(Re) Presenting | QUEER LIVING ART: 1990s BRISBANE DIY FASHION by writer and performance artist Evelyn Hartogh
This is a story about fashion, a blend of music, art, politics, gaming, and gardening, as much as the clothes that we made in Brisbane City in the 1990s. Making unique clothes to wear was our expression of living art, and integral to living in the inner city, and going out, to underground and alternate clubs, to obscure local experimental bands, and to niche DJ events. Friends, colleagues, and former share house mates, from this time of social change, responded to my request for adding memories to this story in mid-2020, while I was in the throes of sewing hundreds of face masks in Victoria, during the strict lockdown in Melbourne. The act of sewing something to wear ‘out’ in 1990, sure was different to 2020.
Before I get to the sartorial stories of outsider, alternative inner-city Brisbane 1990s share houses, op shopping, and sewing, I want to explain where I came from in Australia, before Brisbane, and set the context with the perspective of a conservative dresser, who offers an alternate view, of the outsiders.
Just before I was born, my family had emigrated from South Africa, making me the only Australian in the family. My much, much older brothers had grown up in 1960s South Africa with all the white privilege, and black servants, this entailed. In 1970s Australia, my father worked short six month, or yearly, contracts as a geologist, and draftsman, for mining companies, often on site. We moved from yellow, dry, dusty, rocky Perth, to icy wind, & heavy snows, in New Zealand, to enormous spiders on the curtains in Sydney, prep in Melbourne, then primary school in Toowoomba, filled with flowers, followed by Mount Isa, all orange, and yellow, with light far too bright that blinded me, to Cairns, wet and damp, with the smoky, sweet smell of burning sugarcane making the air taste like toffee, then back to Mount Isa, returning to the sulphur fumes from the mines giving me asthma attacks on the way home from school, back to the spiky spinifex, meaning no matter if the temperature was over 40 degrees Celsius, you still had to wear jeans on school bush walks because the spinifex spines would get into everything. Ouch. Spinifex is like a cactus but seems to be just made up of the sharp needle-like spines, and nothing else.
I spent most the 1980s, in Mount Isa, on stage, performing either at the yearly extravaganza for Miss Desley’s Dance Academy (where I studied ballet, tap, jazz, and character), or in the Eisteddfod, Debating, and Public Speaking competitions, and much more, all performed at the concrete, and copper decorated, Mount Isa Cultural Centre. The biggest venue in town was my virtual home, because my brother worked there as a lighting technician, and my mother, as the cultural centre’s booking secretary.
I spent my school holidays in the complex, having full run of the entire theatre, backstage, the dressing rooms, the lighting box, all the stairs to use as slides, and the forbidden palatial gardens, with secret doors to backstage, watching travelling bands, and theatre productions bump in, and out, as I did my colouring in a corner and kept quiet. Later, when my mother went to work for the Mount Isa City Council, my new home became the Mount Isa Library, which was on the same block as the council, and cultural centre. No surprise I grew up to be a writer, and performance artist, after growing up in a theatre, and a library. Also, perhaps inevitable, was my growing interest in human rights activism, perhaps due to being the only Australian, in a family of South Africans.
My weekends, in 1980s Mount Isa, were spent wearing pastels at the Baptist Church, Christian Youth Groups, Bible Studies, Girls Brigade Camps, and Baptist Revival Evangelical Rallies, where I found out everything that was ‘sinful’ in culture. This extremism was an everyday thing. Baptist Preachers told us all about all how Boy George, Elton John, David Bowie, and many other pop stars, were homosexual, bisexual, and even into sheep as sexual partners, all acts against the word of God. My Christian Youth Group Leaders warned us, in intricate detail, about the disgusting sexual debauchery in The Rocky Horror Show. A couple of Australian productions of the Rocky Horror stage show toured to the Mount Isa Civic Centre, while the theatre was still my babysitter, and I watched my brother extend the stage into the wings, and paint it all black, then I later watched the entire saucy sin-filled show from the lighting box.
I never felt that I fitted into my family, or society, so I never bothered to try. By the time I was thirteen, both of my brothers were moved out, and married, and during a long five year, very bitter post-divorce property settlement, my parents gave my older brothers the majority of their assets, as a way to avoid sharing anything with their former spouse. My mother’s anger at my father, and my brothers, (for leaving her), became redirected at me. While in public she was utterly charming, in private, at home, my mother was enraged, or upset, by her delusions, which were based in her firm belief that she was telepathic. I would be routinely punished for her auditory hallucinations, which she managed to keep hidden from my brothers for decades.
When I was in high school, it didn’t matter what I did, or said, because I would be punished for whatever thoughts she believed she ‘heard’ me think. With no hope of ever being considered ‘good’ I dressed as the ‘bad’ girl, dyed my hair bright colours, shaved parts off, wore lots of black, and op shopped garish, bright, bold clothes. I collected obscure bands outside of the commercial mainstream, which I loathed. During high school my only option was to mail order ‘alternative’ music (as smaller labels like Rough Trade, 4AD, & Factory records were known in the 1980s) via the one, an only, vinyl record store in Mount Isa.
