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25 September 2012

Rose Jackson (1934 - 2011) window dresser, performer, costumier.

Barry Jackson was born in Paddington, Sydney. Barry knew that he was not really a boy almost from the start and was trying on his mum’s clothes by age five. He loved to swim and was a Bondi Beach lifesaver, and was also an avid cinema-goer. His uncle’s business owned property in the Kings Cross area, and after school he worked as a rent collector. This led to a discovery of the artistic demi-monde and the then largely hidden homosexual scene. He was invited and introduced, and asked in one club to be part of the show.

At 18 he had a job as a window dresser at David Jones Department Store, and was promoted to display manager. When she started going out as female, she took the name of the Marilyn Monroe character in Niagara: Rose. Rose was part of the Purple Onion when it first opened in 1957, where she did her first drag show. This was at a time when, if they went home or were on the street in drag, the police would charge them with offensive behaviour.

At 24 Barry went to Europe for five years, and after time in Paris and London he worked for a department store in Sweden.

When he returned to Sydney in 1964 Lee Gordon’s drag club The Jewel Box had become popular. Several of the performers were taking female hormones. Rose followed their example ‘to soften her look’. By the late 1960s she was living full time as a woman which caused a fracture with her family, and her to lose her job making costumes at the Old Tote Theatre.

P 21 in Drag Show
She performed again at the Purple Onion. And she was busy making clothes for Bobby Lloyd’s costume business. Every female star of note had to have a Rose Jackson frock. She was even rushed to the Opera House where the dance star, Robert Helpmann, was having costume problems. In 1969 Rose went to Capriccios and became its star performer. In 1983 David Mitchell and David Penfold created a show for Rose based on her own life. After that she opened her own club, Rose’s on Goulburn St. At the height of its success, the club burned down. She returned to making costumes. She estimated that she made over 70,000 costumes during her lifetime.

Tony Sheldon who played Bernadette in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, in Sydney and then New York, has said that he based his interpretation on Rose, rather than on Carlotta as Terence Stamp did in the film version.

In her monologue for Drag Show, Rose wrote:
“The thing that has always distressed me - and it has taken me years and years to get over it - is the fact that one does have to lie. ... It came to the point where I had to say: ‘This is the way I want to be’. But not without thirty years of the most dreadful traumatic pressure. When you consider that you have to live a lie for your parents, to the public, to your friends and your work, the problem seems insurmountable. It takes a long, long time to be able to say: ‘I don’t care about the rest of the world: this is my life and I cannot cheat myself by not living it’. All those things need to said. It takes great strength. (p20)”
She died at age 77.

* Not the Sydney politician nor the US actress.

The obituary in The Sydney Morning Herald gives Rose's birthyear as 1935, but in the monologue that she wrote for Drag Show she says that she was born in 1934.

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