Cities are mysterious places, full of hidden secrets, concealed niches, rickety alleyways full of history and forgotten people and events. No matter how long you live in a city for, you will never know all its secrets, all its snippets of fascinating history.
These are some fascinating snippets about Sydney that I discovered and compiled some time back, intending to use them in a story that never happened. A couple of things I knew, most I didn’t. Hope you are as intrigued by these as I was.
•The Tank Stream ran from what were the marshes of Hyde Park, between Market and Park Streets. It followed a course roughly parallel to Pitt Street.
•A wooden bridge was originally built across the stream at the current Bridge Street. A stone bridge replaced it 15 years later.
•It got its name from 3 ‘tanks’ that were hacked into it.
•In 1795, an order was issued forbidding pollution by washing, cleaning and emptying chamber pots into it, as the stream was becoming so polluted it was almost unusable.
•Sydney’s alternate water supply from the Lachlan Swamp Scheme in Centennial Park was completed in 1867.
•By 1860, the Tank Stream stretch from Hunter to Bridge Streets was filled in, and pipes were used to carry the stream underground. It was forgotten about until torrential rain caused basements in Pitt Street to float.
•Originally, only Pitt Street ran right down to Circular Quay. Phillip, Elizabeth and Castlereagh never made it due to the costs involved.
•There was a half-penny toll to use a footbridge that ran over the mud flats of Circular Quay to George Street. When Circular Quay was completed in 1855 (the last of the convict-built enterprises), it totally buried the Tank Stream.
•Point Piper was named after a former Captain in the NSW Corp called John Piper. It was originally called Eliza Point. John Piper built Henrietta Villa.
•First Customs House was completed in 1845, and was a simple, somber two storey structure. The current classic – Revival style building, incorporating the original building, was built in 1885. Other additions were made in 1916-1917.
•The Water Police Court was built in 1853. Designed by Edmund Blackett. An extension was added at the rear in 1885 by Colonial Architect James Barnet. This is now the Justice and Police Museum.
•The Mariners Church was built in The Rocks in 1856, and has a pulpit shaped like the prow of a ship.
•The Rocks originally covered the slopes to the West of Sydney Cove. Those lower down were inundated with sewerage from those higher up. They dug trenches around their homes to prevent it running through them, but this just caused a build-up, which would fester in the heat and humidity.
•The Argyle Cut was originally started by convicts in 1843, but was finished by free labour 16 years later.
•The Chinese had a colony in Lower George Street in the 1870’s, but due to local resentment, moved to the Campbell Street Market area.
•Princes Street, The Rocks main thoroughfare, disappeared in 1926 when the bridge was built, along with 300 homes.
•The bubonic plague started in 1900. It was restricted to the area around the wharves, Millers Point and The Rocks. 303 people contracted it, and 103 died.
•The bridge over Cumberland St was finished in 1864, and in 1868 a bridge linking the north and south ends of Princes Street was finished. This disappeared with the street when the bridge happened along.
•Suez Canal is Sydney’s narrowest street, and was home to the notorious gang known as The Rock’s Push.
•MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) was originally the Commissariat Stores, this building being demolished in 1940. The Maritime Services Headquarters, which now houses the MCA, was then built.
•The Sydney Observatory on Observatory Hill, was n built in 1858. Its copper-sheathed domes still rotate on the original bearings made from cannon balls.
•Dawes Point Park was named after Lieutenant William Dawes, an astronomer with the First Fleet. He supervised the construction of the Dawes Point Battery, of which only ruins remain.
•Some of the Argyle Stores date back to the time of the first settlement, and were constructed from sandstone and brick. The granite cobblestones in the courtyard were originally brought out to Australia as ship’s ballast in the 1840’s. There are also the remnants of a water hydraulic lift.
•Garrison Church, on the corner of Argyle and Lower Fort Street, was originally called Holy Trinity Church.
•Started on 28th July, 1923.
•Opened 19th March, 1932
•Arches met at 4.15 pm, 19th August 1930.
