The Pollys began back in 1964, but the first time I came in contact with them was Easter 1981 when I met Amber, one of the original members. Amber was one of the showgirls, and invited me to the next Pollys dance at the old Coronation Hall at Mascot.
The thing I most remember about my first Pollys was it was so totally different to Oxford Street. The places I was hanging out on Oxford Street didn’t have any women and didn’t gave any older people, and what I instantly liked about the Pollys was it had a cross-section of people with no attitude. Everyone was having such a good time.
About six months later, Amber asked me to be one of the boys in the show, and I did the next couple of shows. But at one show, two of the drag queens had a dummy spit and stormed out, which I thought was hysterical.
Amber needed someone to step in and asked me to throw on a frock for a particular number, and I was absolutely hideous. I have to be honest and say I haven’t improved much since.
I felt so hideous in drag. The other girls were so good and looked so glam, but in the next show I got all the comedy stuff to do, so I became the clown and then felt more comfortable.
At the time, I was dating a guy named John and my favourite TV show was Dallas, so one of the other drags said I should be called Sue-Ellen as I had my very own JR. And that was how I got my name. Sue-Ellen is my character, but it is really just me, Bill, in a dress.
In those early days, all the money we raised went to the RSPCA and children’s charities, but that changed when the AIDS crisis hit. It was a horrible time.
We were a group of twenty-somethings, but every second friend was dying. Money was needed immediately, and so everything we raised went to the AIDS charities.
Over the years, we have donated well over $150,000, and that is just the cash gifts. We have done other things like helping stock the AIDS Larder and creating hampers at Christmas.
While our numbers across the years have always remained consistent, there was a time in the early 1990s when I feared the Pollys would fold.
In a very short space of time, we lost about a dozen star members including Amber, and that had a real impact. It was like one whole generation was wiped out, and we had to really work to keep the club going. A lot of people at that time just did not feel like partying.
I have been on the committee for most of the past 25 years, and have been secretary twice and president twice. There are about 15 people who make up the core of the Pollys, and we had a recruitment drive recently as we needed more people to share the work. Now we have all these wonderful new members who are the energy of tomorrow.
We have never changed the format of the event -“ it is always a dance and a show, with a wide selection of music. There is always a good mix of people and it is a safe environment. With all those things put together, people know what they are getting when they come along.
A few years back, we moved from Mascot to Marrickville, and the people followed. I always love it when I see new boys and girls coming in as it means the Pollys will keep going.
I still like to laugh at the many disastrous things we have done. I remember in one show I was dressed as a mermaid and two boys were dressed as lobsters. All was fine until one of the boys’ pincers got caught in my wig and couldn’t let go.
In another show, the smoke machine was oil-based and when the steam came out, it covered the stage in oil. In one number after another, performers fell over and slid across the stage.
Our 42nd birthday is coming up, and the theme is a Royal Command Performance. Just think of the shows they do for the Queen, then think the worst and that’s what you’ll get.
We rehearse for about six weeks in advance, and then on the day we pull it all together. I have two new boys doing a number with me, and I must remember to be gentle with them.
The Pollys is something we have fought for, and I think it is still worth it. A few years back, the Spartacus travel guide contacted us to tell us the Pollys is the second oldest gay social group in the world. So I guess we are doing something right.
They are really good people and it is a pleasure to meet up with them once a week. The Pollys has also supplied me with lifelong friends. All I know is I am thrilled to be a member.
The Pollys 42nd Birthday is on 1 July at UNSW Roundhouse. Details at the Pollys website.
Interview by John Burfitt