Bob Downe is the stage name of comedian (and polyester lover) Mark Trevorrow, who is… if I can be so bold as to say, a bloody legend. Getting his start in the Globos, a 60s throw back band, in the 80s, his life was turned upside down when the band broke, and in amongst the changes was a move from Melbourne to Sydney. In Sydney he discovered the legendary Albury Hotel, which is one of two queer venues that were used as the inspiration for the film Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert.
We caught up to find out about that time in his life, the basement full of drag costumes, and being the ‘dag of dags’!Transcript
Bob Downe 00:00
It was a very magical time, like to the point of neglecting you know, neglecting my love life. You know what I mean? Like I would everybody else was standing around in the bar trying to pick up I wasn’t completely. I don’t know, I just wasn’t interested or something I was more interested in hanging out with the drag queens downstairs. And yet what’s so interesting, I never did drag I was never interested in doing drag.
K Anderson 00:25
I am K Anderson and you are listening to lost spaces, a podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories they created there, and the people that they used to know. Bob down is the stage name of comedian Mark Trevorrow. Who is if I could be so bold as to say, a bloody legend. Getting his start in the globose 60s throwback band in the early 80s. His life was turned upside down when the band broke. And in amongst the changes was a move from Melbourne to Sydney. in Sydney, he discovered the legendary Aubrey hotel, which is one of two queer venues that were used as the inspiration for the film, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. We caught up to find out about that time in his life, the basement full of drag costumes, and being the DAG of DAGs whatever that means.
Bob Downe 01:57
It was Sydney in 1982. I cannot even begin to tell you how amazing Sydney was from the late 70s. Right through even after the virus hit even with that it was still absolutely amazing. It was one of the greatest gay towns in the world that’s ever existed. There was it was just it was going off Oxford Street, which is our gay district was there were just dozens of bars and clubs. And it was jumping seven nights a week. I used to go out seven nights a week. If I wasn’t working, I would go out. The only I once worked out that I honestly think that I went out every night from when I was about 18. That was when I first hit the scene in Melbourne. I went out I think I went out every single night unless I was sick from the age of about 18 or 19. till about 35. Wow. I know.
K Anderson 03:00
That’s a lot of different outfits.
Bob Downe 03:03
Oh, no, I was the DAG of DAGs I think I just always wore the same thing. jeans and jeans and a T shirt. No, no, no, I’m, I’m not particularly sartorial when I’m not being Barbies, you know what I mean? I think it’s because of the costumes. Because it’s such a high style costumes act. I think my, in my personal life, I deliberately dress as simply and dressed down as I because I just can’t be bothered.
K Anderson 03:32
And so so can we just talk quickly about the glow bows? And so what when they hit? Because it was the beginning of the 80s? What was like the pressure on you to be non sexual or to just be in the closet?
Bob Downe 03:49
Yes, it was. I was very closeted when I was in Globos. I was. Yeah, now that I look back on it, not in my private life. But certainly it was it was an era even this is even before a tip, though it was an era where it wasn’t. It just was the prevailing attitude in the business was that it just you could do what you’d liked in private. And everybody of course, everybody was buddy gay or lesbian. You could do what you wanted in private, you could live a completely gay life out gay life, but it was just not considered a good idea to talk about it or to let it be known in terms of your, of your professional performing. And that was the prevailing attitude among actors, among pop stars, everybody, everybody was in the closet as far as being public about it. And then of course, AIDS hit in 1983 84. And then it became even 10 times worse. You had to you had to absolutely keep all that stuff, you know, very separated, there was a lot of real compartmentalised compartmentalisation that went on in your private life and your public life, yeah. Although I must admit, when we hosted countdown, which was our Top of the Pops in, we hosted countdown in August or September 1982. And we were, we were co hosting it. And right at the end, as we were saying, good night, I yelled out good night last week to my boyfriend at the time. So that was an early, you know, an early it’s straining to break free of the leash. I think I was masturbating. So yeah. And as it turns out, he wasn’t watching. Now he was out on the red man, isn’t that hilarious? My boyfriend who I was living with in Sydney, because of course, the first thing I did was run and you know, we have no answer at home. And then finally, when I got onto I said, Did you see me say, Good night, and he was very sheepish and had to admit that he that he’d been out on the road and hadn’t stayed over to watch Gatwick because we were in Melbourne. We’d filmed it in Melbourne. Didn’t that hilarious? I’ve just remembered that. I’ve just remembered that, oh, it didn’t last much longer than that. We staggered on for another few months. We were still friends. But we would never never meant we should never have been boyfriends. We should never have been living together. That you don’t know when you’re 23. Do I mean?
K Anderson 06:26
Oh, no, no, of course. I mean, you don’t know when you’re 43 days. Sometimes you don’t know when you’re 61? And so,
Bob Downe 06:39
yes. So yes, there was that was the prevailing attitude, it was not a good idea to be out, especially if you were an actor, but or in any of the creative arts. But the great thing about being a cabaret performer, and then like, you know, not long after that becoming a comedian, a gay comedian, it was sort of like, you were sort of much you were freer than if you were in a pop or rock band, or if you were an actor. So I was very lucky that the world, the field that I was in, we were generating our own work, and we made our own work. So it did, it very quickly became something that I incorporated. Yeah, we’re obviously into bogged down.
