So, gentrification is a bit of a dirty word around here, and you’ll no doubt have heard me talk to at least one of my guests about how gentrification pushes out the queers and the misfits from areas where they once thrived.
One of the places in the world that has been totally transformed by gentrification is King’s Cross in Sydney, Australia. When I was growing up as a little queer boy in Adelaide, King’s Cross was known as a place of debauchery and sin, most famous for the strip bars and prostitution. Now the place has been completely transformed, full of yummy mummies and expensive coffee shops.
Back in the 90s this week’s guest, (with also happens to be Australia’s first lady of striptease), Imogen Kelly, first started stripping at Stripperama, one of the clubs on the main strip. She’s written a book about those times, and we caught up to discuss what King’s Cross was like in those days, living during the HIV and heroin epidemic, police corruption, and the woman she fell in love with….
Imogen Kelly 00:00
It was always so queer the burlesque scene. And now it’s all very gentrified, very strange. Everybody’s so pretty. They spend so much on their costumes, and it’s wonderful. But it’s also like, wow, what happened, just doesn’t say very much anymore. Whereas I felt like we had so much to say. But then I guess we were kicking out against a world that just wanted to make us also invisible.
K Anderson 00:24
Hello, I am K Anderson, and you are listening to lost spaces, the podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Now, every week, I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories that they created there, and the people that they used to know. So gentrification is a bit of a dirty word around these here parts. And I often talk to my guests about how gentrification has impacted their spaces that they want to talk about. And, you know, maybe eight, nine times out of 10 The reason that the bar closed is because of gentrification. And because the queers and the misfits were pushed out of a certain area. And one of the places in the world where I feel like gentrification has just absolutely transformed an area is King’s Cross, and not the King’s Cross in London, but the King’s Cross in Sydney, Australia. When I was growing up as a little queer boy and Adelaide, Kings Cross represented this kind of dad never inequity. I don’t know if that’s the right terminology, but it was the place where you would go for taboo things, strippers and prostitutes and gambling and just things that my little brain couldn’t possibly wrap his head around. And fast forward 20 or so years, and the whole place is totally, totally different. We have super expensive apartment, super expensive lattes, super expensive everything. And there is really very little remnant of what was once there. So I mean, other than the obvious what happened? Well, this week, we are joined by Imogen Kelly, who is also known as Australia’s first lady of striptease, who has come on to tell us all about her time stripping at the bar stripper Alma in the 90s. And you know, I love talking about the 90s. She has written a memoir about those times, and we get to go in depth about some of the things that she covers. In that book, we discuss what King’s Cross was like, in those days, we talk about living during the HIV and heroin epidemic of the 90s. We talk about police corruption, which was rife at that time. And we also get to find out about the woman that she fell in love with at this time. And I totally get it right now you’re thinking Hang on, what the hell does a strip bar have to do with the queer scene? But it’s worth knowing that King’s Cross is just around the corner from Oxford Street, which is Sydney’s main gay strip. And so there was lots of intermingling and influence between the drag queens and the strippers. And besides all of that, Imogen has said that the scene was pretty queer in and of itself with lots of queer identifying women in those bars stripping. So let’s get to it.
Imogen Kelly 04:00
This was something I always loved was the idea of being a showgirl. And then when I got sent to a convent, in my teens, and there was, I was one of those quite challenging people, like school counsellor and sit there and say, so what are you going to be when you grow up Imogen. And I just say, I’m going to be a stripper. Just to try and get them away from me. I was only joking. But then when we had to do work experience, I did actually come in with work experience with a troupe called the fixations, just again just to tease them. But it’s sort of
K Anderson 04:34
Wait, you weren’t under age stripping?
Imogen Kelly 04:37
No, no, that wasn’t about to do it, of course. But I went and did work experience and advertising company.
K Anderson 04:44
Imogen Kelly 04:46
Boring. I know. But I did love the idea of stripping but I had this idea that it was really glamorous and beautiful and men would, you know, be throwing diamonds at me and it would be on limousines and mink stalls or something and that was far from that. But when I went to university, I met this incredible woman who had an underground and saw like a talent pageant, a talent quest looking for the wickedest woman in Australia. And it’s sort of a BDSM, dyke underground event that would happen in warehouses, and people would really try and outwit each other. And there’s X on stage were explicit, because there was no, you people could do whatever they wanted, for the first time ever. And this was at the heart of the AIDS epidemic, and in a recession in Australia, so people really poor, the inner city was completely dead at night. And we had our choice of warehouses. And there was a heroin epidemic going on as well. So and So queer people were just really pushed to the fringes, but there was room in those sort of underground bunkers to make really amazing, unusual things happen. Wicked no one ever even went in it. I was far too shy, but all of my friends went in. And interestingly enough, the people who went in with the exception of one, they, they sort of still going like they sort of became Gods Among Us. There was like these underground figures, they were all women. And they were just really hardcore, like a lot of them were BDSM mistresses, or strippers or something of the like. And so myself and Talulah, I call her in my book we got together and I was like, how on earth do you afford to do uni and all that to get the car easy? I’m a stripper? I wouldn’t Well, she can do it. And she’s there with a bald head and, you know, stompy Johnny ribs. And I thought, well, I can do it, you know, because I had a mohawk. And I said, look like Tank Girl. She was just like, Oh, come on, come on, and do this. And so I got myself a job. And that was that it was it paid for everything I did for the next 20 years. So travelling around the world, or my education. And whatever I wanted to do, I could do because of that job.