In my final year of high school, we had a school trip to the high-tech 1988 World Expo in Brisbane city. A classmate drew me a mud map of record stores in the city, and I was delighted and consoled by the instant gratification of buying records of alternative music off the shelves, instead of waiting over a month for them to arrive in the mail.
In early 1989, I moved into Women’s College on the St Lucia campus of University of Queensland. I wore my most conservative clothes to the interview for the room: a white cotton button up shirt; red-brown Esprit fitted trousers; light brown leather belt; light brown boating shoes; and fortunately, my hair at the time was between bright colours, just in a simple chin length bob in a nondescript shade of light copper brown.
I remember it well because it was such a conscious effort to choose the most conservative ensemble I could manage. This look didn’t last long, as I soon dyed my hair a blue black again, and cut the shortest fringe possible. I went back to wearing all black clothes, and op shop dresses altered to fit. I bought my first pair of Doc Martins (which my older brothers referred to as ‘clod hoppers’), and got my nose pierced. There was just one other girl at the Women’s College, where we lived together as students, with a nose ring, and a handful of other students on campus with nose piercings. It seems odd writing this now in 2020, but nose rings were so uncommon in 1990s Brisbane, that it was considered ‘socially acceptable’ to rudely comment, mock, and make fun of any piercing not located on the ears. The only time you wouldn’t be abused about having a nose piercing was while out clubbing in Fortitude Valley. Ongoing abuse was a normality for me, as my mother called me on a regular basis to scream her paranoid delusions, often manipulating my older brothers to do follow-up calls, accusing me of more, and more, outlandish nonsense.
Letters from my mother were simply long rants, about imagined transgressions, and her anger about having to send me a small part of the child support my father paid her. My family experience was very different to the majority of my student friends, who took for granted unconditional financial, and emotional support, from their parents.
Women’s College at UQ, exposed me to many extreme conservative views, which I hadn’t expected in all my dreams of punks, art, music, and activism against prejudice, and discrimination. In 1989, an interesting article was published, in the UQ Union newspaper Semper Floreat, about homosexual behaviour naturally occurring in many animal species. I enjoyed reading it, however it provoked outrage from conservatives, who supported continued criminalisation of homosexual behaviour in Queensland, on the premise that it went against nature, and was an unnatural act, outside of ‘normal’ human behaviour.
In 1990s Queensland, and in Brisbane where I lived, studied and worked, homophobia relied on legal, and medical discourses, to keep queers in the closet, out of fear of losing their jobs, their homes, and their civil liberties. If scientific data could no longer support homophobic laws, or diagnoses, then all that was left for homophobia was extreme religious belief.
Without any need for proof, nor rigorous research, the new objective, for extreme right-wing religious conservatives in Queensland, was cherry picking homophobic interpretations (and translations) of religious texts, while at the same time, ignoring centuries of theological discussion, and dismissing relevant historical, and cultural contexts. Thankfully, after a year of arguing about the rights of homosexuals to exist, in 1990 homosexual acts were decriminalised in Queensland.
Legal behaviour did not immediately translate into acceptable behaviour. Many students at Women’s College held common 1990s prejudices, namely that all feminists were lesbians, and ‘the gays’ had caused the AIDS epidemic. Most students at Women’s College defined themselves as ‘apolitical’ rather than conservative. The preferred behaviour, of college culture, was to actively disengage from political issues, an action of non-action, which I saw as silent compliance with discrimination. Although Women’s College was founded by suffragettes in 1922, very few residents called themselves feminists. I saw them all as feminists because they were attending university, and I saw all people who dressed in a conformist fashion as politically conservative. In my teenage idealism about fighting bigotry, and prejudice, I had unwittingly stereotyped everyone based on appearance.
My prejudices were shattered when I met some conservative looking women at Women’s who were studying engineering, economics, and science. I attended an engineering lecture with one of them, and was shocked at how the male student majority spent the entire lecture throwing things, talking, laughing, and generally making a racket. In my female student dominated humanities, students kept a respectful silence during lectures, and similar rowdy disruptive behaviour would have had people thrown out of a class. Women studying in the male dominated disciplines, survived with a practical liberal approach to feminism. Their very existence challenged bigotry and stereotypes, and their pragmatism manifested in a tolerance for difference, and an open-minded attitude to everybody.
