On this day April 13: The Pink Elephant Cafe


pink elephant april 13
L to R: Douglas Murray, Ray Mann and Merton Hopgood.

On April 13, 1947, the Brisbane Truth reported on an ongoing court appeal. The sordid saga of the Pink Elephant Cafe trial began when a drunken homophobic cop harassed a young art student at the ‘bohemian’ inner-city cafe.

The reporting on the case with accusations of men named Lana Turner and Pearl of the Pacific provide remarkable insight into Brisbane’s thriving post-war queer networks.

The Pink Elephant Cafe

Frank Mitchell, a former art student, actor and returned serviceman opened the Pink Elephant Cafe opposite Brisbane’s Customs House in early 1946. The Sunday Mail‘s ‘Talk of the Town’ columnist popped in to check out the buzz.

“Have you been to the Pink Elephant?

“No? … Well, it’s clear you’re not in Brisbane’s arty-cum-bohemian circle, for it seems to be their Mecca at the moment. Just a little cafe, it has candles instead of electric globes, flowers and laundry flaunted in the window instead of food.

“One of the habitues told me ‘It’s the only place in town where you can hear any intelligent conversation.’

“Art students abound.”

Ray Mann

One of those art students was Ray Mann.

Two years before, 17-year-old Ray stopped working as a clerk after winning an art competition. The prize included an Arts scholarship which allowed him to commence study at the Brisbane Technical College.

By 1947, Ray Mann had become a member of Brisbane’s post-war youth arts scene — a scene which naturally included a substantial number of young men who sometimes attracted catcalls of ‘there goes those queer people’ in the street.

Brisbane enjoyed an unusually active avant-garde art movement in the latter years of World War II and immediately afterwards. Writer Laurence Collinson attributed that to the war.

“Brisbane was an exciting place to live then: the town was full of Yanks and Diggers and their various kinds of camp-followers, there was a cosmopolitan atmosphere, and literature and painting seemed to flourish, not only because of the ‘natives’ but also because a number of Australian and American servicemen (who were also writers and artists) passed through or made Brisbane their base.”

Overpaid, oversexed, and over here

The influx of US servicemen — overpaid, oversexed, and over here — certainly made a difference in the big, country town masquerading as a state capital. Brisbane drag queen Harriet Marsden cherished memories of the war years.

“The place was so alive. And the men. Those yanks — especially the black soldiers — such gentlemen. They actually talked to you. Not like Australian men. We called Aussies  ‘Triple F’. Flop, F_ck, Flee! Because they flopped it out, f_cked and fled.

“The Yanks stayed to chat, treated you like a person and said Thank You.

“And the dicks on them!”

Harriet was unashamedly a size queen.

“I’d never seen anything like it. Massive. And they also knew how to use their big weapons.”

pink elephant april 13
L to R: An ex, Harriet Marsden, the author.

Barjai

In 1943, a group of senior students at Brisbane State High published a typed and carbon-copied magazine called Senior Tabloid. The aforementioned Laurence Collinson, gay and Jewish, was a driving force behind the publication along with bisexual co-editor, Barrett Reid.

Senior Tabloid proved immediately popular. Laurence and Barrett enlisted additional editors and contributors. They soon changed the name to Barjai, believed to be an Aboriginal word for ‘meeting place’. However, Brisbane State High Headmaster Waddle, known as The Duck,  banned the publication after a contributor wrote about his atheism. But the magazine was already a success and enjoyed financial support from local arts patron, Professor J. V. Duhig. That undoubtedly irritated the professor’s uncle, Brisbane’s arch-conservative Catholic Archbishop Duhig.

Read also: The history of Barjai by Michele Helmrich (formerly Anderson) in her 1987 University of Queensland thesis.

Read more: copies of Barjai at Trove. Laurence Collinson’s satirical The Miracle is a great place to start — the story of what happens when people in a small country town witness a biblical miracle as they leave church.

The Barjai collective continued the magazine after leaving school. They held fortnightly meetings in the Lyceum Club rooms opposite the GPO with guest speakers like writer Thea Astley and poet Judith Wright.

Barjai also began to include artwork, including that of Ray Mann. And some of the members socialised at the Pink Elephant Cafe.