K Anderson 07:13
Very first job.
Imogen Kelly 07:16
The first one was actually on Oxford Street at a place called the pleasure chest, but I didn’t like it. I think I lasted two nights before I just went, This is insane. I was getting 12 bucks a show it was rubbish. And I was only doing two or three shows a night. So it wasn’t really making it worth my while to stay. And there were a lot of very damaged people. The other strippers were very, if you can imagine the 90s it wasn’t exactly a very glamorous job, it didn’t pay very well. So the kind of people who were doing it was just really hard work. So I left that club and went wandering down Darlinghurst road and was looking for my right place to be. And I saw a sign called stripper, Rama and being a fan of teas, aroma films, and old school burlesque. Or even then I just love this sort of kitschy side of stripping. I went, I reckon that’s my club. They walked in. And yeah, I met them then became my employer and my protector for up to five to 10 years. He was in and out of my life. It was a very unpleasant man. He’s very violent man. But in those days, I think you needed you needed protection if you’re working in that industry. And he gave that to me. How does
K Anderson 08:35
that work? As your protector is that someone
Imogen Kelly 08:45
I’d say the club was owned by someone up the chain. It was you know, apes Efron’s Kings Cross still. But who that would be I wouldn’t know. And I didn’t want to know, the trick is to know as little as possible about anything, and just turn up and go to work. The year that man he’s still around is still a large is still, you know, employs strippers. Other than that, I don’t know what he gets up to. And I don’t particularly want to.
K Anderson 09:14
Were you hired by him at working in that?
Imogen Kelly 09:18
Yeah, yeah. So he was like the manager or the we just call him the boss, but he ran it and paid somebody for the privilege of using the premises, but then he would pay for everything that went in there. So I remember him doing at the bar and getting all these fancy neon lights and he’d paint it. And, you know, he’s a very industrious person compared to the other club owners. And we worked hard to for him and he took care of us. You know, we didn’t have to worry about any of the other problems that were going on in the cross, or which were quite vast because this is just before the woods Royal Commission went through in 1995. And as I’ve said, At the peak of a heroin and AIDS epidemic, So, you know, we were sort of, well, I don’t know what really sheltered from anything, but we kind of were as well. He wanted the best girls in the strip, he wanted elite, beautiful young women. And we just, I just didn’t really care what’s going on around me. I didn’t have the energy to I had so much going on in other parts of my life. And I just assumed it was all normal.
K Anderson 10:25
What was going on in other parts of me
Imogen Kelly 10:28
while I was studying, and I’d left home, so I left home at 17. Home was not a very happy place. Because my mother had died when I was nine. And my father remarried. And his his new wife was, even though she’s my stepmother, and had a hand in raising me she, I don’t know, she didn’t want us around, I guess is or she was just just had fits of rage, or I don’t know what goes on with her really. And then we all just split, my older brother went off to India and became a holy man. And my younger brother ran away and lived in a cave in this posh suburb, and would attack people on their way to the ferry in the morning, running and stuff. It was very funny that he was known as the cave boy of Mosman. And he was this sort of local, urban legend. And I ran away to Kings Cross and lived in what I guess you’d call just artists squats, where there were lots of them at the time they in the city, as I’ve said was empty. So a lot of the buildings were vacant, boarded up. Yeah. And it was not hard to find somewhere to live, you might not have had, we had to pinch electricity. And, you know, sometimes it wasn’t electricity, or power or stuff like that. Yeah, so lots of people living like that. And they were really interesting people, it was sort of normal for artists to live like like just take over warehouses or pay a minimum around amount of rent. And you’d have a whole warehouse and you could do whatever you wanted with it. And we established quite a few artists warehouses that way, because you just get together with a group of people who also needed someone to live but space to make their art. And you’d create this sort of communal lifestyle, very much like a share house, but everybody had to build their own rooms, and we’d get old film sets and stuff and build our rooms out of those. So used to look really quite amazing, some of them. And it was it was just really amazing. The people who who came together to work there, and we’re all from different walks of life, some of them painters, and a lot of film people coming through people who were doing sculpting, and then there was me studying, but I had money to pay for a bit of rent, because I was dancing every night. Let’s
K Anderson 12:46
go district. Do you remember last night you were very strict?