STUDENT FRIEND 1989 WOMEN’S COLLEGE UQ ST LUCIA
I can actually remember the first time I saw a Goth. One of my friends from boarding school got kicked out by her parents and came to stay with me. She was wearing flowing black from head to toe, [and] dyed her hair to match. White face. Black eye make-up and red red lips. It was January. Quite a dramatic change from our tartan school uniform which I had seen her in only a few months prior. My first thoughts were wow, that’s a bit dramatic, shit she must be hot, so much foundation on her face and such dark clothes. [I was] wondering ‘why’ she chose this look and what was going on in her head. Not in an unkind way, just wondering if she had some big issues and was making a big statement. I was a country girl after all. Fairly conservative family. Mind you, apart from Dad raising his eyebrows when he first saw Mindy, she stayed with us quite a while. I feel that when you see someone regularly you no longer see the outside, rather their look just become part of them. Going clubbing in the valley you were more likely to see unusually dressed peeps. I was a bit nervous of people with lots of face piercings. I kind of felt it was menacing. No reason for that feeling, just new to me I suspect. I think early on in my uni years, I thought they were more likely to be into drugs and violence. Dark dress, dark deeds perhaps. People tend to be afraid of the unknown and the different, so for someone mainstream, such as myself, the initial exposure to someone so exotically dressed was a little intimidating. Sometimes the look was so ‘in your face’, so different, it was hard to look at. Like looking at the sun. And if you got caught looking at someone, they generally gave you lip. ‘What the fuck are you looking at?’ A defensive mechanism on their part perhaps, but did scare you off a little. As time went on, and I met more, and more, non-mainstream peeps, I realised it was just generally a statement of self. Often, as not, the more outlandishly dressed were quiet and gentle types. Shy even. Not always of course. Some[times] chaos outside truly reflected the chaos within. Mostly, I feel people who are outside the norm just have personality bubbling out of them. They want to tell you how they feel. They want to be different to everyone else, to their parents, to everyone from school. They want to be noticed. They want you to see ‘them’.
In my second year of university, I moved into my first real share house. It was located in the suburb of Toowong with my social group of Swampies, and Gothics. Most of us had spent our first year at one of the university residential colleges, and all of us had moved to Brisbane from the country. We went out to Morticia’s, a Gothic club, held at The Orient, and to local band gigs at The Storey Bridge Hotel, and the East Leagues Club. Those with cars took the rest of us on ‘dump runs’ to find furniture at the local tip. St Vinnies delivered free furniture to students, and we furnished our entire house for nothing, which was all we could afford on Austudy. I fell into old patterns of cleaning up after everyone else, which had been my job at home. This amused my housemates who had spent their childhoods being looked after by their parents, instead of having the responsibility of cooking, cleaning, and comforting their mother, as I had.
KIMBA 1990 SHAREHOUSE TOOWONG
Clothing wise, nothing was new, except for knickers of course. We couldn’t afford it. Myself, and others, used to frequent the op-shops regularly and I recall ‘filling a bag for $2’ days which we would stuff with beautiful vintage dresses, corsets and slips. Velvet, thick satin from the 50’s, and lace. Truly beautiful items. Even vintage wedding dresses and long slender gloves. The dresses I often hemmed into minis, by hand sewing, then would wear with ripped stockings and pointy-toed black boots or Doc Martens. We would dye the slips and corsets, usually black or purple, making them into outerwear of the now, rather than the underwear of the past. I recall using talcum powder for face powder to appear as pale as possible. The sub-culture was goth/punk/grunge/swampy. I remember going to clubs called Backstage and The Zoo, that’s about all my addled brain recalls. But as alternative as we looked, even scary to some, we were just innocent youth having a good time, each one of us displaced in some way, we had found our tribe. We never got into crime, most of us were studying or had part time jobs.
By the final year of my undergraduate degree I was living in the artsy ‘keep it weird’ suburb West End in a queer friendly share house. The queer underground arts, and dance party culture, that I became involved with, inspired more colour in my wardrobe, and a greater freedom to experiment with fashion, with adornment to express my own style, and my self-determination. I felt encouraged to create outfits that were unlike anything that anyone else was wearing, instead of following trends started by others. I amassed a huge collection of queer, and feminist political badges which generated animosity from the ‘cool’ types who saw politics as unfashionable.
Together with friends from other share houses in West End, we would walk into the City, and the Valley, from West End, safer in a group, but not immune to beatings. We went to Indie-music clubs like The Move, The Funkyard, and Metropolis, and when they shut, we would end up at The Beat, which seemed to never close.
