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Lesbian/Gay Historical Walk of Wellington

Welcome to the third lesbian/gay historical walk of Wellington.

Unfortunately, many of the places marked on this map are now "sites of" only, the premises having been demolished in the orgy of earthquake-proofing destruction of the late 1980s. Our tour of the underlined [*] sites is mainly of those that remain, in the eastern part of the city.

As we more and more gain our rightful recognition in society, it becomes harder and harder to remember how essential it was for people to hide their same-sex inclinations and activities. (We can not say their "lesbian or gay identity" because there was no such thing. They identified only in terms of heterosexuality, as "inverts" for example.) We have to snatch at hints and indirections, and compensate for heterosexual resistance to the possibility that their heroes were "like that".

*1. 16 College St, formerly an Adams Bruce chocolate factory. On February 6, 1946, company manager Miles Herbert Radcliffe, a "known homosexual" who entertained men on a couch in his office, was found battered and strangled in the side doorway. "A sexual dispute" is thought to have been the motive, though the culprit (probably a sailor who left the country forthwith) was never found.

*2. Queen Victoria's statue. The famous story that she denied the possibility of lesbianism when the Labouchere Amendment, criminalising all same-sex activity, was introduced in 1885 - resulting in lesbianism's omission from the Act - is probably false. More likely is that the gentlemen attending her struck it out rather than even mention it, or feared (as the House of Lords did nearly 40 years later when an attempt was made to add it to the statute) that criminalising it would alert women to its possibility. The story was useful, however, when her statue was made the focus of a demonstration in 1977 promoting lesbian visibility on International Women's Day.

*3. Dominion Hotel, Tory St, lesbian and gay watering hole, 1980s.

*4. 41 Vivian St. Site of Club 41 (the first lesbian club). The site was offered by Carmen in 1973 and a group of four lesbians bought the lease and ran it as a women-only club until it closed in 1977, partly owing to licensing problems - it had no legal liquor licence.

*5. c86 Vivian St. Site of Carmen's Coffee Lounge, gathering place for both gay men and lesbians. Prostitution took place upstairs, arranged by a code involving placement of cups and saucers.

*6. Wigan St. Site of the Lesbian Club, September 1984-1985. Shifted to 41 Vivian St upstairs, then to Tory St.

*7. The Evergreen. 144 Vivian St, site of the Gay Community Centre, 1986-1989.

*8. c148 Vivian St. Site of The Knutcracker, formerly an early morning gathering place, especially for transpeople.

9. Watson St. Site of the boarding house where Norris Davey (later "Frank Sargeson") stayed when he worked at the Public Trust Office (see site 25) in Wellington in 1929. 1a Watson St and the sleepout at the back were lesbian homes - and the scene of many "camp parties" - for many years from the 1950s on.

10. Lesbians went to The Pub, Ghuznee St, 1977-80 - an important meeting place during this period, because Club 41 had closed. (Firebombed and closed 1980)

11. Willis St, near St Johns Church. Second site of the Dorian Club. c1965-c1970. Women were accepted as members here, later rejected.

*12. Southwest corner of Dixon and Cuba Sts (now DEKA). Mary Taylor (1817-1893), a former lover of Charlotte Bronte (who wrote that she had "more energy and power in her nature than any ten men"), came out from England in 1845 with her brother Waring Taylor and founded a drapery store on this site in 1849, named after herself. It was described as one of the principal stores of Wellington in 1853. Bronte died in childbirth in 1855 without seeing Mary again. In 1859, unable to find anyone here she had anything in common with, Mary sold the store to her assistant, James Smith (who renamed it after himself and later moved it to its present site) and returned to England. In 1870 she collected some articles she had written into a book, The First Duty of Women, "designed to inculcate the duty of earning money on every woman in order to protect herself from the danger of being forced to marry."

*13. Northwest corner of Dixon and Cuba Sts (now Barneys/Twist & Shout). Site of Alfie's 2 nightclub (officially opened by Carmen, specially flown in), 1987 - 1994, first site of the OUT! bookshop, 1987 - 1996, and third site of the Wakefield Sauna, 1992 - 96.