Imogen Kelly 12:52
Yes, I remember distinctly it was such an event in some ways, because I was so nervous. And I’d walked in there with a mohawk and I had no idea what was expected. Because it was all very closed to the public eye. It wasn’t like now where the clubs are a lot more gentrified, and it’s a bit more socially acceptable. It was very taboo for women to be in those clubs unless you’re working in them. And there was no cameras or footage or anything of strippers or striptease because it could really destroy your life, if you know the photo ended up somewhere. And they’re always there’s photographers hovering about trying to get a photo that could get them into People Magazine. And when those sort of rubbishy or for magazines ceiling, oh, look at the knocks on this one or whatever. And then you kind of your family say that stuff, because it was only just legal. And it was very heavily associated with sex work. So to be a stripper in that time was, you were sort of almost you were very much cast to the shadows of society. And you were very much ostracised a lot for being a stripper, you had to be really careful how you managed it. You couldn’t get a rental property for instance, you can get your name on a lace because you want to talk to your boss and the minute they found out you were in working in Kings Cross they thought you were going to destroy the place. couldn’t even get the phone line on you know, it’s sort of you had to have this web of lies around you to just be able to maintain your income. But yeah, man first night Superman was I remember walking down it was all red, carpeted stairs and lots of brass and wood and the neon signs were really cute. Like he had this sign in made where this little lady in his short green skirt would take off a pair of knickers. And it was really kind of cute. And I thought that’s that’s what I’m imagining because I had some I think my first name was Mitzi or something really silly, and everybody else was a Jessica or you know, Sally or Brooke or you know, they had stupid stupid names. I I just wanted to be silly. And I also, you know, walked in with this Mohawk and he just sort of went, alright, you know, the first time I met was English Ron who was this big man. And he was obviously, the heavy, but he was a gentleman as well. Like he did know a few things about manners because he was English. So I felt kind of comfortable with Ron. Well, English doesn’t mean
Imogen Kelly 15:26
No, no, it’s true. But compared to all these, I will compare him to the actual boss. It was just a lie. Oh, love and no. Oh, come on in. And you know, he? Well, I shouldn’t say that. It is true that he would make you feel comfortable because he would talk to you like, you’re worth something he wouldn’t talk down to you would be like, hello, love. How can I help you? Oh, yes, I’ll just get the boss for you where you came in anytime. Hello, welcome to work. And now have you got your music, love and just held back there and let me know when you’re ready. He was compared to the others who were just like, if there was a half of them wouldn’t even acknowledge you. And some of them were just downright scary. I liked Ron. He made me feel like okay, this place is a bit less shifty than the drug dealers down the road, for instance, the dorm and going on in labs, come on. Yeah, come and say some twine, you know, whatever, whatever, whatever. So, but Ron didn’t behave like that. So I liked the club. They were mirrors everywhere. But it was like walking down into a comparative. Walking down into a little womb is this little red room at the end of it. And you’re going down this little passage where I was like, Oh, my God. Everybody comes in here. It literally feels like seeming like just a little, little sperm wandering down the womb. And then you come to this open room at the end and there was a small stage with glittering curtains and it had a little pole and near on the back and it was tiny. The stage was tiny. But it sort of was exciting. And it was raked seating. It’s like almost a proper Little Theatre. So I was like, okay, you know, and he goes, Oh, sit down and watch some shows. So I sat there and watch some shows. And the first two were very funny. One was a sex worker. She was quite pretty lady Sally. You know, he was really rough, though. Ellie was a bit hardcore. She didn’t want to teach me anything. And then the second girl was, yeah, as I said a Brooke. And Brooke was young, very young, and I’m not sure how she ended up there. She was 16 and was obviously a runaway. But she was a bit hard edged as well. And then on came one of my favourite people in the world who has recently just passed and that was Elizabeth Burton. My jaw dropped. I was like, that’s what I want to do. I knew stripping could be glamorous, because she just walked out this long flowing beautiful hair, and did the most elegant strip tease out of this black satin dress. And she just moved like silk like those old school Burlesque is do. It was beautiful smile on her face. And then at the end of it when she was naked, she bent over and she popped a pussy along. I was like, What am I watching? This is what I was doing some most hilarious and offensive thing. Was she should do Fanny farts in time to the music? Oh, no, she calls it pussy popping. That’s queefing right? queefing. Yeah, she’d query for long in the rhythm of the music. And it was really shocking. But then she’d stand up and just look like nothing. Keep dancing like a goddess. And I’d be like, Oh my god, that was this moment. And what is this club? And I was like, right, so I sat there for a bit longer waiting for the bus and he goes on, just watch some of the movies. So you get an idea of what we do here. And they put on a porno called Pinocchio. It’s not his nose that grows which is it’s very kitsch, and stupid again, it’s really steep in the very godmothers totally ditzy and waves of ones and clothes disappearing. Oh, oops. Silly. And I was like, I think this is my place. And then I met the boss, who was a column Jason in my book and he was he was very intimidating character. But I went ah, I think you’ll be alright. And he was more interested in the doing party shows like you know, 21st and bucks parties and stuff, but I liked the club.