K Anderson 07:24
Yeah. And yeah, cuz I was gonna say like, as a cabaret act, it’s pretty hard to then be like, Oh, no, I’m straight.
Bob Downe 07:34
Exactly. And it was all very and it was all very sort of it was a very natural progression. I don’t remember making much, making much of a decision about that Bob was going to be a you know, a very gay. A very gay actor was just my he was my character that made people laugh. And I suppose it was, it was just intrinsically camp. Yeah. So it wasn’t really wasn’t like, Oh, I’m gonna fly the flag. I never sort of thought about it like that. It was just the way it was, was just what it was what I did, how I made people laugh.
K Anderson 08:09
Yeah. And, and so let’s get back on to Sydney. We’re talking about Sydney being magical
Bob Downe 08:16
place the thing that was going on in Sydney. Well, the thing that was going on in Sydney from the late 70s, or mid late 70s, through till, you know, the end of the 90s. Really, up until the Olympics. It was it was a very corrupt owl. It was a very wild town. It was a bit like a mini version of what New York was like at that time as well. The difference between Sydney and New York though was that Sydney was very, it was a very wealthy, it was a very, you know, comfortable middle, you know, very much more. Whereas New York had gone through that thing of bankruptcy. And it New York was very rundown and was but it was wild. What was going on in New York, in nightlife and in bohemian life was really well, and Sydney had the same thing, even though it was a much more cosmopolitan, much more comfortable town to live in. There was a huge bohemian underground gay life that had exploded, and in a went right back to it had been really a big gay town since the 50s. And 60s, and even before that, but particularly in the late 50s and 60s through the 70s Sydney had one of the biggest and most active gay communities in the world. And so by 1982, it was just absolutely swinging was wild. And then on top of that, that put the cops were so corrupt that there were no real there were no licencing laws that anybody seemed to adhere to everything went all night. We used to, we used to go on stage at Cannes cellars on Fridays and Saturday nights. We used to go on it too. thirsty. So we did we never left in cellars until until the sun was coming up about four or five and then we would go and have breakfast at all night cafes in Kings Cross. So the sun would come up while we were having a having breakfast them listening to music on the jukebox. So it was it was really fantastically over the top wild. It was it was it was like a party every night on Oxford Street. It was quite festive. It was incredible. And that was, you know, outside of Mardi Gras, and sleazeball and all of these big parties because of course then what happened in the mid 80s was that Sydney was one of the leading places in the world that started with the giant warehouse parties, you know, the giant parties in huge concert halls and and ballrooms and stuff with 1000s of people that at one point in the mid 80s, there was one of those parties that the horden pavilion, which is a 7000 seats 7000 you know, capacity venue. There was one every weekend, there was a dance party every weekend in 1985 and 86. Wow. It was insane. And of course, coming from coming from Melbourne, which was, you know, Melbourne had quite a vibrant little gay scene and has a big, very vibrant gay community now, but it had a very small but very vibrant and active gay community back then as well. But it was nothing compared to Sydney Sydney was had that sort of Mecca quality about it. It was like San Francisco or New York or London, you know, it was the place you dreamed of going to. And so the fact that we had this big success in Sydney meant just everything to us. It was the end to happen when you’re 23 years old was so exciting. Yeah, it was incredible. So on YouTube, look it up on YouTube, just type the globose ello Bo s. uploaded a lot of live footage from those shows that we did that. We was a lip sync act, we lip sync everything old records and old TV commercials and clue and then lip sync their own sketches and lip sync their own records was bizarre.
K Anderson 12:11
Why did you lip sync your own things?
Bob Downe 12:14
I know because it was a lip sync act because it was recreating all the pop shows in Australia. In the 60s in the early mid 60s, all the local pop shows work young kids just lip synching records, overseas hits. It’s by people from overseas, because there were no film clips. You couldn’t get film clips of Scylla singing your my world or there were no videos then. So to create because they weren’t in none of those. Those acts came to Australia very rarely. Whereas in London and New York, they’re all living there. So they’re all kind of be on pop Top of the Pops. But in Australia, there was nothing else to do. But just get up and get a bunch of kids and lip sync hit records. And so we were recreating those lip sync TV shows.
K Anderson 12:58
Bob Downe 12:59
yeah. And then there was the drag element to you see, because I’d already fallen completely fall in love with drag performance. But what were the globose was that was wasn’t it was drag, but the boys were boys and the girls with girls. And we were all and it was very elegant and high style. Exactly recreating the hairdos and dresses and suits and shoes. It was really accurate. Sort of reviving an early 60s. Look. It was very obsessive Lee accurate. It wasn’t. It wasn’t exaggerated, like drag. They look it’s really weird, because the clips now like 30 years what getting over 40 years old. And and they looked at it looks at what we did looks like old television. You know what I mean? It’s actually quite strange.
