A history of Queensland Police and LGBTIQA+ Queenslanders


lgbtiqa+ queenslanders queensland police
Corrupt Commissioner Terry Lewis

The historical relationship between the Queensland Police and LGBTIQA+ Queenslanders got off to a bad start in the colonial era. From there, it went downhill. Even in the late twentieth century when public attitudes to LGBTIQA+ people improved and law reform loomed on the horizon, Queensland police continued to mistreat people because of their identity or sexual orientation.

QNews offers an extensive, but far from comprehensive, history of what LGBTIQA+ Queenslanders endured at the hands of local law enforcement.

The bad start was to be expected. Queensland’s colonial government tasked police with enforcing inherited British laws against male-on-male sex.

But beyond that, police also enjoyed a wide extrajudicial remit to keep social order. The authorities expected the constabulary to maintain the social status quo. Thus, individuals who did not conform to prevailing social norms often suffered extrajudicial punishment at the hands of police. Off-the-record persecution including violence against LGBTIQA+ people occurred from the colonial era up until recent times.

Magistrates also indulged in what we might term creative sentencing.

James Moore

In 1895, cops arrested 23-year-old James Moore for wearing female clothing in Stanley Street, South Brisbane. Cross-dressing was not illegal. At the time, the young Earl of Yarmouth performed ‘skirt dances’ in some of Australia’s most prestigious venues. Pantomime dames wowed family crowds every Christmas, while male minstrels blacked up for ‘mammy’ songs. Respected community members dragged up to perform comedy roles at charity concerts from Cooktown in the north to Stanthorpe in the south.

But James Moore did not have an ‘excuse’ for his female attire. He wore it because he wanted to. The magistrate inflicted a fine of £1 or seven days in the cells for ‘disorderly conduct’, a catch-all offence perfect for punishing otherwise legal acts the police considered offensive.

Local police magistrates presided over the bulk of legal proceedings in colonial Queensland. Many did so with no formal legal training. Police Magistrate W R O Hill boasted in his memoir of relying on his ‘common sense’ in deciding judgements. Not, as common sense would dictate, common law.

The latitude allowing creative sentencing meant magistrates not infrequently forewent sentencing in return for ‘offenders’ agreeing to leave town immediately. The perfect remedy for ‘undesirables’.

Private, consenting, adult sex acts

The human animal traditionally aspires to privacy for sexual activity. Queensland law insists on it. Gay or bisexual men, liable during most of the state’s history to 14 years’ imprisonment for a single act of consensual adult anal sex, certainly attempted to avoid the public gaze.

So, cops intent on prosecuting victimless ‘crime’ often went to extraordinary lengths to catch ‘perpetrators’.

In 1870, Detective Dyer rounded up a civilian posse in the middle of the night to trail Jack Boyd and Bill Reily along the Townsville Strand. When he caught sight of Jack’s shiny white arse bobbing up and down among the rocks, he raced up and grabbed Jack by the dick mid-stroke. He needed proof of penetration and allegedly obtained a ‘greasy and wet’ handful of exactly that. Jack copped three years. However, the judge considered the younger bottom as more likely to repent and let Bill off with a year.

Cobb’s Camp

In 1877, Constable Black snuck through the night and caught Samuel Howell and Ah Yung mid-coitus at Cobb’s Camp,  a Cobb & Co staging post on the Sunshine Coast. Judge Lilley, whose statue adorns the Brisbane CBD, sentenced the two men to four years each with hard labour for a private, consenting, adult sex act.

Queensland police carried on in a similar manner following federation. However, private, consenting, adult sex acts never seemed an institutional priority. Most prosecutions occurred after police stumbled across a sex act in a public place. Some, certainly the Jack Boyd case, resulted from increased scrutiny accorded a particular person because of an individual copper’s personal vendetta.

Corruption

Institutional police corruption took root in the ranks of the Queensland Police in the 1950s.

To be clear, the institution was always corrupt.

The Queensland Police Force had its beginnings in the Native Police, a paramilitary organisation established to control the Indigenous population. Under the euphemism of dispersals, the murderous militia conducted widespread, indiscriminate, extrajudicial killings of First Nations people.

Describing the massacres as dispersals allowed politicians and the populace to ignore the brutal reality. As the Cooktown Courier noted, the orthodox method of dispersal occurred via ‘swift, leaden messengers’ — bullets. The Cairns Post advised, “the word ‘dispersed’ as applied in some quarters to the blacks, does not convey altogether the same meaning as gathered from Webster’s dictionary.”

