Back in 1964 Pollys was the Polynesian Social Club -“ one of several semi-underground gay clubs meeting in halls and clubrooms around Sydney.
This weekend, Pollys Social Club is turning 38 and to celebrate, current and previous members will head back to Petersham Town Hall, the site of the club’s second ever meeting.
In the early sixties, social clubs were about the extent of entertainment options for the gay community, apart from a couple of pubs and clubs which faced repeated closures when discovered by police.
But the Polynesians managed to slip under the police gaydar through their good contacts and a bit of luck, 25-year member and club secretary Bill told the Star.
In 1964 there were other groups, but from what I understand most of them didn’t last very long, he said.
Pollys had quite a few professional members when it started. I think a few people involved worked in the legal profession, and the police seemed to turn a blind eye -“ luckily. It was mostly hands off.
Over the years the group’s name changed to Pollys and the core membership slowly changed. The original six members have died, and thousands more have joined the club since, Bill said.
Subsequently, the early history of the club has become cloudy, as well as the origin of its initial Polynesian name.
But the truth according to Bill and other sources is that Polly was a Polynesian drag queen and one of the original six.
One other thing is known for sure -“ Pollys has raised thousands of dollars for charity in its 38-year history.
Originally Pollys raised money for organisations as diverse as the RSPCA and the Children’s Hospital, until the emergence of HIV/AIDS saw the group’s fund-raising efforts shift permanently towards gay-related charities and hospitals.
That’s what we’re all about, really. Helping the underdog, he said.
Pollys has survived through the hard work of a core group of members and use of an extensive mailing list.
The group has also become a Mardi Gras favourite, with an entry in every parade since the second one in 1979.
But Pollys members were involved in the rights movement before the first parade, Bill said.
We’ve been a part of the scene for a long, long time, he said.
The club’s also been a breeding ground for many of Sydney’s drag queens. They’ve got a start with us and moved on to different things.
Pollys was also responsible for introducing the notion of Gay Games to Sydney. Until the mid-1990s the Poly-lympics attracted up to 2,500 competitors a year -“ in events as diverse as drag racing, handbag throwing and egg and spoon racing.
Since its inception Pollys has been based in Sydney’s inner west -“ a deliberate decision by club members.
We could have gone into Paddington Town Hall years ago but we didn’t because we thought we’d lose our identity.
We wanted to keep it suburban. But inner-city suburban.
As for why Pollys has stuck around when so many other gay and lesbian social groups have come and gone? Bill: I think Pollys has lasted so long because it has no boundaries. What I mean, it’s not a strictly boys’ or girls’ place, it’s not a strictly young person’s or older person’s place. And it’s a really friendly atmosphere.
And of the future? Bill said the club’s members would wait and see -“ but plans for a big 40th birthday should ensure Pollys’ survival for a couple of years yet.
Pollys 38th birthday celebrations will be held at Petersham Town Hall, Crystal St, Petersham, on Saturday 27 July from 7pm.
Tickets are $18 or $14 concession. Bookings are available through Bill or Tony on 9750 7035 or Brendan on 9591 3991. Party-goers can BYO or buy over the bar and snacks will be available.