K Anderson 13:41
It looks like it’s from the actual era that you were
Bob Downe 13:44
Yeah. Wasn’t that wasn’t that long after the year that we were recreating it was only 10 or 15 years. But it felt like ancient history because pop culture moves so fast from the 50s through to the 90s. That pit five years now. You know, if you hear a record from five years ago, it still sounds like records sound like now. Yeah. Whereas five years was was a lifetime and 10 or 15 or 20 years was like 50 years. So everything moved very fast. It was a very exciting time to be young.
K Anderson 14:19
I gotta say. See, I thought that was just because I was getting old that everything sounds like it could have just been released whenever.
Bob Downe 14:26
Yeah, no, exactly. The mute music of the last 20 years is just to me, I’m so not interested in and I sound so ignorant. There’s and of course, there’s fabulous music of any era. And that that I just love that. I just, you know, I grew up with teenage cousins living around the corner in Melbourne and that they had they were pop tragics and they had all the Beatles they had all the hot records or singles and albums. And I’d be there listening to Sergeant Pepper all the way through at the age of 10. You know? Yeah. So, yeah. So I was deep be influenced by all that.
K Anderson 15:03
Okay, so shall we talk about the Aubry hotel.
Bob Downe 15:07
We shall talk to every hotel because the in 1982 and 83 and 84. The Aubrey hotel was totally where it’s at. It was the number one gay pub in Australia. And also there was another pub called the Imperial that was out in inmode in the inner West, but on Oxford Street. The clubs that ruled on Oxford Street was the was the old brewery. And then the midnight shift was the nightclub that we all went to after the Aubrey closed. So the old way used to shop that pubs used to shop quite early pubs used to shout out about I think it was about 1am. But then then there were nightclubs that went just basically all night. So you know, so you’d go down and we didn’t used to sort of leave the house and we didn’t used to had dinner. I remember not. We didn’t used to leave the house till about 10. People didn’t have dinner till about 10 or 11.
K Anderson 16:02
Bob Downe 16:04
Yeah. Wow. And of course, the weather in Sydney is so fabulous, especially in summer we get months of summer. Yeah, black our summer goes for about five or six months, like warm, but it’s still you know, we’re in mid late autumn now or mid autumn now and it’s still warm enough. I’m in shorts and a T shirt. You know, it’s, we have the most fabulous weather. And so it really lends itself to going out. We have very lovely, mild evenings. It’s very rare. It’s only two or three months of the year that we actually would say that it was cold. But it’s so so Sydney back then everybody went out, just everybody’s went out. And so the old rule was the Aubry did. The Aubrey de drag had different drag shows seven nights a week, though they had a whole bunch of artists, different artists that owned different nights, do you not I mean, but I had my favourite. I had my favourite night nights because my favourite group was a group called the showbags which was a trio of lipsync drag queens, a bit like the bit that is sort of quite in inner Sydney in a Sydney aesthetic, very similar to what Lily savage was doing in the disappointed sisters that he was the part of that trio at the at the voxel Tavern at around the same time. After we became friends years later, we worked out that we were doing I was going to see drag that was very similar to what he was doing at the voxel Tavern in the early 80s, late 70s and early 80s. So the group that I was obsessed with was the showbags and that was Cindy pastel, who Priscilla is based on he Cindy pastel is the is the queen that has the son who’s now he’s just turned 37 Cindy son has just turned 37 so so Cindy was the main inspiration for the Hugo even character. And Stefan Elliott used to hang around at the the two pubs that Stephen Elliot used to go to then he recreates in in the film, The Aubrey and the Imperial owner in in enmore, which was another huge gay nightclub and pub with with nightly dread. So there was a huge amount of dread going on all up and down the strip. There was a there was a cabaret club called Capriccio that that have been pumping since the early 70s. doing two different shows a night with people sitting down and eating, you know, chips in the basket chicken and chips in the basket. So there was and that these shows what elaborately beautiful there’s one show at Capriccio is which is on YouTube. And it’s the whole thing and it’s absolutely incredible. It’s an incredible video because they took the the gels out so you can see the colour of the costumes were incredible. So there was a lot of drag and then there was lay girls, which was drag for straight audiences in Kings Cross. So there was it was enormous amount of drag going on. enormous amount of drag. And the Aubrey was great because the Aubrey they just used to perform that there was a it was an art deco bar that had just a big rectangle shape with a curved long curved sort of Island bar and with a gap between in the middle in front of the DJ booth and that’s where they used to perform the shows that they just performed the shows behind the bar with everybody around almost like Theatre in the round. And and and they would get up on the bar and sachet they would use the bar this huge rectangular bar with curved ends Art Deco kind of curved and they would use it as runway and the bomb and it was all like a choreographed dance for barman knew to get out of the way because Cindy was was charging along you know and they were As a follow spot, that’s that film, you know that it was really the shows were really elaborate with multiple costume changes, dates that there was a sort of a little mini office behind the bar that they would do their quick changes. It was quite, it was it was really magnificent and they would do spot shows. So they would do a series of solos and then they would do a production show, like like a spread out over, you know, two or three hours. And, and the place was it didn’t matter what night of the week it was that it was packed and spilling out onto the street where everybody used to drink on the street. Which the cops again because the cops were so corrupt they were being paid off the cops that allowed people to sort of drink and smoke on the streets crowded around the bar because it was so hot that because it was so crowded, you know on any one night the the Oberoi hotel they would it was in the top 10 pubs in Sydney in terms of what the money that had generated over the bar. It was a licence free money they would have been honestly, they would have been on a night that it was really packed. There’d be five 600 people there. Wow, it was absolutely yeah, it was incredible. He couldn’t move. You had to fight your way to the front.
