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Retrace the queer history of st kilda

Queer-ways: Retracing St Kilda's Queer Footprint celebrates the contributions of the LGBTQIA+ community to the development of St Kilda, as a historical and contemporary home of the rainbow community.

Installed at St Kilda Pier during its redevelopment, viewers can explore the stories of St Kilda's queer past, through a timeline of some of Melbourne's queer history and an Augmented Reality Map featuring the voice of Cerulean, Miss First Nation 2021.  

Uncover the queer significance of some of St Kilda's most recognisable landmarks, whilst learning about the different challenges and events the LGBTQIA+ community faced through the decades. 


By retracing queer footprints, we can step into a future where all of our histories are celebrated and acknowledged.

Thank you Michelle Donnelly for the beautiful photos and Cerulean for your continued interest in our project.

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Australia’s first recorded queer marriage (although unknown at the time) took place at Saint Francis’ Church in the CBD.


Edward de Lacy Evans, who is considered one of Australia's first documented transgender people, and their bride Mary Delahunty married in 1856.


Bill Edwards (born Marion Edwards) and his wife Lucy Minehan, who also married at St Francis Church a century after Edward and Mary.




The Prince of Wales is possibly the oldest gay bar in Melbourne, allegedly being a queer space from the 1930s.  

In the 70s it was the host of Melbourne's first Lesbian disco Pennies, produced by Jan Hillier and ran on Saturdays.

Later Hillier would approach the POW to do a drag night on Sundays called Pokeys (1977-1992).  It was co-run by Doug Lucas and gay nightlife icon Jan Hillier and became one of Melbourne's most famous drag nights, reaching more than a thousand people in the audience.




Val Eastwood, a lesbian entrepreneur and trailblazer in Melbourne's cafe culture, opened Café 31 in 1952.  This was the second of her venues, following her great success with Val's Coffee Lounge on Swanston Street, a meeting place for creatives in both the heterosexual and queer community.

Val recognised the queer community presence in St Kilda, as well as how well the bohemian audience suited her camp cafes that hosted live performances.




El Sombrero (1957-1963) was known by ASIO to have been a hangout spot for lesbians within the WRAAF (Women's Royal Australian Air Force). As female homosexuality was not illegal at the time, Police only apprehended them on suspicion of prostitution and associating with undesirable homosexuals.




The Palais De Danse Arts Balls started out as a homage to the Parisian balls of the 1920s, organised by art students wanting a place to hone their creativity.


These Arts Balls were amongst the limited public places where campy queerness reigned, with drag queens often being the star of the show. Amongst those who frequented was infamous drag queen Lottie (Robert Lotte) known for her ball costumes and Freddie Asmussen performing tableaus dressed as Louis XIV and Cleopatra.




The first clubhouse known to be frequented by the Daughters of Billitis', Melbourne's first camp political organisation, was in St Kilda.


The Australian chapter of the Daughters of Billitis' was formed in Melbourne in 1969, making it Australia's first gay rights group.

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In 1971, the Sydney Les Girls Revue arrived in Melbourne and began their show at the Ritz Hotel.


This was the first publicised drag performance in Melbourne and, as homosexuality was still illegal, performers were granted permits to travel in women's clothing but not to be seen "on the street".


The Les Girls Revue would have many homes around St Kilda. After leaving the Ritz, the Les Girls revue moved to Olivia's before settling at Bojangles before its closure.




Victoria is home to Australia’s longest-running support and social group for the transgender community, Seahorse Victoria. Their inaugural meeting took place in 1975 at a member’s home.


Seahorse Victoria was formed with just 12 members but quickly grew and continues as a social support space for all people who are transgender.




Hilliers was a club run by Jan Hillier of Jan's Dances, Kellar Bar, Pennies and Pokeys.


Jan played an influential role in queer Melbourne nightlife, establishing numerous venues for the queer community and putting queer performers on the map.

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Along the beachfront of St Kilda, Harriet Elphinstone Dick taught swimming. Miss Dick was the owner of Melbourne's first women's only gym in the Queen Victoria Building,


Renowned for her swimming abilities, Dick taught swimming to over 300 women. She was later awarded a gold bracelet by the Governor's wife, for her work.

Miss Dick lived in Brighton with her female partner and they also owned a farm in Clayton where they had only female animals.




Mandate was Melbourne’s first exclusively gay disco. Mandate was opened by Ken Payne in 1980, following the 1980 vote for the legalisation of homosexuality. It was mostly a club catering to men, although Tuesday nights was a night for women called Club 31.




1980 also saw the beginning of the GayDay parties.  Ran by The Alternative Lifestyle Organisation known as ALSO) - which held events such as Raw Hide (later Red Raw) and Winter Daze. GayDay was held to celebrate the decriminalisation of homosexuality.


The event was publicly promoted as a gay event and held in public at the Junction Oval, differing from their previous less publicly promoted events. Gay Day was held from 1980 to 1985.




On the 1st of March 1981, the decriminalisation of homosexual sex between men came into effect.

