I think of myself as a Sydney girl as I was born at the old St Margaret’s Hospital in Paddington, but my family was from a mining town called Captain’s Flat outside of Canberra. When I was 13, we came back to Sydney.
After school, I became an apprentice hairdresser, and was also working as a waitress at the old Whiskey A-Go-Go at Kings Cross.
A dancer friend of mine was getting too much work, so she gave me her job as a go-go dancer at Redfern RSL. They needed a dancer, and so I got into the cage and danced. I was 19.
I went off to Vietnam in 1968 as a dancer, but there were some tough times. I was raped by six American soldiers who held a machine gun to my head.
Another time, I had a gun pulled on me and I was forced to have sex with a room full of people. So by the time I became a stripper, I had lost most of the inhibitions.
The first time I stripped was in New York at a place called the Psychedelic Fun House. Amazingly, being a Catholic girl, it didn’t worry me. I actually thought it was beautiful. I never sold my body, but sometimes I think maybe I should have as I could have made a lot of money.
Around this time, I also became involved with some heavy people and with heroin. I was packing it for a friend, and I would pack a bag and snort a line.
I was feeling like such rat shit but, after a year, I discovered Buddhism and it helped me to stop using. I still follow Buddhism to this day, and feel I am a lucky woman because of that.
I landed an agent and travelled all over America, and then through Japan, Malaysia and Singapore. I was in Spain in 1978 when I met the man who was to become my husband. His name was Michael and he was a dancer.
We just connected, but then I moved back to Australia and we lost contact. By that time, he had met his partner Ian in Europe and they had moved to Sydney as well. One day, we bumped into each other in the toilets in NIDA, and the first thing he said to me was, Do you have a joint, and will you marry me?
I married Michael as he was an American and he wanted to stay here to be with Ian. I knew it would help their lives, so I said yes. And anyway, no one else asked me.
On our wedding day in 1980, I wore top hat and a G-string, and he wore a veil and white tights, and we both jumped out of the wedding cake. It was a marvellous day.
I fell pregnant with my daughter Libbity on the August Full Moon, 1981. Her father Keith was a musician from Bermuda, and this night was the one night we ever had intercourse.
I still stripped until I was five months pregnant, with a big corset and even bigger bosoms. I thought a pregnant stripper was quite a novelty, but the boss wasn’t so convinced and said I couldn’t work until the baby was born.
So Michael and Ian asked me to live with them. We had our days, but we made it work. They both told all their workmates about me being pregnant and when Libbity was born they ran around handing out cigars, so everyone presumed they were the fathers. They were both great dads and absolutely adored her.
At that time, as far as most women were concerned, I was very politically incorrect. I was doing a play in 1984 that had a role of a stripper and the other performers did not want to work with me. Then when I did my act, the lesbians threw fruit at me. You would think I would be a tough old creature, but that broke my heart.
My gay friends through this time were my loyal beautiful friends, but between 1985 and 1995, I lost a total of 50 people due to AIDS. It was like a holocaust.
Ian died in 1990 and Michael died in 1991. It was devastating. Libbity was eight when Michael died and, while she called him Daddy, I would not let her go to the funeral. She was angry about it, but I was too busy dealing with my own crap to realise all of that.
It’s not easy being a parent. You do your best. Libbity is now 24, and I am so proud of her. I thank God every day that she chose to come into my life, although she says Lady Di and Olivia Newton-John had already chosen their children by that time so she had to come to me.
I still love stripping and feel fortunate that this is how I have lived my life. It is truly joyous. The attitude to strippers has changed. I have continued to work with Gurlesque and I recently did the Adelaide Fringe Festival.
Women are allowed to like themselves so much better these days. Their bodies are not the rude and dirty things they were always told they were.
Stripping is also fabulous exercise, and I give striptease dancing classes and remind the women they are goddesses and are pretty fabulous. Who is going to reinforce that if you don’t?
Interview by John Burfitt
Elizabeth And Libbity screens on The Two Of Us on 6 September at 8pm on SBS.