Tommy Murphy is a playwright. Some of his most popular work includes the Sydney Theatre Company’s On The Beach, ABC’s Significant Others and his adaptation of Timothy Conigrave’s Holding The Man, which recently returned to the stage at Belvoir St Theatre, in Sydney.

John Quertermous, who’s originally from Kentucky in the United States, is equally successful. He’s the marketing director at Bangarra Dance Theatre and he helps bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories to the world stage through contemporary dance. Before this, he was with Opera Australia.

They unknowingly shared 50 connections on Facebook and several close mutual friends, and had many sliding door moments, yet it took a queer New Year’s Eve festival called Tropical Fruits in Lismore for the pair to meet on the dance floor at 4am.

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“We returned this year to that festival to celebrate our four-year anniversary,” Murphy tells Broadsheet. “We stood in the same spot and asked the couple next to us to take a photograph of us and said it was our four-year anniversary and they said, ‘No shit, us too.’”

Did they know their chance meeting would turn into anything more serious?

“We’re gay, so we have sex first and that was good,” Murphy says, nonchalantly. “But I think one of the first things that was very apparent early on is, for one, John’s from Kentucky and I think that’s really cool, but I just love John’s relish for fun, particularly in that setting [at the festival]. Right from the start, we just seemed quite simpatico.”

Shortly after meeting, Covid hit. Like most couples, the pair got to know each other through virtual dates – working out together online, including taking a Pilates class that was hosted by Murphy’s sister (who at the time didn’t know the pair were seeing each other) – and becoming each other’s bubble buddy.

“A lot of people look back at 2020 as that miserable year for many good reasons. For a lot of people that was a tragic year. But it was a stellar year for us,” says Murphy.

He admits he was originally a little hesitant about dating someone who also worked in the arts industry. “I remember we were first getting to know each other, and thinking ‘this guy is fantastic’, but then hearing John worked for the arts – he worked for Opera Australia at the time – and that was one strike against him because I didn’t want to be in a relationship with someone who works in the arts,” he says. “But the experience is different because we have very different creative brains. John is so good at management – management of the arts and management of life. He’s just a very organised person.”

Quertermous points out this quality can be a fault too. “That means I can’t really be spontaneous in the way Tommy can,” he explains. “I have to lean on him to have that sense of adventure. Because if I think we’re going to dinner somewhere and we get there and it’s closed, my world can come crashing down whereas Tommy’s like, ‘Who cares?’”

Despite dating for four years, the couple only started living together in October 2023. Quertermous moved into Murphy’s two-storey Surry Hills terrace, which the couple currently shares with a third housemate.

When Broadsheet visits, the house is so neatly displayed that it’s like stepping into the pages of an architecture magazine. Murphy credits Will Fung from CO-AP Architects, who helped with renovating the house a few years ago.

There’s a place for everything, from the books on the shelves and the artworks on the walls, to the colourful cushions used to dress up the breakfast nook that overlooks the compact, sun-drenched courtyard. The finishes of timber veneer, laminate and concrete give the home an extra polished look.

Even Quertermous admits the first time he saw the house before he moved in, he was in awe of the place. “It’s such a beautiful house and everything has a place. Despite what [Tommy] says about me being the organised one, this house is incredibly organised,” he says. “Everything is labelled … Tommy loves a label maker, so I don’t feel like I need to make my mark on it.”

But there aren’t just two people in this relationship. Outside of work Quertermous, who studied theatre and acting, is an amateur drag star who goes by the name Cherry Jones.

“The very first time I met Cherry was a really amazing thing,” Murphy says. “My anniversary with Cherry is Mardi Gras. John turned up to this event as Cherry and it’s genuinely like meeting another person. It provoked a response in me where I wanted to be very supplicant – I wanted to carry her bags and I’m still a little bit frightened of her. She’s this towering beauty and you really see her as a different person, you can’t see John in her.”

Holding The Man is on at Belvoir St Theatre until April 14.

Read more in our Creative Couples series.