Sydney’s Kamp Kult – depression era fabulousness

Kamp Kult secret history same-sex marriage 1930s
Image: The Sydney Arrow

Just days before Christmas 1931, the Arrow newspaper regaled its readers with the story of Sydney’s Kamp Kult.  The paper marvelled at lavish ceremonies including the coronation of a Queen and same-sex weddings.

At the time, Sydney suffered in the throes of the Great Depression. Men struggled to find employment and riots broke out over mass evictions of tenants unable to pay their rent. The infamous razor gangs ruled the streets. Meanwhile, Premier Jack Lang was at war with the federal government.

‘At war’ is no metaphor. The feds eventually put the country’s armed forces on alert for a potential forced takeover of the state. It was the closest Australia ever came to civil war. The Governor dismissed Lang the following year. But before that happened, he opened the Sydney Harbour Bridge, almost complete at Christmas 1931.

Despite the plethora of news, the Arrow devoted almost an entire front page to a quiet gathering in a suburban home. An event the paper described as a “very important” occasion “in the annals of organised male depravity in the city of Sydney.”

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“Call the homosexual of the species… by any name you will. He is, to our normal view, a disgusting fellow, not wanted in any decent community.

“Who would have believed that this city could stage an orgy of the solemn coronation of a ‘Queen’ of perverts, or worse still, a ‘marriage’ ceremony of one of these unfortunate creatures with another of his kind?”

The Arrow claimed a representative of their august journal managed to wangle an invitation to the event through a relative.

“[The event took place] not, as might be assumed, in the vicinity of its members’ nightly perambulations, amid the bright lights of King’s Cross, but in a western suburb, far removed. This, no doubt, for the sake of safety. The scene is an imposing, old-fashioned, roomy house, with a drawing room almost the size of a small hall.”

The house belonged to the ‘Queen of Queens’. She and the other most exalted members of the Kamp Kult, known as ‘Royals’ regularly officiated at same-sex weddings and divorces. Guests paid two shillings admission. The ceremony then began with the reading of “apologies for unavoidable absence from ‘he-shes’ and ‘she-he’s’ from all over Australia.”

Her Majesty, the Queen of Queens

“The newcomers paid homage to the Queen, a portly person of about 40… The Royal entourage, when assembled, was rather impressive. Her Majesty, the Queen of Queens, wore a white satin robe, with a velvet train edged with something resembling ermine, and her corsage was a blaze of brilliants. Her lady-in-waiting, a painted youth from King’s Cross, was a dream in flowing white, with a silver turban.

“Amid much excitement, the Princess Royal, elect of the Kamp Kultur boys, was announced. An attractive, smartly-gowned brunette was she, immediately recognisable as a young gentleman from the city. Cheers from the assemblage of frocked he-maidens greeted the arrival of the Princess.

“To the astonishment of at least one visitor, the Princess disrobed in full view of the guests and changed into her ceremonial garments. A page in velvet knee-breeches and a ‘Royal’ in the full canonicals of a bishop, completed the ensemble.

“[The guests], chattering like magpies, giggling in the manner of schoolgirls, adopting various feminine poses, and calling each other by endearing names, indulged in the small talk of a hens’ convention. Some walked arm-in-arm, embracing lovingly and examining with interest one another’s beautiful frocks fitting so closely to the figure. Cigarettes were held between manicured fingers or puffed between carmined lips. Some wore false hair, with marcel waves, others the boyish Eton crop. They addressed one another as ‘Marie’ or ‘Sibyl’.”

The coronation

“The ceremony of crowning the Queen was brief but impressive. …a page carried a banner with the device, ‘God Save Our Queen’… The bishop read from a large book… the contents of that book enough to make a hardened sinner blush… When the crowning of the Princess Royal was over, she addressed the assembly… she told them how happy she was to be with them, and how she regretted the lost years before she became a Kamp member.

“Then the beer flowed, and the fun started. It was surprising to discover what musical talent was there. Many of those present gave evidence of refinement and education. The dancing of some of the “she-he’s” was delightful.”

Most ancient and decadent of vices

Reading the article, one almost feels sympathy for the author. Paragraph after paragraph, he gushes with praise for the beauty and refinement he witnesses but then comes to his senses, and remembers that the scene is supposed to disgust him.

“The performance that he witnessed appealed to his sense of the bizarre… Astonishing as he found the spectacle of sixty or more devotees of this most ancient and decadent of vices, he did not feel entirely at ease until he had left the scene far behind.”

The Arrow assured its readers that the reporter dreaded the ‘personal familiarities’ he experienced on the night. The spectacle, it said, caused ‘physical nausea’ within him.

Only after a guilty wank, one suspects.

“Get out of Australia”

“Said a convicted homosexual on one occasion to the Arrow: ‘I have been in gaol and have just been released. But I know I shall do it again. I cannot help myself. What should I do?’

“The advice given him was: ‘Go and live in some country where they do not mind these things. But get out of Australia. You are not wanted here.’

(And some people think ‘patriots’ are something new. The ‘Love Australia or Leave It’ wankers who yearn for a lost Australia that never existed. Funny how despite their ‘love it or leave’ credo, they devote their energies to whinging about the place.)

“It is time the police took a hand with these social pests,” said the Arrow. “There is plenty of work in this direction for idle police-men. A clean-up of Sydney’s perverts is overdue.”

God save the Queen of Queens

There is nothing to indicate the police took any action. Between the Great Depression, riots, razor gangs and carrying out drills to prepare to fight off the Australian Army, the coppers were busy enough. Just a couple of weeks before, Nellie Cameron, the ‘Kiss of Death Girl’, Sydney’s most expensive streetwalker, was shot in the shoulder in broad daylight as she walked home from visiting her boyfriend in the hospital. He was in hospital as a result of an earlier shooting. Who cared about a camp coronation?

However, perhaps some of the participants decided to move elsewhere as a result of the publicity. The following year, the Arrow reported on similar ceremonies in Brisbane, the new camp headquarters.

Anyway, God save the Queen of Queens. Long may she and her heirs reign over us.

More Kamp Sydney History:

1932: Homosexualists take over the streets of Sydney.

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Men modelling hats on Pitt St. Image: State Library of NSW.

1936: Sydney’s Biggest, Gayest Divorce.

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Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at

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