Many Australians consider Sydney to be the most “Ozzie” of all our major cities. After all it is the birthplace, the crucible of the European settlement of the Great South Land. The colony of New South Wales was first and foremost a convict colony. In 18th century Britain justice could be brutal and final. A child could be hanged for stealing a penny or a loaf of bread. The stinking prisons and the prison ships or hulks moored on the River Thames were overflowing. One solution was to send convicts who had been spared the hangman’s noose to the other side of the world. And so the European settlement of Australia began.
Sydney has often been described as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. However it hasn’t always been like that. Today the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardis Gras parade is one of the most renowned outdoor events on the planet. However when it was first established – the first Mardis Gras happened in 1979 – it was in the face of fierce political and police opposition. Many of the brave original marchers ended up in jail, some of them after a severe bashing. Today many proud gay and lesbian police officers take their places in the parade. Many of the original marchers saw their participation as an act of protest because, of course, at that time same-sex sexual activity was against the law.
The first case of AIDS was diagnosed in 1980. In Australia there was a very effective media campaign to alert the population to the perils of unsafe sex. A graphic television commercial was set in a hellish bowling alley. Men, women and children were the human pins – being bowled over by a hideous Grim Reaper figure dripping with filth. The Reaper was intended to represent the AIDS virus. No one whoi saw the commercial could ever forget the expressioin of abject terror on the face of a little girl in the front row of “pins”. Unfortunately the campagn had an unintended side effect – the television commercial gave many people the impression that all gay men were Grim Reapers and that they all had AIDS.
From the early eighties through to the mid nineties Sydney had a spate of what came to be known as the Sydney Gay Hate Murders. Spate? It was more like an epidemic! At first the city seemed to be in denial. Police investigators and coroners insisted that many of the gay boys and young men whose corpses had been discovered on rocks beneath massive cliffs had met accidental death or had committed suicide. However one private investigator who was hired by the family of a brilliant young mathematician whose body was discovered beneath cliffs at Manly said; “Young men do not go to gay beats to commit suicide. Period.” Eventually investigators came to the realization that more than eighty gay boys and young men had been murdered.
The New South Welsh police force at the time was obviously riddled with chronic homophobia. Many officers had the attitude that if gay men were severely bashed or even killed then “they had it coming to them.” Gay guys at the time were extremely reluctant to report assaults to the police because more often than not they would be dragged into the cells and given another bashing.
The following excerpt is from my new novella ‘Brilliant Boys: Icebergs’ avaiable from Amazon Kindle.
‘We drove over in my Holden and parked close to the Iceberg’s club house. Robert Ambrose our survivor led the way along Notts Avenue and then onto the Bondi – Tamarama walkway. At the same time I wondered if Robert would find re-visiting the horror site distressing. He turned and looked out at the ocean.
‘You know, looking at all this sparkling beauty it’s sometimes difficult to imagine how such evil acts could have occurred here” he said.
“Can you remember the actual date?”
“Never forget it. The twenty-eighth of January 1993. It was a Friday night. I’d gone out for a jog starting off at Marks Park just along the coast there.” Robert grabbed his ample stomach and laughed. “I was on a kind of a health kick in those days. Yeah, just out for a jog, the thought of sex hadn’t really crossed my mind. Then I heard all this shouting and laughing… sounded like young people coming towards me from the direction of Bondi. I thought they were probably just a bunch of school kids out partying on the beach. Then I saw them. There were about fifteen boys and four girls. The boy who appeared to be their leader spoke to me – “Hey man, are you gay?” They were crowding around me, some of them still laughing. At this stage I thought it was some kind of a game they were playing. Then the ring-leader turned to one of his mates and said ‘Hey, let’s throw this faggot off the cliffs where we tossed the Asian poof.” Several of the boys grabbed hold of me and although I put up a struggle it was hopeless. Laughing and joshing they were dragging me over to the cliff top. Their girlfriends were cheering them on. Then my God – miracle of miracles! Two of the creeps slipped on the gravel over there, lost their balance and tumbled, dragging their mates with them. I took off like the wind but of course they were hot on my heels. I went climbing up those steps over there to Hunter Park.”
Robert went towards the steps before Tommy stopped him.
“Hang on a minute Rob, I just want to get a few shots. Can you climb up a few steps and then look towards me?”
The Survivor nodded and took up his position. Triple Chins nodded his satisfaction and clicked off several shots. He also took a few of yours truly. Seemingly satisfied the photographer put his lens cap on and Robert continued to climb the steps. When we reached the top he gestured towards a row of houses and said, “See that place there? The one with the red tiles. With the gang still hot on my heels I knew I was still in mortal danger so I screamed at a middle-aged guy I saw standing on that balcony. ‘For God’s sake call the cops! There are killers after me…’ And you know what the cunt said? He said, ‘Fuck off, I don’t help poofters.’ He then went inside and turned off the lights. Somehow I managed to get onto Notts Avenue and I made it to the Icebergs Club. I knew the little shits wouldn’t follow me in there.”
“You think I should get a shot of the bastard’s house?” said Tommy.
“Not much point” Robert replied. “It was such a long time ago there could be different people living there now.”
Triple Chins was scratching his head. “You ever felt you wanted to take revenge against the shit on the balcony?”
Robert laughed. “Well several of my friends suggested we should burn his bloody house to the ground and I must say I was sorely tempted… but nah, that guy’s attitude was typical. I guess there were a lot of people at the time who thought that all gay guys were going to die of AIDS anyway so why not dispose of them by chucking them over the cliffs? Much cheaper than having them die in our lovely hospitals.” Robert gave another mirthless laugh and the thought crossed my mind that perhaps he had cultivated the frivolous campness he was exhibiting in the café to mask a great bitterness that had fallen over him since that horrific night.