K Anderson 19:28
And so why why do you think he didn’t put you off? Was it that you just figured that there was going to be one of him in every other?
Imogen Kelly 19:37
Yeah, the others I’d walked past a the doorman were just kind of they put me off I didn’t like them. I didn’t like the way they talked about women in the clubs. I’ll come and have a look at some post bags and Baba you know, they didn’t say like me, they went like this and then all the accent. And I just didn’t feel comfortable about those clubs and my feelings are right because there’s As time went on, yeah, eventually, Jason got chased out of the club, and out of Kings Cross. And I did end up working for those people. And they were scary. They were really, really bad news.
K Anderson 20:13
So it was like a mess.
Imogen Kelly 20:17
Yeah, it was, it was. But it’s also like prior to that I’ve been working in a library, which I loved. But I was not earning enough money to pay for anything because I was studying film. So back then I needed, I needed to buy the film, I need to buy the sound stock, I need to get it all processed. And that was expensive. And I was just an art student. Maybe everybody else had a mummy and daddy to pay for all those things. But I didn’t have that. And I also was madly in love with this girl. This is gonna be an adventure. Let’s, you know, start working together. So eventually, we did start doing shows together. And that’s to do that. Yeah, that was to Lola. So we did shows together after that.
K Anderson 21:01
So this first night when you went down and you saw everyone performing, did you perform that night yourself? Or was it just like a see what’s in store,
Imogen Kelly 21:09
um, it was to see what’s in store and then come back and do an audition in a couple of days. Just like he goes and wear a wig. So I had to, I went to the market and bought some 50s lingerie because it was everywhere at the time. And I was at about a bullet Brown and girdle and this ridiculous looking Elizabeth Taylor wig that it looked like I’ve been beaten that beat around the bush, a few tough men. But I sort of groomed it into something and some false eyelashes and stockings and, you know, went on stage and it would be a passable burlesque act now, but yeah, it didn’t matter what I wore. Really. They didn’t care about the wig or anything. Just like, they just wanted someone to help them pass their day. They were lonely, old men, some of them in there. Some of them are just there to masturbate. Try not to look try not to look like everywhere, but at the man in the second row.
K Anderson 22:08
So this audition? Did you like pick out a song? Did you like
Imogen Kelly 22:13
yeah, I didn’t practice I had no idea what to do. I even laid my clothes wrong, or I took the wrong bits off at the wrong time because I was so nervous. But I think I picked Madonna’s Vogue. It was three songs that we had to do. So what did I do? I did Madonna’s pho
K Anderson 22:31
What’s it, you had to take your clothes off three times, or you know,
Imogen Kelly 22:35
just had to do it. So slowly, like one piece per song. And the rest of the time he had to dance. I felt like a lion in a cage where I just pacing up and down. It was so hard to feel that time I’d do you know, I developed all these different moves and tricks after a while on ways to, you know, take five minutes to take off the gloves. And Elizabeth was great because she used to wear five pairs of gloves and five G strings. And that’s her way around. It was just to keep layering up. And if they wanted a longer show, she go okay, I can do that and just put on five more just since five more pairs of gloves. It wasn’t like they got to see anything more. I thought she was very clever. But yeah, I’d learned to dance. And then I learned some pole tricks or taught myself some poor pole tricks so that I would have a few things to set me aside from the other girls.
K Anderson 23:29
Okay, so this is when moments where I like stay. In those days, there was no not anything to teach you how to do. No, sir. How did you approach it just like
Imogen Kelly 23:50
myself? Yeah, literally, it’d be like, ah, because there was there was literally no one using that poll. And I thought someone’s gonna use this poll. Again, then I can learn by watching them, but no one touched it. And I couldn’t figure out why. Yeah, no, I was one of the first I really was. And that’s a global thing too, because I did shortly after that travelled to London, and there was no one touching the poles there either. So it’s like we had a pole in the club, but no one touched it with a sort of leaned on it because when they were tired, or they’d use it to help them get off the floor, but it was like already and Amsterdam as well. Now one touching the poles. I was like, wow,
K Anderson 24:30
like the poll was there. Yeah. Fashion that people dance?