CLUBBING FRIEND 1991 SHAREHOUSE WEST END
I remember going to Patches which was above the Roxy nightclub in Fortitude Valley. I was about 16 years old when I first started going to nightclubs. My best friend and I moved out of home and we got jobs in a cafe. We met lots of great people clubbing and were inspired to dress up. Patches had a talent contest and there were some amazing performances, and drag shows, which were the highlight, and great inspiration. Acid music, and early Techno were cool and inspirational, as well. We would usually start our night at Patches, then go to the Beat, and then the Terminus night club. Also, later, living in West End in a share house, we all made our own clothes, dyed our hair crazy colours and dressed in wild glam clothes, [and] we did our own photo shoots. In Brisbane back then everyone seemed to know each other and it was fun and creative and inclusive. Metropolis night club had “Flares” a seventies club, where you could dress up in 70’s clothes and dance the night away. I didn’t have a job and could only afford to buy from op shops. Op shops were not as popular back then, so they were filled with vintage treasures. It was amazing what you could find. I remember finding a polyester lime green jumpsuit, crotchet flares and lots of 1960’s dresses. I had this fantastic three-piece purple men’s suit, which I would wear with a lovely bright orange lace, collared shirt. If you wanted something new to wear, you could just whip up a pair of hot pants or paisley flares, or re-purpose something. There were so many inspirational people doing creative things in fashion and art back then.
By the mid-1990s I had cut off contact with my family. Any financial support had long gone once I finished university, and my father stopped paying child support, and thus my mother was no longer able to profit from my existence, by only sending me a small portion. Her abuse, threats, and accusations, had continued unabated, and her ability to manipulate my brothers into supporting her delusions, became more refined. I was in an unusual position, having come from a very privileged family, but now was poorer than friends from economically disadvantaged, yet supportive families. I didn’t fit neatly into any demographic, but since I had never belonged anywhere my entire life, this was nothing new. The stark contrasts between rich and poor were emerging in the 1990s as mainstream corporate commercial culture, sat alongside alternative, independent, grass roots, do it yourself zines, bands, and fashion. Artists, like myself, began to incorporate the global culture of logos and branding, into their art, because these symbols of mass production dominated the landscapes like never before. Meanwhile, the wealthy wanted to display their status via clothing which boldly advertised prestige brands and logos. In contrast, people in 1990s subcultures, boasted at how little they paid for op shopped vintage garments, or home-made couture.
NAT 1991-1996 SHAREHOUSES WEST END & NEW FARM
I remember taking over the kitchen table of our share house in Boundary St with my sewing equipment, making clothes for housemates and friends and to sell at Betty Britches. [I was] buying super cheap remnant pieces of fabric at Paddy’s Market, and [at] another long gone place, at the Newstead warehouses. There were indie boutiques where you could take your made or modified clothes and sell them on consignment, I sold heaps at Betty Britches and The Upstairs Room, but there were heaps of others. We used to put on these fashion parades at the nightclub Metropolis. Different boutiques and designers would each do a section and friends and nightclub divas would model. It was great fun. I usually did make up for the models and had my designs showing. The best thing though was being out at a nightclub and seeing a total stranger wearing something I had made and sold on consignment. It was huge validation for a young designer to know that they had seen my design in a shop, loved it, bought it and wore it out. This happened at all the Indie/alternative nightclubs, Metropolis, The Funkyard, The Buzz Bar, Flares. People were always looking for something different and unique to wear to clubs and raves in the 90’s, and ravers and club kids had a love for bright colours, faux fur, anything sequinned or shiny and glamorous. We thought ourselves to be a step up from the grunge people who wore ripped jeans and flanno shirts. We cared about our appearance and dressed to the nines! They were good times.
West End was yet to undergo the same type of gentrification happening in New Farm, and the Cosmopolitan Cafe ‘the Cosmo Cafe’ on Brunswick Street (later Brunswick Mall), and Cafe Tempo on Boundary Street West End, were among the first of their kind. Me and my friends were obsessed with playing Backgammon, and Yahtzee, and I carried a set of six dice with me everywhere. Recycling culture was in full swing, and I started buying $1 op shop garments for the fabric. I designed my own patterns, and made dresses with cheap op shop terry towelling bathrobes, and vinyl backed curtains, that had bold op art spotted, and striped, colour patterns (thankfully the vinyl backing was easily peeled away from the cotton).
We made backpacks from coloured corduroy sourced from op shop high waisted puffy pants which nobody wanted, because flares, and low hipster waists were most desired. We just wanted the fabric, because we could create our own fashion. Far more organised, and far better skilled at sewing, was Mark Wilson with his label Hairy Dog. In the early 1990s, along with many friends, I modelled his explosively colourful, cleverly humorous, creations in champagne fuelled nightclub fashion parades.
