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    AC Benus
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

The Great Mirror of Same-Sex Love - Prose - 44. Alison Laurie “New Zealand Bobby and the Kamp life of Aotearoa and Australia”

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Alison Laurie Part I –

“New Zealand Bobby and the Kamp life of Aotearoa and Australia”

 

I began my unrelenting search for the “others” when I was fifteen. It was 1956, and I had heard the word Lesbian and identified with it. I had been having kisses, cuddles, and crushes on other girls since I was ten.

The first word I had found was h*m*s*x**l. In the typical ignorance about sex of the fifties, I had been trying to get a sex education at the Wellington Public Library. I discovered Freud in the Reference Section, and learned that the "others" who were attracted to their own sex were all either in prisons or in mental institutions. This was not hopeful.

There were, of course, “others” at my all-girls’ school, among both the teachers and students. But we were all afraid, and there was no way to discuss this subject.

Coffee bars began in Wellington. They were daring and new, bohemian. The first one was the Man Friday, followed by the Sorento, the Picasso, and the Casa Fontana. Writers, artists, unusual people went to them. I went every night. But there were no "others" there. At every opportunity I asked if anyone had ever met someone “like that.” I did not say that I thought I was one.

It was now 1957, and I was a sixth-former. I played hockey every Saturday. In the morning I played for school, and in the afternoon, for Old Girls. I was sure that some of the Old Girls were “like that,” but I was only sixteen and they were cool, distant, guarded.

One day someone at the coffee bar talked about a “dreadful woman” who had made a pass at her. I found out the woman’s name and where she worked.

She worked on the pattern counter of the D.I.C. store in Wellington. I went to see her and wore a tie so that she would realize that I was “one.” She invited me home. We made love. She lent me a copy of The Well of Loneliness. I thought it was a wonderful book. It meant that there were indeed “others” and that they were not in prisons or mental institutions. They wore tweed suits and lived in London. Since they lived in London, perhaps some might live in Auckland? It was a much bigger city than Wellington.

My new friend didn’t know. She wasn’t much use at all really. She didn’t know any “others” and said that she wasn’t “like that.” She said she only made love to women sometimes.

School finished. I went to Auckland. I stayed with writers and artists – friends of the bohemian coffee bar crowd in Wellington. I asked them about Lesbians and grew bolder. I now said that “I thought I might be one.”

At last I met a man who took me to the Ca d’Oro. It was early 1958. The Ca d’Oro was full of fluffy young men in chiffon scarves and makeup. I felt that I had come home. The young men and I went everywhere together. I wore a tie. The streets were dark and dangerous. People often chased us and tried to beat us up. “Queers!” they would shout. I was a fast runner. I had gone in full drag to a Trades Hall dance, passed as a boy, and danced with girls. Afterward I had to run ten blocks to safety, pursued by a gang of milk-bar cowboys.

The young men did not know any other Lesbians – except for two who had gone to Sydney. “That’s where all the kamp girls are,” they said. I liked being a kamp girl. I learned a new vocabulary that was called “the palare.”

 

Palare —used by kamp boys and girls until the late sixties

Homi — man

homi-polone — [a Gay person]

kamp — [Gay (folklorically said to be] derived from police records: an abbreviation for “known as male prostitute”; used in the scene for both sexes)

bona — good

naff — bad

on jon wa — over there

square — [a] heterosexual

trade — sex

rough trade — sex with squares (used by men)

butch — sexually “active”

bitch — sexually “passive”

 

British queens off the Home Boats had brought the palare to Aotearoa/New Zealand. Port cities like Auckland and Wellington had regular influxes of foreign queens who brought news of “others” in every port in the world. They influenced the Aotearoa/New Zealand scene profoundly in those days before general air travel.

But they brought no news of other kamp girls in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Still, I was able to return to Wellington with contacts for the kamp scene and to mix with kamp boys and go to parties. This was a great relief.

I looked everywhere for kamp girls. Anyone I thought might be, I put on my tie and went to visit. I went to Christchurch, made an appointment to see Ngaio Marsh. She was polite and we discussed theater – my stated reason for seeking her out. I was too nervous to bring up my hidden agenda directly.

