Category Archives: Autobiography

Sacrilege: Living HIV Outside The Square!

“Sacrilege” may seem like a strange word to use in relationship to ones life. Its religious connotation is “the violation or profanation of anything sacred or held sacred” thus by a very loose expansion of the meaning – a human life, as it is, in many respects, regarded as sacred. Stretching definitions even further – and many would not be surprised that I don’t take it literally – infecting it with HIV could be considered a sacrilege, be it intentional or unintentional. The sacred has been violated! Also, as a HIV+ man, it is expected that I will follow a set of “rules” as dictated by various community groups, doctors and specialists! To totally ignore the expected, and go off down your own path would be considered by many to be sacrilege!

I can’t contemplate continuing to live with HIV without viewing it within the framework of my life! No war is without its battles, without its dark times, yet still seeing the light at the end of the tunnel! If I had to use a word to describe myself, belligerant comes straight to mind – but then I think to myself “That’s a bit harsh!”. Okay…cantankerous is one that has been used by those close to me, so that’s sort of acceptable, and it’s true! Curmudgeonly… a word I love, but I’m not really surly enough! So I’ll just stick with stubborn! I could claim that it’s a Capricornian trait, but it goes deeper than that.

At 12-years-of-age, my stubborn streak was already settling in. Though unrecognised by me at the time, it was a survival mechanism that was to serve me well for most of my life. It is only when I look back to 1965, that I realise what a testing ground it was: my mother left my father; a bitch of a housekeeper who was to forever change our family dynamics; and my father jumping over The Gap with Kevin, my brother – resulting in my brothers death – would have sent a less resilient person into dark depths that they may never have risen from! Considering the lack of psychological & emotional support available at that time, to have come out of that year relatively unscathed had to show a stoicism way beyond that normally expected from one so young. By digging my heels in, ignoring all the negativity around me, and just “getting on with it” – a philosophy I still embrace – I was to set in place a mental tenacity that was to impact my life for decades to come!

There was no love lost between my father & myself! Even prior to Kevin’s death, I had seen – and felt –  a violent streak in his nature; almost a need to punish those who had a life contrary to his. He could be a right royal cunt! The only way I could establish my own independence – which had flowered rapidly after Kev’s death – was open defiance! He told me not to smoke…so I smoked; not to drink…so I drank; to get a trade…I went in every direction but; and to get my hair cut…I left it to grow – despite a threat, after an argument about it, to “knock my block off”! He even denied me a 21st birthday celebration, because he had been at war when his fell due…I organised it myself. My grandmother left me a small inheritance, and just after my 21st, I moved out of home, into my own apartment. After he remarried and moved to Vincentia (on the south coast of NSW), we had little contact. After his suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning in his car in 1978, I never cried a single tear – but just let out a massive sigh of relief! I was free! As the ultimate act of a true prick, he left me nothing in his will – it all went to my step-family! Just to show that they were all tarred with the same brush, directly after his death his sisters indulged themselves in a game of telephone harrassment against my step-mother. I was glad to walk away from them all!

As soon as the old man died, I came out! It is the one time my usual defiance was kept capped. I had seen what he wss capable of with my brother, and my survival instinct whispered to me to be  quiet about this issue. Again, I had witnessed him & his mates yelling “poofter” out of the car window to some poor guy who did nothing more than wear a pink shirt! As I said – they were pricks! Stubbornness does not necessarily equal a death wish! Then, having stepped out of the closet, I megaphoned my life choice to all and sundry, including my employees. No one seemed particularly surprised! There were some in my workplace who were not impressed with my sexual preferences, and made no secret of it! My pure indifference to them was reward enough. My decision to desert the security of a regular job had nothing to do with my detractors…it was based purely on a desire to break free of a life I wanted to leave behind. But the curve balls were to keep coming, with no inkling at that time of the odd parallel path that both being gay, and being HIV+ were going to lead me down!


Even as I was coming out in Melbourne in 1980, snippets about a lethal cancer, that was killing gay men who frequented the saunas in the USA, were appearing in the local press here. I read them, and like many others, though not panicking, was left with a feeling of unease. That unease turned to immense consternation over the next couple of years, as the reports became more alarmist, and HIV crossed the ocean to our shores. By the time they developed a test in 1985, I for one was already stacking the odds – and not in my favour! In retrospect, this may have been a defence mechanism against coming up HIV+…that if I did, I was already prepared for it, and if I didn’t I could just breath a sigh of relief. The former proved to be true!

Back in the day, there was a severe lack of counselling, and given the sheer volume of testing results coming in at that time, was cursory at its best. When I went to get my result – and I don’t know why I made the presumption I did – the positive result was not a shock. These were strange (ethereal?) times, and for those of us admitting to our – then – death sentence, it was almost like belonging to a select club.

There was a two year window given at that time, between diagnosis and the advent of AIDS, leading, so they thought, to an inevitable death. Some didn’t make it to the window period, and my first friend, Andrew Todd, died at the end of 1986. I made it to the two year point…and was still very healthy. By then, the window for those diagnosed in 1985 had been expanded to five years, so the waiting game for many of us continued.  Up to 1990 is a very convoluted journey, and I don’t want to rehash history that has already been covered in many writings, and is really outside the parameters of this article. I decided to make this a useful period, and did a number of trials. It was better than just sitting around and waiting. This was a time when I made my one bad decision regarding my healthcare – I allowed my doctor to – after a najor ethical battle with her – to put me onto AZT! There has been much written about AZT, and its history as a drug…which was not exclusively formulated for use with HIV. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but my thinking on HIV has always been a bit radical, and I, along with others, gravitate to the thinking that HIV and AIDS – despite our use of them as co-joined conditions – are separate illnesses, and HIV doesn’t necessarily lead to AIDS, but AIDS as an independent condition, brought about by the deterioration of the immune system. 

So, I had a diagnosis of HIV, with no related conditions that would have rated a diagnosis of AIDS. Even with a CD4 count on the decline, I still had good health – which admittedly may have been a lot better if I wasn’t knocking myself around by chain-smoking, and chronic abuse of alcohol – until…I started AZT! Many of those still around from that time will acknowledge that the decline in their health status is directly parallel to starting AZT. It wasn’t nicknamed “human Rat-Sac”for nothing. It’s negative affects from then up until now are also well documented. Damaged nerves, liver & kidney problems, the leaching of calcium from bones, and other neurological problems can all be traced back to AZT usage. I wish I had stuck by my guns, and refused to use it! There is no evidence that it saved one single life. I wouldn’t have refused trestment with other drugs that came along shortly after – I didn’t have a suicide wish – but I have no doubt that if I had refused AZT, some ongoing problems I have now would not have happened. I have an undisguised hate of Big Pharma, and its tactics, and lack of ethics where it comes to flogging a drug, and how they went about flogging this incredibly toxic drug to a desperate and unsuspecting demographic is truly horrifying – more on this shortly.

So, dispite heavy smoking, alcohol abuse, long work hours, and a shit diet…I made it to 1990, and with my health still okay. I won’t say I was unscathed, as the relentless list of those who died over this time, with many more to come, was physically, mentally, and emotionally destructive. I am by nature – and experience – a stoic in the face of death. I accept the reality, and inevitability of it – but any sign of the existance of God in this obliteration was missing – no just, loving God would ever allow this! My conversion to Atheism was complete. However, the combination of all that was happening was starting to wear me down, and encountering on-the-job bullying by an Area Manager brought about my decision to leave the workforce in 1993, and go onto disability, and get a housing subsidy. It was a forgone conclusion back then that this was the road to take because – after all – none of us would survive for all that long. At this stage, under the most positive of thinking, I gave myself two more years. 

I actually got to mid-1996 before it all started to come undone. I have written about the circumstances surrounding all the events that happened at this stage, so won’t repeat them here, but will give you an intimate insight into my thinking on my situation when I was finally admitted to Prince Henry Hospital in June, 1996. Given that I was already close to death when admitted, with a plethora of conditions that really should have killed me earlier, and that I really thought I would never leave there any other way than via a wooden box gives a good indication of how serious things were. It was in Mark’s Pavilion there that my stoicism, my acceptance of reality, possibly should have been tested, but instead gave me a calmness, an acceptance of my own potential death that I had pondered about prior to this. I was chronically ill, I was tired and in some respects, if other factors hadn’t intervened, death just seemed like such a pleasant, restful reality, leaving all that was happening behind, joining all those that I had loved and lost over the last 10 years. It was an acceptance of death that I wasn’t expecting to be quite so complete, so easy, so without fear. 

But I picked my moment, didn’t I! Big changes were happening in the treatment of AIDS, and shortly after being admitted, not going down the road of death, that I expected to go down, I walked – well, taxied – out of Prince Henry. I exited that taxi into a world that was in no way prepared for the living dead of HIV. If I ever thought my battles were behind me, I could not have been more wrong. The next couple of years – a long period of recuperation – were intense. There was a seemingly neverending period of specialists, doctors, clinics, pharmacy, counselling, peer support groups, drug compliance groups, massive – and I mean massive – amounts of medication, side effects, dental work, anxiety and panic attacks, and drug trials. It was a time where one wanted to initiate great change in the direction of ones life  – with no one there to assist. Change had to be fought for, had to be forced. All these community groups gathering money and prestige, sitting in meetings and forums, listening to the likes of me yelling about what we needed…and just turning deaf ears! It was a frusteating period where everything was years behind where it needed to be, and if you wanted to get on with your life without being trapped in the system, you had to do it under your own steam! So I did!

Some volunterr work, some work in the community sector, a flowering writing career that demanded and exposed…when I eas “allowed” as one didn’t question the system – led to a brief period of full-time work – that didn’t help my health at all – then onto university & TAFE to experience at last that which gad been denied me in my youth. This led to an interesting period of experiences, from spending 12 years talking about the HIV experience through the Posituve Speakers Bureau, to 15 years writing for “Taljabout” magazine and various other publications, starting several businesses – the most recent of which was destroyed by the GFC, to where I am now – happy, balanced, and reasonably fulfilled.

However, the last few years haven’t been without its challenges, and my mental tenacity, combined with a fairly laud-back approach to life, have seen me get through things without any apparent negativity. I do health care on my own terms these days, because if one just relies on mrdico’s, one would rattle like a pill bottle. I want less pills, not more! About 15 years ago, I halved my HIV medications. I have been waiting for some red-faced, fuming doctor to lecture me about it (has no one realised how rarely I get scripts?) but no one ever has. In the interim, my blood readings get better and better, with CD4s on the rise, and an ongoing undetectable viral load. Okay, I no longer smoke – gave that up in ‘96, drink bugger all, have turned vegetarian, and exercise daily, but nothing else. Big Pharma be fucked! Your drug resistance tests – a farce! You just don’t want people on old drugs! Over-prescribing? You bet you do…big time! I wouldn’t trust you as far as ai could kick you! 

Have I mentioned my shit vision? Whoops…overlooked that. Blind in one eye thanks to CMV (also covered in articles on my blog), and almost blind in the other. The most major decision over the last couple of years? Having my blind eye removed voluntarily, and replaced with a prosthetic. Does it stop me getting around? Not fucking likely! I might be slow, but I get there! I have a white cane (laughingly called my whacking stick), but rarely use it. I walk the dogs, do the shopping, get to gym! It might be done with a slight feeling of nervousness, but it gets done.

I don’t hold any grudges. What has been, has been! In a way, I thank my father for the rough younger years. It gave me a set of survival tools that have served ne well – and still do – throughout my life. Maybe I was born in an auspicious astrological period, or maybe my natural survival instincts are genetic, endowing me with stoicism and mental tenacity! Whatever it is, it has seen me through nicely! Life is to be enjoyed, and despite the occasional downs, it should be lived to its fullest. Just step outside that square, and do it on your own terms!

