Tambourines, Whistles and Fans

“What an irrational, ecstatic, erotic, silly, FUN thing dancing is.”1

In 1977, I wandered into a record store in Granville, and discovered, hidden to one side of the female vocalist long-plays, a small selection of the, until then, unheard of 12” singles. I walked out of the store with a copy of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” – at the exorbitant price of $2.99 – under my arm, and thus started what has been for me, a continuing love of dance music.

Around the same time, I started to frequent the city’s discos, usually starting my night out at “Downunder” in the Hyatt Kingsgate in King’s Cross. Then, if I was feeling adventurous, I would wander down to “The Zoo” in William Street or over to “Jools” in Crown Street. On odd occasions I wandered down Darlinghurst Road in the Cross and passed by a gay disco called “Zig Zag”. How I longed to enter that glitzy, glittery doorway, complete with camp spruiker, but fear always stopped me just short of a grand entrance. A lesbian friend of mine, who my father thought was my girlfriend – and he hoped that I would marry – had taken me to Oxford Street on a number of ‘dates’. Even though we never went into any of the discos situated there (a gay friend of hers owned a coffee bar in Bourke Street called “Nana’s”, and she went there primarily to socialise with Nana, and his friend, Cupcake). I can still remember all the exotic names. There was “Patchs”, “Flo’s Palace”, “Tropicana”, “The Barrel Inn”, “Tina’s Bar” and “Capriccio’s”, not to mention a street teeming with male sexuality – at least, as sexual as the 70’s were able to get.! I would wander back home on my own at 6.00 in the morning, depressed and with the dread that I was, eventually, going to die a virgin. Fortunately, my luck was about to change.

In late 1978, my father killed himself. This act on its own would not have been enough to prompt my ‘coming out’, despite him being the main cause of all my sexual repression, but it did imbue me with an immense feeling of freedom. A national retail company that I worked for at the time asked me, in late 1979, if I would like to spend some time in Melbourne to troubleshoot their two retail stores there. Two days after they asked, I found myself on a plane to Melbourne. I also found myself, blessedly, far from friends and family. No observers, no critics. I was answerable to nobody but myself. I ‘came out’ – definitely with a bang, not with a whimper! As a means to an end – in that it would give me contacts on the gay scene – I joined a collective of gay Catholics, becoming a member of a group called “Acceptance” and after that there was no holding me back. I was 25 and damned horny, and any male that was half decent looking and capable of walking was my prey. I was free at last!

The first gay disco I attended which taught me the meaning of ‘cruising’ – and that you had on occasions to say no to someone’ – was also the place I picked up my first man. Or more correctly, he picked me up – and I discovered that I liked older men of a certain type – he wasn’t the type. No worries, there were plenty more nights, and plenty more men, to come. I also discovered around the early 80’s a huge discrepancy in the way 70’s music was being historically treated. All of the music documentaries I saw that covered that period stated that disco music had died in 1978, with the temporary closure of ‘Studio 54’ – it rather unsuccessfully continued its existence until 1986 – and with the advent of ‘New Wave’ music. How misinformed they were! Disco music never died. It did, however, undergo a huge shift in sound to Hi-Energy, and style (the advancement of drum machines guaranteed a continuous, accurate beat, and provided a heavy drum/percussion background to modern dance music), then moved itself underground to the care of the sector of the community who could love and cherish it the way it deserved. It became a gay icon!

So started my life as a gay male. Like Sydney, Melbourne had its own underground gay press, and its underground gay scene. It wasn’t hard to get the local gay rags, you just had to know where to go. It was often a bit more difficult, however, finding the gay venues. The people may have been ‘out’, but the venues weren’t. Through the press, I started reading about a disco in St. Kilda called “Mandate”. Deciding that I liked the sound of any disco with the word ‘man’ in it, I decided on a night out there. Friends had already introduced me to places like “The University Club” in Collins Street in the city, where after 3am all the gay cabbies were on the prowl, and only too willing to give you a free ride home in return for a ‘favour’. There was also the young trendy “Smarties” in North Melbourne, the very butch “The Laird” hotel in Collingwood, “Ryders” in Fitzroy, and the drag queen haven of “Pokies” in St. Kilda. But they were nothing compared to “Mandate”! The gay scene was spread over a wide area in Melbourne, unlike the gay ghetto that eventuated in Sydney – and I now think it may be the one reason why the gay scene remained ‘gay’ in Melbourne, long after it started turning straight in Sydney. I was often less afraid to go to gay venues in the southern city, because if the straight boys wanted to go ‘poofter baiting’, it would have cost them a fortune in petrol, and it was too much of a hassle to drive from suburb to suburb, so one usually went unmolested, no matter which venue you went to.

