As part of an ongoing exploration of regional areas that welcome the LGBTI community, the Star Observer headed to Townsville after hearing that they had big plans for Australia Day – but the story goes a lot deeper than a fun night out on a long weekend.
Two men – Steve Jebb and Peter Haines – made their money in electrical retailing in the days before Domayne and Harvey Norman dominated the market. But something was missing for them both and that was a home for their community.
Jebb said that they were frustrated that gay nights would pop up sporadically, but there was never a place where the LGBTI community could just hang out – so 17 years ago they sold everything and he and Haines bought Townsville’s Sovereign Hotel.
“We really wanted to make a difference. Someone would say a bit foolishly that we would create a gay pub. We have poured a fortune into it over the years but we don’t regret a thing,” Jebb said of the venue’s success without using profit as the guide.
Haines added, with just a hint of disappointment on his face: “It has taken a long time to get acceptance, and in some places we don’t. We can’t get a picture in the scene pages locally no matter how hard we try.”
Jebb and Haines spoke about the Sovereign’s crowd in today’s terms as a measure of success.
“You wait for tomorrow’s Australia Day party. It is going to be amazing. Everyone else is holding off for their parties until Sunday, but we are going early. It is going to be awesome,” Jebb said.
His prediction came true with punters by the busload arriving at around 11pm, to which Jebb quipped: “It is not just the Sydney queens that like to start the night late.”
On a roll with his predictions, Jebb added: “I bet you will love Ben Sargent’s show tonight. His choreography is brilliant. It will rival anything they do down south.”
At 12.30pm the full house packed the dance floor for a high-production experience with a Kylie Minogue-esque feel to it. Jebb was two-for-two with his predictions.
Before talking about his creative processes, Sargent insisted his team got the credit.
“Our cast consisted of Kandi Warhol, Shelly Beach and Vixen as the showgirls with Kandi being the leading lady, all long term residents of Townsville,” he said.
“My sparkling diamond dancers, or ‘feathered angels’ as they have been nicknamed locally, were Alan Junior, Mitch Hobbs, Shane Collett and Thomas Kennedy.”
Sargent did confess the pop princess was his muse.
“The show concept originated back in November 2013 from my infatuation with Kylie Minogue and wanting to bring her back into the mainstream up north with the local scene as many don’t follow her,” he said.
“The opening idea of the show was sourced from Kylie’s Aphrodite tour which I attended twice – both in Brisbane then Melbourne when Kylie was touring last in a large scale tour.”
And with Jebb hitting the decks as DJ and Haines as security, they are clearly loved by the community and their hotel is a lifestyle as much as it is a business.
Out back is Jebb’s own extensive vinyl collection that gave a sneaky insight into a club and music-loving man who loved to entertain – even if it was a little old school. For example, he had no intention of learning to mix using an iPad.
“I am still a vinyl man deep down and have stayed up to date but these tablets to mix off is not for me,” he said.
If you are heading north and find yourself at Jebb and Haine’s Sovereign Hotel, and it is midnight on a Saturday, you may just forget that you aren’t in a capital city gay pub.
Photos from the Sovereign’s Straya Day bash can be found here.