Beats have a very long history. Their existence has been noted in London and other European capitals as far back as the early 1700s, and no doubt there were places used by men for sex and as meeting places well before then.

All sorts of places can be used as beats; hotels, parks, cafes, baths, dressing sheds, sections of streets or public toilets. As Garry Wotherspoon observes: “[H]omosexuals have been imaginative in creating other uses for a range of institutions … since the ways in which heterosexuals can meet each other openly are not available to homosexuals.”

Although it’s likely that Melbourne had beats almost from the very time it was founded, the city’s longest running beat seems to be the urinal at the corner of Swanston and Lonsdale Streets, which has been in constant use since the 1860s.

Other historic beats which were active early this century include the St Kilda foreshore, the City Baths, Fitzroy Gardens, the Botanic Gardens, Exhibition and Carlton Gardens and the footpath along St Kilda Road.

Beats are often tagged with descriptive names which exhibit varying degrees of cleverness. Some Melbourne beats included “Stiffies” at the Melbourne General Cemetery, the “Flower Pot” in East Melbourne (underground with a garden bed on top of it), the “Spanish Mission” (a 1930s toilet block in St Kilda with a vaguely Spanish Mission architectural style), and the “Confessional” (this one dates from the Second World War – it  was inside a services canteen next to St Paul’s Cathedral).

Brought to you by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

Posted in History Bites.