Toby Gay Brisbane 80's changing LGBT Queensland History via Fitzgerald Inquiry

Changing gay history

For better or worse, I (inadvertently) was directly involved in changing the face and fabric of LGBT history in Queensland, Australia, by creating and positioning The Beat publicly loud and proud, at a time when it was illegal to be gay while police and government were desperate to squash us.

Cockatoo Club iconic Gay bar in BrisbaneI was Founder and Manager of The Beat, which was created by dramatically expanding the old Cockatoo Club at the time owned by Tony Bellino where I was working.   Tony found that his Cockatoo Club licensor/manager, who had a history of insurance scams, now had his hand deep in the till to pay his drug habit.  Tony sold the Cockatoo Club to his brother Geraldo (Gerry/Geri) and Vittorio (Vic) Conte, in late 1983 at which time Vic and Gerry wanted a “clean” start with a fresh new young GM, so I was engaged as Founding Manager to establish and operate the new expanded space using a restaurant license to allow us to sell alcohol.

I had previously worked as bar manager at the Cockatoo Club for about a year, and had received my diploma in hospitality management, so I was elevated to the top job overnight, and with Vic and Gerry’s blessing (and budget), created an extremely theatrical nightclub space within the gay Brisbane Fortitude Valley club space, that over the years grew and physically expanded to be the infamous super mega-club.

Beat Club Vittorio Vic Conte Geraldo Gerry Geri Bellino entering courtClose by at 648 Ann Street, Tony Bellino also owned Pinocchio’s Restaurant (formerly Kitty’s Nightclub) and ran a gambling den upstairs managed by Luciano Scognamiglio.  The Red Garter bordello was across the access lane.  Gerry Bellino and Vic Conte also owned The Roxy (in partnership with Robert Chan at 210 Brunswick St), Manhattan (201 Brunswick St), Bubbles Bath-House (142 Wickham St), Oriental Social Club (235 Brunswick St) and the World By Night strip club (548 Queen St).

My club faced notoriety in the Brisbane nightlife scene, due to my owner/investors Vic & Gerry (fair and encouraging, yet very hands-off bosses) who years later would be under investigation for running illegal gambling clubs and massage parlors, and for how “out” we were, flagrantly proud to be gay (friendly). Combined, this partially resulted in unveiling a long trail of police corruption, assisted toppling the Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen government, and which started a chain of events that changed Queensland’s political landscape and brought in a new era of change to eradicate anti-gay laws, and forced Queensland to step in line with rest of country.

In the early 80’s, other gay bars included the Terminus (249 Brunswick St), Alliance Hotel/Ambush Bar (320 Boundary St), Zuloos Bar/Hacienda Hotel (Brunswick & McLaughlin St) and The Sportsman Hotel (130 Leichhardt St).  Each of these bars had a typically loyal and regular customer set, and generally would keep a low profile to fly under the radar.

THE BEAT club iconic Gay bar in BrisbaneAt a time when it was illegal to be gay, and against a backdrop of the Queensland Government creating laws specially to shut down gay bars, The Beat decided to be bolder, stronger and louder in the community, and not hide that it was a gay bar.  This was intentional, partially to divert attention away from the other business operations of my investors.

We decided to make the gay symbol at the time — the pink triangle (we were well before the rainbow flag was adopted) — the centerpiece of it’s logo (which I created) and painted it on the exterior of the building facade — it made no secret of what The Beat was — and thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders over time, joined us.  The Beat is located at 677 Ann Street in the Fortitude Valley, one of the main streets of Brisbane, and nearly everyone coming to Brisbane from the northern suburbs or the airport would drive right past our pink triangled facade. For legal reasons I incorporated the words “mixed party” onto my logo design.

Historical perspective…

Australia was a rough and tough country in it’s cultural history.  In Queensland, same-sex sexual activity between men was considered a capital crime, resulting in t