Imogen Kelly 24:38
I don’t really think so. I think it was. The first poll act I’ve seen footage of is probably the Crazy Horse of Paris, France. And even there. This gorgeous woman is sort of just leaping around it and using it to pose against so there was lots of posing on the pole, but there was nobody climbing it It was spinning. And I was like, I know I can spin on that, because I was always one of those monkey bars kids was like, I know I can do stuff on this. But learning not to do it in gloves, for instance, or to take off my stockings. But it was a hard lesson to learn that was hard to sort of make it look like that was a move, like at one time went flying off and landed in this really exotic position. I was really good at making accidents look fabulous. And the time I did this high kick and these thigh high paitent leather boots, and I did this incredibly high kick. And on the way down, the heel of one Bucha got stuck in the top of the other and I just fell like a tree. But I landed on my side looking like wow, wasn’t that hard? And I was like, wow, how did you do that? Can you teach me that trick? And I was like, No, I don’t think I’ll even repeat that trick again, myself. But the poll was very much the only time I could really explore it because we had curtains with some before the show when there was hardly anyone in there either. Sometimes there were only like two or three little old men in there. And I think these guys don’t go crazy trying to climb the pie can climb. The pole always didn’t have a problem with that. But spinning on it was another question that was pretty funny set of experiments. And then before long, I had a whole repertoire of moves.
K Anderson 26:22
Changing the subject. You said about the old man, like when they were just a few old man in the room, already care about them because they weren’t important. And it made me think about the tipping culture in Australia.
Imogen Kelly 26:36
There wasn’t one there wasn’t one.
K Anderson 26:39
And like whether or not never got tipped, or ever. It was just not just not a thing at all.
Imogen Kelly 26:45
It wasn’t a thing. We were allowed to go into the audience. But we had to be careful because what we were doing was, as I said, Only just legal. And it was often that we got raids, or the police would be in and you’d be halfway through an act. And someone whispering to one of the bombers or something would come out and the cops are in backup on stage and keep your clothes on and do a tap dance. And just go Tada. I always thought it was always the best fun when the riots were happening because we’d do all sorts of you know, stupid things on stage. Yeah, just trying to keep it within legal parameters. That yeah, it was no tipping at all. We weren’t allowed to. It wasn’t part of the culture. And the barmaids got tipped, they were allowed. And a lot of them were English. So they they didn’t mind pushing for tips. But the dances were not interested, we I think it was almost an insult to tip us. We’d be like, No, we don’t want your money. I think that was the general attitude of the main bulk of the strippers who like no, I don’t want your money. So like saying, because we had to hold our own in a world where we were confused with sex workers. And don’t get me wrong. Like we got on with the sex workers in the club. We’re all part of one demented family. But because it will be had a really hard time in the person society in general. We just made that distinction that we were not available. And that people offer ridiculous amounts of money to spend a time with me, I’d be like, No, I dance, and I get paid to dance. And that’s it. I’m an entertainer. And it was really it was a big deal for us. So when it went to table dancing and taping, most of the older performers were just like, Absolutely not, we are not doing that. So degrading. You know, what we do is we entertain and we perform, and everybody had a gimmick, and one was poll, you know that you had to be exceptional in some way. And that’s how you sold your work. Tips were not welcome. A lot of people would just walk away, including myself and be like, I don’t want to crummy money, because then they’d think they can talk to you. And it’d be like, No, you can’t talk to me. Because if the boss saw you talking to them, or if there was a cop in the audience and saw you talking to them, you could be done for soliciting. So for our own protection, we were like we do not accept tips. We are not soliciting for money. We are dancers and eventually when I did get a job for the government through the AIDS Council where that was the biggest thing that I did was actually legitimise strippers as entertainers by law so that we didn’t have to keep facing that level of prosecution. And that changed the laws for sex workers in New South Wales and Victoria. So we’ve sort of managed to change a lot of laws around the premise of what was actually happening in the clubs and what was soliciting and what wasn’t.
K Anderson 29:40
So tell me more about the work.
