Amid the clipped lawns and elegant sandstone of Adelaide’s Victoria Square in early summer, malice seems worlds away. It takes an unlikely figure to find the shadows.
Immaculately turned out in electric-blue dress, matching hat and sparkling brooch, Dr Gertrude Glossip could be a convincing stand-in for the Queen.
But today the Adelaide drag identity -“ community activist Will Sergeant out of a frock -“ is in instructive mode as host of a long-running gay history walking tour through the city centre.
Now in its 10th year, Glossip’s tour is one of the few events to have featured at every Feast since the annual Adelaide gay festival began in 1997.
It’s easy to see why. Whether frivolous or firm (we are quickly reminded of South Australia’s poor recent gay rights record), our hostess is the ideal guide to Adelaide’s intriguing but not always happy gay history.
First stop is the Magistrates Court and Supreme Court, opposite one another on the southern side of Victoria Square in central Adelaide.
The courts hosted trials for men accused of gay sex before South Australia became the first state to decriminalise homosexual sex, under gay premier Don Dunstan in 1975.
They were also the backdrop for the ongoing saga of the so-called Pink Files, police documents allegedly kept about gay men.
Dunstan reportedly demanded the files’ removal, but the issue was not resolved, and the premier eventually sacked the then police commissioner. The notorious files have never been publicly released.
Another murky chapter comes to light when we stop at the River Torrens on the northern edge of town, which witnessed the untimely death of academic George Duncan in 1972.
Newly arrived to the city, Duncan visited the riverbank to meet other men of like mind -“ the area was a popular beat. Presumably the victim of a homophobic gang, Duncan was thrown into the river and drowned.
More than 30 years on, his death remains unsolved. A small plaque in his honour stands near where he died, possibly Australia’s first homo monument, Glossip says.
Not all of the tour is so grim. Glossip is amply equipped with entertaining anecdotes and one-liners. Her crowd-pleasing jaunt deftly balances in-depth observations with a general orientation to the city -“ perfect for those new to town.
The previous night, Adelaide’s gay and lesbian community was out and proud on the streets of the CBD for the annual Pride March.
The Feast program began earlier in the month, but last Saturday’s street parade of about 5,000 people was the largest event so far.
Informality was key, and the diversity of participants -“ from aspiring drag queens to S&M enthusiasts and pink-tressed lesbians -“ was a fitting match for the spectators.
Teenage goths, glamorous opera goers and bemused Sudanese watched the parade make its way through the CBD to the relaxed Moveable Feast party.
Small-scale Mardi Gras parade meets Fair Day was the vibe as the crowd partied and prepared for two more weeks of celebration until Feast closes on 26 November.
For more information about other Feast events and bookings, visit www.feast.org.au.
Ian Gould visited Adelaide with the assistance of the South Australian Tourism Commission and Feast.