Tim Alderman (©2017)

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Young and Innocent: Childhood Through the Eyes of a Child!

Sylvania – a suburb in the Sutherland Shire, South of Sydney –  in 1954 was, to a child with any perception, an idyllic place to grow up. Betty and Joe, my parents, had bought a huge half-acre property for £100 around the start of 1950. 

The family home at 69 Melrose Ave, Sylvania. Joe purchased the half-acre block of land in the early 1950s for £100, and built the house himself for a cost of around £1,000. The property sold for $18,000 in 1966. The block was subsequently sub-divided into a battleaxe block, and a house now sits on what was our backyard. The new owner did extensive renovating and remodeling to the original house, but paradoxically, Joe’s original brick front fence remains. At one stage, he had a house-name sign made, naming the house “Barronjoey”. The reasoning behind this would seem to be that there is a Barronjoey Road in Ettalong Beach, where Gotdon’s original weekender was – and it is a co-joining of both Betty’s family name “Barron”, and his nickname “Joe(y)”.

Before proceeding with the building of the house – said building to be done mainly by my father – they built a garage. It would eventually house a car, but for beginnings was to house them, and the newly born me.

I was, from the time if my birth, fairly good – at leadt as good as a baby can be. I spent most of my dats asleep, making appearances when visitors arrived by climbing up on my cot and perring at guests through the curtain that divided the garage in half.

Betty and Joe, i think in mum’s backyard at Leichhardt, before they married.

Mum was a Presbyterian, though denying any belief, and dad was, by hus own reckoning, a lapsed Catholic. This could have caused consternation as to which religion I was to be raised in, especially with the Catholic side of the family still being fairly devout.

But dad’s parents were pretty well out of the picture by this stage either having died, or been consigned to a sanatorium, so there was only mum’s family left to be appeased.

On our way to school – in the front yard of the Cook family, opposite us in Melrose Ave. From left Peter Cook, Valerie Cook, myself.

To save trouble, I was Christened in the Presbyterian church,min Gmarion Street, Leichhardt, though that was not to be the church I followed or worshipped in until 12 years of age.

The Sylvania milk run was owned and operated by Eadie and Burt Samways, one of the areas more affluent families, who resided directly across the road from our slowly evolving home.

The Samways lived in a 2-storey abode, with stables for the horses that drew the milk wagons at the rear, and a large semi-circular drive that centred on their front door.

Robert John Pickhills, about 1957.

The front gardens were full of Gardenia’s, and one of my most eagerly recalled recollections of growing up in Sylvania was the perfume of Gardenia’s and Jasmine filling the air in the spring, and  summer heat. 

The dirt road threw dust up into the air as the occasional car sped along it, and it was the duty if my beloved and devoted dog Trixie to ensure my safe crossing of it, to visit the Samways, who were my Godparents.

Myself in the front yard at Sylvania. The Samways house is in the vackground. The fence that is there is soon to be replaced by a brick one. The boys in the background are from the Ball family. The lived in Corea Ave, and had one of those local “shabby” houses, with holes in the fibro walls, and a front yard full of long grass, and rubbish. The kids always look disheveled, and unkempt. The Johnson’s house had not yet been built, directly across the road.

Sylvania was home to 2 churches. There was the obligatory Catholic – though if anyone living here was a member of it, they never admitted to it – and the Sylvanua Heights Congregational Church, of which the Samways were highly regarded members. It is to their honoured memory that they were not pious biddies, just honest, hard working people who believed you were judged by example, not by belief.

Winters in this idyllic suburb were crisp and cold. The frost underfoot leoft playoful footprints as of ghosts – created by walking backwards  in ones own footprints, so that they seemed to disappear into mowhere – and the open fireplace in the lounge room was warm and welcoming, inviting one to cook toast or heat marshmallows in its glow.

Me in my Gwaley Bay Soccer Club outfit. I hated sport, and this was temporarily endured to keep Joe happy, thinking he had a “butch” son. I also had to endure tennis until they finally gave up subjecting me to this. I was also in the Congregational Churches Boys Brigade – though I quite enjoyed that.

It was an invitation to family love and warmth that was to only last a short while. The wireless (valve radio) was the centre of our household, until television took its rapacious hold in the early 60s. It sprouted serials in the morning to get mum’s day started, and a deranged sparrow – Sammy, by name – and a Jiminy-styled grasshopper – called Gerald – saw me off to school in the mornings.

Summers were hot, and I roamed the streets shoeless and shirtless, being tanned the colour if dark brown leather. Trixie roamed the streets with me, and to see either one of us was to see both, as we were, from the very geginning, inseparable. 

Myself and pop (William Barron) probably at Ettalong Beach in the latter half of the 1950s.

The local store, or general grocer as they would now be called, was a recyclers paradise of smells and tastes. Armed with the families shopping list, and a commodious trolley, I would venture there to shop for mum. Old jars were returned, to be refilled with peanut butter, Vegemite, honey or jam. Egg cartons were refilled, and basic commodities such as sugar, flour and tea were weighed out into plastic bags. Cheese and cold meats were cut to order, and for a mere sixpence a young boy could buy a bag of sweets that could put a smile on the face of any dentist.

Saturday was baking day, and I, along with all the other young rogues in the street, went from house to house, tasting each cooks soecialties. Banana pikelets, pumpkin scones, iced cup cakes, Cornflake and Anzac biscuits, lamingtons, jam tarts, vanilla slices, neenish tarts and butterfly cakes were all sampled along the way. On this day, mum would bake pies for the coming week, sometimes steak pue if meat was affordable, but always apple, or apple and rhubarb to go with the Sunday roast. Mum’s father loved coconut tarts, so uf a visit to nana and pop was on the cards, a batch of yhese could be smelt baking in the oven.

Kevin and myself on our adjacent neighbours front porch. The house was owned by Jack & Olive Gill.

Of dad’s family, very little was known. The family roots would eventually be traced back to the 1500s, hrough Yorkshire and Lancashire (mum’s family through Cornwall), with my Great Grandfather Frederick William Pickhills, my Great Grand Uncle George Rickinson Swan, and my Great Grand Aunt Clara all arriving here from the 1860s on.  

Life in “Chiswick”, in Sydney’s northern suburb of Chatswood, was strict, and dad, though opposed to war, took advantage of the call-up to escape the family squabbles and bitching. He fought in Borneo and New Guinea, though in the mechanic’s corp, not as a soldier.He earned himself the two service medals, and managed to depart from the army with an Honourable Dischsrge. He left the world of war behind him, attended TAFE (then known as a trchnical vollege, or atech, for short)  to become a carpenter, then proceeded to spend most if the restIf his life as a grease monkey.

Pop Barron (William Barron), probably at Ettalong Beach where their son, Gordon, owned a weekender before moving to Morrisett.

Mum’s family were later traced, with no thanks to her, as she had no intetest in her families roots. William and Mary Barron lived in the inner-city suburb of Leichhardt. Theybwere a kindly, grandparenty couple, who doted on their grandchildren. Pop’s mother – Emily Rule – was still alive when I was a kid, and my recollections of her are of standing by her bed in a nursing home, and receiving handfuls of tiny shells, pennies and half-pennies from this old, wrinkled woman. The shells were used to add weight to the milk jug covers she crocheted, and were stitched around the edges of the completed items. Mum had ine sister – Gwen, and two brothers – Les, and Gordon.

Where my parents met, and the general course of their romance that eventually led to marriage is a story that was never related to me. The only photographs of them show a happy, smiling couple either in the backyard of mum’s home, or on the steps of the church where they were wed. If they were ever in love, which it is supposed they were, it was never particularly obvious to me as I grew up.

Nana Barron (Mary Collins) probably at Ettalong Beach.

Affection was not easily given by either parent, and the words “I love you!” Cannot be recollected at all. However, it was a reasonably happy childhood, spent in a happy place. That problems existed was vaguely unsettling to me, for as little as mum and dad realised it, they had given life to a sensitive, intelligent child. Being aware of the workd around me, and geing aware of my capabilities, and the potential life held for me was no eady matter. Neither parent encouraged the artistic side of my nature, that was evident from a very young age. In fact, dad seemed in fear of it! This fear and chaining of his own hature wss to have far-reaching effects on my life ss I developed. 

My grandparents owned what was referred to as “the weekender”, at Mortisett, on Lake Macquarie. It was in this quiet,nremote retreat that I found the most happiness, and a side to my nature that was to have a blossoming later in my life. The old weatherboard house had no running water, no electricity or gas, no sewerage. For a child growing up with such modern conveniences always to hand, this was a world of wonder. Water was collected in a huge, corrugated iron rainwater tank, with a layer of kerosene floating on its surface to prevent an explosion of mosquito’s. Lighting came from methylated spirit hurricane lamps, the refrigerator ran on kerosene, and cooking was done on a huge cast-iron fuel stove,mornon a Primus. The stove never went out, and if you wished to gathe, water was boiled in a huge copper vat in the backyard, and carted inside to fill the bath. Bathing was in order of age, from oldest to youngest. The toilet was outdoors, at the end of a fairly long path. You had to take a lantern with you at night, and ieep an eye out for red-back spiders. Simpler nightly ablutions were attended to by using a chamber-pot, kept under the bed.

Nana and pop Barron, with three of their great grandchildren.

Dad and pop would go out fishing in the early hours of the morning, and often returned with catches if flathead, bream or leatherjacket, lobsters, mud crabs or prawns. Nights were spent around the lino-clad kitchen table, playing endless games of dominies or cards, and swatting mosquitoes. These were Elysian days, the memories of them always returning yo me when I was in need of a happy childhood memory. 

My brother, Kevin, was born in 1958. His birth was to facilitate an eventual chain of tragic events whose repetcussions were to forever alter, and rip apart our family. You can read his story here https://timalderman.com/2012/04/23/kevin-pickhills-the-unspoken-name/.

Tim Alderman. First published in 2001 on Too Write (http://www.toowrite.com), and revised in 2017. 
 

Rickinson & Elizabeth Pickhills: The Original Yorkshire/Lancashire Grey Nomads?

My Great Great Geandparents.

As I’ve noted before, it is difficult to piece together the everyday lives of people from 150 years ago, using a disjointed set of records that covers just sporadic moments in their lives. And so it is with my Great Great Grandparents – Rickinson Pickhills and Elizabeth Appleyard – though what we do have provides an interesting, insightful, and poignant story. The question that I asked myself as I collated the records and miscellany of their lives is – did Elizabeth realise just what was ahead for her when she married Rickinson?

St Peter’s Cathedral, Bradford, Yorkshire

Rickinson was born around November 8, 1811 at Bradford, in Yorkshire, and Christened on the 8th of November in St Peter’s Cathedral in Bradford, inheriting his mother’s maiden name as a Chritian name – something I am eternally thankful for, as it makes name searches easy!. His parents, Joseph Pickhills & Clara (Clarissa) Rickinson – his mother was previously married to a John Brown, with no issue – and his granmother (Margaret Moorsom) and grabddather (Roger Rickinson) were from well-established, and highly respected families from the Robin Hood’s Bay/Whitby/Fylingdales area of Yorkshire. He had one brother (Seth (1808-1859)), and one sister (Priscilla (1804-1873)). Apart from Rickinson, they were not prolific reproducers, with Seth having only one son, Alfred (who was to become a Johnsonian Baptist Minister – see his story here https://timalderman.com/2012/01/30/the-reverend-alfred-pickles/ – in Rochdale, Lancashire and Towcester in Northumberland), and Priscilla never marrying, but becoming companion and housekeeper to her nephew for many years until he married. Rickinson’s age also varies in some census: in the 1841 he is noted as 27: In the 1851 as 39; 1861 is difficult yo read but could be 50.

Rickinson’s Christening record. My interpretation of this record is that his father, Joseph, lived in Bowling, Bradford, and his occupation was as a (wool) comber.

