‘We’ve seen many gay bars shut their doors over the years’: Dolly Diamond on the LGBTI scene

‘We’ve seen many gay bars shut their doors over the years’: Dolly Diamond on the LGBTI scene
Image: Image: Supplied.

Melbourne darling and longtime comedy cabaret performer Dolly Diamond reflects on how the LGBTI scene has changed over the years, and why she adores the community.


It’s always the way that around a milestone anniversary, you get a bit nostalgic, and I’m no different (except when it comes to my birthday, that is – I generally roll my eyes and stop counting).

I’ve been a part of Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival for 15 years now and I’ve just about loved every minute of it. It’s a three-week festival that I’ve always admired for its inclusivity and willingness to grow.

But it’s changed a lot over the years. From the moment I brought my suitcases over from London and set up home in Australia to now, Melbourne’s gay scene more generally has changed, for better or worse.

Changes in our community are inevitable, I know, but I’m generally one who finds it a little difficult to embrace. I love familiarity.
We’ve seen many gay bars shut their doors over the years, which has been incredibly sad.

I was a big fan of The Exchange and over the years and I used to love seeing the legendary Kerrie Le Gore perform. I’d spent more than a few drunken nights at 3 Faces as well, watching Kerrie, Candy, and Doreen lip-sync to a camp classic under the club lights.

Many are quick to blame the rise of hook-up apps like Grindr for the demise of gay bars, but there are plenty of food delivery apps, and restaurants are doing perfectly well.

My great Northern Irish friend Rose Garden always says: “Did you support it when it was open? If not, there’s no point crying about it now if it’s not.”

I was also such a fan of the old look Greyhound Hotel, a venue no longer with us. I miss those sticky carpet days.

It really felt like an event on a Saturday night watching the drag shows. I’m sure it’ll come back in a different way at some point.

I still love popping along to Sircuit (or when I feel like losing my religion, The Peel) and you know The 86 and Vau d’vile are well and truly keeping the flame alive.

The memories I have at gay venues that are now done and dusted have a special place in my heart, but they’ve made way for new, exciting venues and groups that have helped to redefine the scene over the past decade.

Before I moved here, I’d been living and working in London when I heard about Midsumma through a friend, who had suggested I travel over to do a show. So I did.

It was called ‘Songs that I like and shows I didn’t get’, and the title was too big to fit on the ticket. I worked to backing tracks and told hilarious stories of rejection, because I’m all about #groundbreakingcabaret.

I’d been used to performing on the cabaret scene in London, where you generally go on late at night and work to a crowd that hasn’t paid to see you and will listen if you’re able to control them.

It was a great training ground, but at times soul destroying as well. So heading to Melbourne, I was delighted to have an audience who would pay money to see me and would be only too willing to wait for the proverbial pin to drop.

I was a novelty as a singer as well, as there was only the gorgeous Kaye Sera in Melbourne who was singing live at the time.

I remember also contacting Chillout, the regional LGBTI festival in Daylesford, in January of that year as well, asking them if there was a spot for me.

I invited them along to my show one night and they asked me to host their Carnival directly after. From that moment, my heart was in Melbourne and its vibrant LGBTI scene.

I’m a big fan of getting paid for what I do – it’s my job after all – but I also never found it difficult to get involved with community groups over the years.

If I’m honest, it’s been as helpful for me as I’m sure it’s been for them. I was able to get my name out to a bigger audience and I got a warm fuzzy feeling from helping others (note: it’s different to the warm fuzzy feeling you get from a wad of cash, though I like both).

After 15 years here I can’t imagine not being involved with wonderful groups such as JOY 94.9 and the Victorian AIDS Council.

I think you only truly see the value of a community group when you get involved in one.

It’s so easy to stand on the sidelines and say that’s not for me, or I don’t feel connected. But I look at members of the gay choir or LGBTI sporting groups and truly admire their commitment.

I was also proud of my time working on the Equality Roadshow with our gender and sexuality commissioner Ro Allen, Daniel Witthaus, and their team.

Helping to spread the message of LGBTI acceptance in country Victoria on behalf of our state government was very rewarding.
For Midsumma this year, putting together my 15-Year Anniversary Gala has been a lot of fun, but incredibly ambitious.

A lot of my shows have a ‘thrown the washing in’ element about them, a disorganised chaos.

I’ve been lucky to work with Luke Gallagher over the years, the master of organisation, as well as a fabulous singer and a great friend. He always steps in to make sure some of my crazier ideas work.

I’ve asked the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus and the Melbourne Rainbow Band to join me, because they felt like exactly the right fit for my gala. We all get along so well, and I’m a huge fan of their work, commitment, and what they’ve done for our LGBTI community.

I’ll also be reuniting The Phones, Australia’s number one A’Cappella group in the nineties, to sing with them on the night. Wait until you hear Bohemian Rhapsody.

I think most people are of the opinion that social media has affected the gay scene.

It seems easier to order in nowadays than stand around all night waiting for a stuffing.

I believe it’ll pass eventually though, and hopefully we can get back to the way we were… I’m nostalgic that way.

I’m not sure what’s in store for me or Midsumma, but that’s the exciting part.

Dolly Diamond’s 15 Year Anniversary Gala will be held on Saturday 3 February at the Athenaeum Theatre. For more information and to buy tickets click here.

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