At an age when most youths are celebrating an exciting and unknown future, Ken Atherton (Tootsie) was dealing with a... Read More
an age when most youths are celebrating an exciting and unknown future, Ken
Atherton (Tootsie) was dealing with a completely different reality.
the age of 16, his twin brother died. His mother, unable to deal with the grief
committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid. Tootsie was the one who found her
a fortnight before his eighteenth birthday.
then, to add to this grief, Tootsie was done a great injustice. In 1953, at the
age of 20, he was jailed in Pentridge for two years solely for being gay.
Working at the Cheltenham Benevolent Home for the Elderly he was arrested with
seven other work colleagues. At first, Tootsie cried, but a policeman assured
him that if he just owned up to being homosexual, he wouldn't do time. So
Tootsie confessed, only to find himself with a two-year jail sentence.
that time he had a breakdown, and it's not surprising; to be told that the
essence of who you are is wrong, illegal and punishable would be horrendous.
then at the age of 62, Tootsie embarked on a grand new adventure. He was
invited by a mate to dress in drag and perform the pub circuits of Melbourne.
Drag wasn't something that Toots usually did, but he thought, 'why not? Let's
give it a go!'
so he did, becoming quite famous throughout the drag scene and a familiar and
entertaining figure throughout Melbourne. He performed at many iconic venues in
Melbourne including DT's hotel in Richmond, the 3 Faces Nightclub, the
Greyhound in St Kilda, the Southern Cross Floor Show, Prince of Wales (Pokeys),
and on occasion with fellow drag performers Maxine Du Barry, Lottie, Jessica
James and Amanda Munroe.
as the oldest drag queen in the southern hemisphere, he often attracted
audiences in the thousands.
passed away a few weeks after seeing this portrait. For a man who was shunned
in his youth for being gay, to now be celebrated meant so much.
was so thrilled to be painted and along with his performing career, viewed the
recognition as a significant symbol - finally he was accepted for being who he
optimism so inspired me. His story is a testimony that things can change and as
a society, we can grow and develop a deeper understanding of others. He always
remained himself and wasn't afraid in his later years to start something
new…albeit in a frock.