The first time I went to Mandate, I walked past the entry door about six times. It’s not that a door wasn’t there, it’s just that it wasn’t wide open and there was no sign telling me to knock. I suddenly realised, after watching others enter, that I had to announce to the ‘door bitch’ that I wished to enter after being ‘checked out’ through a small covered window in the door. If I passed muster, which wasn’t a problem, being young and pretty, I got straight in. And I walked into another world! There was a small ticket office at the bottom of a flight of stairs. After paying the couple of dollars it cost to get in, I climbed the stairs, ignoring the sexual exploits going on under my feet. I then entered male paradise! The bar was set up directly to the left of the entrance door. If I turned to the right, I headed toward a huge cruising area, with a dance floor at the far end. There was a narrow, ‘L’ shaped area running around the dance floor filled in with metal bars, and it was in the cruise area behind these bars that I had my first experience with public sex. And enjoyed it! But that really wasn’t why I was there. It was the copper dance floor spread with a layer of talcum powder – to give it slip; the incredible light show; the constant, primitive driving beat of dance music that kept me riveted there; boys stripped down to the waist, covered in sweat; the ever-circling amyl bottle, and the blast of whistles to tracks like “Rock Your Body” by 202 Machine, “Hills of Katmandu” by Tantra, “Don’t Stop the Train” by Phyllis Nelson, “You Can” by Madleen Kane and “Hit ‘n Run Lover” by Carol Jiani. I would take a huge whack of amyl up my nose, spinning out on the floor for a few seconds. I would inevitably end the night in somebody’s bed, usually not my own. If I was lucky, they might speak to me again and if I was really lucky, I might fall in love for two weeks. That’s all it was about! The lights; the dancing; the naked flesh; the sweat and the sex. It was intoxicating! I became a clone and revelled in the tribal symbolism of ‘belonging’.

The Aussie gay clone could not have happened anywhere else except in the sub-cultures of the gay community. No.1 or no.2 haircuts, handlebar moustaches, ‘Bonds’ tee shirts or singlets, flannelette shirts, Levi ‘501’ Red Tab jeans and boots, “King Gee” shorts. It was a uniform, and it was gay. After years of stereotyping gay men as effete, arty, and poncey, we fought back with a macho extreme. By day, I was a mild, well-mannered retail manager, with a somewhat extreme haircut, and a pierced ear – its extremism reaching even the upper echelons of power in Sydney and almost costing me my job. But by night, I came into my own as a nightclub clone – the term nightclub was preferred to disco by this time. Many adopted the ‘Village People’ look of hardhats or ‘Akubra’s’, and as far as most of us were concerned in the nightclubs, all this type of regalia was totally acceptable and part of the clone persona. The gay elite – read: old and conservative – were aghast at this new, unabashed sexuality, writing tomes into the gay rags about how we were adopting straight stereotypes to exhibit our own lack of masculinity. I wrote a letter into “Campaign” newspaper – it had not achieved magazine status at this time – accusing them of being ‘cloneophobes’, sadly locked in their tired, conservative, in-the-closet- sexuality, listening to their Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand records, unable to express themselves as gay men, as the new, younger generation were doing. This new generation of gay was no longer content to have circuit dinner parties, or arrange nights at the theatre or the opera. They had a new freedom, which was being expressed, with revelry, through our nightclubs. Nobody wrote back to argue with me. The battle for the rights of clones was won!

