Wellington Scoop

PHOTOS: Carmen’s birthday marked with rainbow crossing


Wellington.Scoop report and photos by Roy Murphy
About 500 people celebrated LGBT culture at Wellington’s Cuba Mall today. A rainbow-hued pedestrian crossing was officially opened by mayor Justin Lester.


Lester said the opening was planned to mark the birthday of Carmen Rupe, saying. “She would be 82 today.” Carmen was a high-profile transgender activist whose image was placed on the Walk position of the traffic lights of the crossing in 2016.


Now, instead of showing an icon of a green man walking, it shows Carmen flouncing.


Lester remarked he always remembered Carmen’s favourite saying, “Get in behind.” He said the new-look crossing was a show of solidarity with the LBGT community. He said, “We want to work with you to make Wellington a safer and inclusive place.”


Edge radio helped to sponsor the event. A staff member painted rainbow hues on children’s hair and sprinkled them with sparkles.


Carmen was born in Taumarunui on the Main Trunk Line and was given the archetypal name of Trevor, She later became a drag performer and lived as a woman, using the name Carmen. She worked with snakes, danced the hula and was involved in prostitution. She was arrested several times in Sydney’s Kings Cross, but an arrest in New Zealand failed to win a conviction.

Carmen described herself as a “tri-sexual”, because she liked to ”try anything”.

In 1968 Carmen opened the International Coffee Lounge and the Balcony in Wellington. It was a discreet secret that patrons could arrange their coffee cups in ways to indicate whether they wanted a heterosexual, gay, transsexual, or drag queen encounter.

In 1977 Carmen made a failed bid to be elected Wellington’s mayor with the support of businessman Bob Jones on a platform of gay marriage, legalised brothels, sex education in schools, nude beaches and decriminalized abortion. All of her then outrageous proposals are now legal in New Zealand.

She eventually returned to Australia where she died in 2011.


  1. Graham Atkinson, 11. October 2018, 10:33

    I knew Carmen well from the time of her arrival in Wellington and never heard her use the term “get in behind”; that was John Clarke’s catchphrase for Fred Dagg. That apart, it is great that her contribution to Wellington’s vibrancy is still acknowledged.

  2. Mike Naylor, 11. October 2018, 11:40

    Wellington needs to put up a statue to Carmen! Suitably exotic.

  3. Sekhmet Bast Ra, 12. October 2018, 11:57

    It seems strange that Stuff failed to publish a report on the opening of the rainbow crossing, especially as they did provide coverage of Mayor Justin on the job with his paint roller. Wellington.Scoop is to be congratulated for filling the gap and providing coverage of this important cultural event.

    I concur with Graham Atkinson, when it comes to the phrase ‘get in behind’, polari it is not. It was indeed a quote from Fred Dagg and the phrase was an innocent directive for the sheepdogs. Some may say caveat lector, for it is always the victor who gets to re-write history and transform history into legend. These humorous camp catchphrases do seem to abound here in Wellington and we could think of no better complimentary example than the line ‘pert buttocks guaranteed’, an advertising catchphrase for the delicious kai served at Justin’s takeaway business ‘Kapai’.

    As to Carmen herself, I well remember her coffee house in Vivian Street. Back in those days there were not many places for young lads to go on a Friday night, especially for those of us who were in the process of figuring out our gender orientation. We had some great times there and above all else it was a safe spot to go in an era when it was not particularly safe if one happened to be outwardly gay, transsexual or flamboyantly otherwise. Thank Goddess these days the only real use for a closet is a spot to hang one’s frillies. The other places which stand out as gone but not forgotten: Ali Babas club, The Balcony, The Evergreen and let’s not forget the Bistro Bar at the Royal Oak Tavern just opposite where the rainbow crossing is today. Casper’s bar was another era, but just as sorely missed.

    Do agree with Mike Naylor, a statue of Carmen would be a fabulous addition to the cityscape. To WCC CEO Kevin Lavery, we’d say as the highest paid amongst WCC staff, your shout aye mate?