Elizabeth Appleyard is a harder story to follow, and research is ongoing. We have what we think is her baptism record, on 22 May, 1825 at Farnley-by-Leeds in Yorkshire, with William Appleyard and Sarah named as her parents. However, gauging from census records, we are deducing that she was born around 1822, and baptised much later – a common practise back then. We know she was underage when she married Rickinson. We certainly know her father’s name was William, from her marriage certificate, but on no actual documents is her mother named. At the moment, we are thinking it may possibly be Sarah Lamby, as the dates and places fit. The census records tell us that she was born in Bradford (1851census), though in the 1861 she gives it as Clayton. There appears to be no census records for her under the name Elizabeth Pickhills in the 1871/81/91 census, though we know she used that name up until her death. The 1901 census lists her birth town also as Clayton. As to age, it is noted as 19 in the 1841 census; on the 1851 as 28; 1861 as 37. We know that in the 1841 census (taken on 7 June) the following instruction was given “The census takers were instructed to give the exact ages of children but to round the ages of those older than 15 down to a lower multiple of 5. For example, a 59-year-old person would be listed as 55. Not all census enumerators followed these instructions. Some recorded the exact age; some even rounded the age up to the nearest multiple of 5”, though seeing as Rickinson is stated as 27, it would seem that rounding down wasn’t done on this form. 

Rickinson and Elizabeth married on the 29 January, 1840 at St James Church, Halifax. 

St James Church, Halifax.
Marriage certificate for Rickinson & Elizabeth
There are a couple of things of note on the marriage certificate – Rickinson is at full-age, but Elizabeth is a minor; his rank or profession is listed as a “Gentleman” from Halifax, and she is listed as being from Northowram; Joseph Pickhills (Rickinson’s father) is also listed as a “Gentleman”, while William Appleyard is listed as being a “Worsted Stuff Manufacturer”. This was considered a good profession (it is possible that William conducted his business from Old Dolphin), and really seems to indicate a marriage between two reasonably well-off families, though otherwise would seem to be the case. There are three very interesting events that indicate that all may not have been as it seems! 

In 1939, their first son, George Rickinson Swan, was born (he emigrated to Australia in the 1858, and died in Bourke, New South wales, on August 13, 1912 from Senile Decay (Dementia or Alzheimer’s), and was buried in Bourke the following day. Unfortunately, all the grave markers in Bourke cemetery were destroyed in a severe bushfire, so their actual burial plots are unknown.. He lived an amazingly interesting life there, and his story is yet to be written). He married Ellen Fanning on February 18, 1862 at Port Eliot in South Australia. He was a steamer captain on the Darling River, resided in Goolwa, South Austealia, and Bourke New South Wales. They had no children.

Captain George Rickinson Swan Pickhills

By the time they married in January 1840, Elizabeth was 2 months pregnant with yheir second son, William Moorsom (given his second name from his great grandmother, Margaret Moorsom, he joined the Royal Navy at 14, and dird from Cholera in Bengal, India in 1866. His story is here https://timalderman.com/2016/06/26/henry-moorsom-pickhills/). Whether this caused any scandal or not, we will never know. The third interesting event for 1840 was that Rickinson declared insolvency on September 11, 1840. For what reasons, we do not know. It would appear that financial difficulties started early on in their married life.

Rickinson’s Insolvency, Birmingham Gazette, September 1840.
By the time of the 1841 census, they are listed as living in the district of Fold, and George and Henry are listed with them. Rickinson appears to be given the profession of “agricultural labourer”. Also, note that in this census, the family name is spelt as “Pickles”.  

We can see from all the following records that the family moved around – a lot! One assumes it was for work purposes, though it is possible that Rickinson was just an unreliable employee.  

Catherine was born on January 13, 1842 in Halifax (she married Jurgen Nickolas Andreas Knoop (1840-1900) on February 16, 1864 in West Derby, Lancashire. They had one daughter, Clara Priscilla Marie (1869-1871). Catherine’s death date is unknown at this time). 

Jane was born on January 1, 1844 in Northowram. She died on August 6, 1844 in Northowram from “Disease of the Liver”. Present at her death in Northowram village is John Appleyard. It is still to be ascertained if this is Elizabeth’s brother, or an uncle.

Edward was born on November 1, 1845 in Halifax. He died on April 30, 1846 in Halifax of “Pneumonia, 7 days certified”. Rickinson is listed as an “Attorney’s Clerk”, and was in attendance at the death.

On the evening of November 5, 1846 a James Greenwood broke into the “lonely house in the neighbourhood of Halifax”, belonging to Rickinson & Eluzabeth, in the absence of the family, and stole 2 pistols, 3 dresses, and other property. He was charged, pleaded guilty, and sentenced to 18 months hard labour.

York Herald, 20 March 1847
Charles Edward was born in 1847, in Halifax. He died on February 15, 1869 on the Murray River, Victoria, Australia. He was visiting his brothers George Rickinson Swan, and Frederick William, when he fell overboard from the steamer “Moira”, at The Devil’s Elbow on the Murray River, and drowned. He was buried at Lake Victoria, Victoria. I am still attempting to ascertain his actual burial place.

Charles Edwards Death, Western Herald, Wednesday 12 March 1890
 In 1848, Rickinson again declared insolvency in Halifax.  The reasons why we will,possibly never know.

Frederick William was born in 1849, in Bradford. He died on April 15, 1850 in Bradford from “Diarrhea 6 Days certified”. Rickinson was in attendance at Bridge St, Bradford, and is an Attorney’s Clerk. 

This brings us to the 1851 census, held on March 30, and has been updated to include more information than the 1841. In 1851, they lived at 12 Duckworth Lane, Manningham, Bradford. Rickinson is a Solicitor’s Managing Clerk, having previously been an Articled Clerk (this is noted on the census form). Along with Elizabeth, George (11), Henry Moorsom (10), Catherine (9), and Charles Edward (4) are listed.

Priscilla (named after her aunt) was born on January 4, 1852 at Thornton. She was married twice, to William Wallace Pratt on September 20, 1869 at Liverpool, in Lancashire. They had no children. It is assumed William died around 1872/73, and she them married William Frederick Stafford (1840-) on February 20, 1873 at Kirkdale in Lancashire. They went on to have 8 children, born in Cheshire, Ireland and Scotland. We do not currently have a death date for her, though we assume in Scotland. It is interesting to note that they named their first child – a girl – Clara Priscilla Marie (a family tilt to her Great grandmother, and great grand aunt), which was the same name her sister Catherine had given to her daughter, who only lived for 18-odd months. I wonder if her sister was still alive, and the daughter was named as a tribute to her lost daughter, or as a tribute because her sister had died?

Frederick William (MY GREAT GRANDFATHER) was born on February 28, 1855 in Everton.  He was Christened 30 August 1862 at St Nicholas parish, Liverpool, Lancashire. He emigrated to Australia, and arrived in Sydney in 1880. He married Ellen McConnell (1854-1935) in Sydney on February 23, 1866 before moving to Bourke, New South Wales. He was a steamer captain, and they had 3 children – George Rickinson, Elizabeth Barwon (middle name from the Barwon River, which ran near Bourke) and my GRANDFATHER Frederick George (1891-1945) – all born in Boyrke. He died on September 13, 1891 at Newtown (Royal Prince Henry Hospital) from chronic Brights Disease (kidney nephritis) and Ascites (accumulation of liquid in the abdominal cavity), and spent 10 days in hospital. He was buried in Rookwood cemetery (Anglican section) on September 16, 1891. It should be noted that the two brothers wives – Ellen Fanning, and Ellen McConnell brought some Irish blood into the family.

Clara was born on April 4, 1857 in Liscard, Cheshire. She emigrated to Australia with her mother in 1871, and ended up in Goolwa, in South Australia, where her brother George resided, as also was her mother, Elizabeth – more on this further on. They returned to Launceston, had one daughter, Hilda Dulcie Elizabeth (1891-1941), and she died in Launceston on July 7, 1921. The newspapers give her age as 56, though she was, in fact, 64.

Walter was born on May 16, 1859 in Everton, Lancashire. He died on November 6, 1862 in Liverpool, Lancashire from Diptheria. He is buried in Toxteth Park cemetery – possibly with his father.

The 1861 census was held on April 7. They lived in Parkfield Road, Toxteth Park, West Derby, Lancashire. Also present were Elizabeth (37), Catherine (19), Charles (14), Priscilla (9), Frederick William (6), Clara (4), and Walter (1). Rickinson is a Solicitor’s General Clerk; Catherine is a Cigar Maker; Charles, Priscilla, Frederick William are Scholars. 

Mary was born on August 16, 1861 in West Derby, Lancashire. She died on February 17, 1863 in Liverpool, Lancashire, from “Dentition Gum Disease Certified”. Henry Moorsom was present at her death. He could possibly have been on shore leave. 

Rickinson died on May 12, 1862 at Toxteth Park, Lancashire. His obituary read “On the 12th instant, of disease of the heart at his office, 30 Castle St, aged 41 years, Mr Rickinson Pickhills”. According to his death certificate, his son Charles Edward was present at his death. He was buried at Toxteth Park Cemetery.

Rickinson “Pickles” Pickhills death certificate. He died at his workplace in Castle Street from a heart attack.

There is a possibility that Elizabeth arrived in Australia in 1871, on the “Orient”. There is a record of a KG Pickhills and daughter arriving in Sydney on the 4th January that year. So, time for a “possible scenario”! The newspapers would have printed the passenger list from a hand-written document, so mistakes are inevitable. We know Elizabeth came out here around this time, and with Clara, who would have been 14 at this time, her only surviving child at home, it is more than likely – and with 2 son’s here already – that they emigrated together. There us no independent emigration record for Clara. They would have made their way to Goolwa, where George had a home. We have records – to follow – that definitely place Elizabeth there in 1876. We know that Clara married William Francis Bomford there in 1889 – thus it is possible she met him there, and moved to Launceston after their marriage.  The marriage announcement also states that the wedding was held “in the residence of the bride”, so Clara was obviously in Goolwa at that time. At this stage, I am accepting the emigration record on the “Orient” as their arrival here. PS Have just discovered a “Thank You” letter to the Captain of the “Orient”, regarding their appreciation to the ship’s doctor for his kindness and care on what appears to be a rough voyage, and published in December 1870. Two of the signatrees are Clara & Elizabeth Pickhills. My assumption was right.

Adelaide Telegraph, Tuesday 20 December 1870, Page 1.
William Feancis Bomford & Clara Pickhills wedding announcement in Goolwa, South Australia

The second actual record we have of her here is in 1876 – and it’s in the form of a police warrant in Goolwa, South Australia. On June 21, 1876, the following motice appeared in the South Australian Police Gazette “A warrant has been issued at Yankalilla for the apprehension of Elizabeth Pickhills, a widow, and mother of Captain Pickills, of the Goolwa, for larceny of 2lbs. of butter from Messrs. Smith & Swan, sheep farmers, Bullapabaringa. Offender is said to be living at Mr. Luffin’s, Goolwa.” . Why she would feel the need to sreal 2lb of butter is anybodies guess, and despite knowing that she is to end up with Alzheimer’s, I feel it is a bit early at this stage for that to be affecting her life or mental condition.

The following then appears in the Police Gazette to say that the original charge had been withdrawn.


We then hear nothing of Elizabeth for quite a few years. I dare say that as time went on, her mental condition would have begun to deteriorate at an ever alarming speed Then, on April 28, 1889 at Goolwa, the following incident occured: A writ appears with the Goolwa police dated 2nd May, 1889 against Elizabeth Pickhills . She appeared before a Justice of the Peace, Thomas Goode, charged with that on the 28th April 1889 she did “unlawfully use abusive words in a certain public place, to wit The Parade in North Goolwa, with intent to invoke a breach of the peace”. She had to pay a fine of £2. This incident received a mention in “A Land Abounding – A History of the Port Elliot and Goolwa Region, South Australia” by Rob Linn, chapter 5. Being a Yorkshire lass, I dare say the language would have been very colourful!

