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Saturday 10 October 2009

Carmen's whirlwind Wellington visit

Posted in: True Stories
By Phil Rogers - 4th June 2009

Carmen & her friend Jevan outside Il Bordello
Carmen Rupe - the  legendary drag queen, former stripper, one-time mayoral candidate and much-loved Kiwi icon now living in Sydney, visited her old stomping ground Wellington for an action-packed visit over Queens Birthday weekend. Her good friend Phil Rogers kindly shared with us some of Carmen's photos and adventures from her visit.

Carmen arrived in Wellington early morning on Friday, eve of Queen's Birthday weekend to attend the Transgender Conference of which she is Patron. Her last major visit was for her 70th birthday 4 years ago.

Whisked out to Avalon Studios at the ungodly hour if 630am to record an interview for TV1's Good Morning show,

Carmen back on Vivian St
Carmen "just call me Nanna" was keen to revive some old memories so an impromptu visit to her old haunts in Vivian Street (pics include host Jevan Goulter and Carmen outside the legalised brothel 'Il Bordello' which stands on the site on one of Carmen's 70s Coffee Lounges in Vivian Street) a visit next door to the Mary Newton Gallery, another historical memory, a drive past the Salvation Army Church in Vivian Street (the site of the original Carmen's Coffee Lounge) and then off to Parliament to see the Rainbow Room commemorating the LBGT history in NZ which includes a mention of Carmen in the time-line.

Met by Labour MPs Maryan Street, Charles Chauvel and Rainbow Wellington Chairman Tony Simpson, Carmen visited the Public Gallery

Meeting MPs in Parliament's Rainbow Room
of the Parliament Debating Chamber during the Urgency Debate on the Budget and caused many MPs to wave at her sitting in the Gallery, a welcome break no doubt from listening to the turgid debate. Joined by Labour MP Grant Robertson, Carmen paid tribute to the Rainbow Room and chuckled over the many photographs which bought back memories of characters of the era pre-1986 Homosexual Law Reform Bill (Fran Wilde, Marilyn Waring, Norman Jones etc).

Walking up the Parliament steps had particular significance as they were where Carmen entered the building to appear before Parliament's Privileges Committee for alleged Contempt of Parliament. I got a picture with her on the steps as I had edited a lot of the footage of the event and even worked with her

Carmen & Phil outside Parliament
on the first ever Telethon in Wellington 1976. We had also worked together on the award-winning 2007 Fringe Festival show On The Corner commemorating the red-light district in Carmen's heyday of the 60s and 70s and so I presented Carmen with a DVD of the show.

Onto the Alexander Turnbull library to meet John Sullivan, Curator of the Carmen Rupe photographs and memorabilia. Carmen has donated all her photographic collection to the Turnbull so that this treasure trove can be preserved and researched by future generations.

A late night visit, or should we say an early morning visit, to Club Ivy and meeting up with friends,

Carmen visits the Turnball Library
gay bar owners, Safe Sex Poster Boys and the newer generation showed this lady is still the icon and treasure remembered more by the older (since she has been living in Australia for nearly 20 years).

She has not been forgotten for the significance of what she did and achieved that has made it so much easier for recognition of LBGT people to be accepted openly compared to the early days of her famous career starting in the 1950s.

The Dominion Post chatted to Carmen during her visit - read their full story here, and check out the video of her interview below.

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Phil Rogers - 4th June 2009