In early 1982, news from overseas was filtering through via the gay press that rare forms of pneumonia – called PCP – and a cancer called Karposi’s Sarcoma, were killing gay men – seemingly very selective diseases, only picking on a minority group who were sexually ‘different’ – who frequented the baths and backrooms in San Francisco. Like everyone else at this time, I thought “Oh yeah, another STD to worry about. Can’t be any worse than the crabs, or a dose of the clap. They’ll find a pill for it”. It didn’t turn out quite that way. At the same time, I decided I had had enough of Melbourne. I couldn’t have coped with another winter down there. I was homesick for the beautiful harbour. News from the Sydney gay community was of boom times, a scene very much tied into what was happening in Melbourne. ‘Capriccio’s’ caught fire, ‘Patchs’ caught fire, and ‘Tropicana’ caught fire. Sydney was literally burning. It didn’t sound like a thriving scene if one relied on reports in the ‘Sydney Star’ newspaper, but visitors from Sydney raved about the new venues replacing those that had been incinerated, especially the ‘Midnight Shift’, which had risen like a phoenix out of the ashes of ‘Tropicana’.

I yearned for my birth city. I fell in love with a ‘bear’ from Waverton who was visiting Melbourne, and decided to move back north. The bear turned out to be a psychotic, but that’s another story. I fucked him off, moved into a unit – with harbour views – in Neutral Bay, flatting with a radio announcer from 2SM a a plutonic relationship, I can assure you – and proceeded to get on with life. I joined the soon to be defunct Gay Rights Lobby – defunct because we obtained gay rights. We gained the right to have sex with another man without being arrested, and anti-discrimination laws were set in place. I decided to be apolitical from then on – until HIV came along anyway. The gay ghetto of Oxford St – ‘The Golden Mile”, or “Vaseline Alley”, depending on who you were talking to – was a seething mass of depravity, deviancy and sexuality. I automatically felt at home, joining in with gusto. It was also wall-to-wall clones. I felt doubly at home. Like most people in Sydney, I had my regular haunts. Not for me were wasted hours of hot, steamy sex in the baths, or the cravings for anonymous sex in the gloryholed back-rooms and sex clubs like Club 80, that many frequented. I had only visited the baths once, and that was to get off with a friend of the ‘bear’s’, who I met while I was still living with him. Don’t get me wrong, I never wanted for sex! But more on that later.

Until The Oxford hotel opened in 1982, my Saturday night out always started at The Albury. In some respects, The Albury has never changed. Clientele would be spilling out onto the footpath by 10 PM, and drag shows are synonymous with the place. If you were into the leather scene, your haunt would be The Beresford, but a fire in that hotel around ’84 changed its character forever, and the leather brigade moved on. I met my third long-term lover at The Albury, really a substitute for the guy I was actually after – his flatmate John. I hoped that by having a ‘thing’ with Frank, perhaps, by some perverse stroke of luck, I might eventually be screwed by John. It never happened, though John and I ended up good friends. However, Frank’s reign as my partner was only to last until I realised that there was a world of men out there for the taking. I was missing out on too many opportunities and his bleached hair and tinted eyelashes became too artificial for my liking. I dumped him!

So, as I said, The Oxford opened in late 1982. It became a clone haven overnight, and was my regular watering hole for the next fifteen years. I survived two of its reincarnations, but the third was just too much, a little too trendy for its old clientele. But in 1982, it was heaven, a paradise of the latest dance music, and the hottest, sweatiest men. One thing I will always say about gay men – it doesn’t take much encouragement to get them to start removing their gear. It was also home to several Oxford Street institutions – well, institutions at the time, anyway. Dexter was an idea stolen by one of the pub managers after visiting the States. It was an electronically controlled penis that sat on a trapeze hung from the ceiling toward the back of the pub. Underneath the ‘head’ was a mouth, the entire apparatus being controlled from the dj’s box, tucked away against the west wall of the main bar. At designated times during the night, some popular dance track like “Maybe This Time” by Norma Lewis would start playing, the trapeze would start swinging, and Dexter would go into a full mime routine. Very camp. Dexter’s demise came about after some Yank visitors to our fair city went back to the States and dobbed us into the copyright owners. They threatened to sue if Dexter didn’t hang up his balls, so the next thing we knew, he was gone. As far as I know, he is still packed away with a heap of other props in the roof of The Oxford.

Regular Saturday night visitors to The Oxford were ‘The Planet Sluts’. These guys were really over the top as far as gutter drag goes, being the models that I eventually used to put Cleo, my own gutter persona, together. They would appear from nowhere, often accompanied by the blessed Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. There would be frocks for days, wigs backcombed to within an inch of their life, make-up and moustaches that were totally over the top. They would barge their way through the front door, climb up onto the bar, and mime to whatever dance number happened to be going at that time. I always wanted to be a member of that troupe, but as with all these groups, it was all very cliquey. I did have the privilege of fucking with Carl, out of ‘Carla and the Cosmetics’; a drag trio who used to perform at ‘The Honest Irishman’ at Camperdown. It is a claim to fame that probably only I and Carl remain alive to remember. So that would be how most nights started out.