VANESSA 1991 SHAREHOUSE WEST END
I was in Brisbane in the early 90s but then moved to Melbourne around 1992 so my recollection is really around the very early 90s for Brisbane. I was back for a year in 1997 and visited about once a year to catch up with friends. It was interesting to see the scene change and evolve, and Brisbane become more social with cafes and restaurants popping up, as well as separate groups I knew become more enmeshed into a connected community. And of course, you featured in a lot of my fond memories of that time since we lived together in a big share house. What I remember is that we were all pov [living in poverty] and that’s why op shopping was so important – it also gave me a way of creating my own look and being a bit different because I wasn’t into mainstream fashion and I couldn’t afford it even if I was. So, things that cost $70 in a curated vintage section of an op shop or dedicated vintage shops that are privately owned commercial enterprises, used to be 20 cents or 50 cents at charity and church thrift stores. Ipswich was an amazing and undiscovered resource for thrift, which is where I found most of my amazing op shop pieces of 60s and 70s gowns, hats, jackets, you name it they had everything. The shop Betty Britches was an early up seller of Vintage clothing, and I took 50’s inspired photographs for their editorials. I couldn’t sew very well so I didn’t make a lot from scratch but there was certainly a lot of modifications going on. I cut long dresses short to modernise them and I remember modelling for Hairy Dog and swapping for outfits – even modifying those. I couldn’t leave anything in its original form and I would paint my docs my bags, just about everything and that’s when I also got a tattoo because I decorated my own skin with one of my illustrations. There was a mix that I was working with at the time from 30’s to 60’s, to 70s to bohemian artist, queer, the whole thing not really into trying to relive one particular style era but make my own interpretation of a few of them. I modelled for friend’s fashion labels, and hair shows, and I would swap for clothes (and great hair), which was fab because they would always be very creative and alternative. I was already over nightclubbing by the beginning of the 90s, having gone out underage while I was still at school to Patches and the Beat which was a lot of people that were either under age or still very young – it was a queer cross section and more on the fashionable side at that time. By the early 90s ‘Flares’, a long running disco/bar night, was happening which a lot of us went to including my household. It was vintage inspired and supported outrageous fashion and dancing. There were a few passion pop fuelled nights there. I remember modelling in a Hairy Dog parade, possibly at Flares, it was at the same venue. and you know we were encouraged to be outrageous and at one point I did lean over the banister and grab you and give you a big pash as part of my performance mixing with my personal interest of course; so much fun.
In 1994 I had a welcome holiday in Melbourne, and visited Vanessa. We went to an art opening at an artist’s studio in St Kilda, and one of the artists, hearing we were on holiday from Queensland, and having recently been there themselves, commented that, “Brisbane in the 90s, is just like Melbourne in the 70s’. They meant this as a compliment, because only being seen as twenty years behind was progress for Queensland, as the Daylight Savings joke I remember from my childhood demonstrates: “Welcome to Queensland, turn your clock back an hour, and fifty years”.
BRENDEN 1990s CLUBBING FRIEND NEW FARM
In 1994 I was working at the Sportsman’s’ Hotel and was roped into doing a show with the other staff at the Queen’s Ball. [The Queens Ball is Brisbane oldest LGBTQIA+ event, 59 years this year.] They expected me to turn up in some dreadful frock like the rest of them but instead I went to Paddy’s markets and found a pair of rubber scuba-diving pants to which I glued a 1960’s space age buckle along with a leather off-cut to fashion an Egyptian style collar. A few other bits and bobs, an electric blue home hair dye and a bit of electric blue eye makeup and voila! The whole thing cost about $15 and got compliments all night. The others weren’t impressed but I never really fit in the gay scene, I was better accepted in the ‘alternative’ scene.
By the mid-1990s, my gallery performances with their focus on feminist, queer, and body image politics, began to attract bookings from numerous human rights benefits, and fund raisers. My art practice had always been anti-capitalist, and about the creation of art that could not be bought, so donating my time to human rights causes fit my agenda. My Queen Street Mall performance, as a vacuuming Wonder Woman, had generated me a media profile which remained high throughout the 1990s. My previous activism of going on marches, speaking at rallies, poster runs, and sticker runs, fused with the political satire of my performances. Thanks to my article publishing, strong focus on photographic documentation for publicity purposes, and media contacts, I was able to generate mainstream publicity for underground social justice movements, and their events. Meanwhile, while living in New Farm in the mid-90s, I enjoyed a celebrity status at nightclubs. I knew most of the DJs, bands, and promoters, and would have the cover charge waived because I always arrived with a retinue of friends.
Numerous underground events, in 1990s Brisbane, would combine bands, and performance art, creating a genre blurring community of people from multi-disciplinary art forms. My favourite local bands were Small World Experience (I appeared in their video of Overexposure), and CLAG (who I managed to wangle a booking at university feminist event by telling them to just get the one guy in their group to wear a dress at the gig). The members of CLAG wore unisex skater clothes, although sometimes costumed in garbage bags, surrounded by stuffed toys. Nicole Tibault from CLAG (and later Minimum Chips) opened the shop SCRABBLED on Ann Street in Fortitude Valley. Her shop mixed vintage, and hand made clothes, local artisan products, and plenty of local independent music, as well as having room for a rehearsal space for bands. 81 Elizabeth Street in the city became a popular venue for a number of clubs, including an early incarnation of the hip hop club Sunny Side Up, which later became a fixture, upstairs at the Embassy Hotel in the Valley.
