1988: Monte Punshon – Sir Joh & the world’s oldest lesbian

monte punshon world expo 88 world's oldest lesbian sir joh bjelke-petersen

Autocratic Queensland premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen did not like gays and lesbians. In fact, he prided himself on keeping them out of his state. Then, World Expo 88 happened. Joh intended the event as a celebration of his long rule — validation of his idiosyncratic and puritanical governance. To promote the 6-month, $625 million festival, the organising committee appointed roving ambassadors with 104-year-old Monte Punshon the first. But then someone sent Joh a newspaper clipping. Monte was a lesbian. And not just any lesbian. A record-breaking, champion, Gold Medal, headline-making lesbian: The World’s Oldest Living Lesbian.

Monte Punshon

As a six-year-old, Monte Punshon attended the Melbourne Expo of 1888. Almost a century later, organisers of Expo 88 assumed she was the only person to have attended that event still alive. So, they made her an ambassador. No one thought to check on her sexuality. She was old. But earlier in 1985, Monte outed herself in an interview with a gay magazine. “If you couldn’t come out at 104,” she asked, “then when could you?”

To be honest, Monte never called herself a lesbian. She didn’t like the word. But she made it clear a rose by any other name is still a lesbian.

“In intimate circumstances, I prefer to be with a woman.”

She told how, as a young woman, she met and fell in love with Debbie, who she lived with for 12 years. Debbie eventually left her for another woman. But more than sixty years later, a framed photo of her first true love still decorated the wall above Monte’s bed.

31 Oct 1987, Sat The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales, New South Wales, Australia) Newspapers.com

Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen

The sanctimonious and corrupt Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen ran Queensland as his personal fiefdom for nearly two decades. Like countless political strongmen before and since, he employed the demonisation of lesbians and gays as a political tactic.

“I am against the dirty and despicable acts these people carry out. You can’t get any beast or animal that is so depraved to carry on the way they do.”

But Joh failed to dislodge Monte as an ambassador. She refused to resign.

World Expo 88

Anyway, by the time of World Expo 88, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s vision of playing host to Queen Elizabeth II at the opening ceremony had vanished from sight… along with his premiership. With the corruption of his government finally exposed to the public view, his own party ousted the cranky despot.

Monte Pushton was an honoured guest at the Expo 88 official opening. The world’s oldest lesbian presented Queen Elizabeth II with a bouquet of flowers. The disgraced former premier was nowhere to be seen. I know there’s no such thing and it’s petty and all that — but I can’t resist the urge to say it: that’s fcking karma!

Also: Dame Joan Hammond, coming out at 80.

Extraordinary women from lesbian history.

famous lesbians lesbian history

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