At last I heard about another kamp girl. We were introduced at a party. She was from Christchurch, newly arrived in Wellington. She knew no one else either. We became lovers. One afternoon we making love at my parents’ home while they were out at work. They returned unexpectedly and my lover hid in the wardrobe. My father moved forward, exclaiming, “I know you’ve got a man in here.” He flung open the wardrobe door and out stepped a naked woman. He retreated and my mother advanced. I immediately left home and we began to live together as lovers in a small flat in the inner city. I was seventeen.

One day we were out driving by Central Park. We saw two young women walking. They looked “different.” We stopped the car and asked them for the time. We all had dinner together. We moved into a flat in Watson Street together. This flat became a center for the “funny” parties. Kamp boys came, and bohemians. Some women came sometimes who said they “might be like that.” The police raided our parties. We kept on having them.

We heard about two others in Auckland. We immediately jumped in the car and drove there to meet them. Now we were six.

It was November 1958. We Wellington four decided to go to Sydney, where all those others were. We sailed on the Monowai, our friends holding streamers as the boat hooted away with the entire known Wellington Lesbian community. We went straight to Kings Cross. The beer garden behind the Rex Hotel was full of Lesbians. Some wore ties and suits and others frilly dresses.

“Are you butch or bitch?” asked Young Jerry, tall and tough. It seemed more prestigious to be butch, so I opted for this role socially and remained largely bitch in bed with my older lovers. I kept this a secret. It was frowned upon – called “turning.” There were a lot of rules in the subculture. Breaking any of them meant you got beaten up. I learned to fight – the instruction was very similar to a modern women’s self-defense course, except that it was free, informal, and for real.

As squares were always trying to bash up kamps, it was vitally necessary too. Some of the Sydney butches were amazingly good fighters. Dutch Kerry, Motorbike Bobby, Young Jerry were especially good. Tramtracks, Big Jan, Kiwi Jean, French Jackie, and Flake were useful but not as outstanding. Everyone had butch names, just as the kamp boys had their kamp names. The kamp boys were called things like The Countess, Gigi, Scotch Annie. My butch name was New Zealand Bobby.

The police raided the Rex often. I became an expert at eluding them – leave through the front bars before they locked the glass doors at quarter to ten (closing time at ten), or climb the iron fence, run like hell. They charged Lesbians usually with consorting – which meant “habitually consorting with known (not convicted) criminals.” Nine “consorting bookings” and you could go up for two years. I only ever got four (in South Australia). Otherwise there was always vagrancy (few out kamps could get or hold regular jobs); drunkenness, obscene language, resisting arrest, or even “being in possession of a stolen hotel glass” – they’d pushed you out the gate with it. They were the Sydney Vice Squad, and they ruled the Cross, hunting [Gay people] and prostitutes. Lesbians were seen as prostitutes – some were – and as sexual outlaws who had broken all the rules and should be able to be arrested for something. They treated us like hunted animals; our visibility angered them, and they wanted us to disappear.

As for us, we saw the police as a natural catastrophe – like floods, fires, earthquakes. There was nothing you could do about these things except to try and escape them. We had no analysis, no understanding that society could be changed. We simply tried to survive, as ourselves, as kamp girls, natural rebels. We did not feel that the police might not be entitled to hunt us, but accepted them as inevitable.

I was beaten up for suggesting that a woman ask for a lawyer. It was seen as a stupid – even dangerous – suggestion. Fighting back with threats of lawyers would only make the police even angrier at us. But part of me felt that what was happening was unfair and unjust, though I had no idea how things could ever be different.

Melbourne and Adelaide were exactly the same. The public Lesbian scene was dangerous and difficult. There were many other New Zealand Lesbians around, too. In spite of everything, I loved it. The “mateship” was amazing and close, important enough for any risk. And the freedom to be ourselves, to be real, to be queer, affirmed us.

There were private, closeted scenes, too, but they were hard to find and cliquey. They were fearful of being “sprung” by kamps who were too obvious. They were mainly older, middle-class women. I knew some of them, learned many things from them – like how to behave in a nice restaurant if you are taken to dinner. But they, too, had no sense of anything being able to change – except for the one strange woman who danced naked to Beethoven and lent me de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. She sowed some wild ideas, more than a decade too early for them to make any sense.

