1950: The Lampshade Shop

The nineteen-fifties opened in Australia with a homosexual scandal in Adelaide that came to be known as the Lampshade Shop Scandal.

The Lampshade Shop was in Rundle Street – the business premises of one Bert Hines. Hines, maker of lampshades and artificial flowers to the gentry, was on the one hand a gentleman of some repute. Indeed, no less a figure than the Governor’s lady patronised his goods. On the other hand, this was the same man known, in rather different circles, as Big Bertha, described in the 1970s by one who knew him as ‘outrageous, like an Edna Everage, he was a tall, big, butch chap’.

At night, when the society folk were safely at home, Big Bertha would host very camp parties in the residence above his shop. A flagon of wine and a secret knock admitted you into the presence of bevies of flamboyant young men: ‘flairy queens … all fluffing and screaming, and … all in drag’. Gatherings of as many as fifteen were reported!

Too much of a good thing, of course. Alerted by some outraged worthy (reportedly a parent of one of the young men), the police moved in in early 1950. Lacking hard evidence of wrong-doing (whatever else was going on in the Lampshade Shop, it wasn’t sex), the coppers fell back on intimidation. One after the other, frightened boys confessed to acts of unnatural vice – and named their partners. In the end, ten men were charged.

A vengeful judge imposed prison sentences. The press revealed all, ruining lives and reputations. And the second half of the twentieth century was launched.