The book “A Land Abounding” mentions Elizabeth’s 1989 public indiscretion.
 November 1892 finds Elizabeth onboard the “Masilia” emigrating back to England. As with so many aspects of her life, assumptions have to be drawn about the reasons behind her actions. I feel there are two scenario’s that could have prompted her return to England: (A) She just didn’t like it here, being a bit more casual, and not as “modern” as England, with a totally different climate, the tyranny of distance, the remoteness, or (B) her dementia was becoming a problem for her son’s, and they were finding her just too difficult to handle. With Clara in Tasmania, Frederick William and Rickinson living in Bourke, Goolwa must have become a very lonely place. Anyway, whatever the reason, it was back to England she went, but not to Yorkshire nor Lancashire.

Passenger & Immigration list for the “Masilia”

The Masilia arrived in London on November 22, 1892. We hear no more of her until the 1901 census, held on March 31 that year. Elizabeth is living in St Pancras, in a house with 4 other people, and “living on her own means”. Her age is 74. Then in 1902, she appears in the St Pancras Workhouse records “St Pancras Workhouse at 64 Belmont Street, Admitted 9-4-02, discharged 25-2-03”. This would indicate that she had fallen on hard times.

St Pancras Workhouse at 64 Belmont Street, Admitted 9-4-02, discharged 25-2-03
St Pancras Workhouse
St Pancras Workhouse

There is no more about her until her death in Tooting Bec Mental Asylum in 1906. It is a bit frightening to contemplate what the path to the asylum could have been. Elizabeth died in the asylum on February 20, 1906. Her official place of death was Wandsworth Common. She died from “Senile Decay”, which can mean dementia, or a progressive, abnormally accelerated deterioration of mental faculties and emotional stability in old age, occurring especially in Alzheimer’s disease. There appears to be no record of her burial.

Elizabeth Pickhills death certificate, Tooting Bec Mental Asylum.
Tooting Bec Mental Asylum.
Ever since I started gathering information on Elizabeth, many years ago, I have had this feeling of great sadness Regarding her life. I get the feeling that life with Rickinson may have been one of erratic employment, not to mention his two instances of insolvency, and being dragged from village to town throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire. She was literally an incubator for children…many of whom had very short lives. Of the 12 children she had over a 22-year period, 5 died in infancy. Two daughters married and moved away, 2 son’s and a daughter moved to Australia and married here, one son died when visiting here, and one son died overseas in the naval service. That is a very sad litany, and after Rivkinson’s death, life in Lancashire must have felt vety lonely indeed. Even the move to Australia, to be closer to her sons, didn’t work out well, with several public arrests, and life in Goolwa must have ended up feeling as lonely as England. A return to England, and the hmbling by life in a workhouse, and the increadingky detrimental affects of Alzheimers, leading to a sad, lonely death in a mental asylum! It just breaks your heart! Yet despite this, her children here went on to live very productive lives, and she would have been proud of them.

Below is a letter concerning senile decay in London.

Tim Alderman © 2017

What’s In A Name?: The Derivation of the Pickhills Surname.

My Great Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Pickhills nee Appleyard, and my Great Great Great Grandmother, Clara Pickhills nee Rickinson both have associations with the Northowram area in Yorkshire, so the below description came as quite a surprise to me. The family also has tie-ins to Halifax. My Great Geeat Grandfather, Rickinson Pickhills cannot trace back far with that surname – Hus father, Joseph Pickhills, we only know about through his marriage record to Clara Brown (Clara Rickinson was first married to John Brown). When I hired Mintwood genealogy researchers to do some tracing of the family in 2011, they could find no records for him, and thought there was a probability of him being an itinerant worker. Likewise, there are difficulties tracing Elizabeth Appleyards parentage, despite Appleyard being a common hame in the Northowram area. We only know her father’s was William (through her marriage record to Rickinson), and a possible sibling or uncle – John Appleyard – present at the Northowram death of Jane Pickhills, the daugter of Rickinson & Elizabeth. Research is ongoing, but it is possible that both families are from that area.

Pickhills is a very old name coming from the medieval period where it was written as ‘Pighills’. I have seen the name on entries in relation to early research in the Shibden valley area. Northowram old Township was a very large area covering the village and skirting the edge of Halifax right up to the other side of Queensbury (Queenshead as it was in earlier times). 

This interesting name is of early medieval English origin, and is from a topographical surname for someone who lived by a small field or paddock. The name derives from the Middle English word “pightel, pighel”, small enclosure, field, or paddock. Topographical names were among the earliest group of surnames to be created in England and other countries in Europe, as they became necessary, since both natural and man-made features in the landscape provided instant and easily recognisable identifying names for the inhabitants of the small communities of the Middle Ages. 

The modern surname can be found as Pickles, Pickless, Pickle and Pighills, and is found recorded mainly in Yorkshire. The marriage of Thomas Pickles and Sarah Tennard was recorded in Bingley, Yorkshire, on January 28th 1649. One R. Pickles, a famine emigrant, sailed from Liverpool aboard the “New World” bound for New York on June 7th 1847. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Richard de Righkeleys, which was dated 1379, in the “Poll Tax Returns of Yorkshire”, during the reign of King Richard 11, known as “Richard of Bordeaux”, 1377 – 1399. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to “develop” often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

Northowram Primary School
Old Northowram village before the developers moved in
Northowram Village

Acceptance Melbourne: Newsletter Book Reviews 1981/82.

I joined Acceptance in Melbourne just after coming out there in 1981 – probably an odd thing for an Atheist to do, but I had plenty of practise at being a Catholic – as a way of meeting people, and getting introduced to the gay scene. It was a very successful move, got me a nice group of friends, and gave me a great – and very busy – sociallife…and some sexual adventures! I ended up getting more involved with Acceptance than I originally intended, becoming Secretary on their committee, and being on the  fundraising working group. For a time, I was on with a member named Fred Diamond. Fred edited the Acceptance newsletter, and wrote a gossip column for it under his pseudonym Jodie A Frean. In turn, I got roped into doing book reviews for it. The interesting thing, when looking back now, is that all the books reviewed below were considered cutting-edge gay literature back then…some, like Larry Iramer’s “Faggots” controversial even! Authors like him, and Patricia Nell Warren, John Rechy, Andrew Holleran, John Reid, and John Coriolan were amongst the first to write about a somewhat subversive gay scene, warts and all. In those days, all these books would have been purchased from the Elizabeth Bookstore, in Elizabeth Street in Melbourne city. It was still an underground world in many respects.


Tim Alderman (2017)

Media Pig! From The Prophetic To The Mundane!

I have always believed in having a voice, and be it right, wrong or indifferent I think people should speak up, and one of the best ways to do that is through  either letter writing, or being included in written conversations on specific issues. There is a lot of stupidity, injustice, prejudice and misinformation going on around us, and it is always important to speak out against these issues.

I have been involving myself in letters and articles since the mid-70s, and have pretty well kept the full record of my involvement. As a way of posting something a bit different, and covering, where possible, the scenario’s that provoked the letters and articles, here is a rundown of my social involvements over time. Funny how circumstances provide the fodder for letters! In my early days, it was always about gay issues – but then you settle down with someone, move to the ‘burbs, and all of a sudden it’s about your local council, or the idiots who inflict their opinions on us through the local rags! Keeps life interesting!

Published in the Catholic Weekly around 1976. I was the store manager for apellegrini & Co Pty Ltd, in York St, Sydney. A woman had eritren to the Catholic Weekly that Australia had no patron saints, which was inaccurate, as Our Lady Help Of Christians actually was. This is under my old name of Robert Phillips.

Also from around 1976, this article is an interview with the Catholic Weekly regarding the actual Pellegrini store itself. It was sround this time that we had moved the store from its original site in George St, Sydney (in Roma House) to York St. 

Around 1978 I left Pellegrini to work for my local menswear store, P&S Michael, who were branching out from the store in Granville, to MacArthur Square in Campbelltown. However, they emploted pressure salesmanship – my pet retail hate – so it was a short-lived relationship. I returned to Pellegrini a couple of months later. This is me, modeling clothes for an sd in the local paper.


“Campaign” November, 1981. I was working for Pellegrini in Melbourne, and had just come out. I lived in West Brunswick. The gay clone phenomena had just started, and because of its “macho” imagery, a lot of old queens were whinging about how it was selling out the gay community by adopting “straight” stereotypes. I got fed up with it. My only letter from my Melbourne days.


Two-in-one! Both the smsll photo of myself (right) and Barty Carter taken at the Midnight Shift, and the letterregarding ACON Safe Sex campaigns not hitting the mark would be frim circa 1984. Both published prbably in Sydney Star Observer.


Beresford Hotel 1985. Christmas function. Photographed with Tony Kelly (right), my partner at the time. More than likely in the Sydney Star Observer.

Article in “Outrage”, October 1985 by Adam Carr under his pseudonym Miles Walker. Adam had visited myself and my partner at the time, Damian, in our flat in Kellett Way, King’s Cross. He was on hus way to a street party. He decided to write a tongue-in-cheek piece about the visit. In the article, substitute Damian for Shane, and Tim for Tony. Notoriety comes in strange ways!

Star Observer circa 1985/86. A politician had made a rather stupid statement that gay men didn’t work in retail! Considering the retail sector relied heavily on gay staff, it just showed his general ignorance.

Star Observer Issue No.30, 20 June 1986. Cleo, my gutter drag persona, makes the front cover, along with Ruby Pollock (front right), and Andrew Carter. We had been to a Queens Birthday party at Geoff Smith & Steve Thompson’s home in Glebe. This photo was raken in The Oxford.

Cleo making it real in an advertising campaign for “Numbers” Bookshop in 1987. This was Cleo’s 1986 Sleaze Ball costume.

Green With Envy party, 31 August, 1986 at 38 Mona Rd, Darling Point. An annual party, put on by Sydney DJ Gareth Paull, who played regularly at The Oxford. A friend, Andrew Todd, asked me to go with him in drag, as he had never done drag before. Andrew had AIDS, and had spent most of the yesr in and out of hospital. He had a great night, and died on Boxing Day that year. I went wigless, and on the far right of this Star Observer photo.

Star Observer August 1987. Montage from The Oxford’s 5th birthday party on 23 August 1987.

Outrage Magazine 1988. Mardi Gras photo, taken at the Art Gallery of NSW. Darby Wilcox (left) and myself about to scatter the ashes (mixed with glitter) of Don Tickle, who had died from stomach cancer earlier that year. His ashes were scattered along the parade route.

Star Observer June 1988. Montage from ANZAC Day at The Oxford, 1988..


“The Bulletin” August 1987. An interview in The Oxford regarding how we felt about living with HIV. Being still early days in yhe history of the pandemic, this all sounds a bit naive now.

Though labelled “Locker Room”, this was actually taken at the Midnight Shift circa 1997. Tony Kelly to the right.

Circa 1986. The premier, Neville Wran, commented on cinema’s banning condom advertising due to them being perceived as “family friendly”. I bit like sticking your head in the sand, as far as I was concerned. I had to see it on television, but not in the cinema? 


A series of photographs taken by the Sydney Star Observer circa 1987. We had a Nuns, Priests & Prostitutes party to celebrate my flatmates birthday. The patty was an afternoon affair held at our apartment in Bourke St, Darlinghurst. A group of us went out to the Oxford Hotel after the patty, where these were taken.

My backside, in leather chaps & thong, makes an appearance in – of all things – a lesbian magazine – LOTL (Lesbians On The Loose), at a Sleaze Ball. Also circa 1987.

Outrage No.63, August 1988. Someone from Adelaide was laying shit on Mardi Gras…onviiusly decided nit to have a great time…and succeeded! The tone of the letter will give you some indication of his gripes.

