Thirty years ago this May, an Aussie leatherman conquered the USA.
Patrick Brookes’ still unmatched success as the only Australian to win the International Mr Leather Competition, in Chicago in 1980, may present a challenge or represent an aspiration for current members of the leather scene, but for the somewhat shy architect who donned that sash, it was nothing more than fun and fantasy.
“I don’t really understand people who say their lifestyle is ‘being a leatherman’. Do they live and go to work in leather? To me, it’s just an image of a particular fantasy,” Brookes told Sydney Star Observer from the inner-west home he designed and built.
“Everybody has a different fantasy, so that produces a different image. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, with the right image.”
After winning a host of local competitions and titles, Brookes was cajoled by friends and the Star’s founder, Michael Glynn, into jetting to Chicago to take part in the second-ever International Mr Leather competition.
Up against American porn stars and local pin-ups from the gay press, Brookes recalled not expecting much as he sauntered on to the stage clad in a specially-crafted leather harness.
That said, he was prepared with an erudite speech and ready to take advantage of anything the judges might have perceived as parochial Australian charm.
“When I got to America I was confident, but I wasn’t expecting to win. I had a different approach from other contestants though,” Brookes said.
“I did a bit of posing and tough stances, and having a bit of an accent didn’t hurt either. I was also perhaps a bit older than other contestants and a bit more educated perhaps.
“I’d become pretty confident while I was [in Sydney]. It was fantastic to be accepted so enthusiastically here, and Australia’s a much more difficult audience — they tend to be more cynical.
“Luckily for me, I didn’t get that flak, so when I got to America I knew I just had to do my best.”
His win came as a surprise to many. One young fellow-contestant, Brookes recalled, broke down in tears when the first-place position was announced.
The disappointment can be understood. Brookes returned home a veritable hero on the local scene following an extensive tour of America — a particular delight for a young architect.
“I have fantastic memories. I just wasn’t left alone. The Americans were wonderful, chaperoning me to places. When I got back to Australia, the old Beresford and other places held some parties. It was a fantastic experience,” he recalled.
“But apart from that I didn’t get much else out of it. I didn’t get more clients or whatever.
“For me, when people ask what’s a leatherman? I say, ‘Well what’s it to you?’ There are thousands of images that go back through cowboys and Indians, and Marlon Brando and people in uniforms and even construction workers.
“It’s such a huge, diverse thing, it depends on what you think of when you picture a leatherman.
“It’s a fantasy, it’s not what defines you, it’s maybe just one of your characteristics — like being left-handed or red-headed. It’s not the whole you.”
Brookes has no plans to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his win, but in homage to his title, Sax Fetish have set up The Brookes Trust, a fund to help “promote a positive gay lifestyle” and encourage leathermen to take part in their local competition.

info: For more information on the Brookes Trust, visit 30 Years of Leather Champions will be held at the Polo Lounge on Wednesday, February 24 from 7pm Entry: $5.

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