•Architect was J.J.C. Bradfield (Bradfield Highway), Chief Engineer of Sydney Harbour.
•Named Bennelong Point after an Aborigine befriended by Govenor Phillip.
•Cattle originally used the site, then a storehouse. 2 brass cannons were in place before being sent to Dawes Point.
•In 1817, Governor Macquarie laid the foundation for a fort, which would, naturally, bear his name. It was completed in 1819. It was originally four square walls, and entered by a drawbridge. It had 10 24-pounder cannon, and 5 6-pounders. There was a two-storey stone tower for 12 artillerymen to live in.
•The fort’s sea wall was removed in 1890 as part of wharf improvements.
•The fort was demolished in 1903, and replaced by a tram terminal with a fortress-like design.
•This was demolished in 1961 to make way for the Opera House.
•Opera House designed by Joern Utzon. It took 15 years to build, and cost, instead of the estimated $7 million, $102 million. The Queen officially opened it on 20th October, 1973.
•Ben Blakeney, an Aboriginal actor, played a digeridoo from the top of the sails at the opening, in memory of Bennelong and his people.
•The first was built in George Street in 1797. It was 80 feet long, made from logs and thatch, with a clay floor. It had 22 cells. It was set alight by an arsonist.
•A new ‘handsome and commodious’ prison with 6 cells stood behind a high wall in Lower George Street in 1801. Its southern wall ran up Essex Street, where its gallows presented a spectacle for residents of The Rocks. By the 1820’s, it was full.
•In 1826, the disabled vessel ‘Phoenix’ was set up at Lavender Bay for use as a prison.
•Governor Bourke (Bourke Street) ordered the Colonial Architect to design a new gaol on Darlinghurst Hill (Now Eastern Suburbs TAFE, in Forbes Street). It was opened in 1841, when the George Street prisoners were transferred to the new gaol.
•Until 1840, a 10-foot high, 2-foot thick stone wall ran along George street, and separated the commercial centre from the military centre.
•Within the walls were three double storey blockhouses, which made it the largest military barracks in the British Empire. Governor Macquarie had the wall built to restrain possible intercourse between the citizens and the military.
•The barracks wall began just north of present Margaret Street, and extended to Barrack Street, entirely occupying the area between George and Clarence Streets. The buildings stood between York and Clarence. The main gate, with a guardhouse, was in George Street, close to the present Wynyard Station ramp. In 1826, there was a guardhouse on the corner of Grosvenor and George Streets. There was a Male Orphan Asylum opposite it. The Regent Hotel now occupies much of this site, its restaurant named after early gaoler Henry Kable.
•The George Street Barracks Square became known as Wynyard Square.
•In the tradition of the Royal Navy, a tot of rum was issued to the troops at lunchtime. In 1845, Colonel Maurice O’Connell reduced the rum issue, and the entire regiment refused to attend parade. O’Connell ordered the 11th Regiment up from Tasmania to crush the mutiny. By the time they arrived, it was all over.
•In 1847 the 11th North Devonshire regiment marched out of the George Street barracks to take up billets in Victoria Barracks (Oxford Street, Paddington).
•Original graves were in paddocks on the edge of the settlement, in the ‘lines’. The ‘lines’ were four rows of convict tents between Essex and Grosvenor Streets.
•The original Barracks Square was sub-divided, and coffins were dug up in the vicinity of Clarence and Margaret Streets.
