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

335 Damien Webb – Blak Lady Moses

Damien shares a story of his ancestors, connecting it to his present, to crossing oceans and preserving stories.

Damien Webb is a proud member of the Palawa Diaspora, originally from Lutruwita (Tasmania). He has worked in state libraries for over 13 years, and he is currently Manager of the Indigenous Engagement Branch at the State Library of New South Wales. He performed this story at a special Queerstories event at the State Library in June 2023.


Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories. This week Damien Webb is a proud member of the Palawa Diaspora, originally from Lutruwita (Tasmania). He has worked in state libraries for over 13 years, and he is currently Manager of the Indigenous Engagement Branch at the State Library of New South Wales. He performed this story at a special Queerstories event at the State Library in June 2023.

Damien: Like many good stories mine starts long before the arrival of straight white men. It was a warm sunny morning 43,000 years ago (roughly 15,000 Saturn returns) when my ancestors and transcestors decided that the mainland was really not vibing for us anymore. Accounts vary as to the instigating factor/final straw but I have to imagine that my old people were at least a little bit like me and my family… probably pretty queer and definitely bolshie. They were looking for a place of their own and likely trying to get away from some mad Koories and so decided to cross the treacherous land bridge to Lutruwita, beset on all sides by an angry sea and hectic megafauna.

To hear some aunties tell this yarn is a real treat but like so many of our stories it was shattered and split by colonisation. For years these histories were thought lost, only to be found hiding under our beds and in our Elders’ memories, encoded and safe but incomplete. 

So it goes that our strongest and most powerful matriarch felt us growing too big and too strong, and she and our Elders decided we would seek somewhere to grow apart from our Koori Cousins. We trudged to the shore, where she split the sea with her wadi, holding back the waters with her magic and the sheer force of her will. She held this space and walked while kin and clan ducked and weaved across the rocks on an ever-shrinking strip of mountainous land. As we scrambled towards our new home and away from the rising sea, aunty turned (and in a moment of pure black lady Moses magic) rose the sea behind us and closed the pass. 

 I tell this story of the Palawa exodus because it lives in my bones and the bones of my family, but not in any archive, manuscript, photograph, or recording. Our stories were strong because we held them and carried them but the requirements of our living bodies as vessels rendered them inherently fragile. I have often found this to be true about queer stories too.  Our distrust and defiance of the state and its institutions has kept us alive, but it’s also created massive blind spots in our knowledge of ourselves and our histories. It makes it harder for every new generation of queers to remember that we have always been here and we always will, and allows every new generation of conservatives to claim that we are some kind of new trend or deviation.

So look, life was pretty great until it wasn’t. Auntie had nailed it in terms of choosing our new home and we would thrive in splendid isolation until the arrival of violent, pale and curious men – a situation I’m sure more than a few people in this room can relate to. What followed was a prolonged black war and a soul destroying attempt at genocide, after which the sustained erasure of my families blackness and queerness continued. My family would settle into a stable pattern of repression and assimilation, and in fact my mother is still widely regarded at family barbecues as the first queer our family ever had. Queen of the lesbians. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We dance now into the late 1980s and to a poor suburb called Clarendon Vale. Many of my aunties lived only a few blocks from my nan, and you couldn’t go more than a street without bumping into a cousin. For my ma, my sister and me, nan’s house was a place of safety, protected by the dual forces of nan’s hidden machete and her eternally boiling mixed veg. I realise now that despite generations of poverty, repression and assimilation it was also a space which quietly and surprisingly held my growing blackness and queerness. 

I like to quip that Jesus made me gay but honestly Chuck Norris and Boney M were doing a lot of heavy lifting too.  I spent many, many nights sleeping at nan’s in a special room she had lovingly crafted. Allow me to paint you a picture of this accidentally queer nursery.

Directly opposite the bed and staring down at me was a massive portrait of Jesus. He had his tits out and his heart was exposed and dramatically aflame. It was painted in a realistic style and with a gaze I would describe now as Power Bottom. So under the loving stare of Power Bottom Jesus 4yo me would lie on a bed heavy with frilled doilies and illuminated only by a fibre optic rainbow lamp. 

I know, right? 

I maintain that this triptych of fabulous forces was more than enough to fan the spark of queerness I was born with, but holy shit nan kicked it up a notch. I kid you not this woman had one cassette that would play on loop every single night that I stayed there in that room: the Best of Boney M. 

