(BLSB) - James and Charles: A Case of Homosexual Activity in 1920s Queensland

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Marsh & Webster, corner of Sydney and Victoria Streets, Mackay, Queensland, Australia, ca. 1925. From 'Down through the Years. 1875–1925'. Marsh & Webster souvenir booklet. Private collection. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.


From Sunshine and Rainbows: The Development of Gay and Lesbian Culture in Queensland by Clive Moore (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2001). Footnote omitted.

Movie houses became major public entertainment centres onwards from the 1910s. In Mackay, then a small sugar town, the first movie theatres were the Star, the Alfresco, and the Star Court, all established in the early 1910s. In pre air-conditioned days movie theatres often had roofs which could be cranked open. The Star Court Theatre in Victoria Street was the grandest of the three. It accommodated up to 1,000 patrons in canvas seats at night, and could be cleared for use as a skating rink during the day. Touring theatrical shows also hired the movie theatres for their performances. The grandiose Royal, only demolished in the 1990s, was originally an open air theatre constructed in 1912.

The Olympic, another grand picture palace, built on the corner of Wood and Gordon Streets at about the same time as the Royal, continued screenings until 1951. It is the scene of one 1922 sexual adventure recorded in the Court records. James M. worked at the Oriental Hotel in Wood Street. His friend, fourteen-year-old Charles P. was a shop assistant at Marsh and Websters, the biggest department store in the town. They had met in the store earlier that day. In evidence Charles stated that James had come up to him in the store, suggesting an assignation, but when rejected said ‘You are cunt struck’. A bit later James approached Charles again, this time saying, he would like to ‘slide one up’ him. Charles joked back, ‘Oh, that would hurt’, to be reassured by James that ‘with a little vaseline it would slide in easily’.

The pair arranged to meet at the Olympic that night, having a drink beforehand: James ordered a beer (indicating he was older than 21) and underage Charles asked for a lemonade. In the gloom of the Olympic they were observed by Constable Cullen, who noticed James put his hand on Charles’ lap. Charles was aware of the presence of the policeman. ‘You’re a nark.’ said young Charles. The constable replied, ‘What’s that you say?’ Charles replied, ‘Move your seat, go into one of the back ones. I’ve got a good thing on’. He nodded knowingly towards James. The constable, still in question mode, asked, ‘What is it?’ Young Charles replied, ‘It is dead good.’

Constable Cullen moved away but continued his observations, noting that they were ‘close together’. In fact from Charles’ evidence James had unbuttoned his fly and pushed Charles’ hand inside for a grope, then tongue-kissed him as well. Unobserved, Constable Cullen followed them when they left the theatre, back to James’s room at the rear of the Oriental Hotel. The constable listened outside the door: ‘Take off your clothes. I will take off my trousers’, said the forward fourteen-year-old. ‘Take the lot off’ said James, in anticipation. Next the constable heard the bed rattle and then a sucking noise, which was in fact fellatio in progress. Charles said ‘You are biting me’. James, tried a new position: ‘sit on my lap’ he said. Charles then asked ‘where is the vaseline?’ This was enough for the constable, who burst in. The result was a charge of gross indecency against James, leading to a sentence of twelve months with hard labour.


Mug shot of an Australian boy (13 June 1921). Location and details unknown. New South Wales Police Forensic Photography Archive.