Sydney Gay & Lesbian History|
Walk Radio Series
- Sydney's Camp scene - from "Go-Set" magazine 1971 -
Go-Set was a progressively run magazine whose readers largely were switched-on
teenagers interested in the pop scene and pop culture in the late 60s and early 70s.
By 1971, it had one of the highest circulations of any weekly publication in Australia.
article published in "GO-SET" magazine, 13th November, 1971, pages 5 - 6
THE CAMP DANCE SURVEY
"Look at the, way things have changed." I overheard someone saying recently.
. "A few years back the poofs were hiding away. Now they're all out on the streets!"
Not only are the poofs all out on the streets, they've also managed to create Sydney's biggest, liveliest and most regular dance scene.
Camp dances in this city are booming: in terms of week-to-week drawing power. The dances are dwarfing the slightly weak straight-dance scene.
As well as the dances, there also a few camp wine bars (some of them occasionally using a rock group) packed with people, and as with the dances, not all of the people attending are camp.
During the post 18 months especially, the camp scene has been gathering so much steam that a lot of square people (meaning those who don't actually get it on with partners of their own sex) have crashed it in search of come action. In most cases, the square people get their action, and are usually accepted by the camp folks who make it all happen.
What motivates these square people into the camp scene? There are as many reasons as the people involved but there are a few basic patterns to be observed
First and foremost are the "Queen's Molls". And there are lots of 'em ... girls who aren't lesbian. but really dig hanging around camp guys.
In most cases, it's the outwardly glamorous camp lifestyle that attracts to the straight girls. They usually try to attach themselves to the prettiest and best dressed camp guys. The camp guys who get this sort of attention from the girls are usually between 16 and 22, although the older ones with successful and attractive careers are also in pretty hot demand.
Also, there's another reason why many young and good-looking chicks hang around camp guys.. they like to be seen with immaculate boys. and in a lot of cases, screw them too.
Unless the girl is unfortunate enough to fall in love with the boy, it's usually a pretty efficient arrangement, and not necessarily as tawdry as it might sound. If the boy and girl genuinely like each other, why not? Nobody is to say that it's right or wrong, although your own personal moral code and upbringing might frown upon it.
However. it seems that the only girls who can do this successfully are the ones, who don't have any false illusions about the camp scene. In camp circles, friendships we often superficial (ie.. occasionally more so than in straight circles), and the chicks should be hip to what this entails.
The term - "Queen's moll" suggests a certain amount of scorn, and to a certain extent, this scorn actually exists. The word - "queen" refers to the boys of course, and many of them don't dig those chicks at all. "They're leeches," said one camp guy aged 21. "And they're usually pretty dumb too. A lot of them try to crash the camp scene because they don't feel confident enough with straight guys. They're trying to escape, and they have nothing to offer to the camp scene".
But generally speaking. a chick can have fun at camp dances without anyone attaching importance to why she's there. She's not likely to be ravaged by any camp chicks, and she'll probably get to have more dances than she would in a straight dance.
Said Julie, an 18-year-old chick who is not a lesbian: "I go to a camp dance every week - everyone there is really nice, and you have more fun then you could anywhere else. Camp people don't try to be cool like straight people, they go there to have fun and do anything that looks like being a laugh."
Was she shocked by the sight Of boys dancing with boys and girls with girls? (Camp couples usually make up about 65% of the dance-floor couples):
"Well, the first few times I went I stared a tiny bit. I thought it looked a bit silly, but I wasn't shocked, now I don't oven think it looks silly ... well, maybe sometimes, when a few of the older camps try to out-do each other dancing to the groups."
Said Sandra a 17 year-old chick who spoke to Go-Set at a camp dance: "You can always come here without the worry that there'll be fights - I don't think there's ever been one here. Maybe one or two love squabbles, but never a real fight like you get at square dances. It's much gentler, but the fun is rowdier than at the other type of dances." Of course a lot of the seemingly-straight people at camp dances are a bit "that way inclined," although they may never actually have a camp relationship.
It seems that square boys occasionally make it to camp dances too, but not nearly as many as their girl counterparts.
Most dances take very strict security precautions to keep trouble away: the bouncers are big and tough, because they need to be. There have been several times when some very warped gangs have turned up to "belt up the poofters." And that's where the only threat of violence lies - from warped straight people.
WHO DO THEY LOVE?
Who do they love?
The man who books the entertainment for the Aquarius Club is Peter Rix, a very sturdy looking man, probably in his late twenties. I found him at the dance with his girlfriend, sitting in the foyer looking slightly bored whilst the sound of the good-time crowd gave contrast to his mood.
"Johnny Farnham played here and was just fine" he said. "Everyone went wild - they loved everything he did. There has only ever been one bigger act than him here, the old Zoot. You just wouldn't believe it" The crowd was just screaming like you couldn't imagine. The guys in the audience literally looked like they were freaking out on the spot - they were outta their heads. The Zoot used their guitars like phallic symbols, and they sure got the reaction here."