K Anderson 21:19
And so do you. Do you remember the first time you ever when?
Bob Downe 21:24
Yeah, it’s really Australian, I’ve got the so I’ve got a weird I’ve got a really good memory for certain things that I’m terrible memories that other things are one of my one of the things that I’m really bad at is I’m often very bad at remembering the first time I’ve met people or gone somewhere. I would have the Aubrey I believe opened in about 1980. So I would have been would have been taken there when we will. I would have been taken there when we started. See we were going back and forth from Melbourne in those first few months in late 82. And we were doing the seasons that can sell us so would have been I would probably not have gone to the opera until early 83. When I actually moved up to Sydney. That’s when I would have started really going to the ovary a lot. Yeah. But I remember just I remember just that the scale of the size of the pair to Melbourne, it was just it was, you know, two or three times bigger than any of the Melbourne bars or clubs. And it was pumping like this seven night a week thing. In Melbourne, we would go. And I remember when I first went to London in the late 80s the same thing there would be one there’d be a night at a particular like, you know, Sunday night at the bell in Kings Cross. And then, you know Monday night A g-a-y at the astoria. You know what I mean? Like if there was one night that you went to a particular pub or club that in Sydney you went? It was seven nights a week?
K Anderson 22:53
Bob Downe 22:55
yeah, with different shows and different artists different performance every night. And they not only had the drag shows in the front bar, they also had a lounge bar out the back, a very generously sized lounge bar that had a piano and there were cabaret. There were people doing cab piano, cabaret singing, sing alongs and singing, comedy, you know, comedy music with a live piano. So they’d be said they’d be really talented piano playing singers holding court in the at the same time. There was Yeah, it was it was an Emporium of entertainment. And Emporium and it was and it was just oh my god it was and and the thing about the old breed. This is the thing. The thing about the older that was so magical was that in these they had a huge seller, there was a huge seller that was the size of the pub. And a large, large section of the seller had been set up as a really fabulous dressing room. And you just walked in the door to the stairs down to the to the cellar was open. It wasn’t there was nobody on the door of that. So you just walk you went into the cocktail bar. And you just went downstairs. And you just said hello. And so because they already knew I was so we were so lucky that we were already quite famous because we’d had a couple of hit records. And we were on countdown and all this sort of stuff. So with the drag queens, the drag performers all knew who we were already. So it was very easy for me to just flounce down by the stairs and present myself in the dressing room. I used to spend more time in the dressing room than I did in the in the pub, you know what I mean? Like I would go up just in time because they’d be I’d be down there hanging out with them while they got ready, and then I would just duck upstairs and get a good position at the bar and watch the show and then go straight back downstairs with them. And then it wasn’t that long before I stopped because I’d invented By 1984, I’d invented the bog down character. I started performing as Bob with with the showbags. In their drag shows, I started lip synching Oh, boy records as Bob.
K Anderson 25:14
And so at this time, it was the global globe, I still exist at this time I had that and yeah,
Bob Downe 25:19
the globose know, the globose went on, we’re on and off. So the globose, the first period of the globose was 1980 to 1983. Then we broke up at the end of 1983. Then I invented then I invented Bob the following year in 1984. Then the globose got back together in 1986 for about a year. And and so I was doing BB as well as the globose. So I was singing and performing live as lip synching in the globose.
K Anderson 25:53
And so yeah, and so then that first time that globose broke up, what was that? Like?