GRETA 1990s CLUBBING FRIEND WEST END
In 1989-90 I was influenced by swampy looks, paisley fabric from op shops, black suede pointy shoes from Suchi [sic], faded black jeans/long skirts (what other choice was there but faded blacks in the Queensland sun). Purple passion was my favoured lippie and [I wore] black eye-liner cats’ eyes. I’d meet my friends at Cafe Bohemian, discreetly pour Kahlua into my Betty Blue and then go to the Funk Yard to dance, or go to live gigs like Nick Cave, Billy Brag. I got into the rave scene briefly when they used to have secret parties up a Mt Tamborine Hall and we’d meet at the Beat, catch a bus together and dance all night. Fashion wasn’t as important in this scene [because] it just had to be comfortable cos we danced all night. Then in 1991 I got into the Indie look influenced by the rise of Brit Pop. I wore flares and long-sleeved tees or an op shop ‘things go better with Coke’ 70’s tee. My hair was a very short bowl cut with shaved back. You sewed me an amazing baby doll terry-towelling dress that swung out just the right way for all that swirly dancing. You also inset some wide weave purple 70’s fabric into an old Thai silk skirt. [My] big docs were augmented with small toys woven into my laces. I had a necklace with a toy plastic dolphin and another with an angel Christmas tree decoration with fluoro paint. They used to fly up and hit me in the face when I was dancing and the toys I wore in my earnings were equally impractical and fluoro. I had a vinyl kids back pack featuring a fire engine dalmatian as my uni bag. I remember helping paint a fluoro backdrop for a Tim Gruchy party at [Isn’t Studios] Gipps St and enjoying the touches of fluoro paint on my clothes. I was usually mixing things up. I wore a tartan skirt (that I’d had since I was 7) that I wore with fluoro green lurex stockings and torn fishnets and docs (with the toys). A bit of punk, a bit of glam and a touch of the elusive Floppity Bunny (a moniker coined by Meg Knowski to describe our baggy, colourful child-like look). I had grown up hating skin heads and their look so when I wore tartan and docs I had to subvert it. Glamour Pussy’s Chrissy Feldt was making some great outfits and I remember admiring how well Andrew her partner at the time wore the men’s skirts she designed at the club Chichi Deluxe in Edward St. Then with all the sophistication of Sunny Side Up’s acid’s jazz, funk and Brazilian soundtrack suddenly I became much more enamoured with the 50’s and 60’s gorgeous frocks of my Mum and Gran’s who had both sewn and preserved some amazing garments. I didn’t wear them slavishly, I mixed them up with chunky shoes and there’s a photo [in the book ‘Two to the Valley’] of me wearing a fake fur dalmatian spotted jacket so it wasn’t the look of the perfect 60’s model that I was after. When I got really into hip hop in about 1992/3 I never really got into the fashion of that masculine or overtly feminine. I had some great baggy shorts but I missed the glam craziness of my previous looks. The clothes I dug out of my Mum and Gran’s wardrobe, and the clothes I shopped for at Paddy’s Market [New Farm], and Saint Veronica’s [West End], changed over the years. Initially I was only into the 50’s frocks in 1989-1991. Then in 1992-3 I got into the lurex and crochet dresses of the 60’s. The teal suede flares and floor length skirts of the 70’s were what really rocked my world circa 1993-6. Ironic how I was adamant about not following fashions, yet I was following some alternative fashion dictate that determined the various waves of retro revival.
By 1996 many of my friends and colleagues had moved to Melbourne, and London, and I left New Farm and moved back to West End. I wanted to live by myself, in a flat, while studying my Masters, and the only way I could afford bond was to sell my precious record collection. I was under extreme financial pressure, having an huge debt of legal costs to repay to Education Queensland, after false accusations of explaining homosexuality, to another teacher’s class, that I had minded for ten minutes. The reality of course was that in 1996 it was not possible to be a well-known queer feminist performance artist, and a high school Art, and English teacher. However, it was not possible for them to fire a teacher for working in their field, thus, like many queers of the 1990s, unproven rumour, and innuendo, were taken as fact. The religious right still held a lot of power, and it remained legal for employers to discriminate against homosexuals, or anyone who supported the human rights of homosexuals, if they offended religious beliefs. I remained friends with only one person from my year of studying Education at QUT in 1995. They were the only Goth on campus, and a rare alternative thinker, amid the conservative university culture at QUT Kelvin Grove campus.
