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Jaq Grantford


Oil on Canvas


Ken Atherton - Tootsie (1953 - 2018)

Tootsie did not have an easy life.

At the age of 16, his twin brother died. His mother unable to deal with the grief committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid. Tootsie was the one who found her a fortnight before his eighteenth birthday.
And then, to add to this grief, Tootsie was done a great injustice. In 1953, at the age of 20, he was jailed in Pentridge for two years for merely being gay. Working at the Cheltenham Benevolent Home for the Elderly he was arrested with seven other work colleagues. At first, Tootsie cried, but a policeman assured him that if he just owned up to being homosexual, he wouldn’t do time. So Tootsie confessed, only to find himself with a two-year jail sentence.

During that time he had a breakdown, and it's not surprising; to be told that the essence of who you are is wrong, illegal and punishable would be horrendous. Can you imagine the confusion and hurt he would have experienced?

His father came and spoke with him six months into his sentence, and in the way that only people of that generation can do, told him to 'just pull up his socks' and get on with it. Somehow that helped Tootsie.

And then at the age of 62, Tootsie embarked on a grand new adventure. He was invited by a mate to dress in drag and perform the pub circuits of Melbourne. Drag wasn’t something that Toots usually did, but he thought, ‘why not? Let’s give it a go!’

And so he did, becoming quite famous throughout the drag scene and a friendly and entertaining figure throughout Melbourne. He performed at many iconic venues in Melbourne including DT’s hotel in Richmond, the 3 Faces Nightclub, the Greyhound in St Kilda, the Southern Cross Floor Show, Prince of Wales (Pokeys), and on occasion with fellow drag performers Maxine Du Barry, Lottie, Jessica James and Amanda Munroe.
Known as the oldest drag queen in the southern hemisphere, he often attracted audiences in the thousands.


Leaves artist's studio in 1-3 working days

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