Tag Archives: transvestites

Gay History: Australia’s Secret History Of Sexual Fluidity

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, fluid: The spectrum of sexuality and the labels we use to describe it might seem very new, but if we look back, we can see that Australia’s past is chock-full of queerness, Graham Willett writes.

PHOTO: Sexual fluidity may feel like a new thing but Australia’s history suggests otherwise.

There was a time when we had fewer choices. Respectable people called us “homosexuals”. Vulgar people called us “poofters” and “lezzos”. Generally, we called ourselves “camps” — or sometimes it was spelled “kamps”, which was supposed to refer to a police abbreviation for “known as a male prostitute”. 

These days we have a profusion of labels for “people” — gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*, intersex, queer… It’s usually abbreviated to LGBTI, though I recently saw LGBTIQ+. 

I assumed the + was for HIV-positive people, but I am told that it means “everyone else”, or at least those who are not unambiguously heterosexual and cisgendered. The asterisk on “trans” itself gestures towards a plethora of identities, behaviours, attractions.

It all seems very new — and it is. But not perhaps in the way that people think. What’s new, really, is that people are inventing and celebrating these labels in very public ways, and insisting that society take them seriously. It is the visibility of sexual diversity that is new, and the politics.

Because, when we bother to look, we discover that Australia’s past is chock-full of queerness. 

Same-sex marriage in colonial days

There is, for example, a secret history of same-sex marriage (or “marriage-like relationships” if you prefer) in Australia that goes back to colonial days. One observer reported in 1846 that on Norfolk Island there were as many as 150 cohabiting male couples, happily describing themselves as married and referred to themselves as “man and wife”.

In Sydney, younger convicts had (or perhaps took) names such as Kitty, Nancy and Bet, and lived under the protection of older, more experienced men exactly in line with heterosexual norms of the time.

In the female prison-workhouses in Tasmania, women convicts flirted, and fought for the affections of the prettier girls, who “titivated” themselves to appeal to those they fancied. 

Women sent out as servants were known to behave badly, so as to be sent back to the workhouse where their partner was still incarcerated.

So, too, with cross-dressing. When Edward De Lacy Evans was transferred from Bendigo Hospital to Kew Asylum in 1879 it was discovered that he was a woman.

Edward De Lacy Evans was in 1879 discovered to be a woman, but he had lived, dressed, worked and loved for many years as a man.(State Library Victoria: James Waltham Curtis)

He had lived and dressed and worked and loved for many years as a man. He had married three times — and his third wife had given birth to their daughter in 1877. 

Then there was Bill Edwards, of Melbourne, who, in 1905, was discovered to have been born a woman and became known in the sensational media coverage thereafter as Marion-Bill Edwards. 

Far from shame, though, s/he embraced infamy and turned it into something very much like celebrity, penning an entirely unreliable memoir entitled The Life and Adventures of Marion-Bill Edwards, the most celebrated man-woman of modern times: exciting incidents, strange sensations.

Ellen Maguire, of Fitzroy, was a notorious prostitute, which was bad enough. When it became known Maguire was a man, John Wilson, whom many young men had paid for sex, he was condemned to death by the courts.

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(The sentence was commuted, but he died in prison not long after, broken by his sentence of hard labour, in chains).

Ellen/John is an interesting moment in our history. But so, too, are the young men. Could they really not have known Maguire’s true sex? 

The sexual encounters took place in the dark, with both partners fully dressed, and sexual knowledge less widespread than it is today. It is possible they didn’t know; of course, the penalty for sodomy was death, so they had a pretty good reason for lying about it.

By the 1920s and thirties, Melbourne and Sydney had healthy kamp scenes, where men who loved men and women who loved women could mingle.

Cafes and pubs that catered to bohemians and theatricals and political agitators — and people “like that” were scattered around town. Parks and streets provided opportunities for smouldering glances, an exchange of pleasantries, coded conversations … leading to a quickie, or the start of something wonderful. 