Imogen Kelly 29:44
Yeah, well, it was actually a job called is through the sex workers outreach project. And my job was to stop stripping spreading aids. I walked in the first day of my new job, my only real job and they were all these government officials and polish additions and understanding 25 is really young. No, like, what are you going to do to stop stripping? Spreading? Okay, well, the first thing you need to understand is that that’s not what’s going on because we are dancers, we do go into the audience, but we’re not doing anything penetrative. And we don’t even talk to them. So you need to change who we are. And that will change who can access the clubs, so your healthcare workers can access the clubs, and that will change. It changed. It changed the entire landscape of Kings Cross. And I didn’t mean that to happen. I really thought the bosses would go, Oh, you’re your legitimate entertainers. Okay, so we’ve got to give you proper contracts. We’ve got to treat you better. We can’t because girls would disappear all the time, or get bashed or whatever, by the bosses. It was it was a shocking situation in many ways. But I just stood my ground and was like, No, you have to change these laws. And they did. Because they were like, Oh, well, we can see how it’s still a health issue. And we really want those clubs to stop being so problematic. We do want sex workers to have access to vital services as opposed to being criminals all the time. So we found a way to legitimise sex work so that workers could have access to you know, they can put you know, those bosses in jail if they wanted to. And a wall, you know, the strippers, we just, we just wanted things like a toilet. You know, I wanted a break every night because we were doing up to 30 shows a night, it was just little things, but the buses wouldn’t, they wouldn’t crumble, they were just like, dirty, stupid strippers as if you’ll win, but I did win. And the club’s all changed. They had to have a different kind of legislation, a different kind of licencing, after a change the status of dances. And the only places that could open had to have a security guard, they had to have a proper dressing room, they had to have someone taking care of the dancers, the dancers were registered. And you know, they have someone and I just seen to their knees, which is the like a Mamasan or what they call the house, Mistress, I think. But yeah, it really did change things for strippers and it went more to that American model of table dancing, which I think it’s a shame in many ways. Oh, yes. Yeah. To be the kind of opens you up to this world. Yeah, absolutely. I think everybody loved to learn it. Everybody. Everyone had these huge crush onto Lola, she was the most enigmatic and amazing young woman. And she had her own magazine, she had her own, you know, beauty pageant and said, and she had a performance troupe and she was just a really wonderful person. Everybody wanted to be a part of her world. So she had lots of lovers. And I was just one of them. And she liked Butch girls, and I certainly wasn’t really fitting that category at that time, or anytime. And that mattered at that time. To be fair, more Butch, which is ridiculous.
K Anderson 33:08
Oh, let me just pick up on that it doesn’t matter now.
Imogen Kelly 33:13
Alright, hope not. I’d hope we’d all grown up a bit because it is very difficult to be respected. If you wore lipstick, for instance, like that old school feminist, the boiler suit, dikes that just were really hostile towards women like me, but I was sort of, I thought it was wonderful to the point of feminism is that women can have all sorts of choices when I didn’t want to belong to again. So I certainly didn’t want to be told that I was found when you know, you take some Butch girls home and they’ve just really like a starfish. And you end up doing all the work because I thought I was going to get a great deal here. Because you look like you’re a real real girl. You’re not FIM you’re the body fam line. You’re on your back game. Yeah.
K Anderson 34:00
That’s that’s really disappointing. I understand.
Imogen Kelly 34:03
Yes. Yeah. It used to really annoy me though, because it was a form of misogyny. And it was like, Don’t continue this. In this world. It doesn’t help us. Why? Why are you looking down at me? Because, you know, people used to spit at me and stuff and Talulah both. And she just laughed. She just thought it was hysterical when people get upset by you all wearing lipstick or you know, we’d wear all these sort of, we didn’t have a lot of money, but we go up shopping for 60s miniskirts and you know, Kinky Boots. And it just was such a fun time in that way to be up shopping because it’s such fabulous clothes available. But yeah, you weren’t supposed to be flamboyant. You weren’t supposed to be flamboyant, on the dicing that we were fancy. Yeah. And she was BDSM as well. Yeah, so she was hardcore.
K Anderson 34:52
At this event. What did she say of you?
Imogen Kelly 34:55
No, no. I often wondered that because she just came up to me at uni and went I’m like While she looked like tanker, or do you want to be in a show, and I was like, Sure. I had no idea who she was. But I’ve noticed her around. She had so much confidence. And I was fascinated by hers was everybody. And so she goes, Okay, I’ll get your costume and just turn up here and so turned up and the show was at a huge party called sleazeball, which was originally to raise money for Mardi Gras. And I was like, Oh my gosh, it’s not just a little party. It’s huge. And she gave me my costume of this G string. I was like, Okay, put that on. And this is before I’d started stripping, obviously, this is like one of the first times I’d performed, and then it goes, Okay, we’ll just go on stage and do whatever we like. And oh, okay. And that’s what we did. And we’re on one of the sides stages, and it’s one of these huge, you know, because I used to do these big production numbers, which was so fabulous on the main stage, and I think we’re supporting these big stars of dragon who has been on board. And the Talulah also had her own gang, which was the gods squad, the girls of disgrace, and they would walk queer people home on Well, they’d started off just walking each other home from the pub on a Saturday night, but because the bashings, the gay bashings were getting so full on and the police had split Darlinghurst by 1030, there were no police around. So there’s a very dangerous place to be. Yeah, the police once they realised that aid spread through blood, they would not get involved in the fight the police and just disappeared. So it was really gay people were out on their own. And so there’s these big, hardcore BDSM dogs would get together at the end of the night, and they’d draw a map home and anybody else who wanted to be walked home by them, and they’d start at the closest person’s house, and they drop people off one by one, until the last two were left at the end. And then the last person would walk themselves home, but called back along the line when they reached home. So yeah, she was an amazing woman to Lola. And yeah, so I was really inspired by her and I didn’t mind that, you know, she wasn’t my girlfriend or anything like that I just liked. I knew that her influence was really good on me. It was just showing me watch that to be unafraid and to be brave, and to just sort of keep laughing at how ridiculous the world was about things like feminine virtual that she’d never used those terms. To just she was all of it.
