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‘And They Sleep Together Like Husband and Wife’: A Queer Queensland Genealogy

  • Belinda McKay


The emergence of modern queer identities is usually located in cities — initially the European and American metropolises, followed by provincial or colonial cities like Sydney. While the argument that a critical mass of people triggers the formation of new identities is compelling, a centralised, urban model of the generation of modern queer identities ignores an alternative theoretical model emphasising flow and connection between the ‘centre’ and the ‘margins’ that has emerged in writing about colonial and post-colonial cultures, but which has a wider applicability in understanding cultural change. In this paper, I argue that marginalised same-sex behaviours and relationships on the periphery of the empire or the nation are implicated in larger patterns of interconnectedness and reciprocity in the historical formation of modern sexual identities.2 Specifically, I use a family study to explore manifestations of same-sex attraction in early twentieth century Cooktown and the influence of these sexual role models on three subsequent generations.



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1 See, for example, Dixon, Robert, Prosthetic Gods: Travel, Representation and Colonial Governance (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2001); Gregory Castle, Postcolonial Discourses: An Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001); David Punter, Postcolonial Imaginings: Fictions of a New World Order (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000). Clive Moore's Sunshine and Rainbows: The Development of Gay and Lesbian Culture in Queensland (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2001) is the only major Australian study of gay and lesbian culture with a significant regional focus: it provides ample evidence of the existence of same-sex relationships and behaviours throughout colonial Queensland, and of the development in many Queensland towns of embryonic homosexual subcultures in the twentieth century.

2 Various forms of nonconformist thought and behaviour which have contributed to the formation of modern personal identities, including sexual identities, originally developed at the geographical, economic and social margins before being transported to the centre. The modernising forces that generated the Protestant Reformation tended to come from the margins of Europe. Later, persecuted groups from Europe established nonconformist Protestantism as the core culture of the United States — the country from which, not coincidentally, the main push for gay and lesbian rights has come. More direct examples of proto-lesbian behaviour and identity which developed on the geographical margins rather in metropolitan centres are provided by the Ladies of Llangollen and Anne Lister.

3 Vicinus, Martha, ‘“;They Wonder to Which Sex I Belong”: The Historical Roots of the Modern Lesbian Identity’, Feminist Studies 18(3)(1992): 473.

4 Halperin, David M., Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 62. See also Alexander Doty, Flaming Classics: Queering the Film Canon (London: Routledge, 2000), 7–8 for a discussion of the various meanings of ‘queer/queerness’, and the usefulness if ‘queer’ as a ‘suggestive rather than a prescriptive concept’.

5 By 1881, E.A.C. Olive was making repeated reference in business letters to the depressed economy of Cooktown. The Palmer River gold rush, which peaked in 1876, was over by 1886. The 1880s saw massive government investment in Cooktown's infrastructure, but when Aboriginal resistance declined on Cape York Peninsula, government interest in the town waned.

6 See Belinda McKay, ‘Constructing a Life on the Northern Frontier: E.A.C. Olive of Cooktown’, Queensland Review 7(2) (2000): 4765.

7 Interview with Neil Hope, Sydney, 25 September 1992. Sammy Olive received an education with the white children.

8 Telephone interview with Guinevere Sacre, 12 August 1992.

9 Having boarded at two public schools — Marlborough then Western College in Brighton — E.A.C. Olive cannot have been unfamiliar with homosexuality. Havelock Ellis in Sexual Inversion attributes the ubiquity of homosexuality in public schools to the fact that the sexual instinct is ‘much less specialized’ in youth than it later becomes: Havelock Ellis, Sexual Inversion in Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Vol. 1, new edn (New York: Random House, 1936), 75.

10 Watt, Ian, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (London: Chatto & Windus, 2001), 138ff.

11 Jakobsen, Janet R., ‘Sex + Freedom = Regulation: Why?’, Social Text 23(3–4, 84–85) (2005): 286.

12 Baird, Barbara, ‘“;Kerryn and Jackie”: Thinking Historically About Lesbian Marriages’, Australian Historical Studies 126 (2005): 270.

13 The available evidence suggests that E.A.C. Olive himself (I have no evidence about his sons) strongly disapproved of the sexual exploitation of Aboriginal women, and did not father any mixed-race children.

14 Interview with Elizabeth Allan, November 2000.

15 Hope, Neil, interviewed on 25 September 1992, recalled: ‘[E]ven when I was there in the ‘30s you could hear the Aboriginal camp down at the foot of the hill near the salt water corroborreeing every night.