Always quick to adopt new technologies and turn them to their own nefarious ends, kamp men and women used telephones and the post to keep in touch, and found cars and trains to be convenient alternatives to bedrooms and alleyways.

Kamp scenes of the 1920s: the start of something wonderful

In the 1920s, flats became popular as a way of living away from family — perhaps sharing with a ‘friend’ to split the cost. First-wave feminist activism sparked many a romance between middle-class women

Monte Punshon, c. 1920s (Published in City Rhythm magazine, 1985)

Pretty much everything we know, however, we know because something went wrong. Court records and the tattle-tale tabloid press were ruining lives by outing and shaming people, to be sure — but they were recording our history for us, too.

Which means that what we know must be nothing more than the tip of the iceberg.

All those women who passed as men and who did not get caught, all those men who fell in love and lived happily ever after and whose family and friends and workmates did not notice, or pretended not to — these don’t turn up very often in our histories, although historians are still discovering them.

Monte Punshon was born 1882 in Melbourne and was a lover of women. Her great love was Debbie, but this was not her only love affair by any means. She mingled in a very camp world and when Debbie broke up with her, Punshon was consoled by a group of friends she called her “homosexual boyfriends”.

Monte Punshon, c. 1930s (Published in City Rhythm magazine, 1985)

We know about Monte’s life because, unlike many of her generation, she chose to talk about it — beginning at the age of 102! She never used the word lesbian, but she knew herself and created a life that allowed her to be that person.

All of these people — and many, many more than we will ever know — are part of our history. And by “our” I do not mean queer people only — these lives are part of the history of our cities, regions, states, nation. 

We understand ourselves better if we know about them; they remind us that human beings have a remarkable capacity for self-invention: as individuals, and through the creation of scenes, subcultures, communities and movements. That self-invention generates more social diversity that we might realise — and always has.

How we respond to it is the challenge we always face.


Male Criminals Who Became Women Behind Bars,

WHILE US wife killer Robert “Michelle” Kosilek captures headlines for his bid to have a state funded sex change, Australia has a history of violent men who become women behind bars.

Geoffrey Ian Websdale went on a murderous rampage on a country sheep station, shooting the girl who rejected him, killing two others and rendering another young man a quadriplegic.

Years later in a NSW prison, he started wearing make-up and calling himself Michelle.

Noel Crompton Hall put a sawn-off shotgun in a man’s mouth and blew the back of his head off, in a drug deal gone wrong.

While serving time in jail, he got the state to fund his sex change.

Lesley ‘Krista’ Richards Photo: Sally Harding/Supplied

Leslie “Krista” Richards underwent an orchiectomy (removal of the testicles), while in an Adelaide jail after being arrested for offences which have been suppressed. Richards then complained that prison authorities refused to let him wear women’s clothes around the yard.

Paul Luckman partnered his army boyfriend, Robin Reid, in one of the most sadistic child murders in Australian criminal history.

In prison, he became Nicole Louise Pearce and now lives as a woman in Victoria.

As American audiences are transfixed by the story of Kosilek, who strangled his wife in the East Coast state of Massachusetts and is now battling in court to have gender reassignment surgery, news.com.au can reveal the bizarre but true stories of Australian killers who change their gender while incarcerated.

Noel Crompton/Maddison Hall. Photos: Supplied/Cameron Richardson

Maddison Hall was a tattooed 26-year-old drug dealer by the name of Noel Crompton Hall living with his wife in south-western Sydney when he went on a road trip to deliver drugs and gave South Australian man Lyn Saunders, 28, a lift.

The pair argued and Hall shot Saunders in the back and then again in the mouth.

Sentenced to 22 years, Hall began dressing as a woman in jail and self-harming, complaining that he was a woman trapped in a man’s body.

Some transgender inmates can remain in male prisons, where they may become the “girlfriends” of other prisoners, and some are moved to women’s prisons while they are still functioning males.

Maddison Hall claimed he belonged in a female jail, and was moved to the an all-woman maximum security prison, where he gained a reputation as a sexual predator and was charged with raping his cellmate.

