After 30 years and over 650 group masturbation parties, The Melbourne Wankers have put away the oil and put their clothes back on. Lockdowns and lack of play spaces have finally taken their toll. Only jack-off (or mutual masturbation) groups in New York and San Francisco have existed longer.

The Melbourne Wankers were unique, as popular with bisexual married men as with gay men not looking for penetrative sex. It provided a shared space for healing touch, conversation, equality, like-mindedness, horniness, friendship, and safety. A halfway house between heterosexuality and full-on gay male sexuality. A place where the safe-sex message of educators could not only be shared but imaginatively acted out.

‘Melbourne Needs A Jack-off Club’

Melbourne sex educator and respected immunologist, the late Ian Goller, lived in San Francisco at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. There, he observed the fear in gay men as they withdrew from society, lost physical contact with one another and their community, and became isolated individuals.

He also saw that the San Francisco Jacks were attracting up to a hundred men to their jack-off parties every week. Nude (apart from socks), the men would drink at a bar, sensually touch one another, masturbate each other, and above all, they talked with one another. There was no oral or anal sex, so completely safe from the virus and STIs.

It was also where health educators could get vital life-saving information about safe-sex into the gay community. Men, HIV positive or not, could have satisfying sexual interaction without bias, fear, or anxiety.

Upon returning to Melbourne, Goller met up with Chris Gill, then editor of the Melbourne Star Observer. 

“Melbourne needs a jack-off club, and you are the person to organise it.“ Goller told Gill. “These clubs are instrumental in creating and sustaining a safe sex culture.”

A Legitimate Form Of Sexual Expression

Their belief that group masturbation was a very legitimate form of sexual expression was put to the test when they set up the first party on Saturday, January 27, 1990, at Club 80 in Collingwood as part of the newly formed Midsumma Festival.

Their rules, adopted from the New York Jacks: No Lips Below the Hips, No Oral (kissing excepted), No Anal, No Force, Compulsory Nudity, Active Participation (all within the one room), and the liberal use of unscented cold-pressed soybean massage oil. The oil proved to be a great party-starter!

That first event proved successful enough to plan more parties, the next being at Goller’s Fairfield home.

Following enthusiastic articles in Campaign and Melbourne Star Observer, together with recruitment through various little black address books, more than 40 men attended that Sunday afternoon party.

After rejecting Spoofing Mates, Cum Chums, and Blokes With Pull – and the American term of Jacks – they (narrowly) decided on The Melbourne Wankers as their name. They set up an organising committee known as SPERM (Small Percentage of Extroverted Regional Masturbators), a monthly newsletter, and a mailing list. One of their first leaflets described a wank party as “spiritual”, “brotherly”, “hot and safe” – words that tell us a lot about that era.

All Men Over 18 Welcome

 

The Melbourne Wankers encouraged diversity, with all men over 18 welcomed – married, gay, bi-curious, straight – labels did not matter. Everyone was welcome irrespective of ethnic background, physical disability, HIV status, appendage size, skin colour, hairy or smooth, tall or short.

As parties were in private homes and apartments, they were limited to around 35 men. Usually held on Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons, they included a post-wank BBQ with guests requested to bring food to share. This socialising added to the “community“ feel that Goller was seeking to establish.

Parties were themed, including fancy dress, outdoor, boxer shorts, leather, and masks. The group also celebrated PIGJO (Pan International Global Jack Off Day) – a worldwide celebration of masturbation, begun in San Francisco in 1986 and billed as a “Wank for Peace”.

The 1990 Melbourne party was held on December 1 at the 55 Porter Street gay sauna, with 50 or more men attending. The theme: “Shoot jizz instead of bullets!“ Its success led to more public “Wankarama” events at saunas during Midsumma.

A Permanent Home In Caulfield

Possibly the most memorable event was an early 1990s summer afternoon/evening party held at an ostrich/emu farm on Melbourne’s outskirts. Nearly 60 men were in attendance. And for those like-minded men, this was a freedom from the ever-present spectre of AIDS that for much of the preceding 8 years, they could not have imagined.

By 1995 The Wankers, as it became affectionately known, had found a permanent home at the Bay City Caulfield Sauna, where their large lounge area equated nicely to a family room in a home. Small, intimate, and friendly this venue was to prove ideal as the group’s home for the next 18 years, with parties held twice a month.

Over the years, there were ill-fated attempts at Under 30s nights and establishing a second group at Steamworks gay sauna in Latrobe Street. The group was also the subject of a TV segment filmed for a BBC sex documentary series. Demonstration parties were held at Turtle Cove resort in Queensland, with a spin-off group briefly established in Sydney.

Pandemic Takes A Toll

The Melbourne Wankers success enabled it to donate seeding money to the Pinnacle Foundation, give financial support to the Gay Archives, the Positive Living Centre’s ‘Out Walking’ project, and in the 1990s provide television sets to Fairfield House (Alfred Hospital) for AIDS patients.

While tourists found a warm welcome at The Wankers, many of the members travelled overseas and visited other jack-off groups. These included a bar in Amsterdam’s red-light district, aboard a houseboat moored on the Seine in Paris, at a leather hotel in Palm Springs, and a club in New York City.

From a previous pandemic, more than three decades ago, emerged this unique sexual solution for men to reconnect via sensual touch and mutual masturbation. Perhaps another sexual phenomenon might arise from our current pandemic of isolation and fear. The scenario is extraordinarily similar.

*Peter was an active participant and committee member of the group since 1990

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