Groups and communities
Various community women’s groups could provide lesbians with the chance to meet one another. There were over 300 women’s groups established before the 1970s, as well as recreational and cultural groups and church, family or private networks. All of these groups provided opportunities for women to meet one another, therefore could be meeting places for lesbians.
Lesbian women sometimes found one another by advertising in the personal columns of newspapers. The meaning behind this notice, published in the Evening Post in 1961, would have been clear to those who knew the work of English lesbian writer Radclyffe Hall: ‘RADCLYFFE HALL, books by, life of etc. Wish contact persons interested in same. T206 Evg. Post’.1
There is little evidence of publicly visible lesbian communities before the Second World War. Modern homosexual identities and communities developed with urbanisation. By the 1950s there were ‘kamp’ communities in the main cities. Lesbians mainly socialised at private parties at home, especially when renting or purchasing housing became possible for more women as incomes increased.
Public social scenes
Restrictive hotel and bar licensing laws (particularly before the extension of opening hours in 1967) meant lesbian bar culture developed later in New Zealand than in countries overseas. Lesbians in New Zealand learned about overseas communities by travelling and by subscribing to overseas lesbian magazines such as Arena three, which was published by The Minorities Research Group (MRG), a lesbian organisation founded in England in 1963.
There were coffee bars and hotel lounge bars where lesbian women met, including the Royal Oak in Wellington, the Occidental and Shakespeare hotels in Auckland and the British Hotel in Lyttelton. Coffee bars included the Ca d’Oro in Auckland and Carmen’s Coffee Lounge and the Tête-à-Tête in Wellington. Gay men also congregated in these spots.
The first lesbian social club was the KG Club in Auckland, which opened in 1972. KG stood for Karangahape Road, the first location, and for Kamp Girls. Club 41 opened at 41 Vivian Street in Wellington in 1974. The premises for both clubs were found by Māori lesbians – Bubs Hetet in Auckland and Diana Sands in Wellington. The KG Club was started by a collective of four Māori and four Pākehā lesbians. It shifted to various locations before closing in 1985. Club 41 was started and owned by lesbians Porleen Simmonds, Marilyn Johnston, Liz Hutton and Jan MacFarlane. It closed in 1977. More lesbian clubs followed, including the Wigan Street and Tory Street clubs, and Lesbian Resource Centre in Wellington.