However, this wasn’t just how things started out on a Saturday night, or Saturday and Sunday night for that matter! In those bad, bad old days, I went out every night of the week. I didn’t work to live, and I certainly didn’t live to work. I worked to earn enough money to dance, party, and play the game hard. I went out seven nights a week, often not getting home until 3-4am, getting up at 7am to get to work, then going back out again at 10pm to repeat the cycle. There were many mornings that I turned up at work straight from some piece of trades home. But every night, the pub was just a prelude to what was to follow at The Midnight Shift. If I had enough sense, I’d leave The Oxford at 11pm to go to The Midnight Shift. I would always walk down the left-hand side of Oxford Street, as walking down the right-hand side meant I had to pass “Frenchs”, which was a skinhead hangout. They had a reputation for harassing gays passing by on their own, so I avoided it as much as possible. Being an observer to a number of punch-ups right outside its doors, I had no desire to have my night ruined by any such carry-on. The Shift, as it was affectionately known, had been a pinball parlour in the early 70s, became Club 85 (its street address) in the mid 70s, then Tropicana from the mid 70s up till the fire in ’82, soon after becoming what it still is – The Midnight Shift. It was the nightclub of the clone/macho set.

If I arrived at 11pm, I’d be able to walk straight in. If I left it any longer, which I often did if the alcohol was kicking in early, or the DJ was playing a string of favourites, I queued. Not that queuing was a problem. It gave me a chance to start the night’s cruising, the street being a good place to get in the mood to party. Standing in line with the others, usually with friends, we’d stare blankly into the display window of the manchester store, situated at the left of The Shift’s staircase. The queue more often than not would go back as far as Crown Street. To the right of the staircase was a supermarket, and from 11pm onwards, you could hear its glass doors rattling from the bass of the music upstairs. Like everybody else, I would eventually find myself climbing the long, steep staircase, my senses being assaulted by the music pounding through the walls. Then I would be at the top, ready to pay the entry fee, and enter the inner sanctum. The Shift had a very strict dress code – you either looked macho, or like a clone, or you were banned from entry. We had fought so hard for acceptance of this image, even from our own peer group, that we basically encouraged this sort of stereotyping of The Shifts clientele to maintain the image. This was no world for the well-dressed businessman or the city trendy in Hawaiian shirt and pleated pants. People only got in wearing denim jeans – preferably 501’s – “Bonds” singlets or tee shirts, or flannelette shirts. This and leather! Nothing else was appropriate. We all had the obligatory no.1 (street hardened boys who worked and lived in the ghetto), or no. 2 (guys who had to work, and couldn’t risk being too out) haircuts, nearly everyone having a moustache of one description or another. Back pockets of jeans usually carried a bunch of keys; in the left pocket if you liked to fuck guys (active) or; in the right pocket if you liked to be fucked (passive). Preference was often for a coloured handkerchief or bandana in the respective pocket, the colour giving others a coded invitation as to what you were into – Navy blue-straight sex; red-fist fucking; yellow-water sports; black-S&M; grey-B&D; khaki-uniforms; and white-masturbation (though this later came to signify safe sex). As for me, well, I wore navy blue, and my keys were always in my right pocket. Some guys also liked to carry small teddy bears in either pocket, signifying that for that night at least, they were into either cuddling or being cuddled. There was a strength in that clone sameness, that stripping away of ‘straight’ stereotypes, a feeling that everyone in the nightclub was equal, and male. The Shift only allowed men to enter its hallowed walls…