I returned to Aotearoa/New Zealand. There were a few more Lesbians around. I had an affair with Anna Hoffman. Anna was a woman constantly harassed by the police. She had hit New Zealand headlines as early as 1956 when, as a sixteen-year-old, she had been deported home from Australia as a social menace. She’d had an affair with artist Rosaleen Norton, billed as “the witch of Kings Cross,” sensationalized in the Sydney press. After this, both the New Zealand police and press hounded her – including the police actually holding up the Lyttelton train when we were on it, in order to take us off and find out what the notorious Anna was doing in their Lyttelton.

As for me, I broke up with Anna and went to work for broadcasting, trying to be more closety by now. The police still raided our parties, so we tried to establish a pub for Lesbians. Very important, because drinking was vital – women weren’t supposed to, so it was a rebellion and an affirmation of our denial of conventional femininity. We did not identify with square women. There were us kamps – both boys and girls – and them, all those heterosexuals. If anything, we had more contact with heterosexual men, some of whom were quite friendly to Lesbians. Most heterosexual women were uptight and nasty to us – especially the “fruit flies,” the square girls who hung around the kamp boys.

Women couldn’t drink in public bars in those days of six-o’clock Closing – in fact, some hotels did not admit women at all. This meant we couldn’t drink at the Royal Oak Hotel, where the kamp boys went, unless we managed to sneak in wearing drag. Finally we found the Western Park, a scungy, unpopular pub then, which agreed to allow kamp girls to drink there.

It was 1961 and the kamp girls’ scene had grown larger. Many Maori had begun moving to the cities, and among them were not only many more Maori drag queens but also Maori kamp girls. They formed the basis of our first Lesbian communities, some of them ex-service [members] with additional knowledge of closet networks there. By now there were about fifteen of us in Wellington who were prepared to “mix” in the kamp life. There were maybe a few more in Auckland, which we visited frequently, driving all Friday night in ancient Fords or Morrises at 40 mph top speed, to socialize together for a Saturday. We also knew kamp girls in Christchurch – about five of them – and we would take the overnight boat to Lyttelton on Friday night, returning Saturday night, as it didn’t sail on Sundays. Intercity relationships were the rage, given our small numbers in each place, and most of our weekly wages were spent on travel.

Some Australian kamp girls visited here, too, inspired by the large numbers of kamps from Aotearoa/New Zealand living over there. Motorbike Bobby and Little Hank made a great impression as they toured in full drag down Queen Street, Lambton Quay, and in Cathedral Square. These were great events in our lives.

There were by now quite a lot of rules in our Aotearoa/New Zealand subculture:

 

• Don’t spring your mates at work or with their families and square

• Always be loyal to all other kamps.

• Tell the police nothing.

• Be butch or bitch, and if you do turn, don’t admit it.

• Maintain that you were “born this way” if you want to be accepted as a real kamp.

• Never have sex with men unless you do it for money.

• Know how to fight, and don’t ever be a coward.

• Drink lots, take your shout [sic] at the bar, and be drunk often.

• Dress with kamp style, always press your pants and iron your

shirt, never be sloppy.

• Be very clean, shower a lot, and keep your fingernails very short

or you’ll hurt someone – and wear short hair.

• Learn to dance the latest. (It was the twist.)

• Don’t get off with your mates’ girlfriends.

• Don’t break up couples.

• Most importantly, learn to lead a double life if you want to hold

down a job. Dresses at work – pants were totally unacceptable in

any job then – and high heels. Learn to tell lies, to monitor

yourself constantly, to always hold back. Kamp girls get fired,

kicked out of flats – always, if “they” find out.

 

And so we lived. But I was also a socialist and involved with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The socialists kicked me out, afraid that I was a “security risk” – queers can be pressured, you know. CND didn’t seem to mind as much – but they were mostly fringe people themselves then. I read a lot, and began to believe in social change.

I read a book, The H*m*s*x**l in America, by Donald Webster Cory. A kamp boy had smuggled it in – no such books were available on open sale in Aotearoa/New Zealand then. This spoke of social acceptance. It also listed the addresses of some American homophile organizations – One Incorporated and Mattachine. I was very excited. I wrote away immediately for their magazines. Through these I discovered the Daughters of Bilitis – the American Lesbian organization started in 1958.