K Anderson 37:31
You said that she had
Imogen Kelly 37:34
that word lovers. Yeah, I don’t know what else to say. Really? They weren’t they certainly weren’t partners. She was she was shagging lots of people. They go
K Anderson 37:43
did them. Did you? Like did you feel jealous?
Imogen Kelly 37:47
Oh, yeah. Especially when they were similar to me. She did like seducing young girls. When I saw that, it was like, but I’m right here. And she’s just sort of like me, but she’s so square and I’m so fun. And why would ya but you know, because she could. Yeah, that’s irrelevant. That’s irrelevant. And that’s who she was. And that’s how so many people were.
K Anderson 38:12
Were you sleeping with other people?
Imogen Kelly 38:14
No, I was really all I probably did. But nobody liked her. I think I tried a few on but I think when you meet someone that exciting or charismatic, who’s really into you, everybody else just sort of pales in existence. But yeah, I had fabulous living shags what they were will ya had some fabulous shag sago always liked. I like bikini models and famous ships and all the plethora of people that I was trying like drug dealers and you miss. Yes. I can’t. I can’t go on. See if you can think who
K Anderson 38:54
all I can think of is Ian here.
Imogen Kelly 38:55
No. No blue to not pass go. No. Would be a famous I’m not telling. I don’t know if he was just up and coming. Literally. Oh, he was Yeah. Tea. So I was not. I was I was very integrals. But
K Anderson 39:12
wait with the French now. Okay.
Imogen Kelly 39:16
But we’re a good group of friends. Yeah, I’m changing the subject because you’re gonna hear it. But yeah, we were. Everybody was just sort of doing everyone that was the the quiz the gay scene. Everyone was, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a response to HIV. Um, I
K Anderson 39:33
guess I’m asking because I’m trying to like get a picture of this because you’re, you’re painting yourself as this lovesick puppy, which Yeah. That’s the vibe I’m getting from you. And I just wanted to clarify that.
Imogen Kelly 39:47
Yeah, absolutely. You know, when it’s their first big love, and also your first gay love, like grad been straight, straight, straight. I thought I was into boys. And then I met her. I was just like, I just felt like I’d come home. I was like, Oh my gosh, I suddenly make so much sense. Like No wonder it just was that moment so it was she was pretty big in my world in that she was someone who helped make me feel really comfortable and just really celebrate I was not in inverted commas straight.
K Anderson 40:17
I said this boys boys boys thing. Like she’s all right or was it just not something that you thought about at all?
Imogen Kelly 40:27
Um, I was terrified of it because I went to a convent, like, you know, and it was all girls and everybody like, well, the only lesbian we had out in our group got so badly bullied. She left in year eight. And yeah, it was no if you were anyway darky it was so that extreme like everybody was terrified of being lesbian. She She dry humped that she forcibly dry humped the previous girl in school and had to leave up. Yeah, things that the convent were pretty, you know? Interesting in that regard. The girls are so some of them are so big. It was not the kind of place you wanted to be. Everyone’s just terrified of being gay.
K Anderson 41:13
Do you think that you just repressed any feelings?
Imogen Kelly 41:17
Yeah, absolutely. never even got to entertain that thought because I’ve never met any gay people apart from
K Anderson 41:24
Imogen Kelly 41:27
Yeah. And I thought that’s what lesbian was, was I was like, Oh my gosh, they push people into a corner and dry humped them. This is terrible. In the toilet, it’s not like it’s it’s not even somewhere civilised. Yeah, I was I was really shocked. We were all really shocked. So we I don’t know, I guess it wasn’t till I went to sleazeball. MIT to Lola started actually going out a lot on Oxford Street. And that a lot of my mentors, like people who started helping me with performing were drag queens. And I was like, Oh, well, actually, it’s nothing like what I thought it was. And there’s this really amazing, super supportive community. Yeah. And then there’s these really stunning women that are just really, I don’t know, assertive, and strong minded and socially aware. And I was like, really inspired by them as I want to be part of this world. So was, yeah, there will just sort of made sense. Once I met to Lola,
K Anderson 42:27
just picking up on this comment you made about drag queens, was there overlap between the days? Or was it because of the proximity?