STUDENT FRIEND 1995 QUT KELVIN GROVE
I remember laughing a great deal one time. Someone I knew had come around to visit and I discovered they thought I must be rich for the many outfits I had. They were a little disappointed to discover I had a few “bought” things, (from Vinny’s of course!) but it was largely stuff that was cobbled together myself from scraps of material and second-hand shirts etc! Most of my finery only looked so because it’s always dark in the clubs – I was certainly no seamstress despite having made virtually every sort of clothing I owned from pants to gloves. I think I was also lucky in that score, because I didn’t fit in anywhere so no one really expected me to look like them! Normals thought me a Goth, Goths thought I was a [historical] re-enactor, and re-enactors didn’t know what to make of me because I want interested in fitting their boxes either.
I spent 1997 dressing as Barbie as I completed my dissertation on the doll, for a Master of Arts in Women’s Studies from Griffith University. I had friends studying on the Nathan campus and became involved in queer and feminist events at Griffith, and I was inspired to turn the negativity of homophobia into ART LOVE JAM, a positive cabaret event that centred on the theme of love. Homophobia was a leading cause of youth suicide, and although decriminalised, it remained an aspect of identity which people hid out of fear of losing their jobs, their homes, their children, and most importantly, fear of losing their lives due to the prevalence of homophobic violence.
In 1999 I remained in extreme financial pressure, while continuing part time study as a post graduate (now at the University of Queensland studying a Master of Arts in Creative Writing), tutoring in first year subjects at the university, organising numerous social justice events, regularly publishing articles, and making costumes and clothes. However, this enormous workload did not deter me from helping friends, of friends, with their undergraduate studies, event organising, and publicity campaigns. The harrowing, and humiliating homophobic court case that I had lost, had sent my self-esteem to an all-time low, despite my prolific media presence. My lack of self-worth, and inability to realise I had the right to say ‘no’ was easily exploited. At the time I somehow beleived I could regain my self confidence by volunteering my time to not only human rights causes, but also by helping with the personal vanity projects of others. I was easily moved by people’s stories of being ostracised, and mistreated, and my gullibility was my downfall. My life became overun with entitled people whose ability to misrepresent themselves as victims had been polished to perfection by a lifetime of practice. In reality, none of the individuals I helped at that time were in any financial distress, in fact all of them had families that financially supported them, and plenty of assets and available capital. None of them needed my help, but all of them felt entitled to it. I naively assumed my reputation would be restored, the more help I gave to others, thus I wrote their media releases (using my contacts as an arts editor and reviewer), edited their writing, gave them endless free event tickets, expensive academic books, and all the other ephemera I often got in exchange for writing unpaid arts reviews. I even employed, and paid them for work, on my own independent projects. However, I was oblivious to the fact that they concealed the truth of all the hours of free work I did for them, and instead presented false claims that they were helping me, even claiming to have employed me, and slandering me as a crazy and lazy freeloader. By the time I realised the extent of their misinformation campaign it was far too late. If I spoke the truth I was called a liar, and it certainly did make me feel crazy to witness their lies about me, being oft repeated, and believed without question. I discovered that discrimination and prejudice were not just about putting people down based on their race, gender, sexuality, or any other arbitrary aspect of identity. There existed a far more dangerous form of prejudice, which was the unearned credibility, and authority, given to people whose straight teeth, and loving families, signified status in our shallow image conscious world. It would take years of therapy for me to learn how to safely detach myself from predators, who bullied, and manipulated, me into working for free for them, and paying them for their work, while simultaneously presenting themselves, to the outside world, as my generous benefactors.
In the early 1990s the help I gave to others would always be reciprocated, because I was surrounded by honest, creative people, with integrity, who supported each other, and this left me unprepared for the dishonesty, and capitalist exploitation, by aggressive dependants, I encountered in the late 1990s, and well into the 2000s. I unsuccessfully attempted to leave Brisbane in 1997, and 2009, then finally learnt to keep quiet about my plans, and at last, escaped to Victoria in 2018. Having some physical distance from years of character assassination, abuse, and death threats, I went through in Brisbane, gave me an opportunity to forgive myself for putting so much of my energy into supporting people who took pleasure in putting me down. Looking back, I realise how vulnerable I must have been, living alone without a family’s support, and in demoralising debt for something I had not done. I was always eager to help others, and was well treated by the many human rights, and social justice organisations, that employed me. Unfortunately, my involvement with a few superficially charming individuals, with malicious intent, made my life in Brisbane unlivable. Now in the more progressive, and enlightened Victoria, my art practice continues: from volunteering, as Wonder Woman, with my local queer arts festival; to writing lyrics for RUMPY RISER a feminist punk band in development; to creating a garden in my new home. Gardening alleviates many of the symptoms of my Post Traumatic Stress, and Depression, and offers me an enriching creative outlet where my efforts are easily measured, obviously seen, and entirely my own.
