As Brisbane Arcade turns 95, tributes for gay philanthropist James Mayne


The recent 95th birthday celebrations for the Brisbane Arcade highlight the many contributions of gay Brisbane philanthropist gay Dr. James Mayne, writes Destiny Rogers.

Born into a wealthy Brisbane family, Dr Mayne worked at the Brisbane Hospital from 1891 until 1904, first as Resident Medical Officer and then as Medical Superintendent.

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He donated his salary straight back to the hospital in addition to further generous donations to both it and other local hospitals.

He and his sister Mary Emilia donated the money to buy the land for the University of Queensland and bequeathed their entire estates to benefit medical education in that institution.

The Mayne estate provides funds to the university to this day through the profits of various real estate holdings including Brisbane Arcade, built by James on the site of his childhood home in Queens Street.

None of the Mayne siblings married, leading to wild conjecture and a fabulous book, The Mayne Inheritance by Dr Rosamond Siemon, a wonderful read, but rather lacking in sufficient factual information to justify its classification as non-fiction (it’s in the State Library BTW).

One sister became a nun, an older brother, also gay, suffered mental illness and committed suicide in an asylum.

A third brother may also have been gay, and Mary Emilia remained unmarried and stayed in the family home with James.

Clive Moore describes James in Sunshine and Rainbows as, “always dressed fashionably. He wore a bowler hat, carried a silk paisley handkerchief in his breast pocket, and a sprig of flowers in his buttonhole, on special occasions topped off by a diamond stick pin in his lapel.”

He was friends with Brisbane’s pioneer female medico Dr. Lilian Cooper and her lifetime partner Josephine Bedford.

They moved in the same circles and attended the same social events, but the friendship may have been closer.

James spent time in England shortly before Lilian and Jo moved from there to Australia and within months of his return home and their immigration, they were attending the opera together.

James decided on the location of the University of Queensland in consultation with his young gay friend Dr Fred Whitehouse, a geologist and keen rower — the riverside location ideal for the institution’s rowing teams.

Dr. Mayne died in 1939 and is buried in the family crypt at Toowong cemetery.

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