Piece of Brisbane ‘gay history’ should go on National Heritage List

A Brisbane resident is campaigning for the inner-city suburb of Herston to be added to the National Heritage List, in part for its little-known “gay history”.

John Dobinson lives in the suburb and has called on the federal and state government to recognise Herston, where Queensland’s first Premier Robert Herbert and his companion John Bramston lived, as a national cultural landmark.

Bramston became Queensland’s first Attorney-General, and the pair lived on a farm named “Herston” – a combination of their two surnames – on land that is now the location of the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

The two men’s relationship was the subject of speculation for decades, Dobinson explained.

In 2009, the pair became the subject of a stage play, Letters To No First Lady: An Oral History, and last year historian Dr Harold Thornton told Fairfax Media they were most likely in a same-sex relationship. Homosexuality remained illegal in Queensland until 1990.

Dr Thornton said last year “it is, of course, possible that Herbert and Bramston’s relationship was not sexual.”

“Such matters were not discussed in polite circles in those times. The intimacy of their residential relations was likely the subject of scuttlebutt, but none of it is recorded,” he said.

“The seriousness with which the law of the time viewed male homosexual acts paradoxically served to protect gay men from public accusations, since without strong evidence such an imputation could itself be viewed as criminally defamatory.

“Although in 1859 it was absolutely necessary for gay male couples to pretend to be celibate if they were to live together, 158 years later Queensland can unambiguously celebrate the relationship.”

Dobinson told the City North News Herbert and Bramston’s contribution to the state alone fit the criteria for recognition.

“While I am not gay, I can appreciate the importance of Herbert and Bramston to the gay community. It should be the first gay inclusion on the national heritage list,” he said.

“Existing historical sites on the national heritage list includes sites of importance as varied as the Cypriot and Hellenic Club to several parks.”

He said Herston was a “neglected suburb, a badly neglected suburb and a heritage listing would give it attention it has never had.”

“The first Premier and his companion created the word Herston and if Canberra doesn’t want to give it a heritage listing, then let the state,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Lord Mayor told the City North News the Brisbane City Council has no role in national heritage listings and directed inquiries to the Commonwealth Department of Environment and Energy.

A spokesperson for Federal MP for Brisbane Trevor Evans told the publication that “anything that further amplifies Brisbane’s rich and diverse history is always welcome, and I’ll be watching any developments about this issue with interest.”

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