Actually, the ANZACS did fight & die for this shit!


drag queens anzacs

Drag Queens numbered among the original ANZACS and hundreds of gay men served in drag as indispensable boosters of troop morale during two world wars.

Scroll down to read or download our free lavishly illustrated eBook Drag Queens at War.

“Digger Concert Artists Have Proved Themselves – Both in This War and in the Last,” declared the Melbourne Argus in 1943 of Australia’s wartime entertainment units.

Those entertainment units all had a common factor: the star performers were Drag Queens. And not usually Drag Queens of the non-sexually suggestive ‘Panto Dame’ variety. More often, the ‘female impersonators’ worked hard to appear as beautiful and sexually attractive women.

The Sydney Sun reported in 1918 that “the divisions vie with each other as to who has got the best ‘girl performers’.”

The Sunday Times asked that those aware that the lady singers of the Smart Set Diggers were really men “not blab it to their friends. The surprise is worth waiting a long time for.”

Then, as now, gender ambiguity could arouse sexual curiosity.

The Eyre Peninsula Tribune reported of local Australia Day celebrations on August 28, 1917: “The female impersonations were good, and looked, as we heard one amorous young man declare, ‘almost nice enough to nibble’.”

With hindsight, it is obvious many of the drag performers were gay men. But at a time when they would face dismissal, court-martial and imprisonment for their sexuality, their secret remained hidden in plain sight.

Kept for the Dressing Room

Some could not resist the occasional hint though.  At Christmas 1915, the Pierrot Troupe performed an all-male pantomime, Babes in the W(Censored). According to to the program, “all sorts of scenes are seen in this scene—except for the obscene—which is kept for the Dressing Room.”

Newspapers reported that drag performers were sometimes inundated with chocolates, flowers and even proposals of marriage.

According to Smith’s Weekly, “Female impersonators are much in demand in war regions where the genuine article is not available.”

However, that wasn’t absolutely correct. When authorities allowed women a role in wartime entertainment, drag queens remained as popular as ever.

Gallipoli, Tobruk and the Kokoda Track.

Australian and New Zealander Drag Queens are strongly associated with three of the most iconic battlefields in ANZAC war history: Gallipoli, Tobruk and the Kokoda Track.

Indeed, the first-ever ANZAC concert party came from the ranks of the original ANZACS. The ANZAC Coves starred two of the first Gallipoli landing party.

Recognising the benefit of drag shows on soldier morale, General Sir John Monash outfitted army female impersonators in London.

One of the most popular drag performers of WWII, Sergeant Bill Donaldson, joined an entertainment unit after surviving the siege of Tobruk.

In New Guinea, the female impersonators of the 30 Club Revue “followed the troops who fought up the Kokoda Track in 1942, and made digger concert party history by shouldering their stage props, costumes, musical instruments (everything except the grand piano) on their shoulders.”

But of course, not everyone is a fan of drag.

Proud Drag Queen veteran of two world wars, Lindsay Kemble, aroused the ire of the Melbourne Truth in 1915. Lindsay’s experience then parallels current attempts to whip up mass hysteria against Drag Queens. The paper first hurled slurs at the young entertainer and when the editor could not find a law Lindsay had broken, then urged readers to undertake vigilante action to stop performances.

Just as far-right trolls now incite their followers to bombard event organisers or venues with harassment and threats.

ANZACS didn’t fight and die for this shit!

A late-night television performance by Drag Queen Courtney Act on New Year’s Eve inspired someone to tweet: “ANZACS didn’t fight and die for this shit!”

A common response to progress on social justice for decades. Bigots said it about gay law reform, Aboriginal land rights, and same-sex marriage. Now, they say it about Drag Queens.

But, ANZACS did fight and die for this shit. They fought for democracy and freedom.

More than that, some ANZACS were Drag Queens. Others found the will to live and continue the fight because of the joy they found in a simple Drag Show.

Hundreds of men served in drag during World Wars I & II, some in both wars. Some made the ultimate sacrifice.

Lest we forget.

Read or download free PDF eBook Drag Queens at War.

Also: Charles Holt, drag war hero – a proud ANZAC.

The pre-Drag Race all-stars downunder – Aussie herstory.

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. sirald66
    23 April 2023
    Reply

    Awesome History

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