In the pink

According to reports in the Sunday Mail, a predominantly young crowd hung out at the Pink Elephant. That would make sense. The drinking age was then 21 and the cafe had no liquor licence. Lots of older teenagers plus ‘long-haired musicians and artists’. Who knows what constituted long hair on a male in 1946? Perhaps anything longer than a Number 1 cut, or maybe even an audacious fringe?

Ray Mann knew Frank Mitchell, the owner, and Mrs McLaney, the manageress. He sometimes helped out at the cafe. On Wednesday, October 2, 1946, he went to the Pink Elephant with Edith Tighe, an amateur actress who’d often appeared with the Unity Theatre.

Now, speaking of the Unity Theatre, where are those people who say things were different in the old days?

The Unity Theatre was the personal bête noire of Archbishop Duhig’s yappy closeted lapdog, Nigel Bonsey. The conflicted but relentlessly sanctimonious Bonsey was theatre critic for the Catholic Leader and — boy — he hated the Unity Theatre. Poor old Nige saw Marxism everywhere he looked and especially in the Queensland University’s Unity Theatre. He never shut up about the misguided youth of today.

Nigel may be dead now, but his spiritual descendants survive. They post on social media about promiscuous homosexuals giving everyone else a bad name.  Then they make a snarky comment about Greta Thunberg on another thread before slipping on a baseball cap and sunnies to sneak into a sex-on-premise. Or parliamentary prayer room. Whichever is closer.

Plus ça change…

 

pink elephant
Ray Mann in 1944, 1947 and 1959.

Detectives Hopgood and Scanlan

Ray and Edith’s pleasant evening ended with the arrival of Detectives Hopgood and Scanlan at the Pink Elephant. Ray saw the men enter.

“I thought they were a couple of drunks.”

Hopgood and Scanlan lurched across the cafe and into the kitchen. Hopgood accused Mrs McLaney of running a ‘haunt for bad characters’. He boasted that between them, he and Scanlan had seven years of meritorious service. Probably a hint that they could therefore get away with whatever they liked.

“We’re tough. We don’t paddle in our porridge and we don’t drink our bathwater.”

WTF!

Back in the cafe, Hopgood tapped Ray Mann on the shoulder and asked him to come outside.

At the door, he asked what Ray did and found out he was an art student.

“One of those _____’s wasting time down at the college, eh?

“You are nothing but a ____ ____ ____ and ____ ____’s like you should be done away with.”

We can assume the blanks mask homophobic slurs.

Successful city businessman Douglas Murray was also at the Pink Elephant that night with his friend Doris Wilson. He came over and asked Hopgood to mind his language.

“Break it down, mate, there are ladies inside.”

“Who do you think you are talking to?” snarled Hopgood.

“I am talking to you,'” said Murray.

“You’ll do me, you great big _____!” said Hopgood.

The two detectives then bashed Murray before hailing a cab and taking him to the watchhouse. Doug Murray later said the bashing continued in the cab and at the watchhouse.

Meanwhile, Doris Wilson rang Doug Murray’s father and then headed for the watchhouse herself. Doug’s father bailed his son and they returned to the Pink Elephant and met up with Doug’s friend Dr Raff Cilento.

The Pink Elephant trial

At the watchhouse, Doug Murray’s father had forewarned the police that he would spend whatever time and money was needed to hold them to account.

“This case will be fought to a finish and I will fight for my son’s honour.”

The cops took note and by the time the trial began on October 25, 1946, they’d carried out investigations of all the witnesses.

29-year-old Doug Murray was charged with assaulting Hopgood and with using obscene language. The only eyewitnesses willing to support those charges were Hopgood himself, and his offsider, Scanlan.

In contrast, a parade of people present at the Pink Elephant on October 2 testified to Hopgood’s drunken behaviour and aggressive demeanour.

Lana Turner and Pearl of the Pacific

The prosecutor Detective Risch asked Frank Mitchell whether transvestites frequented his cafe.

“Do you know men called Lana Turner, Pearl of the Pacific, Christina, Erica, and Philippa?”

“I don’t know them.”

“Have you ever had a man waiting on tables in female attire?”

“Quite ridiculous.”

