland, Queensland’s oldest licensed pub.

Freda Mae West in Truth newspaper in December 1954

There are conflicting stories as to when Alf was actually born. Freda Mae was known to claim she was born in “the year of queens”, 1926, along with Queen Elizabeth II and Peter Moselle, renowned for his stint with Les Girls and performing at the Coolangatta and Broadbeach hotels.

But it is more likely that Alf was born on May 8, 1928 as stated in 1954 court reports and later in official court documents. What is certain is that at 15, Alf left school for an apprenticeship at a Wharf Street hairdressers where he still worked in 1954.

During the 1960s, Stanton frocked up in his Freda Mae persona for Sunday sessions in the public bar of a city pub. In the late 70s, Freda Mae was to be found in the Siesta Bar of Fortitude Valley’s Hacienda Hotel every Friday and Saturday night.

At 10 o’clock closing time, the Queen of the Valley, her court and the evening’s hangers-on headed down Brunswick Street on a royal procession to the Silver Dollar where she sometimes performed. When the younger Terminus crowd of the 80s embraced more youthful drag queens, Freda Mae took her particular talents to the Bellino’s Trinity Place.

Later, she worked the bar of the Alliance Hotel, performing there and at myriad other venues before her final stage shows at the Sportsman Hotel in the early 2000s.

During most of those years, private, consenting, adult male homosexual acts remained illegal, punishable by up to fourteen years’ jail with hard labour. The police actively enforced the law. In 1954, the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) launched an all-out offensive against the “growing public menace of the twilight men”.

According to the Brisbane Telegraph, the police worried that “men who call themselves Elsie, Irene and Ivy meet in a well known city cafe … an all male vice cult … creating a No. 1 police problem … one of the worst headaches of Brisbane police”.

Their main priority was not murder, rape or armed robbery, but a bloke called Elsie and his mates getting together for a cup of tea.

The CIB, including one Detective Terry Lewis, specifically monitored known homosexuals in New Farm, Red Hill and Toombul. It was on October 9 that they questioned Reginald Allan Noble who, at age 25, already possessed a police record worthy of a hardened criminal—five convictions and three jail sentences.

Noble never robbed houses, never stabbed people, never raped women, and never murdered anyone. Each and every one of his convictions resulted from consenting sex acts with other adult males.

When confronted by detectives, Noble was strangely unmindful of the potential consequences. He apparently freely admitted to sexual encounters with up to ten men in the previous year, providing the names and workplaces of two—Stanton, a hairdresser, and Wally Herbert Zahnleiter, a storeman.

He even told detectives that he expected to see both men that night at a party organised by Stanton who, courtesy of his family’s standing in the community, had easy access to Norman Park’s best venue, the Masonic Hall.

But Noble never got to attend the party, instead being detained in the city watchhouse charged with carnal knowledge of Stanton and Zahnleiter. Not only did detectives take his confession, they also took his place at the party.

Unable to see through the closed windows of the hall, the detectives entered through the unlocked front door into a dimly lit room, the lights covered with orange crepe paper. They saw twenty men and two women and despite the suspicion aroused by the lighting they witnessed no illegal activity, nothing which would sustain a conviction.

Pictured left, Freda Mae West with Destiny Rogers, 1978.

This frustrated the three earnest upholders of the law and defenders of public morality. As a member of the CIB whined to the Telegraph: “Unless twilight men are caught committing an indecent act, police cannot sustain charges, even under the elastic definitions the courts allow to disorderly conduct.”

But on this occasion, the detectives came armed with evidence, namely Noble’s confession.

Detective Terry Lewis approached one of the women and asked for her name.

“Alfreda Joyce,” came the reply.

“I have good reason to believe that you are not a woman at all, but a man dressed in women’s clothing,” Lewis said.

“We decided to have a party and Evie Wynne”—a straight friend—“helped me get dressed up in these clothes at her residential in Wharf Street,” Freda Mae told Lewis. “I like wearing them and it makes a nice party for the boys.”

