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“We’re back baby”: how this first Australian Pride Center gives hope to a neighborhood | Australian way of life

By on July 30, 2021 0


Fitzroy Street St Kilda has a shiny new centerpiece – the Victorian Pride Center has finally opened to the public with the lifting of the state lockdown.

The queer community center, which is the only one of its kind in Australia and one of the largest in the world, will be home to more than a dozen LGBTIQ + organizations, the result of the combination of the state government of Victoria and the Port Phillip Local Council to get the $ 50 million Project to land.

After more than a year of delays and setbacks linked to Covid-19, the opening of the center could not have come at a better time – connecting the queer and wider community with essential services, providing spaces for the art, culture, events and collaboration, and give St Kilda a well-deserved shot in the arm.

Members of the St Kilda Artworks Collective, Peter Williams aka Mr Macrame Artist and florist Sam Sagginelli, work from their studio on Fitzroy St, St Kilda. The collective is one of the new tenants thanks to the Renew project. Photography: Alana Holmberg / Oculi for The Guardian

The Pride Center (already nicknamed with more than a hint of hyperbole the ‘Gaudi of the South’ because of its spectacular elliptical atrium, grandeur and metallic curvature) also offers the promise of renewal to a once bustling street in its own right. luck for decades.

Amid the eclectic mix of gentrification and obvious poverty that characterizes St Kilda, the Pride Center aims to remain grounded in the diverse local community. Traders have their hopes on the Pride Center in addition to other efforts currently underway to rejuvenate the street.

“St Kilda has always been multidimensional,” said trade association president David Blakeley. “From Jewish pastry shops on Acland Street to the music scene to gay history here, it means a lot of different things to different people. So the Pride Center has a natural home… It’s more of a homecoming than a new home for the queer community.

The expansive atrium inside the new Victorian Pride Center in St Kilda
The design of the expansive atrium inside the new Victorian Pride Center in St Kilda is inspired by an emu egg, celebrating the Boon Wurrung First Nations people and the history of the area. Photography: Alana Holmberg / Oculi for The Guardian

On the mezzanine in the center, the first banner ever used at Mardi Gras received a permanent home, along with 200,000 articles recounting Australia’s LGBTIQ history. What started as a filing cabinet in a friend’s room – the queer Australian Archives – has grown into a sprawling collection that can now be displayed in a museum-style space.

Angel Bailey on the roof of the new Victorian Pride Center on Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
Angel Bailey on the roof of the new Victorian Pride Center. The rooftop offers stunning views of Port Phillip Bay and Melbourne’s CBD. Photography: Alana Holmberg / Oculi for The Guardian

Archives President Ange Bailey says it’s a chance to “share these stories both with the queer community and in general. Across generations, the queer community has shared stories of struggle, resilience, and celebration, and by engaging in these stories, can create new dialogue in the future. To be queer, even today, I think you can never be too complacent.

The first floor is home to Joy 94.9 – Australia’s only gay and lesbian radio station, which now has state-of-the-art studios to broadcast. Other tenants include Transgender Victoria, LGBTI Multicultural Council, Hares and Hyenas Bookstore, Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Switchboard and others.

Standing atop the panoramic rooftop – overlooking the bay to the south and the city skyline to the northwest – one has a strong idea of ​​the potential future of Fitzroy Street. The Pride Center occupies the former site of the Monroe Restaurant, which has always been a popular hangout for the queer community. But the strange history of St Kilda dates back to the middle of the 20th century.

According to the recent heritage report History of LGBTIQ + Victoria in 100 Places and Objects, St Kilda grew from a seaside tourism paradise for the wealthy in the 1880s to the mid-20th century, when the area became home to Melbourne ‘outcasts’ have found themselves a home.

St Kilda was home to some of Australia’s first gay clubs and sex worker support services, including the art-deco Prince of Wales Hotel, which hosted US servicemen during WWII and regular drag shows in the 70s and 80s. The first gay clubs like Girlbar, Mandate, Les Girls and Bojangles operated throughout the 80s and 90s, and the Daughters of Bilitis, Australia’s first gay rights group, formed in originally in a St Kilda apartment on Acland Street in 1969.

However, in recent years the seaside urban boulevard famous for its rock and roll side has fallen into disuse – with only a few restaurants surviving among chain stores, empty storefronts, convenience stores, and take-out places. late at night – mostly inhabited by intoxicated backpackers.

David Blakeley (right) with Corine Auzou (left) and Courtney Dewitt (center) who own the vintage household goods and furniture store Domestic Fantasies
Fitzroy Street Business Association President David Blakeley (right) with Corine Auzou (left) and Courtney Dewitt (center), the owners of the Domestic Fantasies vintage housewares and furniture store, a new boutique on Fitzroy Street, St Kilda. Photography: Alana Holmberg / Oculi for The Guardian

Along with the Pride Center, a new project called Renew Fitzroy Street, following in the footsteps of other Renew projects across the country, has already seen seven vacant storefronts ceded to local artists and artisans with free or low rent (until that a paying tenant be found) in an effort to bring back foot traffic and culture.

“You can already feel a shift to a bustling new era of the streets,” says Courtney DeWitt, co-owner of Domestic Fantasies, a 20th century furniture store that has made its home in one of the Renew storefronts. Dewitt lives nearby and believes that “the opening of the Pride Center is an important part of it. There’s no doubt in our mind that Fitzroy Street is on the verge of a renaissance, the north side needs to be warned – we’re back baby.

Her business partner, Corine Auzou, says she remembers living in St Kilda in the 90s when she felt like a vibrant community. “It was full of artists, musicians and a huge gay community. Everyone lived here – you go out and bump into your friends that you saw at the nightclub the night before – it was actually a community. But then a lot of people left – it just wasn’t the same place anymore. The opening of the Pride Center here just gave me hope that they won’t let this street end. We’re going to take him back to his glory days.

When Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews officially opened the building, he struck on a note that could apply to the Pride Center as well as to the renewal of St Kilda itself. “It contains stories of struggle, stories of pain and loss, but it sets the stage for a future of hope. One of inclusion and equality, ”he said.

“The space we find ourselves in today is just amazing, fabulous even.”


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