Bob Downe 25:59
Oh, it was terrible. Because we had a we everything went really, you know, everything was fabulous until it wasn’t and, and we had a we had a flop show, we decided that people people would call weird and snobby about the fact that we were lip synching and we’d took that on. We sort of thought, yeah, we’re not really legit. And if we’re going to keep lip synching, so so we decided that we’d sing and talk alive. And we did this show that was completely not like the shows that we’d done before. It was like a, it was as if we were doing a live Tonight Show with sketches and, and interviews and all this sort of stuff in LA, it just wasn’t the high impact, high energy thing that we’d done with the lip synching, because that’s the great thing about lip synching is that phenomenal level of high energy that you can put into it? Because the, because the sound is taken care of. Yeah, you’re not actually singing. So you can put all that insane energy with props and costumes and all that sort of shit that we do you know, that you do when you’re doing drag. And so so we had this terrible flop show that dragged on and on for months, we, they wouldn’t close it, they just kept us going. We were playing it to tiny audiences at kin sellers. And we were doing it like six shows, or six shows a week or so it was just a complete balls up. Like, like, it was just it was tragic. And of course, the group just didn’t survive that, the stress of that. So the group broke up. But that was okay. Because it was like, you know, we’d already been doing it for three years. And when you when you’re that age, three years is an eternity. Oh, yeah. Yeah. But
K Anderson 27:36
I mean, where do you go from there? Like if that’s been your whole life? Well, that
Bob Downe 27:39
was the thing. Yeah. Oh, that was the thing I signed on. I had a year off. I was absolutely. I had a bit of a breakdown I because I broke up with with Ludo. And the group broke up and very acrimoniously because they I wanted out and they didn’t bother people didn’t, it was all it was horrible. And so I signed on, and basically stayed with lived in a friend’s house, a very kind friend who let me rent a room at a really cheap rate for about a year. So I sort of I sort of just did nothing for a year, I took the I never got my gap year as a young person, I should have had a gap year when I finished high school. So I was always I was always thrown in the deep end and looking back realised that I was always too young for whatever was happening. And so that so the so they globose happened, started while I was a young jerk of trainee cadet journalist at the sound, I was there for five years. So we started the globose and the globose took off in a ridiculously easy way that sort of made you think, oh, show business is easy. You know, I mean, like we had such success so quickly that we thought that’s the way it was. And and so when it broke up, I I just had a breakdown. I by the time I was 24 I hadn’t, I hadn’t stopped, I’d never stopped. And so I did stop for a year. And then during that year, I started working at a friend’s cafe. Really close family friend had a cafe, and I started being a barista, like I started slinging coffees and I absolutely loved it and I met a girl at that cafe who was extremely funny. She was cooking in the kitchen. And between the two of us, we invented Bob down.
K Anderson 29:29
Okay. So that’s how it happened. So that was happening like what you know, whilst you were working. It was something to kind of keep you
Bob Downe 29:37
Well, it wasn’t. Yeah, well, it wasn’t. Yeah, exactly. We were falling around being funny a bit at the cafe. And then there was a Food Fair that they everybody used to put on little sketches and things alone. There was a Glebe Food Fair on this main this big eight street in in in a Western suburb of Sydney called glib hollow restaurants and cafes and they used to have a Food Fair every Yeah. And we and people would put entertainment on our front of their cafe. So Kathy and I put on a sketch. We did we did a sketch and that was the sketching, which I invented both as a TV interview, like a Russell Harvey kind of TV interview. So bitchy, nasty quaint, you know, the thing really nasty to the, to the person that I met, and she played with a ditzy kind of film star. Oh, yeah. Always with a smile filling with a smile. Yeah. And so and then we got seen at that sketch, we got seen by a guy that was the the ABC here, which is our BBC, the radio, they had a comedy read and radio comedy. So they had actually a comedy unit like, and he saw he was in the crowd and saw us and that’s we started making radio sketches. So I was back in the business before I knew it.
K Anderson 30:49
Wow. Yeah. And the second strike of lightning. Yeah.
Bob Downe 30:58
Wow. Absolutely. That’s exactly was and then then Kathy and I put together a two hander cabaret show, which we loved. And we did. It was really fun. And Bob was in there. And I was playing piano and singing and the Bob the reaction to Bob was always huge. What we’re doing a whole bunch of characters. But the reaction to Bob was always his that the audience’s showed me which way to go with Bob. And so but so, you know, it wasn’t long before. Before I went solo with the character. I went solo with the character, beginning of 1987. While we were finishing up a run of shows with the globose because that was happening. And yeah, it was exhausting.
K Anderson 31:42
And you performed burb at the Aubrey.
Bob Downe 31:46
At the Aubrey with the showbags. Yeah, there’s photographs out. There is a dot shot there is footage or I’m not sure whether anybody’s uploaded it. But yeah, I was a boy with the three girls with the three dragon. And then Cindy and I started doing duets together lip synching duets together really early on. So we really were very close pals by the time by that 1989 I suppose 8085 8687. Yeah, so we so and then then there was a Wednesday nights at the ordinary work was retro night. And that was one of the nights that the showbags performed. And so the DJ, there was this beautiful man called Bill bawley, who was a wonderful, wonderful DJ that played our records. And Bill wasn’t well at that time, because you know, a lot of people were getting sick at that mid 80s time, mid late 80s. And Bill often wasn’t well enough to work. And so whenever bill wasn’t well enough to work, I, they asked I think they asked me or maybe I put my hair up, I kind of maybe was Cindy pastel who suggested it. But I had a huge record collection from being a pop columnist on the sun. That’s what I did. The last couple of years of at the sun, I was the daily popcorns I had this fantastic record collection. And so I started I started DJing I started DJing on Wednesday nights, and then I would record about 20 when I got into work with one of our was empty record 20 minutes of really up fun, you know, easy beats and Elvis and all that sort of Beatles, you know, and I put that to set on I put that cassette on a race downstairs and make up as Bob and then come upstairs and put you know, hide behind the booth and turn on the show thing and then go on and do the show with the showbag it was very markets. It was very like them. It was very Muppet Muppets take Manhattan. The whole thing is shambolic, but also just like everybody doing everything God made like
K Anderson 33:52
Oh, yes, yeah.
