"Melbourne - Queen City of the South"

Melbourne Gay & Lesbian History series




listen: NAMES FOR MELBOURNE BEATS - 04:08 minutes

Melbourne's oldest known beat, outside the old Melbourne Hospital, stands just to the right of the tram in this picture, taken in 1903



In the days before Gay Lib and the decriminalisation of sex between men, beats played a possibly larger role in the homosexual subculture than they do today. In those days beats were one of the few ways that camp men could meet others like themselves. Sex sometimes took place at the beat, but often the beat was just used as an initial point of contact, and the real action happened elsewhere, in a more private or more comfortable place.


The history of Melbourne's beats is a long one, with the earliest references to beat sex and beat-behaviour dating from the 1860s in a urinal on the corner of Swanston and Lonsdale Streets. In the 1870s there were active beats in the CarIton Gardens and Star Alley, off Little Bourke Street next to the Theatre Royal (where Target is now).


It was a mark of the camp subculture to give beats clever and imaginative names, as an easy way of describing and locating them for the benefit of other beat users; a hidden geography of Melbourne if you like.


The oldest beat in Melbourne, the urinal on the corner of Swanston and Lonsdale Streets; alas no longer in existence - its 140 year history came to an end a year or two ago - had a number of names during its life. Originally a simple wooden construction, it was replaced by a cast iron urinal in the 1890s. In the 1930s it was called the "Lobster Pot" due to the bright red paint job it had. A few years later the name changed to "The Fifties and Over Bog" a clever reference to a popular wireless programme of the day, and also a dig at the aging clientele using this particular beat. U reference In the 1970s, the old cast iron urinal went and was replaced with a pebble-dashed construction, which was immediately dubbed "The House of Jewels".


There were active beats throughout the Melbourne suburbs - most beat users visited facilities close to where they lived. And different beats had different clienteles and a different feel. For example, Queens Park in Essendon was a working class beat, while the "Hartwell Haven" in Toorak Road, Hartwell, was a more sedate middle class affair.


There was even a beat just inside the east gate of the Melbourne General Cemetery: "Stiffies", while down at St Kilda was "The Spanish Mission" - a Spanish style toilet block put up during the 1930s.


Up in East Melbourne, just near St Patrick's Cathedral, was "The Flower Pot" a large underground beat with a garden bed planted on its roof - this one has also been filled in, in recent years.


In St Kilda Road, at the corner of Toorak Road West, was an underground public lav in a small triangular park. This one was popular from the 1920s to the late 1940s, but late one night, the Council filled it in. The next day "there was much gnashing of teeth when the Queens of Melbourne realised what had happened. The following day it was reported in the press that wreaths and flowers had been placed on the mound of earth were the lav had been"!

"Stiffies" beat in Melbourne general cemetry

  © text copyright Wayne Murdoch, Australian Lesbian & Gay Archives 2002





Australian Lesbian & Gay Archives

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images: State Library of Victoria; Barry McKay