I spoke to a guy called Terry about the Zoot, "Look, I saw them at Chameleon's and it was the most exciting Australian act that I have ever seen, mostly because they got the audience response. It was imperative to their act being a success. I saw them at Chameleon's on the Saturday night, and on the following Monday they were playing at Chequers, so I went down there just for interest sake. Such a brilliant group, but the audience just sat there, dead, and Zoot looked ridiculous going through all their antics with next to no audience response. That's the thing: camp people really love a stage act, because it makes more of a good time. They don't try to be supercool as much as square people do, which I think is immature. Overseas, almost all the groups have a stage presentation, and everyone digs for what it's worth, and by doing that, they have a better time."
Booking agent Peter Rix again: "We've had almost every pop act here at Aquarius. and they all love playing to camp crowds. The only act we've ever had that bombed was Hans Poulsen - the audience booed him off the stage."
It's true that almost everyone in business has played and sang at camp dances: Ronnie Burns sings at them semi-regularly in Sydney, and people such as Doug Parkinson, Wendy Saddington, Colleen Hewett, Liv Maesson and Jeff St John have done camp gigs.
All the camp places play records in between the live performances and the music used usually never varies from place to place. Janis Joplin records were very popular; in fact, one could say with accuracy that soul music is still the big thing and everyone responds by dancing their asses off. Progressive rock is usually appreciated, but not when everyone's tackling a good time. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Daddy Cool and Ike and Tina Turner are more the thing.
DOING THE ROUND OF CAMP PLACES
THURSDAY AT IVY'S
Chez Ivy's, situated at Sydney's Bondi Junction, is a wine bar usually packed from Thursday until Saturday. It's a club for camp people, but lately die place has been attracting quite a few tourists (would-be "swingers" having an ogle at the scene) and plenty of camp followers (people not actually camp but with friends who are). When we arrived the song on the juke-box was so fitting it could have been a cliche: that camp hymn by the Kinks called "Lola". As it was played, one guy weaved through the crowd and grabbed a friend "0ooh ... they're playing my song." he almost shrieked.
The decor of Ivy's is straight out of a 1967 Mamie Van Doren movie. The place is darkly lit with luminous walls and signs. Some tatty posters on the wall declare the message --- "Gay is Good", whilst a blowup photo of Michaelangelo's Statue of David has a similarly encouraging message placed over the crutch.
The bar is placed against one wall and is usually stacked up three-deep with people, and the folks who've been lucky enough to grab a table are drinking talking and laughing over the music.
Ivy's is quite small (about as big as two large living-rooms). and the stage is no larger than probably eight feet by four feet. Up there, dancing away by himself to "Lola", is a good-looking guy Of about 18 wearing the tightest pair of Overalls imaginable - definitely not Yakka He-Man pants. Someone at the bar claims that the guy is paid to dance onstage to the records.
"Lola" stops, and a recorded overture starts playing. It's showtime. Sitting over in one corner, talking to some straight-looking guys, is a drag queen I assumed was part of the show. "Do you mind if we photograph you when the show starts?" "I'm not in the show." the drag-queen answers in a fairly deep voice.
The overture finishes and Barbara Streisand's record of "Don't Rain on my Parade" begins playing as a female impersonator steps from behind the curtain wearing a long white Chiffon dress. His jaw is a bit heavy so that the willowy and feminine he's after is a bit out of focus.
"Don't tell me not to live, just sit and putter / Life's candy and the sun's a ball of butter / Don't try to rain on my Parade...." the drag-queen mimes the words badly, but you can tell he loves the song. Drag-queens love doing those songs by female singers. Shirley Bassey is probably number one favourite, because she's completely dramatic and never fails to bellow where subtlety might be more life-like.
Standing behind the bar at Ivy's wearing a sequined gown and a bouffant hairstyle is a middle-aged woman who is said to own the place. She looks remarkably like Ethel Merman, the old musical-comedy singer, and every now and then she hugs one of the camp guys as a greeting.
The show continues onstage: A tall blonde drag-queen walks on miming Blow Gabriel Blow (perhaps in tribute to the above mentioned lady, as it's an Ethel Merman record). After that she does a strip to some corny music. Someone standing next to me points at the stage and whispers "She's fifty years old." Well, this drag-queen certainly isn't a little old lady - towards the end a strobe light begins flickering, and as the music finishes, our male stripper leaves the stage wearing nothing but a big smile.
A breath-taking act and impossible to follow. Pretty soon it's closing time, and the crowd slowly leaves the place.
Ivy's isn't part of the camp dance circuit, but many of the camp-dance people go there. It's a well-run club and apparently free of any of the fights that often hassle straight places.