Bob Downe 33:53
Yeah, making our own cut, you know, everybody make their own costumes. Anyway, it was it was it was a magical time to so so I ended up it wasn’t that long. It was probably two or three years before I was actually, you know, working at the Aubrey, because I was also still, I was still I think I was still working at the cafe, I guess when I was DJing at the augury. And then I got and then I decided that I didn’t, you know, get a proper job. And so I went back into journalism for a while and I got a job as a feature writer at Vogue at Australian Vogue. I was there. So while I was doing all this, I was also working at Vogue as a journalist. But you can do a lot when you’re young. I mean, I’m just exhausted even describing at all.
K Anderson 34:41
And so, you know, I want to hear more about this. The performances and the lip things that you were doing. So you were doing duets with Cindy, what kind of song Yeah,
Bob Downe 34:50
like we were doing. We were doing, we still do to this day, we still do it. We were doing Louis prayer and Kelly Smith’s version of all black magic. Yeah, I did a little bit there so very retro show the eggs were all retro. They were all it was all dusty and Scylla and Shirley Bassey. There’s all 60s and 1660s 60s. And I would do, I would lip sync, Jackie Wilson rissa T. Okay, you know, it looked at, I looked at and what was really wonderful about developing the act as Bob is that I in I ended up singing as Bob all the songs that I used to lip sync in the globose. And at the Aubrey with the showbags, like, tower of strength, I Jane McDaniels, you know, if I were you know, that dude that the point of no return, he was like a crooner, but black crooner pops down in the early 60s. And Cliff Richard, you know, on the beach. Yeah. And I’m trying to think what what other sort of numbers we would do, Cindy and I would do you know, Cinderella Rockefeller. That one yeah. Now you’re the lady. You’re the lady. You’re the lady. So we Yeah, so we get we got very camp and stupid. There was a lot of there was a lot of splits things smoked. In. Find out Cindy testo gave me my very first joint. I don’t get anybody in trouble legally by saying that. Can you believe that people were down in that dressing? Can you believe that? People were in the cellar of that pub. spliff and away it’s like the right bra about the box or tab is the only place in the world where you can still have a joint in in the restroom. And I believe that’s even that’s gone. Oh, yeah. It was another era. I know. It’s wonderful to think about it.
K Anderson 36:45
I mean, how much did your wig smell of cigarette smoke at that time?
Bob Downe 36:51
People used to the pub was blue. It was blue. The air was blue with cigarettes. And of course when you’re performing, particularly it can sell as they think people used to think because the audience were right up next to the stage on these long trestle tables. And they were like they’ve their elbows were on the edge of the stage and people thought it was sexy while you’re performing to blow smoke in your face. I thought it was kind of like crews to do. And so I used to if I was in the middle of a southern anybody blues cigarette at me of smoke at me. I used to just, you know, I’d sing. You know, I know I said. I used to just deliberately. But yeah, you’d go home, you’d have to wash your clothes. After a night out on the tiles out there not at the augury followed by the midnight shift nightclub. You’d had to wash your clothes. You would just be reeking of tobacco. It’s the one thing that I definitely don’t miss about that era. It was disgusting. And you just took it for granted. You’d like no one complained about it. Because there was nothing anybody could do. Everybody smoked.
K Anderson 38:10
So can you tell me more about the showbags?
Bob Downe 38:12
Oh, yeah. Well, they were three insanely talented. They were very talented queens. I’m Cindy pastel. There was Glen lewis’s Miss 3d who was still performing to this very day. And this 3d had been a big success in New York, and was a very good friend of over amazing drag queen, a famous of Sydney drag queen called Doris fish, who also became very famous and live in San Francisco. And she used to travel between Sydney and San Francisco. And Mr. Ed was very close friends with Doris Doris died in 1991 or 1992. And she was just over it. Just Just Google Doris fish. And you’ll see she was the one I think Doris might have been the very first queen to sculpt foam rubber and create hips to actually create a female line. Yeah, yeah. So she Doris was an also doing that and used to paint her teeth with whiteout you know, with liquid paper. I know. And so, and then, of course, because it was the dayglow era. By all the Queen mystery, they specialised in it as well. They used to bury dayglow makeup. And, and so then of course, they’d be they’d use UV light and it was just the effect with these white liquid paper paints. It was just incredible. absolutely incredible. A lot of other food. Nobody else did it because it was so destructive to the tea. That was so bad for your teeth. How the fuck do you get it off? You know what I mean? Anyway, so so Glen did so mystery. They did this very spaced 60s. See? To the space age that was kind of her look and still is. She does a very retro space age. So she will make a costume that’s made for using 150 dayglo, orange and dayglo green plastic balls, you know that kind of that sort of, and then Cindy was just very Cindy’s look is very dusty, sort of share kind of very, very high style, 60s and 70s. And then And then the third showbag was Pat gently who would back then was called twisty but has then changed the name to Pat chadli, which is very cat. And she did very accurate. Very, super accurate dress lipsync. And things like things like Brenda Lee, that sort of like like, like, high drama kind of records. Yeah, so the three of them had a very individual look. But then they said then over the production show, they would have costumes that matched or they were made of the same fabric. So they did a very kind of you know, trio, you know, sort of a real trio thing, as well as these really wild spot spot numbers. Yeah, so it was all very, extremely retro. Yeah, very retro. 50s 60s and 70s.
