Embracing the winds of change in Warrnambool

Bill Abrahams: “It’s 2:20am, I’m wearing my pearls out in Warrnambool and I haven’t even been gay bashed!”

I am so glad that the postal vote on same-sex marriage happened while I was living here in Warrnambool, because I needed to make peace with this town.

Growing up here in the 70s, 80 and 90s was not easy for those who knew they didn’t fit the mainstream, but couldn’t articulate why, other than knowing to talk about it would lead to trouble.

Even for those of us who had long family ties here, there was a pervasive sense of not belonging to the main tribe, of being an outsider.

I used my humour to get through my years at Warrnambool High School when I knew I had an attraction to girls, but didn’t know what that meant, or what it was, or how it would be, and it scared me and I knew I had to hide by fumbling my way through a string of boyfriends and side-stepping the deb ball.

I have since learned that we were all hiding – all of us – Glenn, David, Michelle, Julie, Damien, me – there are probably many others, because to not hide was to face exclusion, to feel ashamed, to be hurt by those who were stronger and more powerful.

Most of us had to run away from Warrnambool to find out who we were. I was gone for 25 years.

This is why the postal vote on same-sex marriage penetrated so deep into the psyche and the skin of those who were at the centre of the poll: we have been there before, except this time it wasn’t just a small country town judging us, but the entire nation, as to whether we were worthy of the same rights as everybody else.

And that is why the significance of this vote went well beyond the right to marry, which is something many LGBTQI people still feel ambivalent about. This was a vote on equality and whether, at last, we could stop feeling ashamed and excluded.

Last Wednesday at 10am, we all held our breath.

And then came the sweet release of a YES.

YES. YES. YES. YES.

Two thirds of our corner of the world voted YES.

YES pulls up windows and let’s the breeze blow in.

YES opens the doors on our hearts.

YES turns down the volume on hate and ramps up the volume on kindness.

No wonder most of us spontaneously cried when the result came through – including warhorses like Senator Penny Wong and writer David Marr – because a “NO” vote would have been unbearable.

The temptation for many of us living in Warrnambool was to head to Melbourne and await the results on the steps of the State Library together with thousands of others, then – we hoped – party long into the night.

But as my friend Bill Abrahams said later, “it was important to be here” and he was right.

Heading out to the YES party in Warrnambool.

It was important on Wednesday night to be able to stand in what was, when I was growing up, Brebner’s Paint Shop – now the Dart and Marlin bar – and wave a huge rainbow flag while people from all walks of life in Warrnambool joined in the celebration.

Twenty years ago, maybe even ten, this would have been inconceivable. Somebody would have been hurt.

As horrific as the postal vote process was, I am glad it happened, because it gave Warrnambool a chance to grow in ways that I suspect will become even more apparent over time. From the rainbow flag flying above the Warrnambool City Council, to the extraordinary events at the temporary Haven space within the Warrnambool Art Gallery, to the ongoing presence of Yumcha at Brophy, we have shown we were ready for this.

A few days after the vote was announced, Bill posted a photo on Facebook of him sitting in a Warrnambool bar just after 2am. His hair is in an Elvis coiff and he is wearing pearls and a fake fox fur while, behind him, a bouncer dressed in black leans on the bar, gazing off into the middle distance.

“Donna please take a photo. It’s 2:20am, I’m wearing my pearls out in Warrnambool and I haven’t even been gay bashed!” he wrote.

This is the new Warrnambool – a better Warrnambool – and we can all live with that.

9 thoughts on “Embracing the winds of change in Warrnambool”

  1. Excellent article Carol! And yes you are right. There was a bunch of us who hid away during our earlier years, I guess we say because that was then, but this is NOW, and I often lament how Warrnambool and Society has grown up.

    (And that was me standing on the steps of The State Library last Wednesday who cried at the announcement. A kind of ‘letting go’ of many years of hiding. …ps I wish I’d been able to make it ‘home’ to Warrnambool for the YES Party 😉 )

  2. I love this Carol. So many of ya were there right with you. This was a special day for Warrnambool and a special day for Australia.

  3. My reaction to the the poll last Wednesday was one of huge relief. There was a physical ball in my stomach and I could barely watch or listen to the result. I didn’t even realise how much this process had affected me. Why? Because I see myself as a good and loving person. How could you not see me like this? How could you judge me to be somehow inferior to you? How could you not see me and value me as an equal? I will never apologise for who I am.

  4. I don’t know how this popped up in my feed but … mind blown!

    1972 Warrnambool-born lad here. Was on the steps of the State Library for the announcement.

    Warrnambool seems to have changed!

    I haven’t been back in over 10 years but it might be time for a visit.

    Thank you so much for writing this article!

    1. Thankyou for taking the time to write such a great comment, David. I think a visit is definitely in order and be sure to check out Queer Beers while you are here! Just the fact that it exists shows how much has changed in our small home town.

  5. Well written and voiced, Carol. I was fortunate in being raised in the fifties in a small rural environment where gender was never an issue; we all learned to knit during craft classes at school, and we needed to play all sorts of sports to make up the teams. My father taught me the skills of living, from growing vegetables, killing and preparing our meat, raising produce to make a living on the market. From my mother I learned the gentle arts of preserving, sewing, and making butter, cream as well as milking a cow and chopping a barrow load of wood. When questioned as to why a girl was in the shed, skirting the fleece, I was shocked to hear my father reply that you didn’t need a penis to do that!! WHOA! THis coming from a dad who was able to cook, iron, etc, if the need arose. Ha had batched for 10 years on his own farm before he got married. Thus, I’ve been very fortunate in that gender has never been an issue with me, or my acceptance of the ways of others. I hope that everyone can live together peacefully, irrespectively of differences, melding as people; it is when we choose to be labelled that we create a niche for ourselves. Just be yourself, and at one with the community in which you choose to live.

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