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

Aunty Denise McGuinness – Get That Checked

Aunty Denise yarns about family.

Aunty Denise McGuinness is a Gunditjmara, Yorta Yorta and Wiradjuri woman based in Melbourne. She’s a proud mum to Robert, Chantel and Dawn, as well as a grandmother to Eli Dennis and Nate John. She works in community health at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service and since her success in the Deadly Funny comedy competition she has been performing locally at conferences and NAIDOC week events.


Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories.

In November 2019, Nayuka Gorrie guest-curated a Queerstories event at the Melba Spiegeltent, hosting it just four days before giving birth to their beautiful twins.

Nayuka is a Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta writer who’s been published widely. They were a Wheeler Centre Next Chapter recipient in 2018, and they’ve written for TV including Black Comedy, Get Krackin! and The Heights.


My god, hello. My name’s Nayuka Gorrie, I curated tonight. Tonight’s an all-Black line-up and I’m really excited to be able to do this so thank you all for coming.

Next up we have Aunty Denise McGuinness. Aunty Denise is a Gunditjmara, Yorta Yorta and Wiradjuri woman who has lived here in Melbourne her entire life. She’s a proud mum of Robert, Chantel and Dawn, and she’s also a grandmother as well. She works in community health at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. We’re really, really lucky to have Aunty Denise here tonight, she’s bloody hilarious, please give it up for Aunty Denise.

Aunty Denise McGuinness

I’m Denise. I’m a single mother of three children. I raised my kids on my own. Their father’s never involved so we call him the donor.

Parties, festivals, all my friends ring me up and they ask, are you coming out Mac? I came out when I was 30, I thought they already knew.

Few people said that they’ve seen me before. Yes, I was on Australia’s Next Top Model.

I actually got into comedy through accident, like there’s an email at work and it said, can you make someone laugh for five minutes? I thought, yeah, blakfellas got the best humour, you know, we don’t even have to talk, we just nod.

So I was working at the Health Centre and never been to a comedy workshop before, and I didn’t know you meant to go there with, you know, skit. Meant to go there with five minutes, and I walked in and Judith Lucy was sitting there, I thought great, and she goes, oh Denise you’re up, where’s your five minutes? I said I haven’t even got two minutes, Judith, I just come here for the feed.

And we ended up, um, my daughter came with me coz at that time 10 years ago she was working at reception, you know, blackfella orgs all nepotism and got the whole family there. Hey, that’s all right.

So she come with me and Judith said, well just tell us a little yarn. And so I said, oh I’ll go to the toilet, coz you think a lot when you go to the toilet, people even take their iPads in the toilet eh, like iPooed.

And Dawn followed me, and I said, you know, for comedy, why do they call it stand-up comedy? Do you have to stand up? And Judith said, no, you can lay down on the ground, you know, do anything. And she suggested that Dawn follow me on the stage so we ended up putting a little skit together and we won the semi-finals, and then we got through to the grand final.

And the funny thing is, my son was only one that supported me. Coz Channie had the oldest grandson, Eli, threaten me, you know: Mum if you go in there, you won’t see your grandson. I thought oh, I’ll ring child protection on you.

Like, you love your kids, mate, but there’s no love like your grandchild. Now I understand that. And um, I ended up winning it and Channie nearly threw Eli up onstage. I asked him, what was wrong with me going in the competition? They said that they were worried that no one would laugh, and that I’d go home crusty and wouldn’t cook tea.

I said but that’s when you come into it, you run around and wet all the seats and everyone got to stand up and it looks like a lot of standing ovation.

Yeah, Eli’s 10 soon, and when he was born Channie goes, Mum, what do you think of the name Eli, Eli Dennis? I said yeah, I like it, but what about when the visitors come and they ask, where’s the baby? Eli-ing down?

When Eli was five, he was diagnosed with autism. And he’s one where he remembers everything. He’s verbal, very verbal. He talks in his sleep. But he’s one where he’s gotta have things lined up and collections, you know, it costs a lot of money, them bloody ushies and that shit mate. Collecting things at the supermarkets too.

And it was my turn to take him, I take him swimming. That’s the thing we do, and then we go to Woolworths, and he goes Nan, have you got your list? What list? He goes, your shopping list, I got mine. I said, where, he goes, in my head. He’s just sitting there remembering his list.

He goes,, but that’s okay that you gotta write it down coz you forget.

And we went swimming and two years ago, we had to put our 19-year-old chihuahua down. And I didn’t realize how much chihuahua meant to me, like three times I had it booked in to get her put down and I wouldn’t get her put down. But in the end I knew it was time, and the owner, Dawn, the youngest daughter, she took off to the army. And I had to make this decision to get this dog put down. And they never leave you the grandkids, eh, they leave you the pets. The rabbit’s run away, this dog was dying, and look, I couldn’t leave the house. I went through depression. Wouldn’t even check the mailbox. And then Eli goes, it was a year later, he goes Nan, you must be getting lonely now eh?

I said, what? He goes, lonely, with Mickey gone. I said, how can I get lonely when I got you and Nate? He goes, I reckon it’s time to get another dog. I said Eli, Nan can’t go through that again mate.