The two Alfie's's (one in Auckland), the Westside (Auckland) Colombo (Christchurch) until about 1991, and Wakefield saunas, the two OUT! Bookshops and OUT! magazine comprise/d the so-called "OUT! Empire" which by default did much to define gay male culture through the 1970s and 80s. According to Brett Sheppard, Alfie's 2 fell victim to more liberal licensing laws, closing when bars were enabled to stay open 24 hours.

*14. Northeast corner of Dixon and Cuba Sts (now The Oaks). Site of The Royal Oak Hotel. The Bistro Bar and the Tavern Bar were notable gathering places for gay men and transsexuals from at least the 1950s to 1979 when the Royal Oak was demolished.

Gay and lesbian gathering was very much under the control of the licensing laws until 1967, when ten o'clock closing was introduced after a referendum. The Bistro Bar was one of the first to bend the licensing laws, abot 1963, by offering a token meal (a bowl of rice for 2/6) and so becoming a licensed restaurant where both women and men could drink until 10pm. Women were not admitted to most public bars at all, and to certain private bars (marked "Ladies and Escorts Only" but commonly called "cats' bars") only with a male escort. This was intended to prevent prostitution. Gay men formed natural escorts for lesbians under this restriction, both finding more interesting company once they were inside.

The Royal Oak of the 1970s features in Barry Nonweiler's novel "That Other Realm of Freedom."

The Toledo (previously the Bamboo Bar, reverting to its earlier name) operated near to the site until 1995.

After the pubs closed at 6pm (till 1967), lesbians and gay men adjouned to coffee bars. Obviouly gay men, like actor Peter Varley, found them safer than pubs:

*15. Herbert St (now Victoria St between Manners and Dixon). Site of the Tête a Tête Coffee Lounge, an important lesbian and gay meeting place in the early 60s.

Other coffee bars:

The Black Cat: Where?

The Sorrento coffee lounge, Ghuznee St - some gay men and a few lesbians met there. Later changed its name to the Sunset Strip coffee bar, 60s and early 70s.

The Man Friday coffee bar, Dixon St - some gay men (such as Peter Varley and his circle) and a few lesbians met there in the late 1950s.

The Picasso, Upper Willis St. Some gay men and lesbians met there in the late 1950s. A lesbian pianist sang and entertained.

*16. Cornhill St (near Regent Arcade). First site of the Dorian Club, 1962-c1965. Women were not accepted as members or even visitors at this site.

17. Willis Street Village, fourth and final site of the Dorian Club c1980-c1987, Outrage (first lesbian-owned private club) 1991-1993, Euroclub 1993.

18. 3 Boulcott St, now part of the Majestic Centre, site of the Lesbian and Gay Resource Centre, 1980-1986. In the basement was a drop-in centre, headquarters of the National Gay Rights Coalition, a coordinating centre for Homosexual Law Reform, and the first site of the Gay Switchboard. The Women's Resource Centre and the Women's Health Collective opened here in 1979. Lesbians were employed by all three organisations under PEP schemes. The Pink Triangle magazine was published from here. On the top floor was the first Lesbian Centre, and the first home of what is now the Lesbian and Gay Archives of New Zealand, object of an arson attack on September 11, 1986. (The attack seems to have been opportunistic, though homophobic messages were left.)

19. 118 Wakefield St. Site of the Sun Sauna, early 1960s - 1976. It was taken over by the OUT! magazine owners in 1976 ("completely changed in format - became openly gay" - Brett Sheppard, though several people report that the christian bookstore on the same floor was a good excuse for being seen going in). It was raided by police in 1981, prompting a demonstration outside the Wellington police station. It was upgraded and its name changed to the Wakefield in 1982 and stayed on this site till 1984.

20. Trojan House (!), Lukes Lane. Second site of the Wakefield Sauna, 1984-92.

21. Carmen's Balcony Internationale nightclub (on the corner of Victoria and Harris Sts, now a corner of the Public Library) had a primarily straight clientele. For dragqueens it was a workplace.

22. Site of the Britannia Hotel, "briefly gay in the 70s, more vulgar" -- John Miller.

23. The Grand arcade, site of the Grand Hotel, "popular with businessmen after work" - John Miller.

The Wakefield, the Panama and other pubs were variously gathering places for sporting lesbians at various times.

24. Lambton Quay near Whitcome & Tombs (now Whitcoulls) and Cable Car Lane. Third site of the Dorian Club. c1970-c1980. Women accepted as members again.