Seeing as I have managed to get you to the door- you must have had the regulation uniform on, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered getting you this far – feel I should give you a quick guided tour before leaving you to your own devices. To the left of the doorway is the main bar, named ‘Charlie’s Bar’, at least up until Charlie died, early in the AIDS epidemic. It is ‘L’ shaped, and dominated by the dimly lit bar, which is packed. There are four barmen behind the bar, all going flat-strap serving drinks. In an alcove to the left of the bar a guy is smoking a joint, and another sniffing a line of speed from the bar’s corner. As we wonder through the bar (cruising) we come to another doorway on our left. Music is roaring out of it, and as we push our way through the crush of sweat-soaked men (cruising), we find ourselves on a large platform, which overlooks the dance floor. There are rails around it, with several sets of stairs leading down to the extravagantly lit dance space. I pull you to the left, then we wonder along a narrow corridor to one side of the dance floor. This is called the ‘Meat Rack’, being where guys stand if they are not dancing, and are definitely available to be picked up. Unfortunately, it has gained something of a reputation for only having desperadoes as its clientele, those who have little chance of being picked up in the better lit areas, feeling they might be luckier in the dimmer zones. I take you past the dj’s box (cruising), glancing in through the huge glass window. Steven Cribb is playing. No wonder the floor is packed and raging. He is the current supremo amongst our disc jockeys, having earned himself a reputation as a dance floor God. His beat (continuous) mixing is flawless. He can mix a 118BPM record into a 128BPM record, and you would never know a mix was happening until the track change. His music has made The Shift THE place to be on the weekends. However, I am going to keep you off the floor for a while until we finish our tour. We go down several steps, and we find ourselves in a barn-like area, set up with long tables, and benches. There is a bar at the back, but not a lot of people use it. The area is very dimly lit, and it doesn’t take much straining of the ears to deduce that the place is humming with sexual energy. If you glance into that corner, you can see a guy giving another a blowjob, with a similar activity going on only several feet away from them. Instead of taking you up the back for a more intimate look, I will drag you through this door to the left. There is a toilet to the right of us. This toilet is actually used as a loo, or you want to share some drugs around. A corridor is to our left, leading us past the DJs box, then back to the main bar area. As we exit the corridor, you will notice another corridor to the right. This corridor leads past the cloakroom, then the manager’s office – do you want a bottle of “Rush”? I know the owners, so it won’t be a problem – then around a corner to the ‘other’ set of toilets. These are the ones that are used for sex. Don’t confuse the two! Nothing will piss a queen of quicker than having to have a piss, and finding someone getting off in the wrong loo. Now that you know where everything is – you’re going to THOSE toilets, eh – well I guess we’re here for different things – I’m going to love you and leave you. The dance floor calls (cruising). Steven has just put on Yvonne Elliman’s “Love Pains”. Have beat, must dance!..

On most Saturday nights, you could stand in the bar and listen to Steven taking us into a different world with his often impossible mixes. He would mix from “Love Pains” to Eastbound Expressways “Primitive Desire” as people headed onto the dance floor. With its growly under-chant of ‘You Tarzan, me Jane’, it was a dance floor favourite; a definite floor filler. I was often entranced by the lighting technicians, as they started the strobes flashing, and filled the floor with fog. Overhead, eight various sized mirror balls would be clustered together, reflecting multi-coloured flashes of light from the sate-lites and vari-lites situated nearby. A techie would start the sate-lite whirling and flashing through the fog. Suddenly, I would find myself in another world. Stephen would mix “Primitive Desire” into Miquel Brown’s “So Many Men, So Little Time” (This morning, I open my eyes, and everything is still the same. I turn to the guy who stayed last night, and ask him “what’s your name?”). There would be whelps and yahoos from all corners of the room. Suddenly, I would find that I cannot move on the floor. Somebody might hand me a bottle of amyl, and I would take a huge snort of it, placing my thumb over the top to stop the liquid from spilling as we dance around. For a few seconds, my head may spin, the dance beat would become all pervasive, driving everyones feet into a frenzy of sleazy dance. I would find that some guy next to me had stripped off his sweaty tee shirt, and is sharing an ethyl soaked handkerchief with another dancer, also stripped to the waist. More fog would be pumped onto the floor as Miquel is mixed into Hazell Dean’s anthemic “Searchin’ (I Got to Find A Man)”. More hoots and hollers – this is something everyone related to – (Searchin’, looking for love, every place I can, searchin’, looking for love, I got to find me a man). On the speakers at two corners of the dance floor, guys in Speedo’s are dancing with 3’ gold fans, rotating, spinning, and intertwining the fans to the beat of the music. Hours of rehearsal in front of the mirror at home are paying off! Guys standing within range either duck to avoid the spinning fans, or move completely out the way. Steven has the floor ultra hot! God only knows how long it will be before he puts on something to give everyone a break. He has had me on the floor for two to three hours at a time without a break before tonight. This is the magic that a good DJ can spin. He will then mix in the huge anthem of Norma Lewis’s “Maybe This Time” (Maybe this time I’ll be lucky, maybe this time he’ll stay), and the whole dance floor will turn handbag, at last a short break from the endless, relentless beat of Hi-NRG. Often you would find a couple of guys have stripped down to jock straps, and are weaving their way around the floor, their butts glistening with sweat. The pervasive odours are of sweat, testosterone and amyl. This is a domain only male animals can love, and we do! Steven will go for the pull of an oldie with Shirley Lites “Heat You Up, Melt You Down” (I’ll heat you up, I’ll melt you down, let’s do it, do it, do it, come on baby, I’ll heat you up, I’ll melt you down), and I may yell at the memories the track invokes. Oh Romeos “These Memories” (These memories, these memories haunting me) follows, then Earlene Bentley’s “Boy’s Come to Town” (When the boy’s come to town around midnight, I’m gonna find one, take him home. When the boy’s come to town around midnight, I won’t spend the night alone), following this with Divine’s gay anthem “You Think You’re A man” (You think you’re a man, but you’re only a boy. You think you’re a man, you are only a toy. You think you’re a man, but you just couldn’t see. You’re not man enough to satisfy me) then brings the beat down to Princess’s “Say I’m Your Number 1”, which gives some of us an escape route to get to the bar to replenish our drinks before he builds the beats up again.

