Friday 16 December 2011

Rest in Peace – Carmen Rupe

New Zealand has lost one of its most colourful and brave expatriates with the passing of Carmen Rupe in Sydney on 15 December after months of poor health. I only met her on three occasions but we became instant friends. Once, Carmen rescued me in Sydney from a nasty situation in the early morning and she has been a special person in my heart ever since. Visiting her International Coffee Lounge or Balcony Nightclub was to enter a realm of mystery and international style created by her own unique interpretation of antipodean glamour.

Born as Trevor Rupe at Taumaranui in 1935 and coming from a family of 13, she moved to Sydney and worked in Kings Cross during the late 1950s, performing in the renowned Les Girls revue as their first Maori drag performer.

Carmen campaigned over decades for the legalisation of prostitution, greater civil and abortion rights and for the legalisation of gay partnerships. Very many of the issues that she spent a lifetime advocating for are now legalised in our society.

Living as a drag queen for sixty years, she was a fierce opponent of discrimination based on either gender or sexuality. I regarded her an incarnation of humour, dignity, sincerity and warriorhood. She could range from being a hilarious companion to a terrifying protector within a nano-second. Her contribution to the GLBT communities of Australia and New Zealand has been immense.

Moe mai i to moenga roa.

Ron Brownson and Ngahiraka Mason

Unknown photographer
Carmen Rupe and Noel McKay at the Peter Pan Cabaret, Auckland 1975
Courtesy: Noel McKay

Unknown photographer
Carmen Rupe aged 74 2010
Courtesy: Passport Blogs

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