January 5, 2024

Fit for a queen: Brisbane’s ‘crown jewel’ brought safety and sequins

Brisbane in the 1970s, where “homophobia was everywhere”, wasn’t the friendliest place for the LGBTQIA+ community. Then The Wickham opened its doors … and its heart.

By Brittney Deguara

January 5, 2024

Since the ’70s, The Wickham has been a shining light for Brisbane’s LGBTQIA+ community. Over 50 years later, it’s stronger than ever.Credit: The Wickham/Facebook
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It was Brisbane in the 1970s: Queen Elizabeth II visited, the South American La Balsa raft sailed into town, and “homophobia was everywhere”.

“As a young boy in the early ’70s, it was a very different time,” Anthony Baildon recalls.

At the time, Queensland, under the leadership of right-wing Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, was resistant to the gay and lesbian rights movement.

But in the same decade, one of the city’s most iconic LGBTQIA+ friendly venues, The Wickham, opened its doors in Fortitude Valley.

The Wickham opened its doors in the ’70s. Here, men are pictured having a drink in the pub in 1994.Credit: Mick Richards/State Library of Qld

Baildon, a self-described “naive, young teenager” at the time, suppressed his sexuality and “taught” himself to be straight.

“Back then, homophobia was everywhere,” he says. “You were threatened with your own personal safety.”


He came out in 2007 at the age of 35.

“I don’t hide any more … Fear ruled my life for quite some time, but it doesn’t any more. I am totally open, totally visible.”

Now 55, Baildon frequents The Wickham, a venue he describes as welcoming.

Anthony Baildon, 55, recalls a time in Brisbane when “homophobia was everywhere”.

“You can kiss the person you love, or hug a friend, you can also wear whatever clothing you like, or you can identify any way that is you and it’s perfectly accepted and it’s the norm.

“We know we are safe in these places. And that is a massive thing, as we know we can be ourselves.”

Renovating ‘home’


The Wickham has been a stalwart within Brisbane’s rainbow community.

“It’s home,” says assistant venue manager Sarah Elleray. “It’s home to the LGBTQIA+ community, and it always will be.”

As one of Brisbane’s first “loud and proud” inclusive venues, Elleray says it has been delivering 50 years of love, support and encouragement to the community.

Patrons who frequented in the early days still show face, regaling tales of nights dancing on tables and partying until the sun rises.

But while the core values of the venue haven’t changed, the facade has.

The Wickham transformed into a mini arthouse in 2023, with the body part wall being the biggest conversation starter among patrons, according to staff.Credit: The Wickham

“I have seen The Wickham go through two renovations now,” Baildon recalls.


The doors reopened in March after a $3.1 million, seven-month revamp. The work, designed by architect Jon Mikulic, breathed new life into the 138-year-old building.

“It was important for us to respect The Wickham’s heritage whilst bringing it into the future,” chief operating officer Craig Ellison says of the reopening.

It’s turned into somewhat of a mini art house, featuring eclectic work by local artists, with one of the most talked about pieces being the body-positive body part wall in the Peacock Room.

“It’s about self-acceptance and loving who you are and embracing who you are … And yes, they do get touched regularly,” Elleray, who has been working at the pub and club for six years, explains during a tour.

There are different spaces for different kinds of experiences – a quieter, laid-back bar where you can enjoy dinner, the iconic outdoor beer garden where the city’s best drag queens perform, a nightclub featuring local DJs, and several break-out spaces. Elleray describes it as a bag of mixed lollies.

‘A crown jewel in Brisbane’


The Wickham also holds significant importance to local performers.

Brisbane drag queen Lulu LeMans – whose name draws from the popular activewear brand but with “a man in there” – regularly performs at the Valley venue, a place she describes as a “crown jewel in Brisbane”.

“I personally think that we have one of the best drag scenes in the entire world and I’m so blessed to be part of it.”

Lulu LeMans

“I’ve been doing drag in the city for five years now and the biggest thing for me is just watching more and more different types of people get the opportunity to entertain, to make people happy and … that’s what makes our Brisbane drag scene so special.”

She says the city’s LGBTQIA+ social offerings are continuing to expand.

Lulu LeMans regularly performs at Brisbane clubs, including Fluffy, Cloudland and The Wickham.Credit: Lulu LeMans/Facebook

Cloudland hosts regular drag brunches, Fluffy is a mecca for evening entertainment and even RSL clubs are organising drag bingo events.


“It’s incredibly important to have supportive and inclusive event spaces in Brisbane for our rainbow community,” LeMans, 28, says.

“All of these places have helped foster a beautiful community that has enabled a huge amount of people to thrive.”

Another local performer thriving thanks to these venues is musician Candice Arlott, who performs under the stage name Candice Bliss.

“I used to hear about The Wickham when I lived in north Queensland as a kid and I always thought, ‘I want to go there’,” the queer artist tells Brisbane Times.

“It’s just good to be part of something in the community that has such a sense of loyalty.”

Candice Bliss has performed at The Wickham for seven years and says it’s a “different feeling” when gigging there.

Art Simone, a Sydney-based drag queen who appeared in the first instalment of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, and who performed at The Wickham on New Year’s Eve, has noticed an evolution of the rainbow scene in recent years, not just in Brisbane, but around the world.

Before this increased support, she says venues like The Wickham were cherished as safe spaces.

“They were a necessity, they were the only places where we could feel welcome, feel included, feel loved and feel safe,” she says.

But while more venues are now offering queer-friendly spaces, forward strides have been slowed.

“We’re losing a lot of venues because they’re not as ‘necessary’. They may not be necessary to the entire community, but they’re still really important for a lot of members.

“They’re places where we can come, we can feel included, we can feel celebrated and we can be amongst people just like us.”

‘Like a mini Mardi Gras’

Brisbane might not be as renowned for LGBTQIA+ events as other major cities – namely Sydney and its Mardi Gras – The Wickham’s Big Gay Day has grown to become a highlight of the year.

What started in the early 2000s as a small street party has evolved into a block party with hundreds of performers and thousands of attendees raising money for local charities. This year, a giant rainbow flag was painted on the road to mark the occasion.

The pride flag painted on the road outside The Wickham in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.Credit: Tracey Horton

“People have said to us, ‘it’s like a mini Mardi Gras’, and we love that. We love having a Mardi Gras in Brisbane … give Sydney a run for their money,” Elleray says.

Venues like this have also been important for grassroots groups.

“The Wickham is the only space in Brisbane that has a regular evening for queer women,” Lulu LeMans said. “Queer women are so underrepresented in nightlife, in general, in Brisbane, and I think the fact that The Wickham opens that space up speaks volumes for what [it] does.”

The Brisbane Hustlers, a local queer rugby team, also regularly host fundraising events at the pub.

Baildon says the Hustlers’ recent glow party was a standout. “It felt like I was back in the ’80s again.”

Anthony Baildon has become more involved with events at The Wickham in recent years.

Baildon’s experience is a prime example of what the venue aims to achieve.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what you’re looking for on the night, you’re going to find your people, you’re going to find your safe space,” Lulu LeMans says.

“The Wickham is genuinely one of my favourite places to perform in Brisbane … I’m just so proud to be a part of it.”

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Brittney Deguara is social media lead for Brisbane Times.


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