K Anderson 41:20
And to fit right in.
Bob Downe 41:23
Yeah, yeah, that’s right. And um, yeah, that’s right, because bob bob was they’d like a 70s thing. Saturday’s revival as opposed to the Glovers which 60s 50s
K Anderson 41:34
and you said before you referred to BB as boy drag
Bob Downe 41:39
huh? That’s right. But Bob’s like, like an early drag team. Like assists drag King cisgender gender drag theme. Yeah, exactly. There’s that because I love drags well, because I love drag so much. BB is my drag queen. I just before that, I perform a song. That’s my I suppose as my point of difference I perform a song as a boy, but I’m really doing drag.
K Anderson 42:07
Yeah. But did you find that people didn’t couldn’t quite get their head around that at the time?
Bob Downe 42:12
No, they hated me at the auditors. hifi at all. They absolutely hated me. I just like cricket, I just would just ignore me. Normally, because back then back then if you if you You didn’t if unless you were okay. Back then you were either you either had to be in drag. Or you had to be a stripper like a gogo boy was like there. And all the all the bottom and at the Aubrey were all beautiful Sydney boys with fabulous. It was early, you know, gym gym obsession days. Yeah. So they had the they had the first beautiful gym bodies, and they would work with their shirts off. So I’d come out on stage, freaking on a do. And the pomade hated me. They hated me. But we didn’t care because we just were so we were so wrapped up in doing the shows and loving, hanging out with each other and performing together particularly me and Cindy. We didn’t give a fuck. Didn’t care. So it was really good grounding. It was a really good sort of now that I look back on it, it was like a really good was a really good toughening up process. Yeah, and because it really stood me in good stead because within a couple of years, or a year 18 months of doing the aubrie shows. I was performing it at a really tough Melbourne cabaret room called the last laugh that had dinner shows comedy shows every night with dinner. And they will like jongleurs they will like jongleurs they will like really tough straight or you know suburban office workers and and girls on their hands night’s like tough audiences that gave you absolutely no quarter. And so it was great because I was ready for them. By the time I got a God answers to say that the last lap in 1987 and 88. So yeah, so so the ovary was really key to, to, you know, sort of toughening me up in front of audiences. Even though I was just lip synching. That’s what made it so easy. I didn’t care because your lips think, Oh, yeah, the record carries you through. It’s like getting on a train. You know, you don’t you don’t get off until the next stage. Yeah. And it was such a fabulous time. It was a really magical time. But of course, overlaying everything that was happening was the absolute horror and fear and disaster of the AIDS epidemic where we were all terrified. terrified.
K Anderson 44:51
Yeah. And how did that change going out for you?
Bob Downe 44:57
Well, it people were It’s not my memory is that people went until my memory is that people went out more, because they were seeking, they were seeking distraction. They wanted to just to do anything to take their minds off. So it all through the 80s and 90s. And also Mardi Gras had exploded and that the big dance part is an exploded, and also ecstasy had arrived in 185 8687. And again, that was people weren’t really partying hard, I think because they wanted to escape this daily horror show that was happening with all of our friends dropping one by one by one by one by one. It was so scary.
K Anderson 45:40
And what did it mean in terms of like intimacy, because obviously, when you go to nightclubs, that is kind of one of the benefits of being there is that you get to meet people and snog them and and maybe go back to theirs. Did that all change?
Bob Downe 45:57
Yeah, I will. Everybody. Everybody was still no, no, no, no, everybody was still madly snogging and madly picking up. It’s just the very early on. We were very lucky. In Australia, we had very progressive state and federal governments that that we just happened that we had labour, state and labour, federal governments with very progressive health departments that really pushed safe sex and condom use a really early on 1000s we had very few deaths compared to London or Paris, or San Francisco or New York, in Australia. So we were very so so our, our public, and they didn’t close the sex clubs, or they did and they didn’t close the saunas. So they use the saunas and the sex on premises venues as a places to educate with posters and condoms and inflammation. And testing, you know, so so it, it didn’t stop anything, everybody. And very, it wasn’t long before people realised how you could avoid us, you could still, you know, have a great, snug and a great time and have great sex and still be safe. You know what I mean? So So in that sense, in that sense, No, it didn’t. It didn’t get it didn’t get scary to the extent that night life stop. In fact, as I say, My memory is that night life got wild. That’s in Sydney, particularly in Sydney. As I know, it’s a very different story in other cities.
