yesterday's heroes

The Golden Mile Gallery Exhibition pays tribute to several of the leading gay cultural figures of the late 1970s/early 1980s in the Yesterdays Heroes component at the Oxford Village Centre in Oxford Street. Some of them are featured elsewhere in the exhibition, but are singled out here for their unique contributions to the gay cultural milieu which gave birth to the Gay Mardi Gras.

 

They are:

David McDiarmid (1952–1995) was an artist and political activist whose work concentrated on gay male identity and HIV/AIDS. Actively involved in the Gay Liberation Movement of the 1970s he became the first person arrested at a gay rights protest in Australia in 1972. As artist and artistic director for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras he designed spectacular floats and street sculptures for the annual parade. As a graphic designer he designed posters for Mardi Gras, Sleaze Ball, candlelight vigils and other events. His Safe Sex and Safe Injecting posters of 1992 were acclaimed internationally. In 2017-2018 his famous Rainbow Aphorism art works, focusing on the politics of AIDS, were exhibited throughout the London Underground network. - Sally Gray

 

Peter Tully (1947 – 1992) grew up in the coastal resort of Lorne in Victoria, and in 1969 joined fashion designer Linda Jackson and her partner Fran Moore on the hippie trail through South East Asia to Europe, where he was particularly impressed by museum collections of African and Oceanic art. Returning to Melbourne in 1973, he met the artist and activist David McDiarmid, the two becoming lovers for the following two years and remaining lifelong friends and collaborators.

In 1975, Peter and David moved to Sydney where Peter became involved in making his iconic plastic jewellery to sell at Paddington Market and Jenny Kee’s fashion store Flamingo Park in the Strand Arcade.

During an extended stay in New York in the late 1970s, Peter became inspired by the black and Hispanic dance club Paradise Garage, which along with his travel experiences helped form his aesthetic of ‘urban tribalwear’. Both Peter and David were involved in gay liberation cultural politics and the events of 1978 that led to the formation of the Gay Mardi Gras. Peter became the Artistic Director of Mardi Gras from 1982 to 1986, and through the establishment of the Workshop contributed greatly to its transformation from a political march to an internationally renowned cultural phenomenon.

 

Doris Fish, AKA Philip Mills, (1952 – 1991) was a founding member of the radical Sydney drag troupe Sylvia and the Synthetics (1972 – 74), and a member of The Tubes in San Francisco from 1976. She was the US West Coast correspondent for Sydney’s Campaign magazine, and starred in the film Magazine Movie as ‘a fake woman from Australia who has won the heart of San Francisco’. In the late 1970s, Doris moved between San Francisco, where she established the cabaret troupe Sluts-A-Go-Go, and Sydney, where she compered Cabaret Conspiracy in Darlinghurst with Jacqueline Hyde. The B-Grade science fiction drag movie Vegas in Space, which she starred in and co-produced with Phillip R. Ford, was a decade in the making, and caused a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival in the year after her death in 1991.

Her prodigious talent and dedication were honoured by her adopted city when the Mayor or San Francisco proclaimed Doris Fish Day on 3 November, 1990.

 

Michael Matou (1947 - 1987) was an extraordinary Australian talent who bridged the worlds of burlesque strip-tease and mainstream theatre.  

He was discovered in 1975 by Lindsay Kemp while working in burlesque cabaret at the Pink Panther in Sydney, and invited to join his company in London. Matou also worked the strip club circuit in Europe, performing with burlesque queen Elizabeth Burton as The Dirty Dingos. 

Matou produced Café Debris in London in 1977, and returned to Australia in 1979 where he formed Sideshow Theatre Company, with Martin Raphael, Fifi L’Amour, Kevin English, Simon Reptile, Cigarette and lighting designer/operator Barbara Williams. The company performed Burlesco at Garibaldi’s in Darlinghurst, Nimrod Downstairs and Melbourne, and staged a memorable production of Café Debris at the abandoned Gladstone Hotel in William Street.

In 1980 Matou opened the new Tivoli in Sydney with the Hi Spots extravaganza, after which he accepted an invitation from Lindsay Kemp to re-join his company, touring with various productions in Australia and Europe. He continued to work solo in theatre and film, basing himself in Barcelona, where he designed and directed at the Bel Epoch nightclub.

 

Fifi L’Amour (1954 – 2012) was the undisputed queen of cabaret in Darlinghurst in the 1970s. Her effervescent personality was a key element in the success of Cabaret Conspiracy, a radical artist collective which staged regular Sunday night performances at Garibaldi’s in Riley Street. The shows were compered by two outrageous drag queens Doris Fish and Jacqueline Hyde, whose acid-tongued wit aimed at the performers lent the cabaret much of its character. As Cabaret Conspiracy grew in strength and numbers, it began creating ‘specktacky’ shows ‘with a cast of thousands and a budget of 20c’. At the Queen’s Birthday Party at Lulu’s in Darlinghurst, Fifi performed her famous full-frontal royal striptease – a somewhat confronting performance for the time! Other major shows included Cabaret Conspiracy at Maxy’s in George Street, and the Rock’n’Roll Death Show at Side FX in Darlinghurst, where Fifi played a drunk and desperate Janis Joplin. She starred in Sideshow Theatre Company’s productions of Burlesco, Café Debris and Hi Spots, after which she moved to Amsterdam where she continued to perform until her death in 2012.

Sasha Soldatow (1947-2006) disrupted the early gay liberation movement with his polemical pamphlet What Is this Gay Community Shit, one of several artisanal publications he produced of drawings, poetry, and political/personal protestations. He never swerved from anarchist values and a penchant for provocation, while participating in action for inner-city housing and tenants’ rights, prisoners’ rights and prison reform, defying censorship, and shocking the shockable. Sasha wrote many short pieces, two books of uncompromisingly modernist prose, Private Do Not Open and Mayakovsky in Bondi; a scholarly introduction to a selection of Harry Hooton’s poetry; and an “autobiography” co-authored with protege Christos Tsiolkas, one of many writers he mentored. He went to live in Moscow in 1991 but his dreams of returning to his Russian roots collapsed along with the Soviet Union. Devoted to friendship, gossip, art, and attending all the parties, Sasha is remembered for his stylish hospitality and invigorating conversation, and for several electrifying performances of his cabaret-style suite of poems, The Adventures of Rock-n-Roll Sally. The poster and other of his art works remain on many walls.

 

Wendy Saddington (1949 – 2013) was Australia's underground First Lady of Soul. She first appeared on stage at Melbourne club the Love In, and went on to be the lead singer with the bands Chain and Copperwine, and an agony aunt columnist for Go-Set magazine. In Sydney, she became a regular performer on the underground scene, appearing at The Arts Factory in Goulburn Street, Chez Ivy at Bondi Junction, and with Sylvia and the Synthetics and Cabaret Conspiracy. She was a star performer at Australia’s first rock festival Pilgrimage for Pop at Ourimbah in 1970, and at the Wallacia Festival in 1971. She had limited success with an album Wendy Saddington and Copperwine Live, and her 1971 debut solo single Looking Through a Window. Wendy had a reputation for hard living, and was plagued by the use of alcohol and drugs. She adopted Krishna Consciousness in the 1970s and took the name Gandharvika Dasi. In 1983 she formed Wendy Saddington Band, and later formed a duo with pianist Peter Head, performing mainly at the Civic Hotel and in various venues in Kings Cross and Darlinghurst. When she died in 2013, Australia lost perhaps its best ever blues singer.

©  OXTRAVAGANZA