The Sportsman Hotel team has paid tribute to owner Neil McLucas’ decades of hosting drag in Brisbane with the venue’s top Drag Hall of Fame honour.
Each year, the Brisbane LGBTQIA+ pub honours local personalities for their lifetime contributions to Queensland’s drag scene and LGBTQIA+ community.
Each Drag Hall of Famer is up on the wall of the Lounge Bar of the Sportsman Hotel, proudly Brisbane’s home of drag.
On Saturday night (February 10), Neil McLucas and showgirl Kelly Roberts were inducted into the Drag Hall of Fame.
Drag Hall of Famer Miss Synthetique (above right) told the crowd the 89-year-old living legend is a personal hero of hers and an irreplaceable community icon.
“For me, Neil’s name is synonymous with the gay community in Brisbane,” Synnie said.
“I get choked up thinking of all that he’s done for our community because, without him, I wouldn’t be here.”
Neil McLucas managed Brisbane’s first gay venues
Neil was sadly unable to make the ceremony, with Sporties’ Chris White and Shelli Thompson (both above) taking to the stage on his behalf.
Miss Synthetique drew on a QNews profile to recall Neil’s legacy of pioneering and hosting gay spaces in Brisbane.
“Moving to Brisbane at age 24, Neil became a member of the arts theatre, while working as an X-ray technician by day,” she said.
“But at night, he owned and managed some of Brisbane’s first gay establishments. He held gay afternoons at the Story Bridge Hotel, dressing the bartenders in skimpy shorts and long socks.
“Old Rowe’s was one of the first gay discos. It was popular with the classy ladies of town during the day. Three nights a week it was a raging hotspot for the gay community, under the shadow of Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
“In 1982, Neil opened the Terminus restaurant in Fortitude Valley. It was a gay venue and a frequent target of the oppressive authorities, but Neil would frequently and vigorously defend his clientele.”
Neil brought gay Brisbane ‘out of the darkness’
“After famously painting ‘gay’ in pink on a hotel for sale in Spring Hill, he now owned the Sporties, the grand old girl up on the hill,” Miss Synthetique said.
“Sporties is unapologetically a gay bar, a safe space for all. It’s the home of Brisbane drag, a bastion of the community and exists only for the efforts and dedication of our Nellie.
“He dragged the Brisbane gay community out of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen darkness and into the radiant sunshine we see today.”
In 2019, as the pub turned 30, Neil described the Sportsman Hotel as “a special place we could go to and say that we’re home.”
“We were beaten into the ground by Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen and the attitudes of the time,” Neil said.
“We couldn’t do a lot of things. I wanted to make certain we had a place we could go. Any day and night of the week, we could feel at home.
“People ostracised from birth families could find their own family at Sporties and know they were safe and valued.”
Showgirl Kelly Roberts joins Drag Hall of Fame
On Saturday night, the Sporties team also inducted Brisbane showgirl Kelly Roberts into the Drag Hall of Fame.
Miss Synthetique recounted Kelly’s big break at the Hacienda Hotel in Fortitude Valley in the mid-1980s. She also later treaded the boards at The Beat, Terminus, and Options.
“Her showgirl career took off under the guidance of Hall of Famer Gavin Anthony, and working alongside another Hall of Famer, the late Hazel La Belle,” Synnie said.
“Kelly started her transition journey in 1992, and continued to perform at venues like the Alliance, The Wickham and MPs. After a long hiatus, she’s back performing in Brisbane, including at the Sportsman Hotel.”
Accepting the honour Kelly said she was humbled and paid tribute to a few of the Brisbane legends who’d inspired her.
“In the mid-80s, I arrived on the scene and on my first night out I witnessed magic and beauty like you would not believe,” she said.
“I saw Miss Toye de Wilde and Miss Jackie Monroe on stage at the Hacienda Hotel. They were my absolute idols.
“Before that night I didn’t even know about floor shows. I was absolutely awestruck and from that moment on I wanted to perform just like them.
“Brett Wilson, a great showman from the day, immediately cast me in a show. The next few years were a blur of spotlights and sequins.”
Kelly Roberts also paid tribute to collaborators Miss Synthetique, Freda Mae West, producer Gavin Anthony and others.
“It’s very humbling to go into the Hall of Fame and I feel a huge responsibility to the younger generation to set an example,” she said.
“In the immortal words of Miss Whitney Houston, teach them well and let them lead the way.”
The previous inductees into the Sportsman Hotel’s Drag Hall of Fame are Dame Sybil Von Thorndyke, Dame Liz Taylor, Miss Synthetique, Wanda D’Parke, Betty Nature, Trixie Onassis, Yana Michelle, producer Gavin Anthony, Candy Surprise, Malika, Ella Va’lay, Tara Ra Boom Deay, Sue Wridge, Hazel La Belle, Iona Toyboy, Sasha Trajik-Mole, Toye de Wilde, Lucy Lockjaw and Tamara Tonite.
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