The detectives took Stanton and Zahnleiter back to CIB headquarters to answer the allegations contained in Noble’s confession. There, in the old derelict church building in Queen’s Park, George Street that housed Brisbane’s most corrupt police, Stanton and Zahnleiter confessed to being buggered by Noble—Stanton on or about December 6, 1953 and Zahnleiter on or about August 10, 1954.

They further incriminated themselves by disclosing that Stanton buggered Zahnleiter in February, 1951, nearly four years earlier. Noble, Stanton and Zahnleiter, three men with nothing to lose if they said nothing, and everything to lose if they confessed … confessed.

It’s impossible now to ascertain how Lewis obtained those confessions in 1954. Lewis, who turned 90 in February this year, is the only participant left alive. The criminal court records of the time lie embargoed in the State Archives until 2029.

All available information comes from court reports in the papers of the time and what information the police shared with reporters. Based on his past behaviour, Lewis is unlikely to shed any light on the matter any time soon.

Sir Terence Murray Lewis served in the CIB, founded the Juvenile Aid Bureau, became an Inspector and vaulted over more than a hundred more senior officers to become Police Commissioner, eventually becoming the first serving police commissioner in the entire British Commonwealth to receive a knighthood.

He also received an Order of the British Empire (OBE), the George Medal (for gallantry), a Queen’s Police Medal (for merit) and a National Medal (for service).

Despite this apparently glittering career, allegations of corruption shadowed Lewis throughout his years in the force and the 1987 Fitzgerald Inquiry proved the allegations to be well founded. At a consequent court case, Lewis, charged with 23 counts of corruption, perjury and forgery, received a maximum 14-year prison sentence on August 5, 1991.

He was eventually released on parole in 2002 after serving 10 years, six months at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Lewis has continued to protest his innocence but the last of his appeals failed in August 2005.

The first serving commissioner in the Commonwealth to receive a knighthood became only the 14th person since the 14th century to be stripped of his knighthood. The Queen also stripped Lewis of his OBE and Queen’s Police Medal.

On the subject of stripping, we do know that Lewis stripped Freda Mae at the CIB as he said so in court. He also catalogued what she was wearing, bringing it all into court to shame her. The dress, gloves, hairpiece, feather, petticoat, stockings, four false breasts. (Four false breasts? No further explanation for the number of breasts was forthcoming.)

Stanton was officially charged with two counts of having carnal knowledge of a male person (Noble and Zahnleiter) against the order of nature.

In court, Stanton’s barrister told the judge he had recommended he change his ways by spending time with more manly men—road workers, wharfies, cane cutters and the like. Many can attest that Stanton took that advice on board and spent a lot of time with more manly men, though without changing his ways.

Justice Townley admonished Stanton and Zahnleiter sternly, but neither had previous convictions and Townley himself noted that Stanton was otherwise of good character and had not corrupted others or associated with juveniles.

Stanton was convicted and given a £100 good behaviour bond for three years while Zahnleiter was sentenced to two years with hard labour on each charge—concurrent—to be suspended upon his entering a bond of £50 to be on good behaviour for the period of his sentence. However, poor Noble with his previous convictions, obviously an incorrigible homosexual, went back to prison for another two years with hard labour.

Noble and Zahnleiter then disappeared into obscurity, but not Stanton.

Stanton was lucky. His family did not disown him. He stayed in the family home and remained a hairdresser, opening his own salon, La Moderne at Stones Corner. For many years he lived dual lives—Alf Stanton, president of the Master Hairdressers Association by day, and Miss Freda Mae West by night.

Stanton inherited the family home in 1979 and stayed in it almost all his life until declining health forced him into care at the Tricare Annerley Nursing Home in May 2007, finally succumbing in June 2010 at age 82 (or 84 if Freda Mae’s “born in the year of queens” story is to be believed).

If you have a story to tell on life within the LGBTIQ community before decriminalisation in 1991, contact Rod Gardiner at [email protected]