•By 1815, Market Street was the towns perimeter, and the cemetary was situated on the site of the Town Hall. Bodies were often not buried very deep, and during wet weather, the smell could be quite offensive. Over 2000 bodies were placed there over 27 years. During Macquarie’s Governorship, land was set aside one mile west of the town, and was officially called The Sandhills Cemetery, though better known as the Old Devonshire Street Ground. First interment here was in 1819, being the remains of Quartermaster Hugh McDonald of the 46th Regiment. The cemetery was badly neglected, with graves being opened, and the area used as a toilet. One of the oldest graves was of Jane Dundas, a housemaid at Government House during the time of Governor Arthur Phillip. Several vaults, one containing a coffin, were discovered during excavations for a shopping arcade during the 1970’s. Between 1819 and 1968, it is estimated that 5000 were buried in the Sandhills Cemetery. The cemetery was closed when ground was consecrated at Botany. When the Old Devonshire Street Ground was resumed for the building of Central Station, people were invited to relocate the remains of ancestors, and in 1910 they were conveyed to Botany Cemetery, and other suburban cemeteries.
•The original Sydney building allotments, as decided by Governor Phillip, were 60’ x 150’. He also planned, before returning to England, that city streets were to be 200’ wide. This, of cause, never eventuated.
•The second cove to the right of the Opera House (facing North) was originally called Garden Cove.
•Until reclamation, the harbour ran up as far as Hunter Street.
•By 1807, Garden Cove had become Walloomooloo Bay.
•On James Meehans 1807 map for The Plan for The Town of Sydney, land for Government House and what will become the Botanical Gardens is clearly marked as land set aside as ‘Crown Land’.
•The towns earliest breweries were at Kissing Point (North Shore), and what was to become Castlereagh Street.
•The brewery and the Wilshire Tannery at Brickfield Hill were heavily polluting the Tank Stream.
•In the same map, an area near the current MCA is called Market Place. Pitt Street is clearly marked, Castlereagh Street is called Camden Sntreet, and Elizabeth Street is called Mulgrave Street.
•By the time of an 1832 map, street names had become George, Pitt, Castlereagh, Elizabeth, Philip, Macquarie and King, and are clearly marked as such. In this map, Woolloomooloo Bay is called Palmers Cove, and the estate of Palmer runs up to its edge. The street terminology ‘Row’ had become ‘Street’.
•By 1821, the population was 12,000.
•The hospital appears on an 1822 map, as do Barracks and Macquarie Place, with its obelisk from which all distances from the city were marked. Pyrmont is named Piermont. There is something called Rope Walk near Macquarie Place.
•Market street ran from the Market Wharf in Cockle Bay. Parramatta and South Head Road are built, and had tollgates. The Domain is marked, originally called ‘Government Domain’. Government House was still in Bridge St. There was a windmill on the site of The Domain which was removed in 1814. Hyde Park was laid out as a racecourse. The areas of Moore Park and Centennial Park is evident. There is a house called ‘Ultimo House’, which the suburb of Ultimo would obviously have been named after.
•By 1831, the population was 16,000.
•By 1836, Sussex St is one of the cities busiest thoroughfares. On a map, Dr Harris’s Estate is clearly marked, also the suburb of Lyndhurst. As well as Ultimo House, there is an Ultimo Cottage marked. Pyrmont Bay (current spelling) Darling Point and Macquarie Point are named. Woolloomooloo is spelt ‘Wolomoloo’
•In an 1843 map, the city is divided into Wards and Parishes, including Bourke Ward, Macquarie Ward, Phillip Ward (with two’l’s’), the Parish of Alexandria, Parish of St Andrews, Parish of St Lawrence, Parish of St James, Cook Ward, Gipps Ward, and Parish of St Phillip. Balmain is named. Woolloomooloo is still spelt ‘Wolomoloo’
•The population by this time is 35,000.
•The Chippendale Estate was sub-divided in 1838. St Leonards (North Shore) had a population of 412.
•Busby’s Bore was completed in 1837. Gas lighting was introduced, and there was a gas works on the east side of Darling Harbour.
:•Redfern was named after an estate granted to naval surgeon Thomas Redfern.
•Paddington was, prior to 1850, sandhills.
•The Brickfields became Brickfield Village, then Brickfield Hill.
:Clarence Street was originally called Middle Soldiers’ Row until 1810, and Kent Street was originally Back Soldiers’ Row.
•York St was originally Barracks Row, and Church Street (probably named after the Garrison Church, and running from The Rocks) ran into it.
