In the early hours of 7 August 1994, Victoria Police raided Tasty, a nightclub in Melbourne’s CBD with a predominately queer clientele. Hundreds were strip-searched under the pretence of a drug search. The police didn’t find a thing.
I happened to be in the ladies’ toilets, about 2am, with a trans* friend having a chat. Suddenly we heard sirens, the lights went on and a female police officer stormed in and immediately separated my friend and me.
What happened next was an ordeal that went for many hours. Each of the 463 patrons at Tasty were made one-by-one to strip and bend over for Victoria Police to perform a search.
There was an escalating feeling that the police weren’t finding what they were looking for. They knew they couldn’t find anything, and they were getting angry.
I was one of the first to be stripped but there were hours before of just standing with our hands against the wall, or on our heads, waiting to be searched. Anytime you got tired and your hands would slip, an officer would yell out: ‘Hey faggot! Hands back on the wall!’
There was an added level of humiliation for Tasty’s drag queens and trans* patrons, who were also forced to undergo a full strip-search.
The incident led to successful legal action against Victoria Police with damages of well over $10,000,000 awarded to patrons. This sum would have been considerably higher had all affected parties come forward—a large number of patrons, fearful of the repercussions of “outing” themselves in a public forum or reluctant to relive the traumatic experience of the raid, did not participate.
Although very different in their particular manifestations of activism, the Tasty incident has been described by some as Melbourne’s ‘Stonewall’ comparable to the latter through its effect on community views and awareness, and resultant reviews of inappropriate police activity.
If not already wary of police presence following decades of harassing the community (Stonewall, Mardi Gras etc.) this event left me with genuine trust issues that I’m still working through.
Following the Tasty raid, the LGBTI Liaison Officer program was implemented to help build rapport and also to have trained and experienced liaison officers to be there to support victims of crime who may identify as LGBTI, and this is a welcome initiative.
My mask recognises the magical and fabulous patrons that frequented the Tasty Nightclub back in the mid 90’s. I chose the colour silver to reflect the mirror balls and the blinding colour of the costumes and the general mood that a night at Tasty felt like. It was a place for the ‘queerest of the queers’ – the feeling (before the raid) was one of euphoria, of celebration. We’d survived the 80’s; the loss of many of our friends. This should have been a time to recover from our pain, not introduce a new one.
In 2014, Victoria Police finally apologised for the Tasty raid. While I welcomed the apology, I still wonder why it took 20 years.
More than an apology, the best thing to have come out of Tasty is the lesson that our strength lies in our ability to struggle collectively. For the patrons at Tasty, collectivity was something learned through the AIDS crisis. AIDS was the reason we became active. There was a general camaraderie based on lost members of the community, lost friends. We were already a wounded community, but in many ways, that gave us our strength.