Throughout the early twentieth century, police corruption remained small-scale and disorganised. In 1947, for example, a drunk detective sergeant assaulted an art student at Brisbane’s Pink Elephant Cafe, a well-known gay hangout. He then bashed a customer who came to the young man’s aid. It appears the detective was after pay-offs from the cafe – a stand-over racket. However, publicity around the case drove the venue out of business.

Terry Lewis

In the 1950s, police corruption in Queensland began to become organised under officers like future commissioners Frank Bischof and Terry Lewis.

It impacted LGBTIQA+ Queenslanders immensely. The laws against gay sex meant they were ready-made victims. Police verballed gay men to obtain convictions or sometimes employed violence to obtain forced confessions. In 1954, Detective Terry Lewis undertook surveillance on a group of ‘known homosexuals’. He questioned Reg Noble who at 25 already had an unenviable criminal record — five convictions and three jail sentences. But all for private consenting sex acts with other adult males. Reg ‘voluntarily’ confessed to sexual encounters with up to ten men in the previous year.

A nice party for the boys

One was Alf Stanton aka renowned Brisbane drag queen Freda Mae West, and Freda was soon to host a gay party at Norman Park. Lewis raided the party and despite uncovering no criminal activity, took Freda and Wally Zahnleiter, another man named by Reg, back to Police HQ. In the middle of the night, in an old convict-built building in downtown Brisbane, Freda and Wally both confessed to allowing Reg to bugger them. They further confessed that Freda had sodomised Wally three years before.

So, Noble, Stanton and Zahnleiter, three men with nothing to lose if they said nothing, and everything to lose if they confessed … confessed.

Freda Mae West lgbtiqa+ queenslanders queensland police

Figtree Beat

By the 1960s, police corruption was more organised. Numerous officers enjoyed a regular stream of illicit payments.

Detective Senior-Constable Lawrence Weldon and Plainclothes Constable John Fulton organised a sting operation at Brisbane City’s notorious Figtree beat. Either Weldon or Fulton would approach men at the beat and offer to buy them a drink. Once the cop enticed the man into an unmarked police car, the other would pounce and accuse the victim of soliciting for unnatural purposes. But on the way to the watchhouse, the pair would offer to drop the charges in return for a cash payment.

Their racket only ended when other police surveilled them picking up payments from victims in hotel bars. However, it seems senior police arranged their arrest because they were competition.

Video blackmail

Detective Glen Hallahan was a member of the Ratpack at the pinnacle of Queensland police corruption, along with Terry Lewis and Tony Murphy. He and his cronies wanted to institute an even more lucrative scheme. Hallahan told his girlfriend that he and his mates installed video cameras at the beat and then blackmailed men they caught on film. “The businessmen who are homosexuals, you would not believe it,” he boasted to his girlfriend.

Hallahan, as documented by Steve Bishop in The Most Dangerous Detective: The Outrageous Glen Patrick Hallahan, took bribes, pimped women, passed counterfeit notes, imported and trafficked drugs and had suspicious proximity to far too many murders. Those include the murder of Gary Venamore, a gay man thrown unconscious into the Brisbane River to drown in 1968.

Whiskey Au Go Go

The 1973 firebombing of Brisbane’s Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub resulted in the deaths of 15 people including popular gay bartender Pieter Morcius. But local trans women and drag queens suffered collateral damage. Three trans women or drag queens reportedly left the club twenty minutes before it went up in flames. In response to the public outcry, investigators raced to solve the crime. Local drag queens and trans women were dragged in for interrogation. Cops pointed a gun at the temple of popular bar attendant Tina Louise and played Russian Roulette, continually pulling the trigger. After treatment in a mental facility, she fled south to run gay bars in Sydney. Others went north to Townsville which suddenly enjoyed a wealth of drag talent.

However, for much of the seventies and eighties, police corruption offered LGBTIQA+ Queenslanders a level of protection. At least in Fortitude Valley. The police did not want to interfere with the often illegal business enterprises that paid them such handsome rewards.

The city police offered no such ‘tolerance’. This writer was once strip-searched on Queen Street after leaving a club around midnight to return to the Valley. “Don’t come back in the city,” the cop bellowed at me, “You f_cking perverts should stay in the Valley!”

lgbtiqa+ queenslanders queensland police Aftermath of the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing
Whisky Au Go Go firebombing

Lindsay Kemp’s Flowers

In 1982, autocratic Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his loyal police henchmen huffed and puffed over a visiting production of Lindsay Kemp’s acclaimed Flowers.

