THERE IT’S NOT JUST THE VOTERS WHO SWING IN QUEENSLAND. WHILE THE MURDER OF MELBOURNE BUSINESSMAN HERMAN ROCKEFELLER UNDERLINED SWINGING’S SLEAZY SIDE, ONE BRISBANE CLUB INSISTS IT’S ALL JUST GOOD FUN.
Will Storr tries to make sense of the wife-swapping business at a Brisbane swingers club.
W I L L S T OR R
are a surprising number Australia’s only “council approved” swingers’ club, an organisation entirely devoted to romantic anarchy. The moment you walk into Couples International, a two-storey concrete unit in a small industrial park in Brisbane, you’re confronted by a long list of regulations. You’re not allowed to stand too close to others; you’re not allowed to open doors; you’re not allowed to “talk nasty or horrible of people”. To my vague disappointment, patrons are not even permitted to walk around naked.
It’s an hour before opening and CI’s manager, Leesa Horn – a 45-year-old grandma with a heavy black fringe, dusky eyeshadow and a low-cut leopard print dress – is showing me around her inner-city Woolloongabba club, open Friday and Saturday nights. She takes me up to the second floor and down a red-lit corridor lined with rooms, each of which contains a low bed with a pastel blue handtowel folded into a pretty butterfly shape on the edge. There are no locks on the doors and anyone who opens or even knocks on a closed one will be evicted. “But if it’s open, you can go in,” Horn says. “People might be playing. You don’t talk. They want to be watched – they don’t want to be interrupted.” She turns to me with accusing eyes. “OK?”
I feel unaccountably ashamed. “Yes, yes,” I say. “Of course.”
As we make our way back downstairs, Horn points out the massage table; the webcam room; the bondage mezzanine. “It’s not all about sex, you know,” she says as we descend into the main club, with its non-stop pornography television screen and its stage with two steel writhing-poles. I don’t know quite how to respond. “It isn’t?”
of rules in
DAV I D K E L LY
“Of course not,” she says. “It’s about going out, having fun, meeting other couples, and going home again.” To me, this whole place is so strange and contrary that right now I’m willing to believe almost anything. Except that it’s not all about sex. Swinging is beyond my comprehension because I simply cannot imagine any scenario in which I’d feel comfortable leasing my fiancee out to a stranger. And in this, surely, I’m typical. In most cultures, the very machinery of love is built on the idea of sexual exclusivity.
That’s the dream, the goal, the beautiful ideal. That’s the promise we make one another when we fall in love – you, forever, and nobody else. I don’t think I’d recover if I was made to watch another man becoming biologically involved with my partner. My heart would simply fail.
Horn and her shaven-headed husband of 18 years, 58-year-old Bryan, have owned CI since 2003. Sitting down with them, I’m disappointed to discover their proud boast of being “council-approved” refers to a successful zoning application, and not to the council somehow formally approving of sex parties. When I ask how long they’ve been swingers, Leesa frowns. “We don’t really categorise ourselves as swingers,” she says.
I rub my eyes, the confusion bubbling gently in my brain. “I don’t understand,” I say.
I turn to Bryan. “Are you a swinger?” He gives me a withering look. “Look, I don’t even know what ‘swinger’ means,” he says, folding his arms. “You’re putting a meaning on it. You’re thinking we all put our keys in a bowl . . .”
“I’ll tell you what I mean by ‘ swinger’,” I say. “You invite other individuals to share in your love life.” There’s a silence. Then he brightens. “That’s exactly right.”