•In 1788, George Street was called Main Street, and was probably originally the route walked by people carrying water from the mouth of the Tank Stream to the settlement.
•Oxford Street, from the junction with Liverpool St in Darlinghurst to Bondi Junction, was the original Old South Head Road (and before that, just South Head Road).
•Jersey Road, Woollahra was originally Point Piper Road.
•Palmer Street Darlinghurst was named after Commissary General Palmer.
•Windmill Street in The Rocks was originally named for two windmills (two of five that functioned around the settlement) that operated there.
•Dickson Street was named after John Dickson, who began to grind wheat using a steam driven mill.
Always something new to learn. Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.
The challenge of writing about 33 years of living with HIV/AIDS isn’t so much to write tomes about what actually was witnessed over that period. That is easy to do, and I could ramble on forever about it. The challenge lies in being objective and succinct, to tone down the schmaltz and sentimentality and cut to the chase. Not as easy as one may think, as these were the most challenging, relentlessly ruthless and heartbreaking period of my life. But if survival is the gauge of ones strength and tenacity, then I have come out at this end of it with flying colours. Indeed, the cup is half full!
So what was it really like in 1982 to be reading snippets in our local gay press about this mysterious illness in The States that seemed to be targeting gay men who frequented the saunas, and quickly killing them? Well, cynicism and disbelief to start with, and the surety that within a short period of time they would find an antibiotic to clear up yet another STD. Soon the snippets were to become columns, then pages as the mysterious and deadly illness leapt from the shores of America and found its way here.
Our response was mixed. The first recorded case of HIV at home was 1982, and the first death in 1983. We had our usual ratbags who yelled and screamed about God’s vengeance on the evil, sick and perverted gay lifestyle (obviously a different God to the compassionate, all-forgiving one that I had heard about), the advocates of hate who demanded quarantine for all infected persons, and those who either quietly or vocally wished that we would all die or just go away. Not that easy folks! Thankfully, common sense prevailed and both the government and the grassroots gay community combined to put both AIDS Councils and NGO programs in place. Our quick response was instrumental in Australia always being at the forefront of HIV/AIDS care. Within 2 years every state had an AIDS Council under the national umbrella of NAPWA (National Association of People with AIDS), and the formation of support organisations such as The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, Community Support Network (CSN) and Ankali. Without these organisations life would have been grim for those infected. In 1985 testing was introduced. It was a bit of a strange affair in the early days. Due to hysteria and discrimination no one wanted their personal details on a database, so you chose a name, and Albion Street Centre issued you with a number that then became your ID. You had a blood test, and waited for two weeks – talk about high anxiety – to get your result. I had a mystery illness in 1982, a flu-type illness that wasn’t the flu, and already suspected that I had sero-converted and was going to come up HIV+. I was right. Counseling? Oh yeah, we had a lot of that back then. “You’ve got about 2 years to live”. Shrug shoulders “Okay”. And off we went knowing the inevitable was rapidly approaching, and it was time to PARTY!!! What else could you do? However there were horror stories. The disgusting treatment of young Eve Van Grafhorst is something for all Australians to be ashamed of. Born in 1982, she was infected with HIV via a blood transfusion. When she attempted to enrol in her Kincumber pre-school in 1985, parents threatened to withdraw their children due to the (supposed) risk of infection. The family was literally hunted out of town, and forced to leave the country and go to NZ. I will never forget the sight of this poor, frail girl on her way to the airport. I, like many others, was horrified that this could happen in Australia. Thankfully, her NZ experience was quite the opposite, and she lived a relatively normal life until her death in 1993 at 11 years of age. Her parents received a letter from Lady Di praising her courage.