Risch called Detective Larkin of the Vice Squad. On the night of the bashing, Hopgood and Scanlan returned to the Pink Elephant with Larkin. Hopgood by then knew Mitchell had rung the CIB to complain about him.

“If you make any further report about this to the CIB, I’ll smash your place and close it up.”

Larkin later said in court he saw “a lot of effeminate-looking men, and many women,” at the Pink Elephant.

Risch had his narrative and he hammered it: the Pink Elephant was a vice den frequented by perverts and prostitutes. Anything to save his colleague Hopgood, a drunk and a thug. Risch recalled Doug Murray to the stand and asked about something the watchhouse keeper noticed during his search on the night of the arrest.

“Do you ever paint your toenails?”

“No. At a party at Southport, one of the girls put a dob of paint on my big toe. It has nearly worn off.”

Raff Cilento

Dr Raphael Cilento Jr, son of the then highly-esteemed Sir Raphael and Lady Cilento, testified to examining Doug Murray’s injuries when he returned to the Pink Elephant following his release from the Watchhouse.

Risch cross-examined Cilento following his testimony.

“You are a friend of Mr Murray?”

“Yes. I have known him since before the war.”

“And you go to the Pink Elephant quite often?”

“Yes, and I have seen Mr Murray there quite frequently.”

“Would it be correct to say that you and Mr Murray were well known at the Pink Elephant?”

“Yes.”

In response to further examination, Cilento mentioned he previously belonged to surf lifesaving clubs.

“I once belonged to Surfer’s Paradise, Metropolitan, and Caloundra. I am not still a member of those clubs.”

“Were you asked to leave any of those clubs for any reason?”

“No.”

Guilty

The magistrate found Doug Murray guilty of assaulting Hopgood and using obscene language despite all the eyewitness accounts that contradicted his finding. However, Doug’s father was undeterred. They appealed.

At a full court hearing, Justice Philp accused the magistrate of admitting irrelevancies.

“The case almost amounted to a mistrial by the spate of irrelevant evidence allowed by the magistrate.

“A whole aura of perversion was put around the case.

“What justification could there be for wiping out the evidence of eight respectable people — a probable story — and preferring the improbable police story?”

The full court found unanimously that the police lied. They quashed the conviction against Doug Murray and awarded him costs.

The aftermath

Sadly the trial achieved what Hopgood set out to do, and destroyed the Pink Elephant. Despite the full-court finding, patronage dropped off and the cafe shut.

Laurence Collinson moved south and became a teacher. However, he remained a writer. After moving to England, his play Thinking Straight was produced as part of a Homosexual Acts season in 1975.

Barrett Reid also moved south and remained an influential Australian literary figure. He lived with a male partner from the mid-1950s until 1984.

Ray Mann became a successful commercial artist. However, after moving to Sydney he transitioned successfully to dress design. In 1959, he met the touring British singer and actress Sabrina in a Kings Cross deli. Not the later ‘Boys (Summertime Love)’ Sabrina, but an earlier singer of the same name famed for her ‘curvacious figure’. When he was last heard of, Sabrina was taking Ray with her to England to continue his design career there.

The line Risch took in court with Raff Cilento may indicate the cops had something on him. The later much-married son of the truly horrible Ray and Phyllis Cilento announced his engagement to marry during the course of the trial. Always grounds for suspicion when the spectre of homosexuality raises its head.

Habitués of the 1960s Brisbane gay scene remember him as a straight transvestite, famous for quipping he had a much better wardrobe than his wife. In the 1950s, he fathered an always unacknowledged gay, Aboriginal son by the poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal when she worked for his mother as a housekeeper.

Doug Murray also married a few years after the trial and enjoyed a long and happy marriage.

But what about Detective Sergeant Merton Hopgood?

The police department punished him with a promotion. He eventually became an Inspector of Police.

F_cking Typical!

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2 Comments

  1. Neal Price
    16 April 2022
    Reply

    Great history capture – i have interviews from Ron Tomkins about Pear of the pacific and Lana Turner – christine de Winter – and the quick wit of the working girls at the time –

  2. neal price
    4 July 2022
    Reply

    Christine de wynter was my friend Ron Tompkins – a regular at the Pink Elephant Cafe – i have a video of him telling those stories.

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