FRIDAY NIGHT AT THE AQUARIUS CLUB
As we made our way through Kings Cross to the Aquarius Club, a prostitute explained to a co-worker that business had been good. "I can knock off soon - seven in an hour!" she exclaimed. A few blocks up in Darlinghurst we found the Aquarius Club, a weekly camp dance attended by a large proportion of young people. In the foyer stood a drag-queen who looked amazingly like the Prostitutes seen down the road.
Like most other dances Aquarius uses a rock group each week as well as a star solo performer. Tonight it's Judy Stone (Bandstand's little blast from the past lady), but usually the acts are a bit more up-to-date.
After she finishes most of the four-hundred strong crowd get up and dance to Tapestry, a Sydney band who love doing camp gigs. 'We'd rather play here then anywhere else", says manager Phil Johnson. "The crowd's really happy and show their appreciation."
Aquarius is much more indicative of the young camp scene. Most of the kids look and dress the same as those at any everyday disco, and there's a sense of competition amongst the people on the dance floor suggestive of the way people went wild at dances back in the Beatle era.
Which brings us to a much-stated, but still important point: if you think every camp guy is a lisping swish then you're wrong. One typical guy on the dance-floor looked remarkably , like Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills etc.) He moved around the dance-floor with a casual arm draped over a girl, sometimes another boy. There were a few fashionably bearded and moustached faces. The style of clothing was pretty hip.
The drag-queen who comperes the dance got up and announced someone's birthday, a common practise at camp dances. They like to give the regulars a "club" feeling. In fact Aquarius is actually run by a committee, and one of them called Bill explained to Go-Set that Aquarius has been running for about twenty months.
Bill didn't look at all camp; in all Probability, he isn't. "In all the time we have been operating we haven't had one fight" he said.
Another man involved on the inside operation explained that running a camp dance isn't all that easy. "The hall is normally rented out at $80 a night," he claimed. "But because it's a camp dance, they demand $270."
The camp girls at Aquarius didn't seem to have any of the Camp followers that the boys got - probably because lesbians usually aren't glamorous.
Booking Agent Peter Rix isn't camp, but says he quite enjoys coming to Aquarius once a month with his girlfriend. "I couldn't stand it every week, but every now and then it's fun. Once you get used to the fact that the couple dancing next to you are both boys, you can relax and enjoy it. Nobody bothers you, and everyone's there to have fun."
SATURDAY NIGHT AT PETERSHAM
Australia's most famous camp dance is situated in the Sydney suburb of Petersham. The people who go there still refer to it as Chameleon's, although the management has been changed and the dance is now officially called the Mydas Club. Every week the dance attracts from four to five hundred people, sometimes more. The crowd seems very much younger than that at Aquarius, and almost every Sydney group and solo artist has played there at one time or another.
Anyone who doubts that the camp rock scene is big should take a trip to the dance at the Sydney suburb of Petersham - it's a large dance-hall packed each week with between four and six hundred people, sometimes more. The stage is quite large and the entertainment varies. The Sydney group Hot Rocket make regular appearances, and sometimes there's a drag act.
On a recent night a drag queen took to the stage and gave a very dramatic speech before her mime number. "I won't be seeing you all for about five weeks" she said, as an introduction to "Leaving on a Jet Plane". The inference of an overseas trip was soon dispelled when somebody in the audience yelled out: "And we know why - you've got the night shift at the PMG."
The drag queen apparently works m a telephonist, but you would never have guessed it when she launched into Liza Minelli's version of "Leaving on A Jet Plane".
Chameleon's was probably the Zoot's biggest triumph: for several months after their first appearance, the Chameleon's stage was hung with a huge blowup of the famous nude Zoot rear-view that appeared in Go-Set about a year back.
[NB.. that picture was a promo for the Zoot's single "Hey Pinkie", in Go-Set, p. 5, 4/7/1970]
The solo act on the night of our visit was a guy who announced himself as Spotty Muldoon. In actual fact, Spotty Muldoon is Kenny Dugan, a former singer with the old Levi Smith's Clefs (now called McAskill's Marauders). Since leaving the Clefs, Kenny has worked as a club singer doing straight songs such as Maria. However, the Petersham dance promoters had thought he was a rock and roll singer, so that was what Spotty became when he took to the stage.
Towards the end of Saturday night, the lead singer got up to throw himself around the stage as a record of the Mickey Mouse song was played. On the dancefloor, the audience formed a sort of Daddy Cool conga-line, during which everyone swaps partners. Once again, the result is the old-time young fun seldom encountered at non-camp dances.
MIDNIGHT AT CAPRICCIO'S
As with Ivy's, Capriccio's is a tightly-run club frequented by camp people. One floor of it is a huge bar complete with a piano, where drinks are sold at extremely high prices. Upstairs is a show room, where the female impersonators re-enact their favourite movie musicals in a twice nightly drag revue.
The main asset of the show is the costuming - all the clothes have been perfectly copied from the actual movies. Unfortunately the performance didn't equal the clothes in a long Judy Garland sequence, but a Shirley Temple one was very funny.