It was hard to get foreign exchange in 1963 but I was able to change some pounds on the street with a U.S. sailor for American dollars and to get a few issues of DOB’s publication, the Ladder. (One and Mattachine had luckily sent their sample magazines free.)

Through the Ladder I found out about the Minorities Research Group (MRG), Britain’s first Lesbian organization, started in 1962. I wrote to them, and subscribed to Arena Three, their magazine. I passed it around the crowd, but very few others were interested. They thought subscribing to such a magazine was really risky, and what was the point anyway?

By now the crowd was much larger. The Royal Oak had opened the Bristro Bar, and women could drink there. With the increasing urban shift more Maori kamps had come to Wellington. I had an important relationship with a Maori kamp girl from Nelson, whose Mormon family, though initially welcoming, finally tried to break the relationship up. But Wellington seemed safer than it had been just three years earlier – there were more of us, and now we had a better place to meet.

But I thought it was important that we organize, as they were doing overseas. I put ads in The Evening Post for the “Radclyffe Hall Memorial Society.” I did get replies and met a few more Lesbians – but no one wanted to start a branch of the MRG in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

The kamp boys were quite numerous by now. They started the Dorian Society. We held a meeting with them but they refused to let kamp girls join. We were very disappointed.

I decided that I must go away, to where there was an organization that I could join, and be part of something that might work for some kind of change. So in late 1964 I left for London – and the MRG.

I sailed from Auckland on the Castel Felice, and the entire known Auckland Lesbian community came to farewell me – all 25 of them by this time – holding the streamers and singing the songs in what was once an important leave-taking ritual for all those kamps from Aotearoa/New Zealand who went permanently into exile “overseas.” I was sure, then, that I would never return.

—Alison Laurie,[i]

oral testimony circa 1989

 

 

 

 

 


[i] “New Zealand Bobby and the Kamp life of Aotearoa and Australia” Alison Laurie Coming Out: An Anthology of International Gay and Lesbian Writings [Stephen Likosky, Editor] (New York 1992), ps. 259-277. Originally published in Finding the Lesbians: Personal Accounts from Around the World [Julia Penelope / Sarah Valentine, Editors] (New York 1990)

_

Copyright © 2021 AC Benus; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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84Mags

Posted (edited)

What a fascinating woman! I spent an enjoyable few hours looking through everything from her LinkedIn profile, to her research and courses taught at Victoria University of Wellington. I listened to her speak about the gay liberation movement. Her candor and commitment comes through in all of her life’s work. 

Edited by 84Mags
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28 minutes ago, 84Mags said:

What a fascinating woman! I spent an enjoyable few hours looking through everything from her LinkedIn profile, to her research and courses taught at Victoria University of Wellington. I listened to her speak about the Gay Liberation movement. Her candor and commitment comes through in all of her life’s work. 

Thank you, 84Mags. Her account is so fascinating, I decided to break it out into two Parts. But this initial section, with her account of life in New Zealand and Australia, is so detailed and yet unaffected; the overall effect seems to be 'charming.'

She has so much to teach to us. Thanks for your comments :)    

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I found this to be a very interesting autobiographical/historical chapter. It reminds me over and again that what seems perfectly normal today in places now considered models of tolerance, was fraught with danger and hatred not very long ago. I feel a debt in this. 

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1 hour ago, Parker Owens said:

I found this to be a very interesting autobiographical/historical chapter. It reminds me over and again that what seems perfectly normal today in places now considered models of tolerance, was fraught with danger and hatred not very long ago. I feel a debt in this. 

Thanks, Parker. We must not forget how hard Laurie and her colleagues worked for Gay Rights. Part 2 will detail more of her mature efforts, and we should remember it took decades of sacrifices to bring marriage equality to both countries, only passing in New Zealand in 2013 and Australia in December of 2017 (so, 2018 -- four years ago). The people who made their life's work liberty for our kind deserve to be better known, and I'm glad some accounts are out there for younger generations of LGBT+ folks to read :) Thanks, as always, for your comments 

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