K Anderson 47:28
Yeah. And, and so what was Oxford Street like, at that time, so
Bob Downe 47:37
it was magical. It was like they were so they would they were least a dozen bars and nightclubs, at least a dozen, maybe more. And it was all in the space of it was the golden mile, it all starts down at the boxwood street starts at the end of Hyde Park, where the war memorial is and it goes that the main strip, it’s basically about about a kilometre long, or about a mile up to Paddington Town Hall. Which, and with bars, with not only bars and clubs, there were they still are that, you know, clothing, gay clothing shop, they restaurants, gay cafes, guide book shops, you know, a really vibrant and really concentrated gay neighbourhood like the Castro in San Francisco. That’s what that’s what it was like it was that level of and a lot of fun on the streets. You know, you’d see people you knew every day, or you know what, no matter what time of day, you were at Oxford Street, you would see lots of people that you knew it was a real, vibrant, and and very, very active community. And when the AIDS epidemic, it became even more so because people organised because we had to because no one else was going to help us.
K Anderson 48:56
And you said, So you said that you kind of stopped going to the Albury in the late 80s.
Bob Downe 49:04
Well, why don’t I stop going? It’s just that it just that? Well, I guess I did stop going because I wasn’t I by the by the end of the atheist by the late 80s. I was working at the last laugh in Melbourne. So that was one of the times I moved back and was living in Melbourne. And then it wasn’t long after that. I did my first Edinburgh in 1988. And within about a year of that during that first Edinburgh, I was basically living in London. Okay, so so it wasn’t that I wasn’t Yeah, I just wasn’t around. I wasn’t in Sydney. So that’s why I stopped going to the Aubrey, but also Cindy and Pat and three days that they I don’t think they’ve worked at the Aubrey much beyond the end of the 80s either. They were doing other nightclubs and bars and stuff. So I would just catch up with them wherever they were, wherever they were working. And then the old brewery at the end of the 80s and early 90s particularly and particularly after Priscilla came out, it became, it became a lot of sharp girls. And a lot of straight people came to gawk at the drag queens because of Priscilla the movie. Yeah, yeah. And so it became not much fun to go. It wasn’t the way it was. It wasn’t a fully gay part of the club anymore. So it was a bit boring. So that’s when you were in town, you sort of wouldn’t bother. Do you know what I mean? There were other because it was just full of tourists. stress. Exactly. And the same thing was happening over the Imperial so which is great for the venue. Is that boring for us? Yeah.
K Anderson 50:40
Yeah. It’s really fascinating, isn’t it?
Bob Downe 50:42
And imagine the amazement when it was such a hit on the one the Oscars and Hungary that was just crazy. What happened with that film? And it did really change. people’s attitude, the drag in Australia. I mean, Dre is now totally mad. Greg became mainstream in Australia. pretty well. Before. Before, way before? RuPaul? or any of that?
K Anderson 50:59
Yes, yeah. Yeah. Because Yeah, cuz. And, yeah. And so do you remember hearing that the Aubrey was closing?
Bob Downe 51:10
Yes. Yeah, I do. And, and it was, it was, yes, it was quite a shock. And people were very, very upset. But as I say, because it it becomes such a sort of touristy type type of spot. A lot of people that were part of the earlier era where we’ve sort of given up on it anyway. Do you don’t have any gay clubs and bars? It’s very rare to have a box or tavern, isn’t it? It’s very rare for any gay bar or any gay club to get more than 10 or 15 years. You know, like, like, there’s, there’s not that many that last go longer. Yeah, so the Aubrey had, you know, they already had a really, really good 15 years.
K Anderson 51:56
And did you get a chance to go and say goodbye?
Bob Downe 52:01
I don’t think I did, because I think when it closed, I think I was in London. Because I was I was basically based in I know, it was it was, yeah, it was the when, and the last few times I’ve been It was so disappointing. I couldn’t wait to get out. You know what I mean? Yeah. And there wasn’t any shows that I was basically interested in seeing at the shows that they were doing, I’d lost interest in the kind of shows, I wasn’t interested in the sort of shows that were doing. They were very popular, like the place was jammed. But it just didn’t have the vibe that that, you know, that I that I loved with the showbags? I think I think it was just because of it was really, it was really my friendship with Cindy and the showbags. that the reason why I was there and working there, and DJing on Wednesday night, because bill got sicker and sicker. And I ended up doing that sort of a loss. As bill as bills. Hell failed. And I loved loved doing. Loved DJ. Yeah. So you know, you have a very intense time with the people that you’re working with. And then when they don’t work there anymore, you kind of lose interest in it. Yeah. So I didn’t get I don’t remember the last. So Isn’t that funny? I don’t remember the first time I went to the Orient. And I don’t remember the last time Oh, my goodness me. I was there a lot. And then they you know, it was it was such It was so incredible. It was so incredible.
K Anderson 53:23
Did you ever go to the Aubrey hotel. Well, if you did, I would love to hear from you. Tell me your stories and share any photos or anecdotes through social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook with the user name K Anderson music. Plus basis is not only a podcast, but a contact record as well. I’ve been writing songs about queer venues and the people who used to live their lives there. And we’ll be releasing songs over the next year. You can hear the first single, well groomed boys, which is also playing underneath my talking right now on all good streaming platforms. If you like this episode, I’d really appreciate if you subscribe, left a review on Apple podcasts or just told someone else who you think might be interested in listening to. I am K Anderson and you’ve been listening to lost space.