And They Sleep Together Like Husband and Wife: A Queer Queensland Genealogy
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The emergence of modern queer identities is usually located in cities - initially the European and American metropolises, followed by provincial or colonial cities like Sydney. While the argument that a critical mass of people triggers the formation of new identities is compelling, a centralised, urban model of the generation of modern queer identities ignores an alternative theoretical model emphasising flow and connection between the 'centre' and the 'margins' that has emerged in writing about colonial and post-colonial cultures, but which has a wider applicability in understanding cultural change. In this paper, I argue that marginalised same-sex behaviours and relationships on the periphery of the empire or the nation are implicated in larger patterns of interconnectedness and reciprocity in the historical formation of modern sexual identities. Specifically, I use a family study to explore manifestations of same-sex attraction in early twentieth century Cooktown and the influence of these sexual role models on three subsequent generations. While most previous studies have analysed public records to uncover the history of gay, lesbian or 'queer' culture in Queensland, I examine private life and domestic space, using oral history, letters, and photographs to explore the 'queer' lives of Carlton Olive and his sister Gladys Olive and three subsequent generations of their family. I argue that a particular form of post-Enlightenment Protestant ethic within the family, and the conditions of life in colonial and early twentieth century Cooktown, enabled Carlton Olive, his sister Gladys Olive and her life partner Nell Ferguson to establish an anomalous family unit - non-heteronormative, multi-ethnic and relatively opaque to external scrutiny - in Cooktown in the 1930s. For Gladys and Nell, the move from remote Cooktown to the larger centres of Ayr and then Brisbane represented, ironically, a loss of self-determination in many respects. However, the influence of the lifestyles pioneered by this generation on three subsequent generations of their family demonstrates that modernising forces in the field of sexuality come not only from metropolitan experiences, but also - through reciprocal flows of ideas and people - from experiences developed in response to the conditions of life in remote outposts of empire.
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