Melbourne’s rainbow shone a little less brightly this past weekend, with the news that community icon and permanent fixture at DTs Hotel, Bruce Mckenzie, had passed.
When news broke online Saturday morning of Bruce succumbing to pancreatic cancer, an outpouring of condolences began on social media, remembering the man who has been the heart and soul of Melbourne’s LGBTIQ+ community for decades.
Some remembered working their first job with Bruce at DTs or the Exchange, where he would not only teach them how to pull a pint, but what queer community and family actually meant. For others, it was remembering that Bruce was the first person they actually spoke to in a gay bar.
Not one to simply take your drink order, Bruce’s welcoming smile and kind demeanour let you know that there was nothing to be worried about, and that everyone was welcome.
DTs is known as the bar where every colour of the rainbow drinks, and that is thanks to Bruce. It wasn’t just the fact that even if you only came in once in a blue moon, he would remember you – Bruce made us all feel safe, welcomed and that we were somewhere we belonged.
Last month, Bruce announced his diagnosis via Facebook, and that he would be leaving DTs, where he had worked for 24 years since it opened.
“While many people are no longer in the fabric of my life, they are still a part of the fabric that makes Bruce Mckenzie. I wasn’t too sure how to put this so forgive me if I am blunt and direct.” he wrote,
“I have been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. I have been given 6/7 months to live. I will be getting treatment, but I have been told this may help with the quality of life more than quantity. I am in a good place mentally, and thanks to a lot of drugs, physically.”
While he hoped to have more time and organise a proper final send off, that was not to be as his health quickly declined.
Comedian Thomas Jaspers, who hosts trivia at DTs, had organised a fundraiser benefit for Bruce to help him out in his final months of life, with a gala at the Richmond Union Bowling Club on Thursday, 17 October and a line-up including Joel Creasey, Rhonda Burchmore, SuperGirly and Granny Bingo, before an after-party across the road at DTs.
“It won’t be the same walking into DTs without that beautiful big bellow of ‘G’day darrrrrling!’” Jaspers said online.
“At Bruce’s request, his fundraiser will still be going ahead, with the money going to his partner Akira.”
Jaspers posted a picture at the hospital dressed as Bruce’s favourite music group, ABBA, alongside comedians and DTs regulars Kyle Minall and Joel Creasey.
“Bruce was such a wonderful guy who touched the lives of so many people in our community. We were trying to work it out yesterday – we think he raised somewhere in the vicinity of a couple hundred thousand dollars for various charities over the years.”
It was Bruce who stepped in and spearheaded the annual Pride March Bake Off, a community fundraiser which continues to bring us together each year and raise funds for Pride March. The reality is that for many years it was Bruce himself who would spend the most on cakes, and we just got to enjoy them at DTs for the rest of the weekend.
When Pride March Victoria was struggling due to debt and were at the point of disbanding, it was Bruce who reinvigorated Bake Off, getting the community involved and helping to save Pride March, a day which gave everyone in our communities their moment to shine.
“Bruce was so generous in supporting us, and he never needed to be asked,” former Pride March Victoria President Matt Renwick told the Star.
“He was instrumental in allowing us to get back on our feet.
“Bruce treated us all the same, and you felt like you were walking into your local even if you were there for your first time. He made us all a feel at home and that is the epitome of being part of the community.”
He added: “Seeing him every year at Bake Off walking around the pub with a chef’s hat on and his great big dirty laugh is something I will truly miss. He knew what it meant to us to have that one day walking down the street and being seen, which is still not something people can do today. But every year everyone could bake a cake and come to DTs and feel like they were contributing in some small way to an event which gave all of us greater visibility.
“Our community would be a little bit better if we all could be a bit more like Bruce.”
This year’s Bake Off will be held at DTs on 12 October, while Pride March is celebrating its 25th march next year during Midsumma.
Bruce’s and his presence will be sorely missed at both events, as well at DTs, which has seen many people stop by for a bevy this weekend to raise a glass to Bruce.
“We have been overwhelmed by the amount of people messaging support and saying they want to come in and have a drink in memory of Bruce,” a statement by DTs said online, as they opened early on Saturday.
“Of course, the playlist will be strictly ABBA as Bruce would have had it no other way.”
Even though things won’t be the same with him gone, we will always have the memories of what he has given us. No one says it better than Bruce himself in his original Facebook post announcing his diagnosis: “My life has been fantastic, and I want to thank each and every one who has contributed to this, past and present.”