Monday, January 24

‘We’re Back Baby’: How This Pride Center, Australia’s First, Is Restoring Hope to a Neighborhood | Australian lifestyle

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

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, a result of the union of forces of the government of the State of Victoria and the Port Phillip local council to get the $ 50 million Project off the ground.

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

Members of the St Kilda Artworks Collective, Peter Williams, also known as Mr Macrame Artist and Florist Sam Sagginelli, work in his studio on Fitzroy St, St Kilda
Members of the St Kilda Artworks Collective, Peter Williams, also known as Mr Macrame Artist and florist Sam Sagginelli, work in his studio on Fitzroy St, St Kilda. The group is one of the new tenants thanks to the Renew project. Photograph: Alana Holmberg / Oculi for The Guardian

The Pride Center (already dubbed with more than a hint of hyperbole as the ‘Gaudí of the South’ due to its spectacular elliptical atrium, grandeur and metallic curvature) also offers the promise of renovation to a street that was once vibrant in its fortunes for decades. .

Amid the eclectic mix of gentrification and blatant poverty that characterizes St Kilda, the Pride Center aims to remain rooted in the diverse local community. Merchants are pinning their hopes on the Pride Center in addition to other efforts currently underway to rejuvenate the street.

“St Kilda has always been multi-dimensional,” says business association president David Blakeley. “From the Jewish patisseries on Acland Street, to the live music scene and gay history here, it means many different things to different people. So the Pride Center has a natural residence … This is more of a homecoming than a new home for the queer community. “

On the mezzanine floor downtown, the first banner used at Mardi Gras has been given a permanent home, along with 200,000 items chronicling Australia’s LGBTIQ history. What started as a filing cabinet in a vacant room, the Australian queer archives, has grown into a sprawling collection that can now be displayed in a museum-style space.

The spacious atrium inside the new Victorian Pride Center in St Kilda
The design of the spacious atrium within 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. Photograph: Alana Holmberg / Oculi for The Guardian
Ange Bailey on the roof of the new Victorian Pride Center on Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
Ange Bailey on the roof of the new Victorian Pride Center. The rooftop has panoramic views of Port Phillip Bay and Melbourne’s CBD. Photograph: Alana Holmberg / Oculi for The Guardian

Archives president Ange Bailey says it’s an opportunity to “share these stories with the queer community and in general. Through the generations, the queer community has shared stories of struggle, resilience, and celebration, and by engaging with these stories, you can create a new dialogue for the future. For being queer, even today, I think you can never be too complacent. “

The first floor houses Joy FM, Australia’s only gay and lesbian radio station, which now has state-of-the-art studios from which to broadcast. Other tenants include Transgender Victoria, LGBTI multicultural council, Hares and Hyenas bookstore, Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, and others.

Standing on the expansive rooftop, with views of the bay to the south and the city skyline to the northwest, one has a strong idea of ​​Fitzroy Street’s future potential. The Pride Center occupies the former site of the Monroe restaurant, which was always a 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 wealth report History of LGBTIQ + Victory in 100 places and objects, St Kilda was transformed from a seaside tourist haven for the wealthy from the 1880s to the mid-20th century, when the area was transformed into the place where Melbourne’s ‘outcasts’ found 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 military personnel during WWII and regular drag shows during the 1970s. and 80. The first gay clubs such as Girlbar, Mandate, Les Girls and Bojangles operated during the 80s and 90s, and Daughters of Bilitis, the first Australian gay rights group, was originally formed in a flat on St Kilda in Acland Street in 1969.

However, in recent years, the urban boulevard by the sea, famous for its rock and roll style, has been left in ruins, with only a few restaurants surviving amid chain stores, empty storefronts, convenience stores and Late night takeaway places, mostly inhabited by drunken backpackers.

David Blakeley (right) with Corine Auzou (left) and Courtney Dewitt (center), owners of the antique home 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 vintage home furnishings and furniture store Domestic Fantasies, a new store on Fitzroy Street, St Kilda. Photograph: Alana Holmberg / Oculi for The Guardian

Alongside 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 empty storefronts delivered to local artists and artisans for free or low rent (until a tenant is found who pay) in an effort to regain foot traffic and culture.

“You can already feel a shift into a bustling new era on the street,” says Courtney DeWitt, co-owner of Domestic Fantasies, a 20th-century furniture store that set up shop in one of Renew’s windows. Dewitt lives nearby and believes that “the opening of the Pride Center is a big part of it. We have no doubt that Fitzroy Street is on the verge of a renaissance, the north side must be warned, we are back baby. “

Her business partner, Corine Auzou, says she remembers living in St Kilda in the ’90s when it felt like a living community. “It was full of artists, musicians and a huge gay community. They all lived here, you go out and meet your friends that you had seen the night before at the nightclub, it was actually a community. But then a lot of people just left, it just wasn’t the same place anymore. Having the Pride Center open here just gave me renewed hope that they won’t let this street go extinct. Let’s bring him back to his glory days. “

When Victoria’s Prime Minister Daniel Andrews officially opened the building, he hit on a note that could apply to both the Pride Center and the St Kilda renovation. “It contains stories of struggle, stories of pain and loss, but it sets the course for a future of hope. One of inclusion and equality ”, he said.

“The space we are in today is amazing, even fabulous.”

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