The Federation of University Women (clubrooms, Lambton quay near Cable Car Lane) and other women's organisations (YWCA, CWI) were useful lesbian networking points, which gave excuses for knowing people.

The Public Service played an important role in bringing people from smaller centres to the big city, and those alienated from their families were among the earliest to come:

25. The Public Trust Office, where Nigel Davey worked in 1929. He used Lambton Quay for his "night adventures" and was picked up by Christchurch artist (of plates and tea-trays) Leonard Holobin and taken back to his boarding house (site unknown). Police were watching Holobin and had booked the room next door. They burst in and both were arrested and charged with "indecent assault". Nigel was given a suspended sentence as the "innocent party" but always felt guilty about turning in Holobin (who got five years), lived in seclusion near Taumarunui for some years, and changed his name to Frank Sargeson.

26. Site of the Magistrates Court. The inscription "Fiat Justitia Ruat Coelum" -- Let Justice be done though the Heavens Fall, was carved on the pediment. Scene of many trials of men for "indecent assault on a male" until 1986. Consent was not a defence to the charge.

A notable case was that of (the late Clive?) Palmer-Brown, convicted in 1983 of "being found frequenting a place [site e in the Beats list] with the intention of committing a crime" (a Muldoon law dating from the 1981 Springbok tour). He took it to the High Court where he won, on the grounds that not having made his pass until several minutes after the cute young undercover constable had led him away, he could hardly be said to have been "found" there. The police took him to the Court of Appeal, where he won again, destroying the power of the law.

27. Bowen House. On July 29, 1993, the Human Rights Amendment Bill was passed here after only a day and a half of debate -- but many, many hours of hard work behind the scenes. After a long and hard struggle by lesbian groups throughout the country, the Human Rights Commission Act is now unique in our legislation in including the word "lesbian" in its definition of sexual orientation.

28. Turnbull House. Home and first library of Alexander Turnbull, born in Dixon Street in 1868. He never married, as Time magazine would say. Though he was widely believed in earlier gay circles to have been "a screaming queen" careful research by his biographer failed to find anything conclusive. He was addicted to cocaine.

29. St Andrews on the Terrace. The church made a submission in favour of Homosexual Law Reform in 1985. It was declared an inclusive church on December 8, 1991 after discussion at its annual General Assembly, and the first Wellington Gay and Lesbian Christian (now GalaXies) service was held on May 3, 1992.

30. Grave of William Wakefield, who died of apoplexy as he left a turkish (steam) bath in 1848.

31. Original tombstone of William Wakefield in the little chapel.

32. Grave of Alexander Turnbull.

33. Grave of Harry Holland. The nude statue is the most homoerotic piece of outdoor art in Wellington, and second in Aotearoa only to the Eros outside Auckland Hospital. Though Holland married, he also had a manfriend.

34. Victoria University Students' Union Building, site of lesbian/gay dances for over 20 years, and some of the pro- Homosexual Law Reform meetings in 1985-6.

35. Wellington Cenotaph. The inscription "These laid the world away; poured out the red sweet wine of youth..." is by Rupert Brooke, darling of the Edwardians - and the gay set of his day, such as John Maynard Keynes and Lytton Strachey. Some of his poems are self-hating love lyrics to men, and Tallulah Bankhead is said to have seen his love-letters to men.

36. Parliament steps. Scene of the "Nuremberg Rally" of September 24, 1985, when the infamous 800,000-signature (but not - signatory) petition against Homosexual Law Reform was presented in 96 near-empty boxes. A Pacific Island choir was bused in from Porirua and uniformed flag-bearers formed a cross on the steps, wearing sashes marked "For God, for Country and for Family". The style of the rally probably appalled more people than it convinced. Supporters of the petition were almost outnumbered by opponents, one set of whom carried parody signs, "I Signed 27 Times," "I Was Afraid I'd Lose My Job," etc. Several people, including the late Paul Noble (Puai Nopera) and Neil Costelloe, were arrested.

37. Parliament Buildings. On July 9, 1986, the Homosexual Law Reform Bill was passed here by 49 votes to 44. A Private Member's Bill introduced by Fran Wilde (Lab. Wellington Central), it had been the subject of 18 months of heated Wednesday night debates, marked by the focus of Norman Jones MP (Nat. Invercargill) on "sodomy", which prompted the remark of Margaret Shields (Lab. Kapiti), "I'm going to quite miss having sodomy on Wednesdays."

