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Peter Craig Tully (1947–1992)

by Sally Gray

This article was published:

Peter Tully, Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, 1981, by William Yang

Peter Tully, Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, 1981, by William Yang

National Library of Australia, PIC/8806/17 LOC Drawer PIC/8806

Peter Craig Tully (1947–1992), jeweller, costume designer, and gay-community activist, was born on 17 December 1947 at Carlton, Melbourne, son of Sydney-born Alfred Henry Tutungi, who ran a fish-and-chip shop by day and worked as a dental technician at night, and his Melbourne-born wife Elva Merla, née Foza. The family anglicised its Arabic name to Tully and moved to Lorne when Peter was about five. Having attended local primary and high schools, at age seventeen he returned to Melbourne, where he found employment as a window dresser and prop-maker for Cann’s Pty Ltd and Public Benefit Shoes. In 1968 and 1969 he lived in a gay group-household at Carlton with Murray Kelly, Clarence Chai, and Paul Craft. He began making highly original party costumes from materials he found in second-hand stores.

From 1970 to 1972 Tully travelled, with his friends Fran Moore and Linda Jackson, and independently, to the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey, Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, and Kenya. For most of 1971 he taught English in Paris while also visiting Spain, the Netherlands, and Britain. Back in Melbourne, he made jewellery influenced by the colour, texture, scale, and form of the items of adornment of the tribal cultures he had encountered. In 1974 he attended a part-time jewellery course at Melbourne State College, where he was able to experiment with plastics and other non-traditional materials. One year earlier he had met the artist David McDiarmid, who was briefly his lover, and who became a lifelong collaborator and artistic and political influence. The two toured South-East Asia during 1974 and 1975 and, on return to Australia, moved to Sydney.

Next year Tully began a certificate course in jewellery design at Randwick Technical College but did not complete it. In 1976 and 1977 he held his first avant-garde jewellery exhibitions, Passion for Plastics (Aces Art Shop, Sydney, and Craft’s Paraphernalia Gallery, Melbourne) and Living Plastics (Hogarth Galleries, Sydney). His jewellery quickly achieved collectible status among women and men enamoured of his use of bold colour and non-precious materials, and his eclectic visual references—including gay iconography and Australiana motifs.

Supported by a travel study grant from the crafts board of the Australia Council, Tully lived in New York from 1979 to 1980. There he found new materials that provided him with the colour-range, textures, and reflective surfaces he had always dreamed of for his work. The cultural ambience of the city’s gay scene influenced his subsequent art work and gay-community leadership. In 1980 the Australian National Gallery commissioned him to create for its collection the dance-club outfit 'Ceremonial Coat for the Grand Diva of Paradise Garage'. This and other work by Tully was included in the exhibition Art Clothes at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (1980–81). The intersection of fashion and art explored in this exhibition was reflected in his adoption, from 1980, of the term ‘Urban Tribalwear’ for his work.

As the inaugural artistic director (1982–86) of the Sydney Gay (and Lesbian) Mardi Gras, Tully made a significant contribution to Australian gay cultural expression and Sydney’s urban night life. His daring conceptual development, and mentorship of the volunteer artists at the festival’s arts workshop, fostered a unique style of witty and ironic giant street puppets, parade floats, and costumed performing groups.

In 1982 Tully designed the sets and costumes for the Sydney Dance Company’s work Hate, choreographed by Graeme Murphy. By the mid-1980s he was recognised as an accessible and provocative artist with a growing number of group, solo, and international exhibitions. His 1984 exhibition, Primitive Futures, at the Roslyn Oxley Gallery, Sydney, was typical of the audacious aesthetics and humour he brought to his hybrid creative practice, which was simultaneously jewellery, sculpture, installation, and gay political statement. His camp wit animated his 1990 solo exhibition, Treasures of the Last Future (Barry Stern Gallery, Sydney).

Tully’s fashion output was recognised in exhibitions such as Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson: Flamingo Park and Bush Couture (1985) at the Australian National Gallery. A Tully Australiana-themed necklace was featured on an Australian postage stamp in 1988. His iconic 'New Age Business Suit' appeared in Australian Fashion: The Contemporary Art (1989–90), held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, and in Tokyo and Seoul. Collaborating with Ron Smith, he applied his skills in the design and fabrication of large-scale popular visual structures to the floats and costumes for ‘Expo ’88’ in Brisbane, where he also ran workshops for other designers of the parade. He conceived installations for the travelling Australian Bicentenary Exhibition, again with Smith.

A retrospective exhibition, Peter Tully: Urban Tribalwear and Beyond, was mounted at the Australian National Gallery in 1991. Next year he was inducted into the Mardi Gras Hall of Fame. He was an advocate for artists’ copyright and moral rights, and an active member (1986–92) of the National Association for the Visual Arts. His last exhibition was the June 1992 presentation of Australian artists at the Société de la Propriété Artistique et des Dessins et Modèles gallery, Paris. He died of AIDS-related conditions on 10 August 1992 in Paris and was cremated. His work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, State and regional galleries, and private collections.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Carberry, Graham. A History of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Parkville, Vic.: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives Inc., 1995
  • Dobney, Chris. ‘Peter Tully.’ OutRage, no. 48 (May 1987): 27
  • Gibson, Merlene. Personal communication
  • Leser, David. ‘Farewell to an Arty Party Boy.’ QH Magazine (Sydney), Summer 1992/93, 99–103
  • Melville, Sue, and Julie Rollinson. Australian Art and Artists. Marrickville, NSW: Science Press, 1996
  • Peter Tully: Urban Tribalwear and Beyond. Text by John McPhee with assistance from Susan McCormack. Canberra: Australian National Gallery, 1991. Exhibition catalogue
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Maker of the Mardi Gras.’ 12 August 1992, 8
  • Ward, Anna. ‘Peter Tully 1947–1992.’ Art Monthly Australia, no. 53 (September 1992): 20

Additional Resources

Citation details

Sally Gray, 'Tully, Peter Craig (1947–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2016, accessed online 27 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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