Based on Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, the mime and music extravaganza starred Lindsay Kemp as Divine, a drag queen from the Parisien demi-monde. Flowers was unapologetically decadent, gay AF and featured male and female nudity.

Joh’s loyal stormtroopers in the Queensland Police Vice Squad announced they would arrest any naked male dancers. The cops purchased a dozen tickets to make sure no exposed penis would escape detection.

What happened?

Read all about it here: 1982: Premier Joh sours on Flowers.

Lindsay Kemp Flowers joh
Main Images: The Lindsay Kemp Company Facebook

Field Interrogation Reports

The main danger in the Valley was FIRs — Field Interrogation Reports. Cops would require people they caught alone on the street to provide details for the printed cards. Name, aliases, age, height, weight, hair and eye colour, identifying marks (tattoos and scars), address, phone number etc.

A few days later, the same cops would rock up to your home. They’d boldly lie and claim your neighbours dobbed you in for drug possession. Under Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the police could conduct searches for drugs without warrants under a provision of the Health Act. They only needed ‘reasonable suspicion’.

Hang up that f_cking phone

I had exactly that occur one morning in 1985. I worked in a drag show in Fortitude Valley at the time and lived in nearby Spring Hill. Two cops who’d pulled me up two nights before rocked up one morning and tore my house apart. They mistook my fire-eating sticks for sex toys and threatened to arrest me over those. Dickheads!

When they realised there were no drugs in the house, they told me they would only leave once I gave them the names and addresses of three friends where they’d find drugs. Giving me time to think, they started packing a flatmate’s booze to take with them as ‘evidence’. I quickly dialled South Brisbane Police Station. I had given important evidence in a recent court case against a man who went armed in public. The sergeant thanked me at the time and said to ring him if I ever encountered trouble.

“Hang up that f_cking phone or you’re dead,” screamed one of the cops. I ignored him and blurted what was happening to the sergeant at South Brisbane. He asked to speak to one of them. They quietly put the booze back on the shelf, and left without another word.

Entrapment

From the seventies, calls for gay law reform became louder. The Australian public also became increasingly responsive to calls for tolerance. In Queensland, Bjelke-Petersen’s National Party government and the police increased their demonisation of  LGBTIQA+ Queenslanders.

The marked increase in entrapment tactics during those years seems an unlikely coincidence.

Numerous gay and bisexual men fell victim to entrapment. Good-looking young policemen dropped their dicks out in public toilets and beckoned other men to suck them off. They then arrested the men for indecency. Sometimes, according to substantial anecdotal evidence, only after they came!

Many of their victims avoided court by paying a fine. Who was going to take their word against that of a fine upstanding uniformed officer of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s godly constabulary? Some of those men lost jobs and families, fleeing their hometowns, and often the state, their lives in tatters.

Glory Holes

Following the Fitzgerald Inquiry’s revelations of Queensland’s political and police corruption, the National Party faced near-certain defeat in the 1989 election. Premier Russell Cooper declared a Labor victory would, “open the floodgates and see a sea of sodomites flooding into Queensland.”

The Nats produced a television commercial in which two ‘Kings Cross homosexuals’ lisped about moving north on the election of a Goss Labor government. At Goombungee, outside of Toowoomba, local National Party president Alex Robertson warned an election crowd about the dangers of electing Labor. A future Labor government would build a Berlin-like wall through Brisbane but with “holes in it to let the homosexuals through.”

Now that’s a glory hole.

Homosexual invasion lgbtiqa+ queenslanders queensland police
A National Party luminary warming up the crowd at an election rally in Goombungee. Image: Geoff Pryor, The Canberra Times

Decriminalisation

However, Labor won power and decriminalised male homosexual acts. Eventually, we saw the introduction of liaison officers, along with the swearing-in of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender police.

But old habits die hard, attitudes even harder. Ingrained prejudice can take decades to erase. Problems remained and remain. The current Police Commissioner has offered to apologise for past police actions. A marked improvement on her predecessors. It will be interesting to see what steps the Queensland Police take to improve their interactions with LGBTIQA+ Queenslanders now and into the future.

Read also: Queensland’s final convictions for homosexual offences.

Outback sodomy: 1921 Barcaldine tryst’s sad consequence.

Milestones: QLD Police Commissioner meets LGBTQIA+ community members and expresses personal remorse ahead of a formal apology.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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1 Comment

  1. Julian
    16 January 2023
    Reply

    Destiny Rodgers your article is exceptional, I believe hundreds of hours of research went into this well presented article.
    Thank you for taking the time to produce this outstanding Document.
    A must to print out and keep for LGBTQ historical reference.
    Best regards C

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