Poster for “Dancing Through the Decade”, New Years Eve 1989, at the Wentworth Function Centre, University if Sydney. Put on by the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation (BGF), DJs were Rob Davis & myself.

2 articles from local papers (names unknown) who reported on the opening party for “Expectations”. Expectations was a fetish store I managed for a short while, situated on the second floor of 159 Oxford St, Darlinghurst. Owned by Paul Jones, as was Numbers Bookshop, and the Den Club. In the first article I am in the top right photo, and in the second article the left side photo.

All I can remember about this photo was that it was taken in the Midnight Shift, and probably sometime between 1990-1993. I think I was in it due to my DJ work. It was published in the Star Observer. 

Star Observer May 1990? (Date very difficult to read). Oxford DJ roster for what would seem to be Mardi Gras week, seeing as a Recovery Party is listed.


The Star Observer, 5 October 1990. The Oxford Hotel DJ Roster. I was a resident DJ at The Oxford from 1990-1996. This is probably the first roster I was on.

Star Observer, January 1991. Australia Day week DJ roster at The Oxford.

“Wentworth Courier” 22 September 1994. As usual, Oxford St as ahopping strip is going to hell on a hot rail, and everyone just seems to argue about what needs doing. The need for a retail plan for Oxford St should have been a council priority.

Star Observer, 31 January 1995. Myself & Marcus Craig (right) st the opening of his mixed-media gallery exhibition “Odyssey”. The air brush painting in the oicture was donated to the Luncheon Club. 

Capital Q – 6 April 1995. People having a bash at HIV people because they are not relying more on alternative therapies.

The Daily Telegraph, 6 February 1997. Having attended the opening of a gorilla exhibit at Taronga Park zoo, all I could really see everywhere was McDonald’s – the exhibits sponsor – advertising. Way over the top!

Sun Herald, 16 March 1997. Someone whinging about forms if address to customers in rrtail stores.

Positive Living, June 1997. My response to an article they ran on CMV Retinitis, something I was well & truly knowledgeable about.

Capital Q 1997. My one attempt to jeet a potential friend ir partner through the gay classifieds. I opted for the fully out there, warts and all approach. All those that I met were either serial classifieds users, or just plain nut cases. I met Michael, from Rose Bay, who I had a brief “thing” with just proor to meeting David. I still have the letters from guys who responded…more than I expected.

Star Observer Jauary 1998. Dawn O’Donnell’s 70th Birthday Party at Paddington Town Hall. My self & Phillip Metcalf attended as representatives of PLWHA. Photo is not clear as enlarged from a gety tiny shot. I am in the rear, far tight.

Capital Q 23 January 1998. A letter in support of my friend Marcus Craig, regarding the closure if a gym in the Pride Centre.

Capital Q 30 January 1997. The response of the gym owner to my and amarcus’s letter regarding its closure.

Wentworth Courier 1997. My gripes about life in Bondi! A true nightmare of a place to live in, esprcially in regards to transport & infrastructure.

Star Observer 30 October 1997. A letter expressing my thanks HIV services.


Star Observer 1998 – Myself (left) and David st the 1998 Mardi Gras Party. We had been in the parade, and are photographed here in the PLWHA Time-Out Room…a dpace set aside for guts with HIV to have a break during the party.

Star Observer 1998. Mardi Gras Fair Day 1998, probably the last I attended. I am to the far left of the photo in 3/4 shorts.

“Talkabout” July 1998. Alex Crystal had sent a letter to the editor critisizing an article I had written. Not only had this person not ever been as seriously ill as I had been in 1996, he had no empathy for the long recovery process, the psychological implications of surviving AIDS, nor coping with ongoing life with disabilities.

Probably Star Observer 1998. Mardi Grad parade entry for PLWHA – Dick Van Dykes on Bikes.
Sydney Morning Herald, 22 October 1998. A letter responding to the mass closures of banks – a trend that was soon to reverse.

“Talkabout” No.91, Octoger 1998. A esponse to a letter critisizing my friend Marcus Craig for representing gay men with pisitive body images in his art work. Some people need to get a life!.

Sydney Morning Herald 10 November 1998. A letter regarding the fifficulties of obtaining work after serious illness, and when you are older.
“Net” Magazine, April 1999.,The mire everyday aspects of life, and dealing with technology.

Sydney Star Observer 8 July 1999. A letter of thanks to The Oxford for awarding me a special prize for having entries in the BGF Bake-Off since its instigation.

Sydney Star Observer 3 August 2000. The Oxford had undergone yet ANOTHER renovation, but this time a whole lot of poker machines had been added. Holding a charity auction in a place where money was being fed into machines was a bit ironic.

Good Weekend Magazine, 29 October 2000. A letter regarding an article they did on Stephen King, after his quite serious accident.

Wentworth Courier, February 2001. Letter regarding back-packers dumping inloved furniture etc on the footpath when they move on.

“Internet” Magazine, Issue 69, July 2002. Yet more mundane technology problems.

“Delicious” Magazine, February 2002. A great food magazine, if you enjoyed a LOT of tunning around to grt all the ingredients together for a recipe.


“DNA” Magazine, No.26, March 2002. A response to an article regarding gays, and religiiys dogma.

Sydney Star Observer 27 June 2002. Photographed at Arq with my winning entry in the Condiments & Preserves category, at the annual BGF Bake-Off. in 2002.

“DNA” Magazine, March 2003. A letter regarding an article in their Februarybissue regarding workplace bullying. The very start of the letter is missing.

“Sunday Life” Magazine, December 2003. My response to a fery touching article on coming out as gay to ones parents.

“DNA” Magazine, February 2004. A tongue-in-cheek lettet regarding their very sexy photo shoots.

Sydney Star Observer, 28 April 2005. My having yet ANOTHER dig at the Student Services Union at UTS. I had bern at loggerheads with them for years over compulsory inion fees. Unfortunately, my original oetter regarding this is missing.  

Daily Telegraph, 28 April 2005. The impossibility of getting work, even part-time, as you get older.

Daily Telegraph, 1 June 2005. Response to a ketter regarding the absence of small birds in our gardens.


Sydney Star Observer, 5 October 2006. David had, in a drunken moment at that years BGF Bake-Off, won an auction bid on a cake (bloody awful) and 2 Sleaze Ball tickets. We attended the party, and had an absolute ball, not at least helped along by some Ecstacy.


“The Glebe” 12 July, 2007. I take issue with people who are just unpleasant individuals. No wonder the dogs nipped him!

“The Glebe” April 17, 2007. After some demolition work in New Canterbury Rd, Dulwich Hill, some old painted shop signage appeared on the side of a remaining huilding, which had originally been hidden. I contacted the local paper, and they did a piece about it. The signage can be vaguely seen in the background.

“The Glebe” 1 May, 2007. My involvement in a local protest about removing a small park at the topnof Marrickville Rd that had historical significance as a tram turning-circle. I’m in the background, dark glasses & cap to right of picture. I’m holding Benji, my dog.

“Good Weekend” Magazine, 18 August 2007. A letter regarding the joys of childhood, which won me “Letter of the Week”, and the prize attached ton it – a weekend for 2 at Pepper’s Convent, in the Hunter Valley.

“Inner West Courier” 16 March, 2010. Local Treens rep is trying to thwart a much-needed recamp and extension to Marrickville Metro, and has obviously never shopped in our area. 

“DNA” Magazine No.121, 2010. In praise of a redhead make-over! Yum!

“DNA” Magazine No.124, 2010. A dig at a VERY boring Mardi Gras parade.

Inner West Courier, 2 November 2010. A whinge about cuts to mowing services that sre leaving yhe areas looking like jungles.


Sydney Star Observer, 23 March, 2011. A dig at a columnist who accused fit, healthy older guys of being posers.
A note to the Sydney Mirning Heralds “Column 8” about something locally amusing.

Fractured Reflections From My Dotage! Life On The Melbourne & Sydney Gay Scene 1970/1980 Pt.1

First published in the Dolphin Motor Clubs newslatter “Quid Nunc” in 1990.

It would have been 1975. I can remember that I had just passed my 21st burthday and moved out of home to my first apartment in Allowah (thanks to a legacy from my grandmother, which allowed me to live surrounded by all life’s comforts). I hadn’t come out, but was on the brink of doing so. I had a female friend (I would love to know what has become of her – does anyone know Jo Conway?) who used to come over and play “the girlfriend” whenever my father was coming to visit. He was convinced that this was his future daughter-in-law, the girl from whose loins would spring the fruit that was to ge forever stamped with the family name. Fortunately, he died before finding out that (a) she was a lesbian, (b) I was gay, and (c) I changed my name – lock, stock & barrel.

My lesbian friend was also the first to introduce me to Oxford St, which had its reputation even back then! We would catch the train from Allawah on Saturday nights and start out in Kings Cross, which gack in those days still had its mixed bohemian atmosphere, unlike today. The evening would usually start at  Chez Ivy in Bondi Junction, then to the Cross with the Barrel Inn, move onto the Bottom’s Up bar (strictly rough trade back in those days – not that I knew what that was…then!),Mother’s Cellar in Elizabeth Bay, then down to Jools, and up to Oxford St.

First port of call was usually Caps, followed in succession by Flo’s palace (not filled with the clientele it later gecame associated with), then onto the small, but popular coffee and jaffle haven in Boyrke St called Nana’s ( later to become Chu Bay Vietnamese restaurant). 

My friend was a close friend of the propriator, who was called Nana by everyone, and we had the privilege of being invited back to his terrace one night. Nana was the epitome of 1960’s camp – the bouffant hair, the wiggle walk, the limp wrist, the iver-the-top clothes, the works. The terrace was the ultimate in Victoriana – restored and decorated so. It was like entering another time! I vividly remember  sitting on the edge of an extremely dainty looking lounge, sipping Twinings tea out of giant amber Duralax cups, and nibbling on Iced Vovo’s (truly), all the time keeping a very hervoys eye on Nana (who kept leering at me) and his flatmate, affectionately called Cupcake, who kept flouncing down the stairs in various flowing creations, loudly declaring that he one of Sydney’s premiere designers under the auspicious label of “Margot of Sydney”.

The final stop if our outings was Central station, at 6 o’clock in the morning for the first train back home.

Ocford St confused me in those days. I wouldn’t let Jo’s hand go all night. I thought I should have been looking at the girls, being straight for all intents and purposes, but couldn’t stop myself looking at all the men and fantasizing over how great it would be to get off with one. On my solo stints into the city, I felt too intimidated to come to Oxford St. I frequented The Zoo in William St, (I think I now know who it was that tried to pick me up there…Paul Costello!), and the Downunder Disco in the Hyatt Kingsgate, all filled to the hilt with Italian John Travolta look-alikes, who all had with them girls who looked like Maria Venutti. I always went home alone. I was almost tempted  to go into the Zig Zag Disco in Darlo Rd, Kings Cross – which was reputedly gay – but nerves sent me fleeing at the last moment.

The Oxford Hotel

By 1979, I had settled for terminal, eternal celibacy! My one attempt at a straight relationship was a dismal failure. I nearly – which would have been a disaster – married her. She had a 6-year-old daughter who I thought the sun shone out of (and vice versa). She almost topped the scales in her mothers favour. Sexually, the relationship was doomed! I could not envisage a life of making love to a woman, while orgasming to the fantasy of a man. The body shape was – to me – all wrong, anyway. And coming down from the fantady was disillusioning. Celibacy seemed the only answer! My father also died at this time, so I had no need of pretense anymore. My company offered me a lucrative position in Melbourne – initially for 6-months, but ended up as 2 years.

In Melbourne, I came out – and not with a whimper! 

Another time, another name!

