Cruising with Merv at Pride Festival
Gay sex didn’t just start in the Sixties, it was going on underground way before then. This Brisbane Pride Festival you can visit beats and hear all about the gay old days with a man who lived through it all, reports Andrew Shaw.
Last month a Brisbane suburban paper ran a story on “sex deviants” using Tingalpa’s Minnippi Parklands as a “sex beat”. Local authorities were installing CCTV and enlisting the aid of the “mild-mannered members” of the nearby Tingalpa Model Aeroplane Club to keep an eye out.
The myth that men who use beats are criminals who threaten family values fails to acknowledge that many of them are “family men” and that beat activity goes on when the majority of the population, including wives and kids, are tucked away at home watching Australia’s Got Talent.
Beats have been with us for as long as the desire for anonymous man on man sex has existed and the secret history of queer Brisbane, its beats, cafes and bars, lives on through the history walks of the History Action Group.
During Pride Festival this year, you can hook up with 80-year-old Merv, who used to do the beats as a young man. Merv’s walk on the wild side takes you from the Valley to the City to discover who did what to whom, when, where, and what the beats look like now.
Merv came across his first beat by accident: “When I was about 15 or 16 we got permission to stay in town one night each week and go to the five o’clock session of the movies. We came out one night and I walked across to Adelaide Street and saw my tram go down the road. I knew there wasn’t another one for about half an hour so I started walking towards the Valley to fill in time.
“As I walked past an old World War II air raid shelter that was turned into a men’s toilet I wanted a pee and I went in. Came out, started walking to the Valley, and noticed someone starting to follow me. To this day I don’t know why, but I slowed down and let him catch up. He took me across the road into the park and sucked me off. I thought, ‘That was nice!’ Would you believe next week I missed the tram again?”
Cruising through the years: Merv. Photo: Andrew Shaw
Merv says a coffee lounge in Adelaide Street called Casa Mara was a popular place to meet men and perhaps play “kneesies” under the table, as was the International Hotel in Leichardt Street. “The back bar would have been packed every Friday and Saturday night,” he remembers.
“That probably would have been the first gay club. The place was sold, actually, and the new owners didn’t want those bloody poofters in there so they kicked them out. This would have been in the late Fifties, early Sixties. They soon learned their mistake when they stopped making money. Then it was Lennons, then Dooleys. Then the nightclubs started opening up.”
It was an age when you weren’t out to anyone and as he grew into his late twenties Merv had a standard reply for people questioning his single status. “I said, ‘I had a girlfriend some years ago and she got killed in a car accident and I’ve never got over it.’ If they accepted it, good. If they didn’t, that was their problem. I stuck to that story right through my life.”
In 1964 Merv met his long-term partner, a university professor from Hobart who relocated to Brisbane after they met at a sister’s wedding. They moved to Sydney then retired to Queensland.
“He passed away almost nine years ago,” Merv says.
“Next Australia Day weekend would have been our forty-ninth anniversary. We had a very good relationship and I still miss him terribly. When my time comes, my ashes are to go with him. We bought a double niche in the crematorium, the plaque is to be: ‘Together Again Forever’.”
History Action Group meets 10.30am on the fourth Saturday of the month at Healthy Communities, 30 Helen Street, Teneriffe.
IMAGE (TOP): A former Brisbane beat as it looks today. Photo: Merv