38. General Assembly Library. Katherine Mansfield was able to borrow books here that were unobtainable elsewhere, such as "Love's Coming of Age" and "The Intermediate Sex" by Edward Carpenter.

39. Western Park Tavern. Lesbian gathering place, 1972-

The farewell party for KM's departure for England was held at Premier House in July 1908.

40. 81 Hill St, Thorndon, studio of Dorothy Kate Richmond, probable lover of Frances Hodgkins, and a mecca for their many lesbian and gay friends.

41. 29 (formerly 4) Fitzherbert Terrace (now the US Embassy) Site of Katherine Mansfield's home 1906-1908 (aged 18-20). She was living here when she had her affair with Edith Bendall - who became Winifred Inger in D H Lawrence's The Rainbow - and possibly with Maata Mahupuku [Martha Grace], but she was no longer welcome there, possibly because they had been sprung. Edith Bendall married and lived to 107, dying in 1986, but latterly would not talk about the relationship.

The house in The Birthday Party was nearby but the site has been excavated for the motorway.

42. 25 (formerly 11) Tinakori Road, Katherine Mansfield's birthplace.

43. Jerome Spencer House, 1 Collina Terrace. Jerome Spencer was a friend of Annie Besant and helped found Theosophy in New Zealand, and also the New Zealand Country Women's Institutes. She wrote to Elsie Locke that her intention in doing so was to bring women together doing something simple and innocuous. Principal of Napier Girls' High School, she lived with another teacher, Amy Large. Amy resigned to marry Frank Hutchinson. Jerome resigned too, and the three lived together in an orchard in Havelock North, carrying on "the Havelock Work" -- spiritualism, morris dancing, pageants, and The Hermeneutical Lodge (hermeneutics = interpretation), and she said "Frank is a very necessary part of the trio," but her meaning remains mysterious.

44. Thorndon Tavern. Until 1994, hosted monthly Dykes Out Of Debt (DOODs) dances, fundraisers for Lesbian Radio, Lesbianline, etc.

45. National Library / Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa and Alexander Turnbull Library. Home of the Lesbian and Gay Archive of New Zealand since 1988.

46. The Thistle Inn. Scene of KM's unpublished lesbian story, Leves Amores. KM had her father's typist Matty Putnam type it up, and it created such a scandal she was first prevented, then encouraged to leave the country.

(The Thistle Inn is now on the corner of Kate Sheppard Place. A suffrage connection: Elsie Andrews, who taught at New Plymouth Girls High School, organised the fiftieth anniversary of women's suffrage. She wrote love poetry to the woman she lived with for most of her life, Muriel Curtain, another teacher at NPGHS. At least 30 Taranaki lesbians, mainly teachers, knew each other in 1910-1930 and willed their property to each other.)

47. Site of the Railway Tavern. Lesbian gathering place (Friday and Saturday nights) 1981-2, and meeting place for gay men and rough trade. "A great push and shove." - John Miller

*48. Site of Chaffers St Bus Depot (now New World). Lesbian bus drivers pioneered concessions (partner passes) for same-sex partners. In 1979, Mayor Michael Fowler vetoed a notice for bus interiors bearing the dangerously inflammatory message, "Lesbians, Contact Your Local Community, phone ...."

49. 232 Oriental Parade, site of the Victoria Club, 1979-1992. Its third-floor balcony provided great summer scenery for and of gay men. The few lesbian members were generally older and less political, but it was home of the Lesbian Club in the last year or so of its life.

For women to live as lesbians required economic independence from men. These female-intensive residential occupations also provided opportunity to meet like-minded women:

50. Site of the Post Office Hostel, Oriental Parade, now "The Gas Heater" (Rafaels). Toll operators were uniquely placed to make contact with each other, on a sort of primordial Internet.

51. Wellington Public Hospital Nurses Home

52. Shelly Bay Air Force Base.

53. Fort Dorset Army Base.

54. Arohata Borstal.

55. Porirua Hospital. Minors (like Noel Virtue at Kingseat), both male and female, could also be committed by their parents for same-sex inclinations.