Melbourne was my chance for a new start. Nobody knew me, no family to watch me! I needed to make friends, so I joined a gay group. My very first meeting with the group, and I scored my first man. Being naive, I was an easy target for anyone. I hadn’t learnt to say no to a man at that stage, and he wasn’t exactly the most desirable of men, but what the hell – one had tostart  somewhere. I used him as much as he used me. He initially picked me up, after the meeting, at the old University Club. Shit – my first encounter with a gay group, my first solo venture to a gay venue, and my first man…all in one night!
He drove me to his place (with my dick out all the way), which was a good hours drive from Melbourne. The next morning, I had to get a train back. I wasn’t impressed. To this day, he doesn’t know he was my first. I’m a great actor!

I discovered The Laird. I discovered Mandate. I became a clone, and still am (albiet a 90s version). And bought my first leather harness, and vest, from The Beat. I fell in lust with Laurie Lane, but didn’t get to mert him until many years later.  I still have a pin-up of him from a 1981 magazine. Between The Laird and Mandate, I started my tally sheet. Inperformed my one and only act of public sex – a blow job in the barred areas around Mandate’s dance floor. We danced to “Fade to Gray” at Smarties, drank beer at the Elizabeth Hotel, watched drag at Pokies. I discovered that trying to have a relationship with another bottom was a sure recipe for disaster. I was attracted to him, he loved me – but the beats more! My first broken heart, and one of the few times I have cried over a man! Getting drunk is a better cure! No man is worth the vile hangover the next day! I met a man from Sydney. I came gack…but on my terms! This relationship was also a disaster. The fact that I had teavelled 800-odd kilometres for it, made it worse. I met a friend of his, and we used to go to the 253 sauna to get off. My first intro to the baths. I disliked them, but it was convenient for both of us. 

Bob – the Melbourne clone

Signal, the Barracks, and Club 80 were going strong, but not my scene. I saw the 4th Mardi Gras, and joined the parade for the 5th. I remember the first Sleaze Ball at the Paddington Town Hall, and Parties 1, 2 & 3. I drank at the Albury, Flinders, and Beresford, and danced at the Shift.

The Shift back then was clone and leather heaven! Split level dance floor, and lots if dark, wooden tables. Very barn-like, actually. The front bar was xalled “Charlie’s Bar”…and Charlie ruled it! The toilets were infamous, not to mention the goings-on around the dance floor. There was flesh everywhere – usually…okay, almost always, naked! People danced in Speedo’s and jockstraps, bandana and key codes meant something, and pick-ups were easy!

We often partied until 9am, falling out the door into full sunlight, then off to The Spirit Cafe in Crown St for breakfast. Home for a few hours sleep (maybe someone elses home, and not much sleep) then back out again.

We shopped at the Portuguese Deli (where Ian Roberts worked, and everyone wanted things from the top shelf just to get a rear view as he climbed the ladder); paid for over-priced groceries at Clancy’s; went clothes shopping at Daly Male (still going, though moved to a new spot), and Aussie Boys, Wheels & Doll Baby, Route 66; our leather and fetish gear from The Link, Jayar & Sax; books from The Bookshop; novelties from the Pop Shop; cakes from Pandora’s; flowers from Christopher’s Florist. We ate from the Bagel House; The Schnitzel Hut; Green Park Diner; Angkor Wat; Rockerfeller’s; Old Saigon; Billy Bunters; Betty’s Soup Kitchen; Loreto’s Larder; Raquel’s; The Californian (originally King’s coffee shop, named after the  mother establishment, of the same name, in King St, Newtown); Olympic Yerros(pizza slices on the way home from a big night out); Tin Hong (food poisoning central); La Boheme; Alfredo’s; The Balkan; una’s (Victoria St); Oddy’s; the list was endless. We read the Sydney Star – then the Sydney Star Observer, Capital Q, SX, Campaign, Outrage,  and the Village Voice; bought medical supplies from Serafim and Rely’s chemists (under-the-counter Ephedrine & Amyl); our hewspaper, magazines & stationery from Pigott’s Neesagency, or the newsryand outside The Oxford; hired video’s from Video Capers, then Videorama; costume accoutrement from Dita’s Feathers; bibs & bobs from Mother Of Pearl & Sons: records from Central Station (originally in the vicinity of what became the Bagel House) and Red Eye. There was even 2 butchers and a green grocer…once upon a time! And not to forget a very brief appearance from Gowings.

The Oxford opened, and became to a whole clique for many years (until the trendy set made it too uncomfortable for us). The Flinders and Beresford sponsored street parties. Sleaze Ball became a major event (remember  the one with all the wrecked cars on the dance floor?). Pere’s Beat (originally the Purple Onion) came and went (Wendy Wayne & Tiny Tina live on in memory), the Handle Bar came and went, as did The Man. The Link moved from Crown St north to Crown St south, and finally to Newtown. Jools, Signal, The Barracks, Club 80, Hip Hop, the Roman Baths, 253, The Spirit cafe, Caps, T.C’s (Crown St), the Geresford, French’s (not gay, but certainly memorable), all slowly closed and entered the realms of Gay nostalgia. Friends and lovers started to die, and it seemed that the scene was going with them. Life became abbreviated to the Oxford, the Shift, Mardi Gras & Sleaze Ball. 

Tiny Tina, Wendy Wayne, Barry Costello – Mardi Gras ’86

My (our?) lives moved on also. I tested Positive for HIV, as did many others I knew. Some of us passed on (and still are), though thankfully many of us sre still hale & hearty. Eight years under a sentence is a long time! Still, most of oyr old haunts are gone, though we still have a good time – somewhat more quietly these days. Forgive us our reminiscences. We have a lotnto remember, and ai still claim we gad the best of it! The eleven years since coming out,mand now seems to have gone amazingly quickly. Lovers, friends, venues have all come and gone in the blink of an eye. 

I am very hsppy now. My mother knows I’m gay, and reluctantly accepts it – ievidently she always knew. My half-sister will carry on the family line, if nothing else. I chucked the rest of my family years ago. To sever those ties, I changed my name. I like the empowerment derived from beginning & ending a family line. I am in several groups, which fulfils my nerd to ferl that I am doing something on the gay scene. I have made friends on the Lesbian scene, whichn takes me back to my gay roots. My social life is fulfilling enough. I am healthy, and will hopefully remain so. That is the only question mark in my life. I am in a relationship…again! Not the first dince the Sydney/Melbourne  episode, may I say, but certainly the most fulfilling I have ever had. I think the sun shines out of him, and he has added a dimension of happiness I don’t think he knows he has contributed. I see a lot of changes on the scene. I don’t necessarily like, or approve of, a lot of them, but ai guess I’ll lesrn yo live with them. It saddens me a bit to not have a venue for people in my age group who feel more comfortable with others from our generation. I won’t hive up hope on this point yet.

The Beresford, Christmas ’85

I guess to some, this is just another odyssey of coming out. I see it as the encapsulation of 10 years of change on the gay scene, from someone who saw the scene as ut was in the 70s, before coming out into the msdness of the 80s.

As you dan see, the sdage of “the more things vhange, the more they stay the ssme” doesn’t always apply!

Tim Alderman ©1990 (revised 2017)

Peter McCarthy, Peter Gilmore, Bevan, Steve Thompson, Tim Alderman – Quilt unfolding, Government Pavilion, late 80s.

  

Reality Check: The Politics of Blindness

Originally written in 2001. This article has never been published.

I have come to realise, perhaps a bit late in life, that you spend far too much time bending in the general direction of things instead of sticking up for yourself and saying no, this is not what I want, or the way I want things to go!

I have decided to sue a local hospital. That I have chosen to do this has come as a tremendous shock to me, though those around me seem to have been waiting for me rectify what has been, for me, a life changing event. 
By 1996 I had accepted that sooner or later, AIDS was going to get me. What I hadn’t counted on was that St. Vincent’s hospital was going to assist in my chances of survival! – and in the one ward they had where I always felt I would be safe – Ward 17, the dedicated HIV/AIDS ward.
It was a sudden change in health status that delivered me to the A&E department. I had collapsed outside my apartment building, gasping for breath, clutching my chest, thinking that a heart attack was going to beat AIDS to the crunch, or that PCP had finally caught up to me, as it seemed to do to all in my state. It turned out to be neither – I had a collapsed left lung, though being HIV, they moved me into Ward 17 after inserting a tube to keep the lung inflated. Most of us assume that we go into hospital to be cured of health problems, or at least receive a better standard of medical care to assist you to a slightly higher standard of health than you have when you enter. Well…I have to tell you it doesn’t always happen that way!

I firmly believe that some people go into health care because they truly believe in what they are doing. They truly believe they can make a difference, that they can benefit people who are ill or are disabled. These people are not professors of medicine, do not have a fancy examination room with a prestigious address, and are not heads of departments. The well-heeled medico’s who share these attribute have strings of initials after their names. They do ward rounds with a string of nose-in-the-air arse lickers and sycophants. St Vincent’s at this time had more than its fair share of the latter, and unfortunately, some of them were in HIV medicine! 


Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I was just in hospital with a collapsed lung – it was more complicated than that. I was in the midst of changing doctors, so didn’t actually have a GP when I was admitted to Ward 17. My scripts for AZT had just run out, I had chronic anaemia, chronic Candida, and weighed in at about 48 kilos. In other words, I was a very sick boy. Now, under normal circumstances, with a CD4 count of about 10, they would test and examine you for ALL AIDS related illnesses – PCP, CMV, MAC, neurological and psychological problems. For some unknown reason. Sure, they treated – and eventually repaired – the collapsed lung. They tested me for PCP – negative result – and gave me a blood transfusion, but that was it. No eye examination, no dietician, no occupational therapist – no, that’s a lie, I did have one session with an OT, and though she promised other sessions – she never quite madeit back.

 So I lay there for 10 days, drifting in and out of sleep, as you tend to do when you are in this bad a condition, suffering in silence the daily ward rounds with a professor who seemed more interested in prestige than care, with his little band of sycophants, who seemed to assume that this was what was expected of theM. No one seemed to particularly care, so I was thankful for friends, for without them I think I would have gone mad.

Death seemed pre-ordained at this time I felt I had outlived everyone else anyway, and that my time was drawing to a close. I had predicted 2 years when I quit work to go on the pension in 1993, and had managed 3, so in many respects I felt I had survived beyond expectation, and short of a miracle, I was going through the final stage of my life. I was, to all intended purposes, fulfilling expectation.  

So, with a repaired lung, a couple of pints of fresh blood, and some Candida medication, I was discharged 10 days later. No HIV medications, no doctor. I had my discharge papers sent to a local HIV GP, who I didn’t know from a bar of soap, hoping that she would feel sorry for me, and rush me through the waiting list. Thankfully, she did just that!

Two days out of hospital, and her receptionist rang to say my discharge papers had arrived, and that even though they didn’y know who I was, the doctor wanted to see me. I would like to think, in hindsight, that this was almost like some sort of sign, as having my hospital discharge sent to her was an act of providence that probably saved my life.

As soon as I mentioned to her that my vision had been ‘greying over’ for a couple of weeks, she was immediately on the phone to the Prince of Wale’s Hospital Eye Clinic at Randwick. They promised that somebody would stay back at the end of clinic until I arrived to have my eyes checked. They thought at that stage that I had CMV retinitis, but could not be certain enough to confirm the diagnosis. I had to travel to Hurstville the next day to see a leading ophthalmologist, an expert in CMV. He confirmed the diagnosis, and by the time I arrived home that afternoon, their was a message to ring the doctor. She wanted me admitted to Prince Henry Hospital straight away. 