He goes, nah, don’t worry Nan, you won’t hafta. By the time this dog gets old, you would have passed away.

And he looked at me and goes, when are you passing away?

I said, I dunno Eli, I could be here today, gone tomorrow, I don’t know.

And then Channie had to go out that night for a netball function, and she asked me to babysit. And this kid had me sitting up all night like I was on the nod, I wouldn’t go to sleep, and his little brother Nate, he’s so cute and they’re like chalk and cheese, you know, two opposite kids.

And he says Nan, come and tell this kid. So I run in there and see them fighting. I go, what? He goes, tell him, he wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for me.

I go, what are you talking about Eli? You’re not the father.

He goes, well how was he meant to get out if I didn’t come out first?

And my son Robert, he’s a very talented dancer, gets his moves from his mother, not the donor.

And I’ve always tried to encourage him to go to NAISDA, the Indigenous dance company in Sydney, letting him know that his room’s always there. He goes, nah Mum, I’m going to Los Angeles. I said, oh, someone funding your trip? He goes nah, I’m saving. Judging from the fines on my kitchen benchm, Rob can’t save enough for a Met ticket next week.

Before I had grandkids, coz I’m a responsible grandmother now, there was a bunch of us girls, strong blak women, that used to drink in the shed. And we thought oh, what will we call ourselves? There was about eight of us, thought, ‘The Shed Girls’. You know, how original. And we were that type, what happened in the shed or was said in the shed stayed in the shed, that was the rule or you were kicked out.

And we drink all night, you know? The kids were fed and that, they were alright. And um, I can tell you about this night because this happened on Smith St when A Bar Called Barry’s opened. And we run out of grog, so we thought, oh well, we’ll venture into Fitzroy. And as the blak women do, no matter how packed it is, eh Tarneen, youse all walk in, take over, and the dance floor was packed.

And this gubba girl, white girl, you know how you do the little individual dance and come back? Well when she bumped her, she wanted to fight this sistergirl. She started it, first, I don’t believe in violence. So we fought her. And then the other one come, big all-in brawl. We had to fight them. We won, of course.

But then we went back to our little booth like that, and we started fixing up our hair and that coz this fella was walking around with a camera, and he goes, hey, can I take you girls’ photo? And we’re there, yeah, doing the Facebook pose, like that.

And I asked him, what local paper is that going in? And he said it’s not, it’s going at the front door, next time you girls won’t be allowed in.

So on the way home, back in those days the drive-thru McDonalds, and this woman behind us kept beeping the horn. And we said, why, you ignorant, we’re trying to order a feed. And she kept bipping, bipping, we ignored her, but she come up to the window and she goes, hurry up now, come on. We said yeah, wait, we’re still ordering. And she goes, you might wanna move up, you’re talking into the bin.

So, maybe we should have stayed in the shed.

And like I said before, there’s no love like a grandchild. And my mum died when she was 39 of a heart attack, so she never lived long enough to have children.

And I thought gee, I gotta start looking after myself. My dream, as sad as it was, was to live past 40. So I went to bootcamp, and I was wild coz there was older women like me, 30, me and my sisters, and the fella there says, oh come on, do these push-ups. Do you run? I said, do I look like a runner? I said, I run to the toilet two or three times a night, does that count?

And um, then that lovely present from the government came when I turned 50. I thought it was country and western CDs and I was rapt. I opened it up and it was a bloody bowel cancer where you gotta get it tested. And I didn’t do it, thought nup, but not long after that I was very sick.

And I’ve never been sick, like I’ve only been in hospital to have my children. After them three bottles of wine. This time, I said, there’s something wrong with me, I’m having hot flushes and that, and they go, you’re only going through menopause. I said oh I went through men-o-stop, I stopped seeing men, like.

And they wouldn’t believe me. They rang my daughter, the next of kin, she didn’t answer the phone, oh it’s Mum again. I got rushed to hospital, straight in the theatre, and what they found was an old IUD, you know the copper IUD. I forgot to get it out after I had Dawn. So it was living inside for 25 years. That was poisoning me.

Dawn was off at the army, she had to drive back. I wake up out of surgery and she’s standing at the end of the bed. She goes, Mum, I’ve heard about hoarding, but this is ridiculous.

So I’m a hoarder. And then Channie’s sitting there, just reading That’s Life, oh no wonder Dad kept chasing ya. And she goes, you had that in there for 25 years.

Channie’s a real finance woman, she goes, Mum, imagine if you had’ve died. You would’ve been the first lesbian to die of contraception.

And the next day, the lady come in and she goes, we’re gonna let you go home now. Talking real loud, she goes, I’m just letting you know that we took the contraception out, we didn’t put another one in, you might wanna give it a rest.

Dawn goes, Mum, you’re 50 now, you wanna go get them checked, you wanna go get that checked and that checked, you wanna go get all your holes checked.

And I thought, well I went to work and they had on the side of the car, have you had your health check? I was thinking holistic health and trying to get it changed to have you get your holes checked?

I’m Denise McGuinness, thank you.


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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.