Preserving Queer Histories on Film: About Vivien and A Big Life
Image courtesy of Bobby Nugent Estate and Kathy Sport
Two short Australian docos and a panel discussion explore gender diverse histories
The Australian Queer Archives and Melbourne Queer Film Festival are proud to present a session that explores the creation and preservation of queer histories on film. In two short documentaries – made twenty years apart – we see first-person accounts of gender diversity through oral history, material from private collections and items held by the Archives and animation. The films illustrate lived experiences of the 40s-50s-60s. Both films explore gender diversity, trans and drag queen life during an era of repression in post-war Australia.
Queer histories are precious and emotional because they have been previously omitted from mainstream histories. Personal records are often scant and archival material may have been discarded due to the criminalisation of homosexuality.
'About Vivien' is Walter Lee’s story. In the late 1940s, after being discharged from the Army for dressing in women's clothes, Walter/Vivien gravitated to the Hyde Park Push group drinking and cruising near the fountain and evading police. Underworld hustler Clive Madigan organised a private camp party at Glebe Town Hall with a wedding theme and Vivien as the bride.
Bobbie Nugent lived 'A Big Life', seen in this colourful account of butches and femmes, gangsters, sex workers, and travelling sideshows. Bobbie travelled through Asia performing as the World's Strongest Woman before returning in the 70s to begin transitioning.
After the screening, a panel with filmmakers Kathy Sport and Anna Brownfield and facilitated by Nick Henderson (AQuA) discusses the craft of making a history documentary and the significance of digitising archival material. Guest speaker historian Dr Yves Rees will speak to the importance of transgender history, the writing and responsibilities of historians, researchers, filmmakers to keep history alive while engaging with shifts across generations and gender diverse knowledges.