Prince Henry added other health items to the list St Vincent’s had. On top of chronic anaemia and Candida, and my 10 CD4 cells, they added chronic bilateral CMV retinitis, and Wasting Syndrome. Pandemonium was about to strike, but at least this time I felt as though people cared. Prince Henry was much more grounded in reality than St Vincent’s, and whatever my prognosis may have been – mortality was never discussed – they went out of their way to help me. Sure, I had a drip in both arms, was being transported to Prince of Wales twice a week for intraocular injections of ganciclovir, and I was a bit of a guinea pig because of my condition – medical students must love people like me, as we become a living text book – but they did care. I had a dietician who planned meals and snacks for me, and nurses on hand to help me during my night sweats. I even had a reporter from Japan interview and photograph me, as he was doing a piece to be published in Japan. After seeing me, he was concerned that the Japanses ‘head-in-the-sand’ attitude to HIV/AIDS was something to be seriously concerned about.
To be honest, the two weeks in Prince Henry gave me a different perspective on many aspects of life. There was the guy in the room next to mine – I had a huge room to myself in Marks Pavilion, and the windows looked out over Beauty Bay – who had terminal cancer. Not once, despite whatever he may have been going through, did I hear him complain or whinge about his lot. He virtually lived in the hospital, and even had his own stereo moved in with him. And the young guy who was at the opposite end of the ward to me. He also had CMV, but fuck, he was so young, so innocent! We sat together in the eye clinic one day, and he grasp[ed my hand, cuddled up to me, and cried. I wanted to give him some hope, but I would have felt like such a hypocrite. I didn’t know if their was hope for me at that stage, let alone try to give it to someone else who I knew was worse off than I was.

Well, they saved my sight – sort of! The injections, and eventually $10,000 worth of ‘Vitrasert’ ganciclovir implants managed to save the sight in my left eye. As for my right eye, the optic nerve was damaged by the CMV, and despite efforts on everyones part, I lost 80% of the vision in it, and the impact on my life has been…disconcerting. I have regular checks every few months now, and I have to be careful not to bump my head hard on anything. The scar tissue in the left eye is so dense that they are concerned now about me ending up with a detached retina. I’ve also had two operations to remove cataracts caused by the implants. They originally estimated a 4% chance of cataracts from the implants, but 12 months later this prediction was upgraded to a 100% chance. Some odds you can’t beat.

But this has been the least of my worries. Sure, my right eye has, in some respects, compensated for the loss of vision in my left, but not entirely. It took me twelve months to adjust, but that twelve months was not without incidents, such as tripping over some tree roots in Crown Street, and landing flat on my face in front of some people coming in the opposite direction. I also tripped and stumbled a great deal as my vision tried to compensate for a change in everything, including perspective. Stairs with contrasting edging strips became ramps – at least from my perspective – and ‘I’m sorry!’ became part of my everyday vocabulary as I bumped and staggered my way around. That is something that even 5 years down the line, I have never quite gotten used to. This would not be the first time I have stated that in some respects, it would have been easier to have ended up completely blind. At least that way, I would have a white cane, or a dog, and people would know I was definitely blind, and not give me condescending looks every time I run into someone. For some unknown reason, it has always ended up my fault. I just accept. 

Rules of our household – don’t leave anything sitting low on the floor, or hanging to my left when I don’t know it is there. When walking down the street, keep to my right. If you don’t keep to that side, expect me to keep moving to ensure you are there. Go into the city? Not on my own these days. As much as I love the city, and love to watch it grow, it is a place for people in a rush, not a place for people who are visually impaired. Too many people, too many doorways for them to rush out of, and too many people crushing into confined spaces. I miss it very much, but it is not a place for me anymore. I shop locally, and that is hazardous enough for me. Do anything during the peak hour rush? Not likely these days. I had to meet David at 6.00 at the Entertainment Centre, to attend a couple of concerts. I actually mapped out a way to get there that would have a minimum of people that I would have to avoid. I go to daytime lectures and tutorials at UTS to avoid travelling too and fro during peak hours. I’m also trying to get them to contrast edge-strip the black granite stairs in the Tower Building, so that visually impaired people can see where the stair edges are. That is one fight I may yet win. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget that I kick small children.

David, who is my partner, and I went for a walk down Hall Street, leading to Bondi Beach, for one reason or another – we were probably looking for somewhere to eat breakfast. Sure enough, for a split second, I wasn’t watching where I was going and the next thing I knew, this kid had run straight onto my foot as I took a step forward. He just came out of nowhere, as kids do, and I managed to literally lift him into the air with the forward motion of my step, and launched him off to the side of the footpath. Thankfully, he landed in the grassed area around some trees growing on the footpath. I would hate to think what may have happened if he had landed on the footpath itself. I don’t know who got the biggest fright – the kid, myself, the kid’s father, or David. The father came running as I picked the kid up to make sure he was okay, but the look on the father’s face said it all – It was my fault, and I should have been watching where I was going. Even an explanation that I was  partially blind, and hadn’t seen the kid coming didn’t seem to sit well with him, nor did a multitude of apologies. Now, I dare say the kid probably forgot the incident 10 minutes after it happened, but It is still a nightmare with me. Whenever I think about the state of my eyes, that is the one instant that comes straight to mind. It’s not just the incident with the kid – I’m aware of that. It is that in some way, these sorts of things happen to me everyday, though fortunately with larger adults, not small kids. Despite all my precautions, despite taking my time getting around, despite walking metres up a street to use crossings or lights, despite great care at intersections I feel it is only a matter of time before I either seriously hurt somebody, or they seriously hurt me.

So I’m not just going to sit back and cop it sour anymore. Somewhere along the line, in a hospital, on a particular time on a particular day, somebody, for whatever reason, decided not to do something, and now I’m paying the price. Well, it’s time for someone to pay for their oversight, and the time to pay is NOW! My health is as good as it’s going to get at the moment, and with it being unlikely that I will ever return to full-time work, or to any job that requires me to get stressed, it is time to take action. I’m not going to ignore it anymore, or pretend that it just didn’t happen. It did, and my life has never been the same since.
Personally, I think that they, like Prince Henry, and certainly me, never expected me to live, so just doing a minimum of care in 1996 may have been acceptable practise, especially in an area of medicine that has always been cash strapped. But I didn’t die! I am well and truly alive, and the time for revenge is at hand. I hope that at the end of the day, they will learn several lessons. Never assume anything; never underestimate the strength of the human will, and mind; and never think people are just going to forget about it! We Don’t!
Tim Alderman

Copyright ©2001 (Revised 2017)

P.S: despite the solicitor instigating an action against St Vincent’s, and doing this pro-bono, I was expected to pay the bills for photocopying and incidentals. I received a bill for $1,500 from them to cover this…and being on a pension, this was the beginning, and the end, of the action. Justice never was served.

Spiritually Faithless!

First published in “Talkabout” magazine October/November 2007. I make no secret of my intense dislike – an understatement – of organised religion! No singular institution in the history of nankind has had such a stultifying influence on mankind’s collective mind! It has caused more deaths and suffering than all our wars combined, has held back the advancement of civilisation, and is singularly responsible for the hi-jacking of common sense, logic, and free thought! It’s sheer hypocrisy on being incapable of practising what it preaches, and being unable to judge itself so, is staggering in its breadth! Right at this very instant, somewhere in this world, people are being massacred or tortured in the name of religion! This is my perspective!

“Batter my heart, three person’d God…”

John Donne Holy Sonnet XIV

I started watching “The Abbey” on ABC TV on Sunday night. What a time-trip back to when I was 23 and living in an enclosed monastery, following the Rule of St. Benedict, at Leura in the Blue Mountains. How I ended up in a monastery – and eventually left – was quite a journey. One might even say a quest, a search for identity, spirituality and this unfathomable thing called faith. I found the first, still hold onto the second and lost the third along the way.
The quest started when, as a 12-year-old Protestant boy from very Congregational Sylvania, I managed to get into one of the states leading Catholic boarding schools – St Gregory’s Agricultural College in Campbelltown. They had filled their Catholic places at the school, and were willing to take Protestants. I lucked in. I have to admit that I loved going to school there, though with most of the boys being from country regions I didn’t make any life-long friends. I learnt to really loathe sport – Marist Brothers and their bloody sports – which I had just disliked up until that time. Also had a fleeting homosexual encounter with another boy…in speedos…in the pool. 

However, it was the Catholic religion that overwhelmed me. It wasn’t just one aspect of Catholicism, it was the whole shebang! The beauty of its rituals; the whole mystery of the mass; the adoration of Mary and the saints; the dogma and theology; and the people who devoted themselves to enacting and teaching these beliefs. As someone who had come from the sparse simplicity of protestant services, it took my breath away. So much so that at the end of my first year there I converted, being baptized in the school chapel with my history teacher, Mr Higgins – who, being a chain-smoker , stank of nicotine – and one of the Year 12 boys, Tim Sheen, as my sponsors. Little did I know that the priest who baptized me was, several years later, to be arrested for molesting his altar boys. My appetite for religion, especially the theological aspects of it, was voracious. In 1969 when I finished my final year one of the brothers asked me if I would like to join the Marist Brothers. Despite the faint inklings of a vocation, the Marist order really wasn’t my cup of tea. While at St Greg’s, I had a personal confessor from a Discalced Carmelite monastery at Minto. Through him I had quite a lot of contact with the monastery, including attending vocational seminars. 

I found the contemplative lifestyle much more to my taste, though decided to wait a few years before making any decisions.
In 1976 I contacted a small enclosed monastic community in Leura called the Community of St Thomas Moore, who followed the Benedictine Rule.
The community lived in this rambling old convent originally owned by the Sisters of Charity. It had the monk’s enclosure at one end of this huge ‘H’ design, the chapel, visitors parlors and Prior’s office at the other end, and a huge retreat section in between. The community supported itself by running retreats. As the youngest novice it was my duty to rise at 5am to set up the chapel for morning Office and Mass. I would then go to the common room in the enclosure to start breakfast and set the tables, as well as turning on the heaters to warm the enclosure. At 5.30 I would circle the enclosure with a bell to raise the rest of the community to prayer. Between prayer and work the day went very fast, with grand silence starting at 9pm and going through until after breakfast the next morning. Despite it being a tough life – and don’t for one minute think that these men are uneducated or unaware of what is going on in the world – I loved it. I loved the strong sense of community, the calmness of quiet contemplation in long silences, and the daily rituals of work and the Divine Office that bind communities like these together. The church regards these communities of enclosed religious as ‘powerhouses of prayer’, and there is little doubting that if you are on the inside. 

A very strong visual image of my time there, and one that has always stayed with me, is of being in the kitchen at 5.30 one morning and looking out the window. The monastery was set on the edge of a valley, and it was an icy cold clear morning. Outside the window was a leafless tree covered in frozen water drops glistening in the sun. Beyond it, a mist was rolling up the sides of the valley. It was one of the most profoundly contemplative moments I have ever had in my life. It was as if I was the only one observing this beautiful scene, as if it had been reserved especially for me for some purpose that was yet to be revealed. I can still see it in my minds eye as I write this. Now that’s impact!

However, one of the ‘problems’ with the large periods of introspection and contemplation that is part of the monastic ideal is that you tend to look deeply into yourself. Fears and hidden truths are often revealed. This can either lead one deeper into the religious nature of their community, or alienate you personally from the community. The realisation I came to, the fear I had, the thing that I was running from was that I was gay. Hiding in a monastery is not a healthy thing to do if you are gay – though heaven knows there are enough caught in this situation. Many stay on through fear of who they are. They think that if they work themselves to the bone, and pray hard it will just go away. It doesn’t! It ends in a life of bitterness, recrimination and self-loathing. Many, like me, decided that to really live life without hypocrisy they had to leave the safety of the enclosure and go back into the world. The decision to enter a religious community is difficult enough on its own. 

The decision to leave is even harder. Driving through the gates to go home was quite devastating for me, knowing that I was leaving all peace and tranquility behind me. I hoped to carry it inside myself, but the hectic, tumultuous real world makes it difficult, if not impossible. Another world awaited me.