16 Weininger, Otto, Sex and Character, Authorised Translation from the Sixth German Edition (London: William Heinemann, 1907), 45. Weininger's Geschlecht und Charakter was first published in Vienna in May 1903, and the author's suicide at the age of 23 in October 1904 turned the book into a succès de scandale. The sixth edition appeared in December 1904, and was the basis for the anonymous translation into English cited here.

17 Idriess, Ion L., The Tin Scratchers (London: Angus and Robertson, 1980 [1959]), 36.

18 Interview with Guinevere Sacre (daughter of Doris Olive), 7 November 2000.

19 Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, Vol. I, trans. Robert Hurley (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981), 43.

20 David, Hugh, On Queer Street: A Social History of British Homosexuality 1895–1995 (London: Harper Collins, 1997), between pp. 146 and 147. David interprets the pose as exhibiting ‘defiance’ in his comment on a photograph of Ian McKellen in a similar pose (opposite p. 147). For copyright reasons I am unable to reproduce these images.

21 Toy, Barbara, Columbus Was Right! Rover Around the World (London: John Murray, 1958), p. 191.

22 Ellis, Sexual Inversion, 74, 301, 301n.

23 Moore, Clive and Jamison, Bryan, ‘Queensland's Criminal Justice System and Homosexuality, 1860–1954’, this volume of Queensland Review. See also Yorick Smaal, ‘Coding Desire: The Emergence of a Homosexual Subculture in Queensland, 1890–1914’, this volume of Queensland Review.

24 Ellis, Sexual Inversion, 300–01.

25 Other Aboriginal people probably lived on the property as well, including a man named Chookie who appears in a number of photos.

26 Interview with Charmaine Phillips, 23 November 2000. Gladys left this watch to her great-niece Charmaine.

27 The photographs are from Gladys Olive's collection, and she appears to have been the photographer: there are many photographs of Nell and others, but fewer of Gladys.

28 Information from Beverley Allan and Elizabeth Allan.

29 Her sister, Norbury, Grace (Olive), also liked to wear trousers. She was once told that it was ‘not done’ for the wife of a bank manager to wear trousers and go fishing; her reply was: ‘Just watch me.’

30 Estelle Runcie Pinney's novel, Time Out for Living (Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 1995), gives a glimpse into the life of women workers in Brisbane during the war from a heterosexual perspective, but the experiences of same-sex attracted women remain largely unexplored.

31 Interview with Beverley Allan, 30 November 2000.

32 Interview with Charmaine Phillips, 20 November 2000.

33 Bennett, Judith M., ‘“Lesbian-Like” and the Social History of Lesbianisms’, Journal of the History of Sexuality 9(1–2) (2000): 124.

34 Butler, Judith, ‘Is Kinship Always Already Heterosexual?’, differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 13(1) (2002): 26.

35 Interview with Bob Cook, 17 July 1995.

36 Jackson, Duncan, interview with Rene Hallam, ‘An Oral History of Cape York Peninsula’, C-168, R-117, 1. See also Toy, Columbus Was Right!, 191.

37 Toy, Columbus Was Right!, 191.

38 Jackson, Duncan, interview with Rene Hallam. Hans Looser and Leffie Buhmann, in interviews I conducted with them on 17 July 1995 and 19 July 1995 respectively, reported that they intervened to stop the pilfering of carvings after Carlton Olive's death.

39 Interview with Bob Cook, 17 July 1995.

40 Interview with Nancy Keable, 18 July 1995. Perhaps the lack of acknowledgement of Carlton's role in preserving the Joss House is related to a taint of scandal at the end of his life.

41 Interview with Beverley Allan, 30 November 2000.

42 Wotherspoon, Garry, 'City of the Plain': History of a Gay Sub-Culture (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1991).

43 Interview with Richard Ash, 21 November 2000.

44 Gross, Larry, ‘Minorities, Majorities and the Media’, in Liebes, Tamar and Curran, James, eds, Media, Ritual and Identity (London: Routledge, 1998), 90.

45 Having a profession does not nullify discrimination: Beverley Allan believed that in Brisbane her medical career suffered because of her lesbianism, and when her partner Nathalie died, Beverley feared that her right to inherit might be challenged.

‘And They Sleep Together Like Husband and Wife’: A Queer Queensland Genealogy

  • Belinda McKay


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