When, in 1985, Ethel May Punshon – Monte to her friends – came out, she was, for a time, dubbed the ‘world’s oldest lesbian’.
Monte’s sexuality was an important part of her life and she never concealed it from friends. She once declared that she had always preferred the company of women in her intimate life – or at least from the age of six when she became instinctively aware, as she put it, of her desires.
The great love of her life was, as is often the case, her first: Debbie. They were introduced in 1910 and experienced an immediate, mutual and very great mental and physical attraction. They spent more and more time in each other’s company, eventually taking a house together.
After Debbie left her, Monte’s misery was alleviated somewhat by her circle of camp men friends (her ‘homosexual boyfriends’ she called them) who rallied to her, drawing her into a flurry of activities. There are photos of Monte and her chums – all cross-dressing – celebrating a camp wedding.
In 1985, at the age of 103, Monte was interviewed by a Melbourne gay magazine, openly discussing her life and her sexuality. She was sceptical about the gay scene that she saw around her: ‘drab, grey, empty’ she said.
Be that as it may, her advice to the young: ‘Cast out fear. Look forward and have a goal. There are so many new and wonderful things to discover in life’, speaks to us still of a life well lived.