Imogen Kelly 42:36
Yeah, it was, it was quite huge. I mean, you kind of just sort of strippers that were from lower socio economic backgrounds who didn’t have a lot of education, you know, there’s this sort of typical in the way the media would would write about them. Just people who didn’t have great fortune, or in their youth or had to come up from families of abuse or being born with foetal alcohol syndrome syndrome, like something, they were those girls. And they’re part of it, they’re a huge part of it. Now, I’ve never put those people down the den that a lot of the strippers were very queer. That was not a term openly used back then you were gay. And then there were the people that didn’t even fit into the gay scene. And a lot of them were strippers. And they were really wild, and really, really fun. And like me, they were just trying to make money to survive on. And then they ended up all of them being really, really good friends, but they were all performance artists as well. So we’d be doing strip shows, I’d be going to uni to Lola be going to uni, but all the rest of them, they just put on these amazing events at night. And we’d go along and watch each other do shows that were for a very queer audience were very alternative and subversive audience at places like cookie or, you know, they, they really did just start doing their own thing. So there was that crossover. And then eventually, after Priscilla, and all of that, sort of around that time, when drag became a big thing coming out of Sydney in particular, those performers, a lot of them really loved to Lola, for instance, they were big fans of hers and friends of hers, and then invite her to do an act in their show because they wanted women to be present. They didn’t want it to be all male. And there were some drag kings around. I mean, there was Elvis for salvus was probably the most famous one. But it wasn’t really a known thing. Like everybody who got up on stage kind of did drag have a source. So yeah, we would do shows with the drag queens and they were very generous. They teach me how to make things or give some constructive feedback or just even let us come in for free and just sit down and watch their show to learn. They weren’t all like that, but the ones Were definitely makers and breakers in that scene at that time. So yeah, there was that crossover. Definitely. It wasn’t all like the boys do shows for the boys and the girls do shows for the girls. A lot of the dark nights that were starting up like to have a show. So suddenly, we all had a little bit of work, as opposed to there just being nothing. Yeah, so it’s slowly changed.
K Anderson 45:24
So what happened?
Imogen Kelly 45:27
Well, we still talk occasionally. What happened I went to, well, I got that thing done. And then I had to leave the country, as I said, but even by then we’d grown apart. And because it was the 90s, and everybody was doing drugs, I think Porter Lola got sucked into that sort of wormhole of drug abuse. And I had cleaned up and was going the other direction. So we really didn’t talk for years, until she sorted itself out and is a good life now a great job. She’s a mom. She’s still a really fun, fabulous, amazing person. And she’s up to talking about her past to a degree but she’s also very wary of it, which is why I don’t use a real name or anything like that. You know, people will judge if you still judging. No, no, I just always thought we’d be in each other’s lives. We were such good friends. Even after we stopped all that shagging? We were such good friends and regular we lived together for years. But yeah, she went one way and I went the other way around.
K Anderson 46:53
tends to be a feat. Okay. What? You said you were there for about five years. Why did you get?
Imogen Kelly 47:03
Well again, because I did have that job with the government and burned all my bridges with Kings Cross. You know, I really didn’t want the clubs to get shut down. They got shut down. When I was overseas, Talulah rang me and said, Oh, my gosh, you’ve did it. You know, you’ve you’ve made these people, these terrible people that actually being held responsible for all the terrible, horrible things they’ve done. And the clubs are all shut down. And they couldn’t reopen unless they had the new that new licencing that I’d introduced. So I never really, I never went back to King’s Cross until recently during the pandemic, and went back and filmed part of my repertoire in stripper armour. And talked about the history of it and talked about what had happened and talked about Elizabeth Burton. So it’s all there in a way for whoever might want that history as as part of the project I made during the epidemic. But yeah, I don’t feel good when I walk around Kings Cross anymore, so I’ve never felt right about it ever again.
Imogen Kelly 48:12
Yeah, there’s definitely still there. It’s definitely still Yeah, it is. It is. Everybody else’s coming on. And I know there’ll be a time when that element is gone too. And hopefully, I keep dreaming Monday I’ll be able to open my own club in Kings Cross. I do know other women who have opened their own clubs in Kings Cross and they’re really amazing clubs, so never know when I think that would be really cute. Maybe it will be.
K Anderson 48:49
Do you have any memories of stripper drama or clubbing from your own queer scene that you want to share? Well, if you do, please get in touch. I want to create the biggest online record of people’s memories and stories of queer clubbing. Go to La spaces podcast.com and find the section share a lost space and tell me everything about what you’ve got up to. You can also reach out to me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter where my handle is lost spaces part. Find out more about Imogen by visiting her website Imogen kelly.com.au or visiting her on Instagram. Her profile there is the image in Kelly. Law spaces is not only a podcast, but a concept record as well. I have been writing songs about queer venues and the people who used to live their lives there and we’ll be releasing songs over the coming year. You can hear the first single which is called well grown boys and is playing underneath my talking right now. On all good streaming platforms. If you enjoyed this episode I would really appreciate if you subscribed, left a review on your podcast platform of choice or just told someone who you think might be interested in giving it away listen to I am K Anderson and you have been listening to lost spaces