• The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and historian Robert French leading the 'Churches of Lurv' history tour for Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 2018. (Chloe Sargeant / SBS)
The Sisters of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence and historian Robert French spared no dirty detail on the Sydney Mardi Gras 2018 'Chapels of LURV' history tour.
By
Chloe Sargeant

2 Mar 2018 - 11:05 AM  UPDATED 2 Mar 2018 - 11:07 AM

The 'Chapels of LURV' History Walk was a part of the 2018 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras schedule - and it was a day to remember. 

The interactive tour, which pointed out sex clubs, drag bars, and public beats throughout Sydney's history, was presented by historian Robert French and four members of the Sisters of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence: Sister Salomé of the 9th Mystic Rhinestone, Sister Rowena (Keeper of the Holy Doily), Mother Premonstratensia, and Sister Catheter of the Sacred Immaculate Ejaculate. Try saying all of that three times in a row after a couple of cocktails!

French, a former chair of the Sydney Pride History Group, and Sister Salomé reiterated in their introductions that the point of the group's annual history walks is to share the human stories of Australia's LGBTQI+ history, and pass on knowledge of the area's rich queer history in order to preserve it.

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Green Park

The tour began at Green Park in Darlinghurst, on the corner of Darlinghurst Road and Burton Street. 

When pubs would close at 10pm or earlier (depending on era), crowds of young gay men and women would flock from Kings Cross to late night venues in Oxford Street - the easiest passage to and from these venues was down Darlinghurst Road.

'The Wall' (the tall wall of Darlinghurst Jail) and Green Park was a popular meet-up spot and place for socialising - as well as a well-known beat. 

Sister Salomé of the 9th Mystic Rhinestone said that Green Park was a very fondly-remembered place for many  men; so much so that he has a memento from the park - a piece of the tile from old urinal that once stood there.

It has been attached to ribbon and adorned with a jewel - Sister Catheter of the Sacred Immaculate Ejaculate received the honour of kissing the sacred relic during the tour.

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Taylor Square

French then explained that the green railing in the middle of Taylor Square used to lead down to an underground bathroom, and also used to feature an illuminated sign above the stairs that read, 'MEN'. 

So, the bathroom became a beat - but it was a dangerous one.

The Darlinghurst Police Station, which was known to be one of the most corrupt in Sydney, was right next to it. In the 1920s, the industry term for the station was 'Goldenhurst', because it was so lucrative for corrupt policeman who accepted bribes to turn a blind eye to alcohol, gambling, sex work, and drugs in nearby venues.

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Hyde Park South

After heading down Oxford Street and passing the old locations for gay bars such as Capriccio's, Tropicana (now Midnight Shift), and Signal (now a travel agent), we hit the corner of Hyde Park, where Wentworth Avenue and Liverpool Street meet.

French tells us that this area, and corner in particular, holds a wealth of LGBTQI+ history, including an infamous Turkish bath house, and the Paris Theatre — which screened many queer films and was a safe haven for queer folk before its demolition in 1981.

Just down Wentworth Avenue was also the home of Black Ada's in the 20s and 30s, a gay dance club that was held in an old studio and masqueraded as late night 'dancing classes'. The hostess, Black Ada, would only let you in if she knew you, and it cost 2/6 with supper, booze, and dancing. Police would visit at 1am most Saturday nights, and when the door downstairs was opened to police, a buzzer would be rung, and all the same-sex couples would quickly switch to heterosexual pairing and Black Ada would begin counting as if she were teaching a dance class.

At the southern end of Hyde Park is Museum Station, which was also a well-known beat. It was popular, but nowhere near as popular as St. James Station at the other end of the park. Those who wanted a little more privacy often favoured Museum.

As we walked towards Park Street through Hyde Park, we stopped by a statue of Captain Cook. French explains that that particular area of the park was a popular beat with men opting to have sex in bushes after dark — it became so popular that the council opted to rip up the footpaths to dissuade this (and no, it did not work).

He continues, "This area became a beat because, well... just look at the statue from this angle!"

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Hyde Park North

The northern side of Hyde Park was also a popular sexual meet-up spot - plenty of bushes and foliage, and there was very dim or no lighting. 

As we stand around Archibald Fountain, French tells us that police would often have to get up very close when trying to arrest people for buggery. In order to get a conviction, police would often 'prove' a couple were having sex by shoving their hands in between them to... feel the evidence.

St. James Station

If you ever ask a queer person from Sydney where the most well-known beat in Sydney's history was, they'll likely say St. James Station.

From the time St. James Station was opened in 1926 it became a popular beat, and its popularity has spanned several eras.

Just across the road from St. James Station is David Jones. According to French (and some of the members of the tour audience), once upon a time the men's dressing rooms on the top level were a common hook-up spot.

The staff members would allegedly turn a blind eye to what was happening in the change rooms.

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Martin Place

As we continued our walk through to George Street, we stopped in Martin Place. French told us that Martin Place was historically a popular meeting spot in general in previous eras of Sydney's history, but Martin Place also contained a no-longer-accessible beat.

He explained that the strip used to have underground public toilets, and these would be a popular late night hook-up spot for gay men. 

As we made our way through to Angel Place, French noted that while the location wasn't a beat, it was the location of the first homosexual demonstration, in 1971 - because Ash St used to be the old headquarters of the Liberal Party. 

C.A.M.P (the Campaign Against Moral Persecution), which was Sydney's first gay and lesbian rights group, held a peaceful event outside the headquarters in support of Tom Hughes, a candidate for pre-selection who was being called to stand down for supporting homosexual law reform.

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Wynyard Park

Arriving at Wynyard Park, French told us that a certain stretch of George Street we had just passed was at one point referred to as 'Salt Meat Alley', because the stretch housed many gay bars and pubs in a small distance, and all were heavily patronised by sailors looking for casual sex. 

He added that Wynyard Park itself housed a number of popular hook-up spots for homosexual men - including the now-defunct underground toilets at the southern end of the park.

The location of the former beat is where we gathered for a final group photo of the tour's participants.

If you have an opportunity to take part in the annual History Walks for Mardi Gras, run by the Sisters of the Order Perpetual Indulgence and Robert French, I'd highly recommend you go - the stories are important, the laughter is plentiful, and the whole experience is an overwhelming joy to be a part of.

Plus, it means you'll be able to assist in preserving and passing down snippets of Australia's rich LGBTQI+ history to future generations of queer people. They deserve to know all these secrets — the good, the bad, the ugly and the sexy — too. 

The 40th Annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras will air on Sunday, March 4 at 8:30pm on SBS.

SBS Radio 3 will join forces with Australia's premier gay and lesbian community radio station, JOY 94.9, for a Mardi Gras weekend simulcast, which can be accessed via the SBS Radio mobile app, digital radio and around Australia on digital television.

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