Garry Wotherspoon on a great character from Sydney’s past.


garry wotherspoon clive madigan gay looking glass

In Through the Gay Looking Glass: The Many Lives of Clive Madigan, historian Garry Wotherspoon takes us on a joyous romp through post-World War II gay Sydney.

Giggles and squeals pierced the night air as they tripped daintily along the platform of the North Strathfield railway station. High-stepping little things in ‘drag’ (women’s clothing to the uninitiated) were tenderly escorted by their ‘boy’ friends as they frolicked their way to the darkened street where their ‘hostess’ for the night awaited them.

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“Old-world courtesy prevailed as the laddies helped the ‘girlies’ on to the back of an open lorry, and while passers-by stared in silent wonder, they started their short journey to the Hollywood Tennis Courts Hall, Smythe’s St., Concord. For it was there on Saturday night of last week that Sydney’s naice boys had their latest ‘do’— one of those ducky little affairs which are now known as ‘parties of the painted pansies.’

“Right to the last minute the venue had been a top-line secret. Only very close and trusted associates of the master of ceremonies, one named Clive Madigan, knew where the parade of the performers was to be held that night.”

Sydney Truth, 11 December 1949

The Clive Madigan that Truth so cavalierly outed made many a previous appearance in the newspapers. Most of his other mentions resulted from criminal activity — safe-breaking, break and enters, black market liquor offences…

A slum boy, Clive started on his life of crime as a young teenager. Twenty years old when World War II ended, he joined a group of gay men known as the ‘Hyde Park Push’. The members of the Push spent their evenings drinking near Sydney’s Archibald Fountain and cruising men.

Clive also encountered difficulties with the law over his sexual activity.

While in the lock-up on a drinking charge in 1954, he shared a cell with Brian, a nineteen-year-old man locked up on a charge of public indecency with an older chef.

Clive and Brian made a deal. Whoever the authorities released first, would bail the other. Out on bail of £45, Brian then paid Clive’s 25 shilling fine. They took a cab back to Clive’s place so he could repay the money. Once there, Brian stopped for tea and cake. Oh, and also for sex.

Unfortunately, he later told the police about that. Clive, however, denied the ‘serious charge’ and a jury acquitted him.

But back in 1949, he busied himself arranging gay revelry. Dear old Sydney Truth clutched frantically for a pearl necklace.

Renowned as the ‘Viscountess de la Clive’, Madigan arranged social get-togethers in the suburbs.

“And so the night wore on.

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“’Drink hearty, girls, let joy be unconfined,’ was the hostess’ injunction,” said Truth of Clive Madigan’s turn as a party promoter.

“Her guests observed it— the fat and the thin, the old and the young, the bald-pated and long-haired, the sailormen who zestfully entered into the spirit of the occasion, and all the others — with the exception of Truth’s representatives.

“They found the proceedings highly unpalatable, and on frequent occasions almost nauseating.”

Well, so they claimed while typing with one hand.

In the early 1990s, Clive contacted Garry Wotherspoon. He hoped to interest the author of City of the Plain: History of a Gay Sub-culture in co-authoring his memoirs. He gave Garry a collection of material full of conflicting and historically inaccurate stories of his life.

Up until now, Clive Madigan resembles no one so much as Jean Genet, the enfant terrible of French literature. That vagabond, petty crim and sex worker, dishonourably discharged from the Foreign Legion in his youth for a homosexual act, later proved himself one of the most eloquent gay writers of all time.

No one who has read Our Lady of the Flowers or The Thief’s Journal; can possibly forget them.

But Garry Wotherspoon came to see Clive Madigan as somewhat less deep than the sainted Genet.

By the late 1990s, the idea of co-authoring a memoir fell by the wayside. The pair fell out, and Madigan disappeared from public view.

Inspired by Clive’s unreliable memory, Garry Wotherspoon not only tells Madigan’s story but ponders the vagaries of ‘memory, truth and fiction, and how the past can be variously seen’.

Through the Gay Looking Glass has every element this reader desires in a book. All we queer history freaks love real insights into how members of our communities lived in the past. Stories like this remind us that some people did live as their authentic selves in bygone years. Plus there is sex, crime, and wanderings around Australia. That includes an interlude in North Queensland where Clive went to reinvent himself as a writer.

Through the Gay Looking Glass: The Many Lives of Clive Madigan.

Available from The Bookshop Darlinghurst, Glebe Books and Hares and Hyenas.

[The word ‘naice’ in Truth’s article is not apparently an invention. It means: genteel, over-refined, or affected, in a manner supposed to be characteristic of the English upper classes.

How very naice. You learn something new and useless every day.]


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