Meanwhile, the Australian nightmare was well and truly hitting home. My first close friend, Andrew Todd, died in 1986. At that time there was no dedicated AIDS ward, and Andrew was shifted between wards as beds were needed for other cases. He died on Boxing Day in A&E at St, Vincent’s. I had the sad duty of ringing all my friends at a party to tell them the sad news. Party pooper recognition acknowledged! Ward 17 at St Vincent’s eventually became the dedicated AIDS ward, and for the next 10 years was never empty. Palliative care was through The Sacred Heart Hospice. Hospitals such as Westmead hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons; full contamination clothing for those working with HIV people, rooms not being cleaned, meals left outside doors. Even the poor old mosquito copped a hiding as a means of contamination, along with toothbrushes, glasses, cutlery and crockery. An advertising campaign featuring the Grim Reaper bowling down poor people created an apocalyptic vision of HIV that scared the life out of everyone. It was quickly withdrawn. In the interim, my 2 years became 4, which became 6 followed by 8. My life became a haze of alcohol and cigarettes, not shared alone.
In the 80’s I held a lot of parties with anywhere from 40- 60 friends attending. By 1996, if I had tried to hold a party I would have been lucky to have dug up 10 friends to attend. In the blink of an eye my social circle was effectively wiped off the face of the earth. Hospitals, hospices, funerals and wakes became the dreaded regular events. It was death on a relentless and unforgiving scale. The Quilt Project became the focus of our sorrow, and it’s regular unfoldings and name readings were tear-filled times of remembrance and reminiscence, along with the yearly Candlelight Rally. I attended until I became so empty that I could no longer bear it. I submitted my names but no longer attended. In the early 90’s four friends died close together – two from AIDS, one a heart attack and one cancer. This was a particularly heavy blow as two of these friends had been regular “gutter drag” partners, and that part of my life effectively ended. In a perverse way, it seemed strange that the Big A wasn’t the only thing stalking our lives.
Despite its reputation for being human Ratsac (the Concorde Study in France named it such, after conducting an unethical trial; turns out they were correct!) I started taking AZT when my CD4 count started to take a dive. Hard work, long hours, heavy drinking, chain smoking, a shit diet and emotional turmoil didn’t help. Pub culture became lifestyle. Did several drug trials – D4T, which was sort of successful, though the same class of drug as AZT. Also p24 VLP (Very Light Protein) which proposed that stimulating the p24 antigen may help control HIV. Total waste of my time. It did nothing. We started alternating drugs – 6 months on AZT, 6 on D4T, 6 on DDI, 6 on DDC. Perversely it seemed to keep the wolf from the door. Dosage was huge. Everyone on it ended up with kidney problems and peripheral neuropathy. Prophylactics added to the drug burden. In the meantime there was no HIV dental service and our teeth rotted or fell out due to bouts of candida. I left work in 1993 after being seriously knocked around by viral pneumonia which should have killed me…but didn’t. I was shuffled onto the pension, and given rent subsidised housing by DOH. The subsidy seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, weren’t we all eventually going to be killed by the Big H, so no one would be on it for that long? Famous last words! My alcohol consumption and chain smoking increased, if that was possible! Was losing weight at an alarming rate, and naturally no one noticed because I took to wearing baggy clothes to disguise it. Nothing quite like being delusional. Moved from Darlinghurst to Bondi. Nothing like moving away from the scene to help your health…not! Collapsed in the street, and admitted to St Vincent’s not with PCP as suspected but a collapsed lung. Two weeks later and a change of female GP’s saw me back in the doctor’s rooms while she read my hospital discharge report. Had they tested me for CMV retinitis? No! Was I having trouble with my vision? Yes, but I do wear glasses. Guess what? We’re sending you for a little holiday at Prince Henry Hospital (now closed). I was a little bit sick. Chronic CMV retinitis, chronic candida, chronic anemia, had 10 CD4 cells and weighed 48 kgs. Mmm, prognosis was not good. Well, it had been a good life. I was certainly joining a band of party people. But no! Life hadn’t finished with me yet. Protease Inhibitors had come along at an auspicious time, and within a fortnight I had been stolen from the arms of death. Mind you, that fortnight had been no picnic. Ganciclovir injections into the eye, Deca-Durabolin injections to help put weight back on, blood transfusions, and enough finger prick blood readings to last me the rest of my life. And the problems had just started for this return-to-lifer. Not dying when you are supposed to really fucks up your head space.
