Most of our readers interested in our fantastic Gay fetish history will know about The Leather Archive & Museum in Chicago (LA&M), The Canadian Archive and also The European Leather Archive in London – if not they are all covered in previous AT’s available at www.Alphatribe.com. What you may not know that Australia has a Gay Museum Archive too in their Queer capital, Melbourne so we spoke to committee member NICK HENDERSEN to find out about those horny ass loving Aussies and their heritage.
How did the Archive get started?
The Australian Queer Archives was established in 1978, as an initiative of the 4th National Homosexual Conference , Sydney. At that time only two of Australia’s eight states and territories had decriminalised homosexual acts between men, and no mainstream cultural institution was actively collecting material documenting the LGBTI communities, so the Archives was established to save our communities history against mainstream community indifference. Since our formation we’ve changed our name twice, as the community descriptions have changed, becoming the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives in 1992, then the Australian Queer Archives in 2020. There is further information on our background at www.alga.org.au/the-foundations-of-alga.
How you are supported and financed?
The Australian Queer Archives Inc. is a community-based, volunteer-run, non-profit organisation, incorporated under Victorian law. AQuA is run democratically by an elected committee of management, with the assistance of members and volunteers across Australia. Our funding principally comes from membership fees, donations, and bequests; with minor one-off project funding received from the Victorian Government and philanthropic sources. For more information on our governance see our Rules of Association and Annual Reports on our website.
What are a couple of your most interesting Gay exhibits?
AQuA holds ~650 shelf metres of physical material and many terabytes of born digital and digitised material, so there is a wealth of interesting and unusual items to choose from. One of my favourite items and more unusual objects in an archive, is a carefully labelled jar of water that was retrieved from the pool of a long-running sauna after it had closed and donated anonymously. The sauna, Ken’s of Kensington, was one of Sydney’s longest running saunas, and an important site for gay and bisexual men between its establishment in 1973 and closure in 2013. When it closed AQuA worked with the owner to photographically document the building, and preserved a range of artefacts from the space, from lockers to towels, artworks to safe sex lights from dark rooms. After we promoted the preservation of this sauna collection, we received an anonymous donation of the jar of water.
Another favourite and unusual item is a dildo mould, or rather collection of dildo moulds. The collection was produced by Elbent Products in 1982, a company formed by Paul Elstub and Bruce Belcher. Some of Bruce’s activist papers, covering HIV/AIDS activism and involvement with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, were already held by AQuA, and when I heard of the existence of the dildo moulds buried under a communal share house, I thought they would make a great addition to the Archives. The moulds range from a 2×5″ butt plug, to a 20″ double-ended dildo.On the leather side, one of the most interesting research collections at AQuA is held in our oral history collection. The Australian Leather Women’s History Project, run by volunteer and non-binary bootblack KL Joy, who has been recording interviews with Australian leather women, DJs and professional dominatrix’s. KL has drawn on this collection to present on the topic of Australian bootblacks during their run for International Ms Bootblack (IMsBB), for a talk at the Archives’ annual Homosexual Histories Conference, and published the first in a series of zines.
How can people visit?
AQuA’s collection is currently in storage before our relocation to the Victorian Pride Centre (https://pridecentre.org.au/) at the end of February, we hope to reopen in March 2021. The Centre is located at 79-81 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia.
How can they get in touch, donate items or money?
AQuA can be contacted via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) on our Facebook page, Facebook group or our Twitter handle (AQuArchive). Information on becoming a member and donating money or material is available via our website (https://alga.org.au/).
Any favourite anecdote whilst building the collection?
Collecting archival material from donors can sometimes lead to some interesting locations, one such was excavating under an old 19th century terrace house in Rozelle, Sydney. The house had for many years in the 1970s and 1980s been a communal share house, home to radical faeries and Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. One of those Sisters, Sr Barbarella Ars Erotica (Bruce Belcher), was also co-owner of a dildo company, hence his Sisterly name. The items located buried underneath the house, under layers of construction material and home appliances long discarded, was the moulds used to make the dildos.
Do Australian Titleholders make a regular pilgrimage to the Museum and Archive?
AQuA is regularly visited by Australian titleholders, including Melbourne’s own IMsL 2018 Girl Ang, who visited in the run up to her international title bid to research the history of the Melbourne leather community. The Archives has the principal collection documenting Australian leather and fetish history, so we’re regularly a source for research, and often work with people like leather historian and Queensland Leather Boy 2015 Tim Roberts, who recently published a history of Australia’s longest running leather club, Brisbane’s The Boot Co., drawing on AQuA’s holdings.
Any events you run?
AQuA runs a range of events, from our Annual history conference, history walks, talks and panels, exhibitions, film screenings, pride festival stalls, and more. Keep up to date with our forthcoming events via our social media.
Are you linked to the archives in Chicago and London at all?
AQuA has links with several international archives, in particular those in the UK, Canada and the USA; we regularly consult on projects and connect through the LGBTQ+ ALMS Conferences (Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special collections). Additional projects have included exchanging surplus collection material with Bishopsgate Institute in London, and our volunteer KL undertaking an internship with Leslie Anderson at Chicago’s Leather Archives and Museum on leather conservation.
How can people follow the archive and find out more?