A national LGBTQI+ storytelling project curated by Maeve Marsden
featuring a book, event series and an award-winning podcast

A national LGBTQI+ storytelling project curated by Maeve Marsden
featuring a book, event series and award-winning podcast

265 Dan Murphy – The Smoking Section

Dan shares a story about his relationship to smoking, and its connection to family, community and his sense of self.

Dan Murphy is a DJ and filmmaker, and is not to be confused with the liquor shop, although they both are full of cheap booze. He’s been the opening DJ for Cher, Kylie and Dannii Minogue, created community videos for marriage equality, GetUp! and Mardi Gras, and was a regular columnist for QX Magazine and Same Same.


Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden, and you’re listening to Queerstories. This week, Dan Murphy is a DJ and filmmaker, and is not to be confused with the liquor shop, although they’re both full of cheap booze. He’s been the opening DJ for Cher, Kylie and Dannii Minogue, created community videos for marriage equality, GetUp! and Mardi Gras, and was a regular columnist for QX Magazine and Same Same. He performed this story in Sydney.

Dan: I grew up on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in the ‘80s. A time when bare feet ruled, a tan was compulsory and there were Stefan Salon perms as far as the eye could see. Going out for a nice meal meant lining up with all the other families at Sizzler and getting to tell the waiter how you would like your steak cooked. That was was a question I’d never been asked before Sizzler came to Maroochydore.

Another choice we had was whether to sit in the smoking or non-smoking sections of the restaurants. I remember the non-smoking section increasing in size as the years went on, and slowly pushing the smoking section out of the restaurant altogether. It seemed to shrink in size at exactly the same rate as the Betamax section in our local Video Ezy.

Back then cigarettes were still allowed to be advertised on TV and even Australia’s favourite athletes smoked and drank. Powerful ‘80s businesswomen never left home without their Virginia Slims. Blokey cricketers were Benson & Hedges men. And if you ever want to wear a white swimsuit and go Yachting in the Whitsundays, then you’d better be smoking Peter Stuyvesant’s.

Cigarettes always looked so mysterious on film, smoke trails catching the light as the smoker controlled their direction. The reality was quite the opposite. They stank. The ash went everywhere, and the smoke burrowed into everything.

My Dad smoked when I was a kid and I hated it. Ashtrays were scattered around our house and even all over his office when I visited him at work. When he smoked in the car, I’d huff and puff and theatrically roll my window down. This flare for the dramatic in a nine year old meant as a teenager I’d find myself quite at home at The Hemphill School Of Speech & Drama.

At school we were bombarded with facts and figures related to smoking’s effects on the body. Armed with these new horrifying statistics, I went to stay with my Dad for the weekend. One of the first things he announced was that he’d stopped smoking.

I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. How dare he make up his own mind to stop smoking when I was the one with all the facts and figures that were going to change his mind? I rattled them all off to him anyway, and he “mmm’d” at me the way a smoker does when you tell them smoking is bad for them.

In my final year of boarding school, my room was the only one without a working smoke detector. The other kids used to pile into it when I was out, and I’d come back to discover it absolutely filled with boys and smoke. Like one of those glass rooms you see at airports which are full of people who look kind of sad, and you can’t tell they’re sad because they still have another 15 hour flight ahead of them, or because they’re in a glass box full of other people’s smoke.

I furiously shooed the boys out of my room. The stench they left lingered though, and the smoke penetrated every part of my tiny room and my belongings. They’d left their stamp on my private, little world as though to say, “yeah we were here bitch, and next time you’re out we’ll be back again.”

I don’t remember who those kids were, but I wonder if they’re the ones I’ve been trying to impress ever since?
In my first share house my flatmate used to smoke Beedi cigarettes, these funny little rolled-up leaves that came in different coloured packets. My flatmate was cool, and I wasn’t used to being around cool people. She was fun, and she had interesting friends, and her boyfriends were hot.

She offered me a Beedi one day and I took it and tried to give off a, “yeah sure cool man, oh smoking, yeah groovy, I know smoke and smoking, it’s rad.” I probably held it upside down, but she was polite enough not to say anything.

I tried on and off to impress people by smoking, but I did a terrible job of it. I suppose it didn’t help that I didn’t like the taste, the smell or even the feeling of smoking. It made all my clothes stink, and I hated waking up with smoky fingers, a dry old mouth and furry tongue. On top of this, I still couldn’t quite work out how to take a drag without the smoke wafting back in my face, and making my eyes try.

A few years later I moved to London. I took my Lonely Planet guide with me, which as a traveller in the 2000s you were required to lug with you on every step of your journey. It was the size and weight of a Besser brick and tucked away deep inside were a couple of pages dedicated to London’s gay scene. It assured me that the biggest and most famous gay nightclub in the world was called Heaven so I wanted to work at it. I took myself there on my first night out, and managed to land a job in their merch shop, selling t-shirts, Chupa Chups and glow sticks.

Everyone smoked in London. Inside, outside, eating, drinking, dancing – you name it. If you were in a place where you could open your mouth, then you had permission to put a cigarette in it.

I really leaned in. I smoked a lot, and for a while I smoked Marlboro Reds – the strongest they made. I even tried a packet of Camels once, but even seasoned smokers would look at me like, “ugh, what are you doing?” What was I doing? What was I trying to prove? Did it make me tougher? Was it like, “yeah, that’s right, my lungs can withstand the strongest smoke, so that makes me the coolest, best smoker.”

When my two years in London were up I came back to Brisbane with eleven pounds to my name, so I moved back in with my parents.

I remember sitting around having a few drinks after dinner. Dad was smoking and I really, really wanted one. Their eyes nearly popped out of their heads when I finally said, “um, would it be okay if I had a ciggie too please?” The rest of the night was filled with questions. “Do you smoke now? When did this happen? How did you start? We thought you hated smoking?” After a few nights it became normal, and I felt like I was cool, and part of the smoking club again.

When Dad had to go in for his triple bypass operation, his doctor looked at me and asked if I smoked. I kind of bumbled out an, “oh, a little bit sometimes.” He stared directly in my eyes and said, “you need to stop.” The gravity of the situation hit me and I didn’t touch a ciggie for a couple of years after that. Dad would ask every now and again if I was still smoking. It’s always very non-judgemental, as he gets it, but he’d always, “remember what my doctor told you.”

I don’t smoke anymore, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out. I also don’t feel like I have to show those boys from school that I’ve transformed into one of the cool and groovy kids now. I don’t know if cool kids even say groovy. Maybe they do, ironically? I don’t know, maybe that’s why I’ll never be cool, but I’ll try my best to be groovy.

Maeve: Thanks for listening. Please rate, review, and subscribe to the podcast, and if you enjoy Queerstories, please consider supporting the project for as little as $1 per month on Patreon. The link is in the episode description.

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Queerstories is produced by Maeve Marsden and recorded by wonderful technicians at events around the country. Editors and support crew have included Beth McMullen, Bryce Halliday, Ali Graham and Nikki Stevens.