So started the next round of therapies. Peer Support groups; counselors; Caleo (a treatment management group who help you maintain the impetus to take the billion pills a day we were taking); clinics; dental care (now up and running); volunteer work (to keep one sane). What started out as volunteer work at the then PLWHA (NSW) Inc (now Positive Life) turned into paid employment as a research assistant. I started writing for “Talkabout” magazine, joined the Positive Speakers. Bureau, and learnt to use a computer. A couple of stints back in full-time employment made me realise that big changes needed to be made with my life. By this time my health was pretty well back together. A couple of nights out pushed home just how few people I knew, however did lead to meeting my current (now ex) partner. A brief encounter with Indinivir sludge in my kidneys (which involved having a stent inserted then removed) also made me aware that for HIV+ people the unexpected can happen at any time. Yet another change of doctor. Self-empowerment had become an important issue, and I wanted a say in my health management, as distinct from being dictated to. Big changes were about to happen.
In 2000 David and I did a big (and expensive) holiday to the Red Centre. It was an amazing experience. Before leaving Sydney I had applied to the University of Technology in Sydney to do my degree in writing. Shortly after arriving back home I was informed that I had been accepted. Ah, the advantages of mature age AND disability. So spent three years doing my Graduate Certificate in Writing, was office- bearer for the Special Needs Collective…in fact I WAS the Special Needs Collective, and discovered I hated having to deal with the moronic “radicals” who called themselves the Student Association and did nothing except rant and rave, and waste student money. I was glad to leave uni. Towards the end of 2004 I decided to get my chef’s credentials from East Sydney TAFE, and crammed a 12-month course into 6 months. As much as I hated uni, I really loved TAFE and found it more grassroots and honest. David and I started Alderman Catering, a top-end catering business though it only lasted about 2 years as I found it very exhausting. I then sort of returned to my retail roots by opening a web site called Alderman Providore to sell Australian made gourmet grocery items. The site proved successful, and within 4 years I was opening my second site, this time specialising in tea, coffee and chocolate products. I got involved in a trial using Goat’s Serum to treat HIV, but again another waste of time. I did manage to get a skin rash from it, and managed to score a $1,000 for participating. In late 2009 the GFC hit, and online shopping took a major hit. After a disastrous Christmas that left me severely out if pocket, I decided to sell the business and put it behind me.
More eye problems followed, this time involving my blind eye. Back to the regular rounds at the Sydney Eye Hospital, and an injection of Avastin into the blind eye to stop it creating new blood supplies to an eye that couldn’t see. By this time, the interior of the bad eye was collapsing, and it took on an unnatural colour. Before this I hadn’t looked blind. Now I did!
The next step, which sort of brings us up to date, was a major move. Plans to move north had been on the agenda for 10 years – in 2011 it finally happened, though we did jump the border which wasn’t in the original plan. Recently my retina detached in my one seeing eye…or rather was pushed off by all the scar tissue present from my original CMV infection. An emergency operation to scrape down the scar tissue, and replace the retina and fluid (called a vitrectomy) has seen my sight degenerate even further and I am now the proud owner of a white cane curtesy of Guide Dogs Queensland. It has become obvious that our two Jack Russell’s are not, despite their best of intentions, good seeing-eye dogs. I can see, though very poorly. A lot of life is a blur these days.
However, I am not going to complain. I have always enjoyed a challenge, and this presents yet another one. I gave up smoking 15 years ago, and drink only lightly and socially these days. My partner and I both adopted a healthy diet and exercise program 8 years ago when we both started getting unattractively over-weight and inactive. We have both turned our lives around by adopting this course of action. In 2013, I obtained my Certificate III in Fitness from Southbank TAFE. It proved both a challenge for me, and for the TAFE, as they had never had a student with severe visual impairment do the course before. And finally, at the beginning if this year, I had my troublesome blind eye removed. I now have a very life-like prosthetic that I dan do drunken party tricks with.
