Revealed: Brisbane’s Secret History Of Same-Sex Weddings In The 1930s


Brisbane's secret history of same-sex weddings

Long before civil unions or legalised same-sex marriage became a reality in Queensland, a newspaper reported on men marrying each other in 1930’s Brisbane.

According to the Arrow newspaper, “The growth of the pervert population of Brisbane, beautiful capital of Queensland, is astounding, and in the last year hundreds of these queer semi-feminine men have made the city their headquarters.”

Until recent years, most LGBTIQ people fled Queensland for southern capitals the moment an opportunity presented itself. Those who stayed remained because of poverty, family ties, a grim determination to fight for a better future, or the belief that this week they might win the jackpot at Balls Out Bingo.

But what a mecca for LGBTIQ immigrants our enemies always perceived Queensland to be.

Longtime premier of Queensland Joh Bjelke-Petersen always warned of an influx of homosexuals if Queensland ever relinquished his guardianship of our southern border.

Russell Cooper, his successor, warned legalised homosexuality would see the Gold Coast as the gay capital of Australia. Even out in the bush, they feared the coming homosexual invasion.

Alex Robertson, president of the local branch of the National Party in little Goombungee, famous for winning a 1976 Tidy Town Award, warned in 1989 of a socialist plan to build a Berlin-like wall through Brisbane, “only there will be holes in it to let the homosexuals through.”

Poor Alex inadvertently fat-shamed the entire heterosexual population of Brisbane who he obviously thought not as svelte as homosexuals. One wonders what caused him to make an automatic association between homosexuals and holes in walls.

The Arrow continued, “Now they have evolved into a cult, with two main sects, one on the north, and one on the south side of the town, with the river dividing them.”

It appears homosexuals neither knew how to swim nor were willing to use the multiple bridges spanning the Brisbane River.

“In the last two weeks, there have been two ‘weddings’ – ghastly horrifying spectacles of painted men and primping lads united in a sacrilegious blasphemy that they call the ‘bonds of matrimony,'” the report read.

“Even the ‘honeymoon’ is conducted in public amidst the plaudits of the rest of the painted men-dolls, dancing round in a hideous circle.

“This in Brisbane, in the year 1932! It is almost unbelievable but true.”

‘Flagrant immorality’

The author of the article trawled his thesaurus for words denoting decadence and, like a drag queen hot-gluing sequins to a costume before a talent quest, squeezed them into every last space he could find – “The most degraded elements”, “horrifying indecency”, “nightmare of evil”, “orgy of lust”, “flagrant immorality.”

On and on, he went. But what shameful sights aroused such loquacity? “It is a common sight to see two of the type, allegedly men, sitting at a table and holding hands.”

Holding hands? The filthy bastards! It’s the end of the world as we know it! Enough to make baby Jesus cry.

Who knows what vengeance God might make to avenge such unrighteousness – probably the odd cyclone or an earthquake at least, or perhaps just a sun shower in Goombungee.

But maybe the Arrow was having a lend of its readers. We have no doubt LGBTIQ people of the time made vows of love to each other either privately or gathered discreetly with trusted friends.

Indeed, even with Joh at the height of his powers, Brisbane’s Father Ray donned his kilt and married same-sex couples in New Farm Park during the 1970s and 1980s.

But no other newspaper reported on the surge in same-sex marriages the Arrow chronicled in 1932. One is tempted to think they made it all up.

Hugh D. McIntosh

The Arrow was owned by Hugh D. McIntosh who claimed to have left school to start work at the age of seven and is known to have been working as a chorus boy in the pantomime Sinbad the Sailor at the age of seventeen.

Brisbane identity Hugh Donald McIntosh
He was a theatrical impresario and built the Brisbane Tivoli in 1915. He also brought a touch of theatricality to his publishing career.

The year before the publication exposed the spate of same-sex weddings in Brisbane, it reported on a house in Sydney where regular same-sex marriages were conducted and where an annual coronation took place when the “Kamp Kult” crowned that year’s Queen of Queens.

The paper complained bitterly of women dressing as men, and men dressing as women.

The publication was not bothered by pantomime dames as such – men dressed comically as frumpy aunts and ugly step-sisters but took great offense at women or men who could successfully pass as the opposite sex.