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  • Our Queer History Museum | 50s and early 1900s


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    The Laws and Notable Events (Early 1900s)

    1924 – NSW reduces the punishment for male acts of homosexuality from life in prison to 14 years.

    1935 – TAS introduces law making it illegal for men to crossdress between sunset and sunrise.

    1949 – VIC reduces the punishment for male acts of homosexuality from death penalty to 20 years.

    The Laws and Notable Events (1950s)

    1952 – The first edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) includes homosexuality as a mental disorder. Psychologists and psychiatrists would treat homosexuality with behavioural therapy, aversion therapy, electric shock treatment or lobotomy.

    What is the DSM?

    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the handbook used by medical professionals around the world to diagnose mental disorders and brain-related conditions. The book contains descriptions, symptoms and other criteria for diagnosing mental health disorders. 

    Safe Places

    In the 1950s and 60s, it was still controversial and illegal to be homosexual, but of course this didn’t stop LGBT+ people from existing. The queer community in Australia had ways to find each other. Gay men in particular, had known locations called ‘beats’ where they would go to meet up for sex or just social connection. The Le Guide Gris was an international gay travel guide, first published by the Mattachine Society (an organisation for homosexual rights founded in Los Angeles) in 1958. There were 9 editions of Le Guide Gris and they included locations such as bars, nightclubs, saunas, beats, hotels and other establishments. The Australian part of the guide listed a number of Melbourne locations – the Prince of Wales Hotel, Fitzroy Gardens, Hamburger Maxim and Bucchi’s Continental Baths.

    Bucchis’s Continental Baths

    Michael Bucchi established the gym and sauna in 1957 on Collins Street, Melbourne, originally calling it California Health Studio, but eventually changing the name to Bucchi’s Continental Baths. The gym and sauna was a safe place for gay men but the clientele included men of any sexual orientation. According to Bucchi, some men came to the sauna to have sex with other men, but others just wanted to use the gym, and there was never any friction between the different groups of patrons. In the late 70s, Bucchi had to move his business around the corner to Elizabeth Street, but eventually had to close down.

    Val’s Coffee Lounge

    Val Eastwood opened a coffee shop on Swanston Street, Melbourne in 1951. Her business grew so rapidly that she had to expand the cafe to a second floor of the building. Each floor of the cafe could seat 80 people and they were packed every night. The cafe was decorated with blue carpet, mauve chairs, raffia lampshades and a grand piano, while the walls were decorated with murals by artist Veni Stephens. Val prepared exotic food and her father brewed the coffee. There was live music all through the week, as well as small plays and poetry readings, and a concert every Sunday night. Val was openly a lesbian and dressed in very masculine clothes. Her cafe was a known safe place for LGBT+ people and anyone who felt like an outsider.

    The Lampshade Shop The Lampshade Shop could be found in Adelaide in the 1950s, under ownership of Bert Hines. Hines made and sold lampshades and artificial flowers. At night however, Bert Hines was also known as Big Bertha, and he would host drag parties in the residence above his shop, bringing in crowds of at least 15 people. Although, one night, the police were alerted to the drag parties and gate-crashed The Lampshade Shop. They had no evidence of any criminal activity, so the police intimidated the dressed-up men until they confessed. 10 men were sent to prison, and the newspapers ruined reputations.

    Continue your journey here.

    (This image and related history are part of the Our Queer History Museum project.)