56. Welllington Prison, Mt Crawford. Men convicted of "indecent assault" (like Leonard Holobin) were remanded here, before serving their sentences in New Plymouth.

D1. The Overseas Passenger Terminal, site of the first Devotion Party, December 7, 1991 (Tickets $20-25)

D2. Shed 26, site of the second Devotion Party, November 21, 1992 - the one with the merry-go-round.

D3. Shed 21, site of the third Devotion Party, November 27, 1993, during which Arthur Tauhore died. The organisers wanted to use this very atmospheric building again, but Lambton Harbour Management said it was unavailable, though strayt dances were held there. There was no Devotion in 1994.

D4. Wellington Town Hall and Civic Square, site of the fourth Devotion Party, February 4, 1995. Wellington Town Hall was also the scene of a memorable anti- Homosexual Law Reform rally in 1985. Two men from the audience standing and kissing amid uproar became one of the motifs of television coverage of the campaign. The Town Hall was also the scene of the party to celebrate the passage of Law Reform in 1986.

Thanks to: Pat Cain, Bill Edginton, Bill Logan, John Miller, Tony Nightingale, Phil Parkinson, Brett Rawnsley, Brett Sheppard, Roger Swanson, Mal Vaughan. - Alison Laurie, Hugh Young

List 2. Beats and Bogs.

Virtually every public lavatory in Wellington has served as a beat at some time in its history. These are some of the more notable.


a. Jervois Quay. (near KM's birthplace) Small and convenient, but it took an agile man to make a quick getaway by climbing the bank behind. Now closed at night.

b. Botanic Gardens Entrance, Glenmore St. Demolished in 198x.

c. Railway Station. The old tiled bog was comfortably large, with many cubicles, and one of the few to provide hot water at the basins. Trax Bar is now on the site, and the new, small, brightly lit bog was the subject of a crackdown, partly because the 5cm holes repeatedly drilled in the partitions attracted unfavourable attention.

d. Magistrates Court. The Spartacus Guide of the late 1980s listed this with some incredulity, but it has a separate entrance (and still stands though the court itself is demolished). Part of its appeal is that one may sit in comfort nursing a beer in De Bretts Hotel opposite keeping an eye on it, and only crossing over when opportunity arises.

e. Public Relations office, Mercer Street. Now overbuilt by the north end of the pool in front of the Wellington Public Library, this featured in a voyeuristic TV documentary in 1985? using a hidden microphone.

It was a few yards away on Mercer Street (now part of Civic Square) that police spoke to the Hon. Colin Moyle in July 1975(6?). Robert Muldoon referred to this as Moyle "being picked up by the police for homosexual activities" precipitating the "Moyle Affair" in November 1976 (and successfully deflecting attention from a question by Moyle about "dishonest dealings by [Muldoon's] accountancy firm").

It was in a small park nearby (now overbuilt by the Public Relations Office) that Palmer-Brown (see site 26) was first approached by the undercover constable who entrapped him.

f. Old Wellington Public Library, upstairs. Later fitted with translucent windows in an attempt to prevent activity.

g. Pigeon Park. Two entrances for a quick getaway. Frequented by young gluesniffers and scene of some gay-bashing in 1995.

*h. The Taj Mahal. Must've been!

i. Central Park. Bog/beat.

j. Aro St. (Alleged scene of a meeting between Bill Sutch and a Soviet agent in 1975; in spite of the constant linking of homophobia and anti-communism by those three famous closets, J Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn, that was not suggested in this case.)

k. Hataitai. Convenient to the bushes of Mt Victoria and Mt Alfred (see site n below).


l. Botanic Gardens at the Japanese Lantern. Said to be a good place to meet university students.

m. Freyberg Pool. There was a time when anyone in the changing room fiddling with a lock would have had an educational experience.

n. Oriental Bay.

o. Mt Alfred (sic, not Albert). Most active between 2pm and 5pm on fine days, it is traversed by many tracks connecting secluded spaces.

p. Breaker Bay.

Q. Paekäkäriki, now QEII Park. This is believed to date back to the days of horse and coach, when it must have taken most of the day to get there and back (by way of Pauatahänui and the Paekäkäriki hill road, the Centennial Highway through Pukerua Bay not yet open). Gay men went there by train in the 1950s. It is safe to assume that it was busy during the US occupation.

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