Saying goodbye to Sydney's queer performance pioneers
CREATED ON // Monday, 16 June 2014 Author // Cec Busby
In the past month, Gay Sydney bid farewell to not one, but three, well-loved and pioneering figures: Maggie Burns, Beatrice and Bubbles Le Gay. Cec Busby reports.
The past few weeks has been a sombre time for Sydney with the queer scene losing three well-loved performers: the incomparable Maggie Burns; Newcastle drag artist and former Les Girls star Bubbles Le Gay (aka Terry Mateer); and drag icon David ‘Beatrice’ Williams.
Williams’ performances at the now defunct Purple Onion in the 1960s and his theatrical extravaganzas became the stuff of legends.
Burns was a stalwart in drag troupes such as Skye Brooks and Company, Pleasure Pact, and Maggie Burns and Company.
Bubbles Le Gay was one of the pioneers of Newcastle's gay community.
DAVID 'BEATRICE' WILLIAMS
For those of you not old enough to remember, The Purple Onion was an infamous gay venue that hosted drag shows. Situated at the site of the old KKK (though long before it was to bear this moniker, and become a gay sauna), the Purple Onion was a favourite theatrical haunt where burlesque and drag rubbed shoulders, visiting international guests popped by for a drink and at a time when homosexuality was illegal and police raids were abundant, it was a thriving business that served the queer community.
Williams and his crew of drag queens would present extravagant shows that referenced popular culture to great effect. Shows such as The Sound of Mucus and A Streetcar Named Beatrice were presented to great acclaim.
“We had nuns and nazis and we did ‘Springtime for Hitler’,” remembers Williams in a recording hosted on Pride History Group.
Whilst Williams has not performed drag for years, his performances and contribution to the scene are well remembered.
LGBTI historian Garry Wotherspoon recalls: “Beatrice’s shows, such as The Sound of Mucus and A Streetcar Named Beatrice, were legendary, even being reviewed by theatre critic Katherine Brisbane, who saw the drag shows there in a very different light”.
Above: David 'Beatrice' Williams. Photo: Courtesy Facebook
Infamous entertainer and showgirl personality Carlotta told SX she too was saddened to hear of Williams’ death.
“I’m very sad to hear the passing of another Sydney icon, Beatrice Williams of the famous Purple Onion in Kensington which later became Kandy’s Steam Room. I did one show there with her in their very famous storyline drag shows. She will be sadly missed.”
In a further loss to the community, one of Sydney’s best loved performers, Maggie Burns also passed away last month. The Imperial Hotel hosted a tribute to Burns, who performed thousands of shows at the venue during its heyday in the 1980s.
Showgirl and Imperial Hotel event manager Penny Clifford was deeply saddened of Burns’ passing, saying “Maggie was one of the original superstars of the drag scene”.
Indeed, Maggie’s nickname was ‘Goddess’, recalls Clifford.
“She always looked lush and expensive. Whether she was DJíng at the Exchange Hotel, on stage at Patch’s or shopping in Double Bay, she was indeed a goddess.
“But to me she was the first positive transgender role model that took me under her wing and showed me many, many things. I will be eternally grateful for her guidance and support through the early stages of my TS Life and I adored Maggie.”
VIDEO: A video created in memory of Maggie Burns. Courtesy Penny Clifford. Cover image: Maggie Burns (centre). Photo: Courtesy Facebook
BUBBLES LE GAY
The community suffered a further loss in May with the death of Bubbles Le Gay. Bubbles was a much loved member of the Newcastle gay scene, and the Newcastle LGBTI community paid tribute to the drag performer at an event last weekend.
“Bubbles specialised in comedy drag which she began in her early career at Sydney’s Les Girls,” said friend Steve.
“She was also an excellent compere and she gladly compered the fabulous balls that Rainbow Visions held at the Newcastle Town Hall.”
Above: Bubbles Le Gay. Photo: Courtesy Facebook
GNN sends its condolences to family and friends of Bubbles, Maggie and Beatrice at this sad time.