By Kerryn Pollock
On 6 March this year, the fabulous, charismatic and trail-blazing Georgina Beyer (Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Porou) passed away, leaving us all a little quieter.
Internationally renowned as the world’s first openly transgender mayor and Member of Parliament, Georgina was an outspoken and committed advocate for rainbow communities and sex workers, and before that, an effective and respected leader of the Carterton District Council. She was a friend to Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and a supporter of our Rainbow List Project.
I first met her at the Wellington premiere of the documentary film Fiona Clark: Unafraid, a biographical account of the queer photographer, who started out photographing Auckland drag queens in the early 1970s. A friend and I happened to sit directly in front of Georgina and her friend, and were treated to a continuous narrative as they recognised figures from their pasts. I plucked up the courage to introduce myself and my work and came away with her phone number.
This culminated in a three-hour long and highly entertaining interview with Georgina at the home of her friends Scotty and Mal Kennedy-Vaughan, legends of Wellington’s hospitality scene. Georgina and the boys regaled me with stories of queer Wellington nightlife, centred between the Royal Oak Hotel between Dixon and Manners Streets and the city’s red-light district of Vivian Street. Georgina was one of the transgender queens and made a living as a stripper and sex worker. One of the places she worked was Club Exotique (1960s-1990s) on the corner of Vivian and Cuba Streets, today best known as the location of the restaurant Ombra. Called Morgan’s Buildings, it is a Category 2 historic place on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero, and thanks to Georgina, we now recognise its history as a noted spot in the red-light district, among its other commercial uses.
It is important that our heritage list recognises the diverse communities that make up our nation, that we explore the historical impact of sub-cultures and narrate the gritty sides of life through heritage. Georgina Beyer had a profound impact, nationally and internationally, and Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga can feel proud that we honour her legacy through the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero. Haere ra e Georgina.