First introduced by Labor MP Barry Jones in 1975 after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in South Australia, Jones used a Private Member Bill to advocate for reform. In 1976 the Homosexual Law Reform Coalition was created and drew great publicity and support.


It took until the 18th of December 1980 for the decriminalisation of homosexual sex between men to pass parliament, with opposition from Liberal MPs, MPs crossing the floor and the addition of amendments slowing its progress. These initial amendments by the Liberal party were repealed in 1985 by the Labor Government to decriminalize all homosexual sex acts.




In December 1982, a warehouse located on Little Grey Street ALSO threw its first dance party called Raw Hide. Attended by over 700 men dressed as cowboys, the party was so good that Raw Hide would go on to become an annual event.


In 1984, ALSO partnered with the Victorian AIDS Council to host a second dance party called Winter Daze during the Queen's Birthday Long Weekend. Both events would continue for many years - Raw Hide becoming Red Raw. Red Raw continued until 2007.


These parties not only were not only important events in the queer calendar but great employers of queer people, as the heterosexual party world did not want to be associated with a queer crowd. ALSO's parties also informed the future of Melbourne's dance party and rave scene, being a case study for heterosexual and queer promoters on how to do it right.




The Greyhound Hotel was built in 1853 and was renovated in 1938 to its recognizable art deco facade.


Known from the late 90s for its drag shows, such as Show Bags, the GH became a landmark of queer life in the southside of Melbourne. 


Closing in 2017, the site was demolished for apartments.

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Following the establishment of People Living With AIDS, a program within the Victorian AIDS Council, the Positive Living Centre was officially opened by the Mayor of St Kilda on 18 April 1993.


The Positive Living Centre's goal was to create a place where people with HIV could meet and reduce stigma. 

In 2002, the Centre moved to the old site of the Braille Library on Commercial Rd, Prahran.




The Beaconsfield Hotel was a well-known gay pub in the 1990s.




Since 1996, Pride March Victoria has paraded down Fitzroy Street demonstrating the diversity of the queer community and increasing representation.  The first Pride March attracted 11,000 people including high school kids, drag queens and community organisations, who marched down together in celebration.




The Newmarket hotel became the home of Tootsie and a group of drag queens following their departure from the Greyhound.  When the Greyhound later closed, the Newmarket became gay on Saturdays, attempting to create a new home for the crowds heartbroken by the GH's closure.




Opening in 1998, the ambitious Precinct 3182 area was developed by a group of gay businessmen, including Ken Payne. The Precinct 3182 area housed a bar, cinema, night club and sauna.  The sauna included a gym which had to obtain a special exemption from the Equal Opportunity Commission to make the site men only. 

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At the 1998 Midsumma Festival Pride March the Lesbians and Gays for Reconciliation raised their 'Stick with Wik' Banner, demonstrating solidarity with Indigenous Australians and particularly the Wik peoples of Queensland in their claim in the High Court of Australia for native title rights to country on the Cape York Peninsula

Following the Native Title Amendment Act of 1998, the group aimed to bring the awareness of LGBTQIA+ communities to issues facing First Nations people, to encourage recognition of the injustices of the past and to “create an inclusive future which recognises the benefits of cultural, racial and sexual diversity”.



St Kilda Town Hall was the venue of the first Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Conference in October 2004. An Australian and possibly world first, the two day event welcomed over 250 people from around 30 different cultural groups for plenaries, workshops, seminars and social events. There were a dozen keynote speakers and more than 40 papers addressing all aspects of the queer multicultural experience around three themes: health and wellbeing; cultural identity and sexuality; and communities and belonging. Attendees included celebrities and representatives of the Victoria Police and the Equal Opportunity Commission, as well as the State government’s Minister for Multicultural Affairs.


In 2017, Australia celebrated the passing of the Marriage Amendment Act after ​​62% of respondents had voted “Yes” in the nationwide postal vote.


In Victoria, the Trades hall was the home base of the 2016 Marriage Equality Campaign and also the location of the celebratory street party after marriage equality was approved. The union movement had been an invested supporter of marriage equality and the equal rights of workers.



2021 also saw the appointment of Todd Fernando as Australia’s first queer and Indigenous Commissioner for LGBTQIA+ Communities.


Victoria became the first state in Australia to have a Commissioner for LGBTIQ+ Communities, previously known as the Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality from 2015, to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse, intersex and queer Victorians continue to have a strong voice to advocate for their rights and wellbeing.



Opening in 2021, The Victorian Pride Centre is the first purpose-built centre for Australia's LGBTQIA+ communities. The Centre serves as a hub for LGBTQIA+ groups and organisations to share ideas and resources and to further their work in supporting equality, diversity and inclusion across the state.

This is not the whole story of Queer History, but a summary of some of our community’s significant events.  It's also not the end of our history, but we hope by retracing queer footsteps, we can step into a future where all of our histories are celebrated.

Scan the QR Code under the map to have Cerulean guide you through some of St Kilda's queer history.

or explore our other queer maps of melbourne


Queer-ways: Retracing St Kilda's Queer Footprints has been made possible through the support of

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