I would often cruise a guy on the dance floor. He would, hopefully, stand next to me at the bar, and glance at me out of the corner of his eye. My taste ran to navy blue ‘Bonds” singlet, thus anybody who had one on, a greater stimulation if they are so old and well worn that they are more indigo than navy, and worn with a pair of 501’s. If nobody else comes along, you both have already created a frisson. I watch him as he picks up his drink. He smiles at me as he turns from the bar. I check out his butt as he walks back towards the dance area. Nice! Denim-clad. Right up my alley. I have this thing about mid-thirties to early forties guys (I’ll never be that old!). Being young and pretty, I have no problems getting picked up by anyone I fancy.

If I want a break from dancing, I will pull up a stool to the doorway between the main bar and dance area. Just sit, looking like a real sleazy, cruising slut. It works every time. I find older men much sexier than guys my own age, they are more confident than my own peer group. They also don’t throw you out on the street five minutes after you cum, preferring someone to cuddle up to during the night, and usually cooking you breakfast the next morning. Gay life can be a very lonely life sometimes, especially as you get older. They have a network of guys in the same age group, and if you have been good sex – and who my age isn’t! -, the word is passed along, which makes picking up an easy job for a while.

I get my drink, then move to the corner to speak to some mates. They offer me a line of speed, but tell me I will have to go to the toilets to take it. The manager has warned them that the cops are doing one of their token raids on the place, but the right amounts of money have been placed in the right hands, so provided nothing obvious is going on, things will be fine. I disappear into the toilet with one of the guys, and we sniff speed off the top of the cisterns through a rolled fifty-dollar note. This should keep me going for a few hours. He says he will have some MDA next week, maybe with a bit of luck some crystal meth. I tell him to keep me some MDA. The fucking stuff makes me so horny I could fuck my way through a football team.

Just after I returned to Sydney, I went out with some friends one night. I was a bit of a drug ‘virgin’ at the time, always having a slight fear of them. One of the guys gave me a ‘moggie’ (Mogodon), and said if I had plenty of alcohol to drink, and forced myself past the sleepy stage, I would have the best time. Yeah, sure! I sat down just for a little minute and got woken up by the doorman several hours later, telling me the place was closing. I have never done that again I can assure you. If money gets a bit tight, I will wonder up to “Rely’s” pharmacy in Oxford Street, and they will sell me a bottle of pseudo-ephedrine tablets – under-the-counter, of course – for a few dollars. I can get a cheap thrill very much like speed from these. It is better than nothing for a night out, despite playing hell with the water-works.

