Secret History of Fortitude Valley 3: 2nd Hand Rose


Fortitude Valley

The beautiful Bettenay sisters were once Brisbane’s ‘it’ girls. After Joy declined actor Ray Barrett’s proposal of marriage, he instead wedded sister Audrey with Joy as bridesmaid. In later years, one of the sisters ran a second-hand shop in Fortitude Valley.

Edna Bettenay never married. She promoted 50/50 dances, played piano in the Upadian Band and presented a regular radio program.

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By 1976, she ran a second-hand shop in the area of Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley later known as ‘Sin Triangle’, next door to where The Den now stands.

I worked late at the Sunday Sun on Saturday nights and had the next three days off. My wardrobe consisted of now redundant school uniforms, flared pants and a body shirt for going out, and casual after-school clothes. I needed more. It is probably unnecessary to state that Mr. Murdoch’s enterprise was not needlessly generous in its remuneration of junior employees. I discovered op-shops.

Edna could sell condoms to the Pope

I called into Edna’s shop often, and she eventually convinced me to volunteer there one day a week. Edna could sell condoms to the Pope.

Although officially a Lifeline shop, the place was a sovereign dominion governed by Edna in the manner of Queen Elizabeth I. She would have lopped off the heads of disobedient peasants but for the danger of blood splatter on the stock.

Her now elderly sisters also helped out one day a week.

Edna treated customers to both a gushing welcome and an untrusting scrutiny, wanting to charm them into a purchase but fearing they might purloin her precious stock. She particularly fretted they might scribble in a lower number on a price tag.

She decided every price herself and handwrote the tags. But her writing was illegible, even to her. Customers asking the price were met with astonished disbelief. Edna snatched the item, glanced at the tag and with great confidence, said the first price that came into her head. She based her decision not on her evaluation of the garment, but of the customer.

As she sorted stock for pricing, she tut-tutted at low-cut tops, short skirts or less than utilitarian ladies underwear. Nevertheless, she had those scandalous garments laundered and ironed, whacked a great big price on them and stored them out the back.

Hookers in Fortitude Valley

I never understood why she took such care with clothing she thought so unsuitable. Until the day two overpainted and underdressed ladies came through the front door.

Edna glanced up at them with shock. Miscreants entering her sacred space! Recovering her composure, she smiled a dazzling smile, greeted the women by name and ushered them out the back before anyone respectable noticed.

And then the charm offensive began. She waxed lyrical on the overpriced scanties that just days before scandalised her.

I whispered to one of the sisters, “Who are they?”

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“Local Fortitude Valley hookers,” she whispered back, “Lovely girls, whatever Edna says.”

The women bought everything shown, paid without quibbling and added a $5 tip to the total because it was ‘for such a good cause’.

Edna rushed them out the front door.

“Come back soon,” she chirped as she damn near flung them into the street.

“The things I have to put up with,” she said to us.

“They’re lovely,” said her sister.

“Baloney!” stormed Edna, and turned to me, “Don’t ever get up to funny business with that sort.”

I always remembered her advice.

‘Those sorts of men’

She disapproved of a long list of people, including “those sorts of men!”

I already knew I was ‘those sort of men’.

My Torres Strait Islander neighbour K decided that for me. She once caught me checking out a guy.

“He’s cute,” she said.

“Really?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, “What’s the point of bullshit? You’re gay. Get used to it. Don’t try to be something you’re not. I’m black. You’re gay. That’s who we are.”

And with that, the matter was settled.

Edna’s sisters knew too, without any need for discussion. Whenever she ranted against ‘those sorts of men’, they winked, smirked, and raised their eyebrows in amusement.

Volunteers received a 10% discount on purchases. I favoured somewhat girly clothes, causing Edna considerable consternation. The sisters took care of that. While she was busy hawking goods to sex-workers or buttering up a customer, they snatched anything they’d seen me look at, rang it through the till and shoved it in a bag.

One day a glorious knee-length fox fur coat arrived amongst the stock – something a Hollywood star might wear. I never gave a thought to the dead animals skinned to make it. I wanted it. Although mortified, Edna could never forgo a sale. She put a ridiculous price on the fur and insisted she could only offer a 5% discount on such a special item. I paid for it, put it on, kissed her sisters goodbye and walked out, never to return.

Up Brunswick St through Fortitude Valley and to New Farm

And then in the sweltering heat of early December, I walked the length of Brunswick Street, through Fortitude Valley and home to New Farm in that coat. Who cared about the people who called out from their cars? “Ya stupid poof!”. I laughed and stuck my fingers up at them and responded that they should get fucked. Yes, I was a poof, and maybe stupid. So, fucking what!

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