To be honest my nan would have been mortified, particularly at that time, to think that she played any part in furthering the gay agenda. It was around this time that a chain reaction of traumatic events kicked off and resulted in my ma coming out – first to herself, then to her boyfriend and finally to her sisters and mother. Before you ask my ma didn’t really do a big coming out for me and my sister and to be honest I don’t really remember it being a big deal to anyone except the rest of our family and obviously every straight person we would encounter for the next 28 years.

It was not long before we left the safety of nan’s house to go to a women’s shelter named Annie Kenney and our family’s real queer life began. I had always grown up around women and already understood the dangers and limitations of straight cis men, but being amongst activist feminists and dykes over the next few years clad me in the most wonderful armour. I highly recommend that everyone be raised by lesbians.

These early experiences with queerness were exclusively with lesbians, and specifically with the denim, flannel and paisley crews. This was partially because we had grown up poor and occasionally on farms but also just because it was now 1991 and lesbian share houses also shared wardrobes. It was at Annie Kenney that we met Jo Poodle. Jo became a friend of my ma and already knew my future other mother. Jo was a feminist, a fuckboy and a sex worker, with a penchant for pills. She lived at the top of some stairs in a rambling rundown share house in hobart, and her room was full of fabrics, makeup and femme wonder.  I remember sitting in her boudoir and staring into her iconic threefold vanity as Jo would give dispense advice while she getting ready for work – and lord it was the gayest advice you can imagine. I learned that lashes could be curled with medieval wands, and that clothes could be endlessly recycled into increasingly deranged expressions of glamour and personality. As I would sit and watch Jo expertly balancing her cigarette while curling her lashes, she would speak in a gravelly and loving alto voice “never forget, beauty is pain darling”. 

Like nan’s room before it Jo’s place nurtured the glowing ember of gay within me, in a way that I certainly didn’t understand at the time. I had never met a creature like her before, and aunty Jo armed me with the knowledge that feminism, activism and glamour could exist in the same body. I was hooked, babes.

We would spend a couple of years in various share houses as my ma grew more staunch and strong in her identity. These were wonderful years but the ignorance of many of the middle class white women who occupied these spaces began to be less humorous and more suffocating. My mother tells a story about being given a lesbian sex manual when she first came out by my auntie Wendy who remains one of my mother’s dearest friends. They were sitting and drinking Twinnings Earl Gray and looking through the various diagrams when she offered my ma a learned life lesson. “Never use avocado in food play”. My ma responded simply and with great poverty, “What the fuck is an avocado?”. Later at a women’s dance my mother stormed the stage and yanked the sound cables rendering a deafening silence upon the room. She proceeded to read every single person there for filth over the lack of intersectionality within the movement which was excluding so many blak lesbians like her and their children.

From the Crucible of these incredible spaces our family became indestructible. But like our ancestors 40 000 years earlier we were getting itchy feet, and there was a growing sense that this island was not big enough or brave enough to hold us. Once it became clear that my mother’s lesbianism was not simply a phase her sisters and many other members of our family rallied behind my nan in demonising us and attempting to remove me and my sister through the family court. The court case was eventually dismissed but not before many of my aunties had testified vile lies or disclosed my mother’s past abuses and traumas. It is a hard bell to unring and it would be many years before my family would grow the fuck up and earn a place in our lives again.

I distinctly remember standing on the lawn of my nan’s house, the house I had spent so many hours being held and fed and loved in, as my nan screamed that we would burn in hell. The safety I had felt in that house for so long was shattered.

And so we left to cross the same land bridge as our ancestors only this time we would soar hundreds of metres above it in the economy cabin of a rickety ferry. With a mob behind us who no longer felt like kin and my mother stepping fearlessly into the role of magic woman and matriarch, we headed back towards the distant shores of our koori cousins carrying our stories, our memories and our wounds with us.

I have spent 15 years in libraries like the one we are in tonight, holding space for others to find and tell their stories. Libraries are places in which we often feel watched but rarely feel seen, and it is a privilege to wedge open the creaking doors of these houses of memory; to be someone’s rainbow lamp in a dark room; to make sure we are not erased again. Sometimes, on a good day, I feel every bit like a Blak lady Moses: holding space with queer magic and pushing back a crushing tide to protect my tribe.

Thank you.

Maeve: Thanks for listening. Don’t forget to check out Queerstories on Patreon where you can support the project for as little as $1 per month. Follow Queerstories on Facebook for news and event updates, it’s been a weird couple of years what with the pandemic and me becoming a parent but I’m planning some big things in 2023 and I’d love you to be part of it.

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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.