I return to the dance area, and my eyes are like stoplights. I sort of hope for a quick pick-up, like I had last week. A guy just walks up to me and says, “Do you want to go home and fuck?” This is the entire intro I get until we get back to his place in William Street. I find out I have seen him in an ad on TV. I wish pick-ups could always that easy. Beats sitting around playing games for hours. Suddenly, there is a break in the music. There is the soft ‘hiss’ of smoke being pumped onto the dancefloor, the soft hum of sate-lights and vari-lights being manipulated into position. The strobes start a soft pulse. There is a quiet squeak from the mirror-balls as they start to revolve. The air is electric. Something major is about to happen! From the 20,000 watts of speakers spread over the four corners of the dance floor issues the voice of Gloria Gaynor, an almost whispered “I am what I am, I am my own special creation, so come take a look, give me the hook, or the ovation. It’s my world that I want to have a little pride in, my world that’s not a place I have to hide in. Life’s not worth a damn, ‘til you can say – I am what I am”. Chaos reigns. People run from everywhere in a mad frenzy. We are all on the floor for the biggest gay anthem of all time. Poppers are going from hand to hand, and everyone prepares for the explosion of sound, indicating that the track is about to rage. The lights all go up at once, rainbows of brilliant colour reflect through the smoke. Guys with tambourines circuit the borders of the floor beating them on the palms of their hands to the beat – the first time I took a tambourine onto the floor, I came home with a bruise from the top of my arse, down to my knee. God, it hurt! – the fan dancers take up their positions on the speakers, and everyone starts to blow whistles. It is a wonderful insanity. It is a song about our own lives, the pride and freedom we are still fighting for, the exhilaration of being what we are! We are all as one for the duration of this one track. Gloria Gaynor is Goddess! Steven mixes the heavy drum beat intro of Dee Martin’s “Lover Why?” into “I Am What I Am”. A frenetic pace is being set for the next hour. This will be a long tiring night.

But then the guy I have been cruising joins me on the dance floor, and I think that maybe I’m not so tired after all. At 3 AM, there is another sudden stop with the music, but only for a change of beat. Wind-down is about to start. Everyone is tired and sweaty, though those on speed and MDA sweat for reasons other than dancing. The beautiful low-beat guitar strums of Chaka Khan’s anthem “Ain’t Nobody” throbs through the silence (Ain’t nobody does it better, makes me happy, makes me feel this way. Ain’t nobody does it better than you), then mixes into the fabulous choir styled “Life In a Northern Town” by Dream Academy. The opening notes of Brenda Starr’s “Tonight I’m Gonna Make You a Star” gets the two-hour wind down off to a slow, sleazy start.. Those who were here for just the Hi-NRG leave to go home, or perhaps to traipse up to the Taxi Club for some gambling and drag acts. The die-hards like myself, and my potential evening’s trade start to sleaze dance to the slower beats of the music. It gets a bit more commercial with The Thompson Twins “Hold me Now” being followed by Spandau Ballet’s “Gold”; Patti Labelle’s “Oh, People” – all too soon to become almost a funeral anthem- and “On My Own”; Gazebo’s beautiful Italo sleaze track “Masterpiece” are concessions to gay romanticism. My friend grips me on the butt, and pulls me in close. Most people have left The Shift by 4am, though my trade and myself don’t leave till 5am.

I find it is a bit of culture shock finding yourself on an almost empty Oxford Street in the early hours of the morning. Before I get him home, the sun will be rising, but it is Sunday morning, and I only need a couple of hour’s sleep before I start to get ready for tonight. Sometimes, especially at this hour, I wonder if this is not an addiction, like my cigarettes. But like my smoking, I’m not yet willing to give it up. I am young, and I just want to party, and party! If I have my way, this will never stop, and neither will I.

FOOTNOTE: Just after I returned to Sydney in 1982, I contracted a mysterious illness, very flu-like, but much more severe than any flu’s that were around at that time. Doctors were mystified, and the symptoms disappeared as quickly as they had begun. I never gave it another thought, and it wasn’t until 1985 that it was recognised as sero-conversion illness for HIV.

Timothy Alderman C 2003 @ C2013

The world of the clone - West Brunswick, Melbourne circa 1980
The world of the clone – West Brunswick, Melbourne circa 1980

18 thoughts on “Tambourines, Whistles and Fans

  1. Thanks Tim. Only those of us who lived through that era can really understand just what it was like. When I wrote it, I could see it all unfolding in my head. It made it easy to put myself back in the moment.

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