Lindsay Kemble: from Adelaide’s ‘gay deceiver’ to war hero


Lindsay Kemble

Billed as Adelaide’s ‘gay deceiver’, Lindsay Kemble enjoyed a decades-long stage career as a female impersonator after the publicity from a 1915 arrest for unlawfully disguising himself as a woman.

Two constables testified against Lindsay in the Adelaide Police Court. Each detailed the interest they took in a young woman they noticed “out late at night, and in the company of different men.”

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However, their testimony elicited laughter in the courtroom, including from the bench. It seems some suspected the cops’ interest in the young woman stemmed from her attractiveness. Lindsay added to their discomfort by appearing in court in drag. According to the Adelaide Advertiser, “as demure as a young society maiden.”

But Lindsay Kemble was also witty AF and held the courtroom, the local press, and the South Australian public in the palm of his hand.

A bet

Lindsay claimed that friends bet him one hundred dollars he could not pass as a woman on the city streets. To prove his success, he had to collect gifts from gentlemen he met.

“The first time I went out, I dressed in the latest French fashion. I met a gentleman in the city. He took me to some shows and introduced me to other gentlemen, who were very nice. I like chocolates, and he bought me plenty, and they cost a good bit too.

“He took me to the theatre, and afterward to suppers. I also went for some motor rides with him… My goodness, I have to laugh when I think of it all.

“I went for a motor drive with one gentleman. He drove into the hills and we had a row. I said I would walk home… I told him he was a fag, and that if I was a man, I would have given him what he deserved.”

While Lindsay denied any ‘immoral purpose’, he coyly admitted that a young man from North Adelaide and a policeman ‘made love’ to him. However, Lindsay complained the policeman took one liberty too many.

“He cuddled and kissed me and ate a threepenny chocolate of mine.”

A threepenny chocolate. What a bastard!

‘An effeminate creature’

The frequent laughter and good-natured banter in the Adelaide courtroom infuriated the Melbourne Truth. Such tolerance in the city regarded as Australia’s moral exemplar outraged the editor. He reached for his smelling salts and then smashed away at his typewriter, slagging Lindsay as an effeminate creature, “unsure of his own sex…

“Authoritative writers on the psycho-pathology of sex are agreed that such masquerading is indicative of a perverted sexual nature.”

“It is, in fact, a recognised form of degeneracy and a hideous menace to morality, inasmuch as it is a direct incitement to the committal of unnatural and abominable offences…

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“This masquerading mountebank confesses to having been mauled and handled… It shows to what a depth of degradation the City of Churches has sunk.”

The paper surmised that Lindsay neglected to state the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

“The half was not told.”

The insinuation, of course: that Lindsay tricked the men into sex with someone they thought was a woman. But none of the men who ‘made love’ to Lindsay made any complaint. In fact, as even the Truth admitted, one employee of an Adelaide cycling firm openly declared he would marry Lindsay, “whether garbed as a man or a girl.”

Lindsay Kemble’s stage debut

The magistrate hearing the case affected a suitably somber tone when the time came to pass sentence. While agreeing cross-dressing might lead to ‘serious consequences’, he nevertheless imposed a notably non-serious £2 fine and refused to send Lindsay to jail.

Within weeks, Lindsay Kemble made his stage debut to packed houses. Dressed in beautiful gowns, he regaled audiences with tales of his nocturnal adventures on the streets of Adelaide.

The editor of the Truth frantically thumbed his thesaurus in search of epithets.

“Loose and lascivious rascals, whose satiated sensuality finds pleasure in perversion, lick their liquorish lips over the titillating tit-bits dished up to them by this hermaphroditic humbug.”

But Lindsay’s act found favour far beyond the City of Churches. He later toured nationally before departing overseas to play his part in the war effort.

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

Indeed!

Lindsay Kemble
Lindsay (centre), star of a Concert Party entertaining the troops in France during WWI.

A producer also hired Lindsay to play himself in a scandalous silent film depicting his exploits picking up men on the streets.

Royal Command Performance

In London, he appeared in a Royal Command Performance before George V and Queen Mary.

“Their Majesties seemed to enjoy our show,” he said.

lindsay kemble
Lindsay Kemble 1920

Enlisting again during World War II, Lindsay worked at Brisbane’s Amberley Air Base, producing shows to entertain the servicemen.

The man the Melbourne Truth vilified so fulsomely was a hero, volunteering in not one, but two world wars.

After the war, Lindsay tended bar at the Mackay RSL, dying in that town in 1976.

lindsay kemble
Lindsay during WWII.

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