Longtime Darwin pub owner John Spellman, whose gay-friendly venues provided locals refuge and community, has been farewelled at a lively funeral service in the Northern Territory.
The gay businessman owned nightclubs and restaurants in Darwin for decades. He died last month, prompting a flood of tributes from locals.
In 1969, John Spellman dressed in drag and opened his Pianola Palace, widely credited as the first gay-friendly Darwin club.
Over the decades, John also ran other popular venues including the Mississippi Queen, Dix and The Train.
At the weekend, the community gathered to farewell John Spellman at a colourful and lively memorial service at Darwin’s Botanic Gardens.
During the service, John’s ashes sat above a wooden “Mississippi Queen” sign surrounded by disco balls. The memorial service also streamed online.
Darwin producer James Emery from Drag Territory said the “gay icon and hospitality industry legend” threw “epic” parties.
“John was an extraordinary businessman and entrepreneur who welcomed everyone to his bars,” James told us.
“He supported the gay community privately through donations and accommodation and gave us safe spaces to allow people to be whoever they wanted to be.”
James said John’s memorial service was a “big party and family reunion” with speeches, funny stories and memories of the beloved figure.
“We took over the streets in the CBD with over 60 cars in John’s funeral procession. Horns were blasting and 80s music was pumping,” James said.
John Spellman was a ‘provocateur and protector’
Last week, an obituary paid tribute to John Spellman as a “provocateur and protector” of LGBTQIA+ folk in Darwin.
Former Mardi Gras President Kate Wickett, Party Passport co-founder Daniel Cunningham and Darwin local Mookie Hesketh described John as a “complex, caring, cantankerous and ultimately generous human.”
“We met him in our late teens in the late 90’s. We were young, gay and discovering who we were in a time and place where we were not always accepted, or even safe,” they wrote.
“John was many things to many people, but to us, he will always be someone who provided us with a space to meet friends and chosen family. [A space] where we could have fun, be ourselves and feel connected, where we felt that we belonged – the Train.
“Thank you John for your hilarious stories, your cutting quips and for providing us a place where we had so much joy.
“You were unapologetic in your ways, and you were a trailblazer.
“From the young, gay kids growing up in Darwin, thank you for not only providing us a refuge, but a place for community.”
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