I still didn’t come out immediately. My family was quite formidable and I knew I would have to choose my time well. In the meantime, I worked for and eventually became manager of Pellegrini & Co Pty Ltd – not familiar with the name? It was a huge Catholic emporium, supplying not just devotional goods such as statues and rosary beads, but furniture, church plate and vestments to all the local churches – firstly in Sydney, then to Melbourne where I came out. By this time my father was dead, my family alienated. Melbourne was a safe space for me. In the way of enforcing contrasts in my life, after I left Pellegrini in the early 80’s. I became manager of a sex shop in Oxford St called ‘Numbers’. It is often joked about that I gave up ‘praying’ for ‘preying’.

I must say that at this stage my faith was going through a shaky period. The fight for gay recognition, rights and anti-discrimination was in full swing, and the Catholic Church was one of the biggest bugbears to these rights. I joined “Acceptance” Gay Catholics in Melbourne, though not initially to fight the good fight, so much as a way to meet people through the shared common ground of religion. It was through “Acceptance” – I eventually became committee secretary, as well as working on several working groups – that I realised just how discrimination could alienate a group of people. We could only go to Mass in one church in Fitzroy, and then only at a certain time of the evening. The Servite Fathers, who were an independent order and not under the auspices of the local Bishop or Archbishop were the only order who could conduct our First Friday Home Masses. At one mass at my unit in West Brunswich confessions were going to be held in my bedroom. I had all this porn attached to the back of the bedroom door – as you do when young and single – and went to considerable trouble to ensure paper was taped over it to hide it. Evidently during one of the confessions the paper suddenly gave way, and priest and confessor were confronted with all these pictures of naked men. I believe the priest didn’t bat an eye, but I have to wonder if there weren’t additional sins for the guy with him to confess. Over this time I just got angrier and angrier at the hypocrisy of it all. Coming from Protestant roots, I still carried a lot of the simpler theology with me, and often found myself arguing against the stupidity and naivety that had crept into the Catholic religion through the centuries, which we were (are?) still living with, and decrying its inability to move forward and fit into a more contemporary era. It gained me quite a few friends, and earned me a few enemies. I got so frustrated that I dropped religion altogether, and have never really found my way back.

I returned to Sydney on the tide of HIV hysteria, and religion for me became even less relevant. Hearing our dear religious brethren, especially those in politics advocating hunting us down and locking us away in quarantine; the way they flaunted the view that this was God’s retribution against the gay community fuelled my increasing hatred for religion. Despite HIV being something that should have initiated reconciliation between my lost faith, and me it just drove a wedge in.. The soul-destroying slaughter of all my friends, lovers and acquaintances over this time didn’t bring me back to faith. However, it did cause me a revaluation of my need for spirituality of some description. The free-form style of the funerals that were going on over this period made me realise that we all practiced ‘faith’ in many different ways, and that having faith wasn’t the same as being spiritual. You could have one without the other. Religion, to just about everyone I knew, was an alien concept with little tie-in to their lives. However, many were searching for spirituality. One friend in particular surprised me by returning to the rudimentaries of faith just before he died. 

He did make me wonder what I would do if faced with the same situation – would I call on a priest and fall back to my Catholic faith; would I contact someone more in tune with the simplicity of my original faith, such as MCC; or would I just continue to refute it all up to the time I died. It is something I still ponder occasionally. 

In my search for spirituality I tried a return to a more primitive religion in Wicca, but found it unsatisfying. I studied the writings of Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawn but found it too weird – and scary; the Jewish Kabbalah – real Kabbalah, not Madonna’s version – but found it too deep and complex, and I didn’t feel I had a lifetime to study it in.
So, I guess that in some ways I am still searching. It is not an easy world to find faith or spirituality in. Certain groups in our world have distorted the concepts to such a degree that you wonder what they find in the dry, humourless, destructive force they call religion. Others go on preaching what they don’t practice – and astoundingly never realise the contradiction; intolerance and hatred is rife. The Zen ideal is possibly the closest to pure spirituality that I have found, Buddhism being the one religion that seems to be the reverse of all else that is surrounding us. Like the monastic ideal, you can find peace in contemplation and meditation, something that cuts off the noisy world around us, and causes us to withdraw into ourselves.
Over the years, and before meeting my current partner, I have asked myself what I would do…where I would go…if I found myself old and alone in this world. I thought I would eventually return to a monastery, try to find all that I had lost. There are many who would tell me that faith is easy to find – it is just a pure act of selfless belief, a mere blinkered view to all the external forces that fight against faith; submission to dogma and ritual. I can no longer do that. I question too readily, and demand answers that aren’t esoteric.

So back to “The Abbey”. The five women who have gone into the Abbey to see if they can withstand the rigours of the monastic life are all in need of some form of self-redemption. Despite renunciations and doubts they are all seeking ‘something’. It is easy to see why Sister Hilda is the superior of this monastic community. Full of faith, a sense of humour, immense amounts of understanding and compassion, she is indeed the monastic mother. Just by listening to what these 5 women say, she is, possibly unknown to her, being a counsellor. In five weeks time when these women leave the monastery to go back to their normal lives, they are going to be intrinsically changed – you can see it already. They are going to confront things that they don’t want to confront, and if they allow themselves to just sink into the life of the monastery, to let it surround them and not fight it they are going to come to an understanding of themselves that they never thought possible – and their lives will be forever changed. I know. I’ve been there. Perhaps you can take the boy out of the monastery, but you can’t take the monastery out of the boy!

And as for me…well maybe John Donne and I fight the same demons;
“…I, like an usurpt towne, to’another 

      Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,

      Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,

      But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue,

      Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be loved faine,

      But am betroth’d unto your enemie:

      Divorce mee;’untie, or breake that knot againe,

      Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I

      Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,

      Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.”

John Donne; Holy Sonnet XIV
Tim Alderman ©October 2007

 

Viral Games!

Originally published in “Talkabout”, September 1999.

In May 1999 I had one of the scariest HIV-related experiences I have had since my encounters with CMV in 1996! I literally, for a brief period of time, lost control of my feet. Already having problems with peripheral neuropathy, this just added to the incertainty and conjecture surrounding the causes. Initially, I couldn’t walk a steaight line up a footpath, but staggered from left to right with no control whatsoever. It got so severe that I eventually had to resort to using a walking stick to get around! Cassie Workman was at a loss! Thyroid, cortisol, B12, folate, a CT scan, Gallium scan all done to negative results. It took a further MRI and lumbar puncture test to reveal that at some stage during my transition from one drug combination to another, the virus had crossed the blood/brain barrier and got into my brain! By the time it was discovered, the new combination had kicked in, and problem resolved itself. It was a scare I could have done without, as the symptoms were also indicative of some very serious – and deadly – brain disorders! HIV in those days was good at throwing curve balls!



  The moral to this story is to never brag! I had been telling a work colleague of a rise in my weight to over 70 kgs, a record weight for me, and a record I was damn proud of. Within a few days of this, however, chaos had set in, and the treasured weight was going to have to be fought for.

This bloody virus just never leaves you alone! I stare at the magnetic scan images in my hand, and admire just how sneaky it can be. The pale grey ‘clouds’ that drift over the image of my brain are evidence of its brief visitation, the disorientation and fear it caused, all too recent to be forgotten.


 It started so simply. As I have mentioned in other articles, I returned to work just 18 months ago. My health, including T-cells and viral load, had been excellent for this period of time. I guess I may have become a bit complacent, thinking good health was something I could now take for granted. As has also been mentioned in other articles, I have severe peripheral neuropathy in my feet. It is slowly progressing, and is about half way along my feet. When the staggering started, my immediate thought was that it was just another phase in the progression of the PN. I could not walk a straight line, and when walking up the street, staggered quite visibly from one side of the footpath to the other. At the time this was happening, I mentioned to people that I wasn’t feeling ‘right’, I couldn’t put a finger on what it was, it was just a general feeling that things weren’t as they are supposed to be. I was going through some changes to my combination therapy also at this time, and thought that may have had something to do with it. Well, it did! But not in the way I expected.

The next phase of the illness consisted of a feeling of chronic lethargy. It became an effort not just to get up in the morning, but to get dressed, and to motivate myself to get up the street to get to work. I lost my appetite, and libido. Then I started to drift off to sleep on the bus in the morning, this symptom extending to falling asleep at home as soon as I sat in front of the TV, both these things not being normal for me. It wasn’t until I nodded off to sleep in front of the computer at work that I realised something was going seriously wrong. 

A series of tests was started. I had iron, folate, and B12 tests. They were all normal. I went to Albion St Clinic and had a test for a disease called Addisons (the symptoms for this disease were identical to what I had), and it also came back negative. I went and had Gallium and CT scans, and nothing showed up. By this stage, my walking had deteriorated to such an extent that I was relying on a walking stick to get around. It was thought I may have had bio-chemical depression brought about by returning to work and suddenly finding myself with the prospect of ongoing life, so I was, reluctantly, prescribed anti-depressants. My weight dropped to 58 kgs, and I literally had no appetite at all. My partner and I had up until then a very healthy sex life, and this dropped away (quite rapidly) to nothing. He started to get very concerned, though managing to hide it. Going out anywhere with me, especially with the walking stick, was a long ordeal. The only advantage to it was that I always got a seat on the bus.


My doctor eventually ran out of possible causes for my condition, and made an appointment for me to see a neurologist at St. Vincent’s Clinic. He put me through a long consultation, with a series of tests to check reflexes and responsiveness. During the consult, he asked me to do a number of simple walking steps like heel-to-toe, and I was unable to do them without losing my balance. His diagnosis wasn’t hopeful, telling me that it could have been one of several very nasty diseases, including one called PML (Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy). I don’t actually know what it is, but the look on his face said all that had to be said. There was a possibility of undetected Syphilis infection from years ago, but a test soon cancelled that option out. He wanted me to have a lumbar puncture, but rang me the next day to say I was to have a magnetic scan first, just to see if anything turned up. These scans are more thorough than CT scans, and more likely to show up problems.

If you are claustrophobic, don’t even consider these scans. You have to stick your whole head inside this small cylinder, with ear- plugs in, and foam wedges to hold you steady. The machine itself makes a noise like a pneumatic drill. I took one look at it, and said ‘no way unless you knock me out’. They did!

As mysteriously as all this started, it began to reverse. I returned to the neurologist a week and a half later, he being as surprised as I was to see I was walking again. He had received the scans, and they showed evidence of HIV infection on the brain, quite visible when viewing them.


To say this frightened the shit out of me is an under-statement. I have always been very good with my treatments, and consider myself about 95% compliant, which is pretty good, considering how long I have been popping pills and, at times, the quantity I have had to take. Somehow, the virus had used an opportune moment between combinations to cross the blood/brain barrier. Everyone on combinations take at least one drug to prevent this happening, so it shows you how persistent the virus can be. It doesn’t so much hide as sneak around, looking for opportunities to invade various parts of us that are not so well protected. If I ever thought there was an argument not to take drug holidays, this is it! What damage it could have done to my brain if left unchecked horrifies me, especially the prospect of Dementia. They seem to think that the anti-virals brought it under control, and for my sake I would like to think the same.i

A month after all this and I am back to normal – appetite, energy levels, libido, the whole works. I hope to return to work within the next month. It looks as though I will still have to undergo a lumbar puncture (they’ll have to knock me out for this one, too!), as they want to know what drugs I have become resistant to. Over the period of the illness my viral load did a rise, the first in almost two years. The frightening part is that within one week, it rose from 3000 to 19000. It is now back under control.

I have lived a long time with this virus Almost all my time as an active gay man has been spent as HIV+. I have put up with, and survived, a number of HIV related illnesses. I intend at this time to live a lot longer with it. If drugs and hope are the ways and means I will have to use to follow this intention through, then that is just what I will do.     

Tim Alderman ©2000 (Revised 2017)