Returned to a man’s jail, Hall sued the NSW Department of Corrective Services, claiming psychological trauma and won a $25,000 out-of-court settlement, which funded his full sex change surgery in 2003.

Despite having her parole revoked after appearing on prison video link with a bleached blonde hairdo, Hall eventually gained release in 2010.

Paul Wayne Luckman/Nicole Louise Pearce. Photos: Supplied/Andrew Batsch

Nicole Louise Pearce was born Paul Luckman who joined the army as a 17-year-old and was stationed at the Brisbane army barracks at Enoggera.

There he met Robin Reid and entered into a relationship based on shared interests in weapons, violence, sexual torture fantasies, Satanism and homosexuality.

On May 4, 1982 the pair took a 4WD vehicle down the Pacific highway into NSW, where they picked up two Brisbane schoolboys who were hitch-hiking.

Peter Aston and Terry Ryan, both 13, were handcuffed and driven 60km to an isolated beach near Kingscliff in northern NSW.

Peter was kicked, punched, stripped and hair was cut from his head and pubic region.

Terry was forced by the men to eat the hair and perform an indecent act on Peter, who was hit on the head with a shovel and a rifle, tortured with lit cigarettes and had an aerosol spray ignited near his face.

Peter was then repeatedly stabbed while screaming for mercy, had sand shovelled on to his face and was pushed into a shallow grave.

Sentenced to 24 years, Luckman and Reid were sent to separate NSW jails.

Luckman applied for female hormone treatment in prison and changed his name to Nicole Louise Pearce.

He was released on parole in October 1999 and now lives as a woman in Victoria.

Geoffrey Websdale. Photo: SBS

For Michelle Websdale, it was a case of sexual rejection which sparked his fury on a property called Carrathool near the NSW/Victorian border.

Then Geoffrey Ian Websdale, the 21-year-old had been working as a rouseabout and living in quarters with other young workers and a team of eight shearers.

Websdale had a one night stand with Deborah Astill, 19, who subsequently rejected any further advances from him.

On the night on November 7, 1989, after drinking beer with the shearers, Websdale kicked down the door of one of the cottages where another couple was sleeping.

He shot dead Karen Deacon, 20, and 24-year-old Ian Hutchinson.

He then shot Darryl Lamb in the back, leaving him a quadriplegic with his wounds. Deborah Astill survived with bullet wounds in her arm and back.

In prison, Websdale learned to play guitar. Around 2005, began fashioning his prison greens into skirts and grew his curly hair long.

He asked jail authorities to have his name card changed to “Michelle”.

Other jail transformations:

Prisoner Paul Denyer seeking taxpayer funded sex change while in a Victorian jail. Photo: Supplied

Donald Geoffrey McPherson, convicted of murder in 1978, received a full sentence of 50 years. While in a NSW prison, he began identifying as a woman and changed his name to Kimmie McPherson.

Victoria serial killer Paul Denyer, who is is serving three consecutive life sentences for the murders of three young women in Frankston, Victoria in 1993, is currently battling with prison authorities to be able to wear make-up and female attire in jail.

Lyralisa Stevens, born a man, a transgender inmate in San Francisco, California filed a lawsuit asking the state to pay for the removal of her male genitalia in order to protect him from rape and attack by male inmates.

Robert/Michelle Kosilek sits in Bristol County Superior Court

Forensic psychologist Dr Chris Lennings said inmates who changed their gender were taking on a new identity and leaving behind the factors they didn’t like about themselves, which could include violent behaviour and connections with other violent people.

“There’s a fairly complex set of factors about identity when a person goes through a transgender operation,” he said.

“When a person feels trapped in a male body, they can be angry, nasty and aggressive and once they achieve their gender transformation, they experience relief with their new identity.

“Along with the biochemical changes in a gender changes such as the suppression of (the male horomones) androgens, this can bring about a very powerful change.

“The person can often reject entirely their former self, the person they once was, so as to avoid that violent period of their lives.

“They will form completely new associations, new friends, a new name and find a new, more acceptable environment to live in.”