Hares & Hyenas is the project of Rowland Thomson and Crusader Hillis, who met at Melbourne University in 1975 and became partners a few years later. In the 1980s, Hillis owned an art-house video shop in Elwood, while Thomson co-owned Dizzy Spinners on Brunswick Street – an early incarnation of the current Polyester Records.
In 1991 they joined forces to open Hares & Hyenas, which moved all over Melbourne before settling for many years in Johnston Street’s Spanish quarter, where they were welcomed. “The changes in 20 years are fairly staggering,” notes Thomson. “People only used to come in wearing sunglasses.”
Hares & Hyenas is a hub for not only the queer community, but anyone interested in socialising in a literary setting. Hares & Hyenas regularly hosts book clubs and literary meet-ups, and has put on hundreds of spoken word events. “We also did 20 events at the World Gay Games in Sydney and we’ve done lots of events at Sydney Mardi Gras,” says Hillis. “We do a season called Word is Art every year for the Midsumma Festival.” At the 2012 Midsumma, they threw the wildly successful Queer 3000, with authors Sophie Cunningham, Kim Westwood, Christos Tsiolkas, Dennis Altman and Neal Drinnan reading work about Melbourne. Tsiolkas, in fact, launched his first book, Loaded, at Hares & Hyenas back in 1995.
Perhaps the signature event of the shop is Rapid Fire: 12 writers talking for six minutes each (“we’re draconian – after six minutes we cut off the microphone and push them off the stage”), which forces them to refine their work into punchy brilliance.
One of the things that makes Hares and Hyenas so special is its extensive kids' and young adult section. It has grown over the decades from about 20 titles back in 1991 to almost 250 now.
“Kids’ books are our biggest growth area,” says co-owner Hillis. “We get more new titles every week.”
He says the bookstore has always focused on providing a place for queer and gender-
diverse kids and teenagers to hang out and unwind. “Over the years we’ve watched kids
come in as young as 12 and 13, and they sit in a corner and read a book, and we don’t bother them. Some of the first teenagers are coming in now with their own families. They’re in their thirties and forties now.”
The bookstore is expanding its kids’ section to include a play area to encourage even younger children to hang out in the store with their parents. Hillis says the kinds of books now available to rainbow families is changing.
“It used to be same-sex parents with children,” he says. “Now there’s a lot on gender expression in children, as well as same-sex parents with children.”
The shelves include books on trans children, trans parents, queer children, children of queer
parents, non-binary children, non-binary parents and every combination thereof. There’s
even one book on a polyamorous family, and Hillis thinks there will soon be more.
In addition to books for queer and rainbow families, Hares and Hyenas is also the only
bookstore in Australia that focuses on assisted reproduction families, or ART families.
“We've got everything based around reproductive technology,” says Thomson. “Whether they’re families that have got double donations of egg and sperm, or embryo donations, or single mothers with IVF, we’ve got all the books to help.”
The Hares & Hyenas bookstore moved to the Victorian Pride Centre in late 2021. The original Fitzroy venue is now HareHole Melbourne, a multipurpose venue that is part community space, part café and part retail store (you can still get a selection of books, as well as other merchandise).
For more resources for gender and sexuality diverse families, visit Rainbow Families Victoria.