by DOMINIC O’GRADY
Picture, if you will, a nightclub called Stranded, in the basement of Sydney’s elegant Strand Arcade. This former corset salon is crammed with more than 100 homosexuals, drinking, talking and laughing loudly, ready and waiting to get an eyeful of the 1980 Mr Leather contestants.
Backstage, Patrick Brookes and Frank Black adjust their gear. Frank wears black leather briefs and boots, nothing else. Patrick is in full leather regalia: military boots, biker cap, leather pants and biker jacket. A leather harness is pulled tight across his torso, nicely emphasising his pecs.
The man holding the microphone, centre-stage, is the self-appointed master of ceremonies, Michael Glynn. This lanky American expatriate with the handlebar moustache is barely one year into his gig as the founding publisher and editor of the Sydney Star. In that short time he’s positioned himself and his newspaper as champions of leather and the sworn enemy of Sydney’s prevailing camp style.
“You don’t have to adopt the limp-wristed fairy image,” Glynn would say. “You can look like a clone, you can look more like yourself. You can take what you wear at work and go straight into the scene and still look good. You don’t have to put rouge on, dress up and all that stuff. It’s OK to be a man and be gay.”
Glynn reminds his audience of the business at hand, which is to find an Australian leather man to send to Chicago for the 1980 International Mr Leather event. He introduces each contestant, his deep, strong voice filling the room. His years of teaching drama at private boys’ schools in Sydney and Brisbane had taught Glynn the art of projection. Not to mention timing.
Each Mr Leather contestant has his exit and his entrance, strutting and fretting his time on the stage. But Patrick Brookes steals the show. He comes on bulging in all the right places, hairy-chested and broad-shouldered, as compelling as a young Marlon Brando.
Brookes, an architect from Newtown, not only wins the title as Australia’s Mr Leather 1980, but goes on to win the International Mr Leather contest in Chicago the following month. No Australian has ever repeated that success.
Glynn’s discovery of homegrown talent as momentous as Patrick Brookes was proof that leather was a compelling alternative to Sydney’s long-running love affair with camp. That night in Stranded is significant for two reasons: it showed leather as a triumphant gay style, and it placed Michael Glynn and The Star centre-stage at that moment of triumph, as master of ceremonies. Sydney’s gay style would never be the same again.
As writer Gary Dunne put it, gay men were cutting their hair and sending their silks and satins to St Vinnies. They were discovering their nipples and the consequences of overdoing amyl on the dancefloor.
Glynn published a photo of Brookes accepting his Mr Leather trophy on the front cover of the next Star (April 18 1980). Glynn published yet more photos of the event in the following edition of his newspaper, a fortnight later.
There was Frank Black in his leather briefs, a photo of the hunky Patrick Brookes in harness, and a photo of Glynn as he wished to be seen: in control and centre-stage; owning the microphone and his audience, surrounded by images of this new gay masculinity, hairy-chested, moustached and sexually aggressive. Glynn presents as a master, if not of the universe, then at least of his particular world.
INFO: Dominic O’Grady is a former SSO editor who is researching and writing Talking Back to Power: The Life and Times of Michael Glynn. More details at www.domogrady.com Photo by C.MOORE HARDY