Ev Hartogh December 2020
RELATED ARCHIVAL RESOURCES
Ev Hartogh Archives
Evelyn Hartogh 1990s Brisbane DIY Fashion
1.1972 Perth Safari Suited South Africans & Aussie me
Photographer Unknown: South African Hartogh family, & Australian toddler me, in Perth 1972
2.1988 Brisbane World EXPO South Bank
Photographer Unknown: Me, & Liz, at World Expo 1988 South Brisbane 1988
3.1989 Brisbane ST LUCIA Women’s College Mad Hatter’s Ball
College Photographer: Me, & Jules, at Women’s College Formal Dance 1989
4.1989 Brisbane ST LUCIA Women’s College University of Qld
Photographer Unknown: Ann visits me at Women’s College 1989
5.1990 Brisbane Ghost House 119 Vulture St
Photographer Ute Richards: Me & Angela visit the infamous Ghost House at 119 Vulture Street 1990
6.1990 Brisbane Ghost House 119 Vulture St 2
Photographer Unknown: Jules, & Ute, have a cuddle on the balcony of the infamous Ghost House at 119 Vulture Street 1990
7.1990 Brisbane Goths and Gays REDCLIFFE
Photographer Unknown: Ute, Jules, Me, & Rachel at a picnic in Redcliffe 1990
8.1990 Brisbane Medieval Fair
Photographer Unknown: Me in Purple Vintage Hat, & Emma in garland, at The Medieval Fair in Musgrave Park 1990
9.1990 Brisbane TOOWONG Housemate with Goon
Photographer Evelyn Hartogh: Toowong Housemate Ann coming home with the classic Aussie cardboard box of wine 1990
10.1991 Brisbane River NEW FARM
Photographer Dean Mundey: West End & New Farm friends by the Brisbane River in New Farm 1991
11.1991 Brisbane WEST END
Photographer Unknown: Ute, Me, & Nat getting ready to go out & hit the dance floor at Metropolis 1991
12.1991 Brisbane WEST END (2)
Photographer Unknown: Me, Ute, & Vanessa have a Rocky Horror dress up day 1991
13.1991 Brisbane WEST END (4)
Photographer Unknown: Vanessa & Friend ready to go out to the Fag Bar 1991
14.1991 Brisbane WEST END sharehouse
Photographer Unknown: Me & Nat about to get ready to go out clubbing, as another friend assesses our wardrobe options 1991
15.1991 Brisbane WESTEND Wearing clothes made in our sharehouse
Photographer Unknown: Our household dresses up in clothes that Nat has designed and made 1991
16.1991 DJS at Metropolis Hosts ISNT STUDIOS Performance Liberation Action (2)
Photographer Evelyn Hartogh: Tristan & Dan DJ at Metropolis for Isn’t Studios Performance Liberation Front 1991
17.1991Green Hair and shredded Vintage Dress WESTEND
Photographer Ute Richards: Me in Green Hair with a dress I shredded, presenting my self saucing chocolate pudding as out post-nightclubbing feast before sleep 1991
18.1991Metropolis Hosts ISNT STUDIOS Performance Liberation Action
Photographer Unknown: Me & Vanessa at Metropolis for Isn’t Studios Performance Liberation Event featuring the late Jeremy Hynes 1991
19.1992 Brisbane WEST END (2)
Photographer Unknown: Vanessa with her new VW Beetle 1991
20.1992 Brisbane WEST END Freshly Sewn WONDER WOMAN costume
Photographer Unknown: First ever photo of the first Wonder Woman costume I made, hot off the sewing machine, and ready for the Sleaze Ball 1992
Photographer Evelyn Hartogh:
Photographer Evelyn Hartogh:
Photographer Unknown: Me
Photographer Evelyn Hartogh: Greta
Photographer Unknown: Me
Photographer Unknown: Me
Photographer Evelyn Hartogh: Juliette
Photographer Evelyn Hartogh: Greta
Photographer Evelyn Hartogh: Gen
30.1993 Brisbane (2)
Photographer Unknown: Me & Liz sitting on corrugated iron in an empty lot in West End 1993
31.1993 Brisbane Spring Hill Fair
Photographer Unknown: Friends from West End, with me with pink hair at the Spring Hill Fair 1993
32.1993 Brisbane WEST END
Photographer Unknown: Me, & Jen show off our home hair dye jobs in a West End backyard 1993
33.1993 Brisbane WEST END (2)
Photographer Unknown: Me showing off my new vintage Prue Acton bikini, purchased for my Barbie Doll political satire performances, to Juliette in West End 1993
34.1993 University of Queensland Architecture Ball
Photographer Unknown: Vanessa on holiday in Brisbane helps out at the bar at The Architecture Ball in Fortitude Valley 1993
35.1993 University of Queensland Architecture Ball 2
Photographer Unknown: Vanessa on holiday in Brisbane with me, & Simon, working the bar at The Architecture Ball in Fortitude Valley 1993
Photographer Unknown: Me in my all time favourite op shop purchase of 1960s Butterfly Eye Christian Dior Sunglasses, and a vintage wool dress, both later lost during a holiday in Melbourne 1994.