33 years eh! OMG where have those years gone? Despite all the discrimination, stress, anxiety, illness, deaths, survivor guilt and despair, there have been moments of great introspection, illumination, strength and enlightenment. That over-used word “empowerment” springs to mind and that is perhaps the one word that sums all those years up. Victim? No way! Survivor? Not in my words! And I have never been one to wallow in self pity. You just need to grab life by the balls, and get on with it. I trust that is what I have done.
“What an irrational, ecstatic, erotic, silly, FUN thing dancing is.”1
In 1977, I wandered into a record store in Granville, and discovered, hidden to one side of the female vocalist long-plays, a small selection of the, until then, unheard of 12” singles. I walked out of the store with a copy of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” – at the exorbitant price of $2.99 – under my arm, and thus started what has been for me, a continuing love of dance music.
Around the same time, I started to frequent the city’s discos, usually starting my night out at “Downunder” in the Hyatt Kingsgate in King’s Cross. Then, if I was feeling adventurous, I would wander down to “The Zoo” in William Street or over to “Jools” in Crown Street. On odd occasions I wandered down Darlinghurst Road in the Cross and passed by a gay disco called “Zig Zag”. How I longed to enter that glitzy, glittery doorway, complete with camp spruiker, but fear always stopped me just short of a grand entrance. A lesbian friend of mine, who my father thought was my girlfriend – and he hoped that I would marry – had taken me to Oxford Street on a number of ‘dates’. Even though we never went into any of the discos situated there (a gay friend of hers owned a coffee bar in Bourke Street called “Nana’s”, and she went there primarily to socialise with Nana, and his friend, Cupcake). I can still remember all the exotic names. There was “Patchs”, “Flo’s Palace”, “Tropicana”, “The Barrel Inn”, “Tina’s Bar” and “Capriccio’s”, not to mention a street teeming with male sexuality – at least, as sexual as the 70’s were able to get.! I would wander back home on my own at 6.00 in the morning, depressed and with the dread that I was, eventually, going to die a virgin. Fortunately, my luck was about to change.
In late 1978, my father killed himself. This act on its own would not have been enough to prompt my ‘coming out’, despite him being the main cause of all my sexual repression, but it did imbue me with an immense feeling of freedom. A national retail company that I worked for at the time asked me, in late 1979, if I would like to spend some time in Melbourne to troubleshoot their two retail stores there. Two days after they asked, I found myself on a plane to Melbourne. I also found myself, blessedly, far from friends and family. No observers, no critics. I was answerable to nobody but myself. I ‘came out’ – definitely with a bang, not with a whimper! As a means to an end – in that it would give me contacts on the gay scene – I joined a collective of gay Catholics, becoming a member of a group called “Acceptance” and after that there was no holding me back. I was 25 and damned horny, and any male that was half decent looking and capable of walking was my prey. I was free at last!
The first gay disco I attended which taught me the meaning of ‘cruising’ – and that you had on occasions to say no to someone’ – was also the place I picked up my first man. Or more correctly, he picked me up – and I discovered that I liked older men of a certain type – he wasn’t the type. No worries, there were plenty more nights, and plenty more men, to come. I also discovered around the early 80’s a huge discrepancy in the way 70’s music was being historically treated. All of the music documentaries I saw that covered that period stated that disco music had died in 1978, with the temporary closure of ‘Studio 54’ – it rather unsuccessfully continued its existence until 1986 – and with the advent of ‘New Wave’ music. How misinformed they were! Disco music never died. It did, however, undergo a huge shift in sound to Hi-Energy, and style (the advancement of drum machines guaranteed a continuous, accurate beat, and provided a heavy drum/percussion background to modern dance music), then moved itself underground to the care of the sector of the community who could love and cherish it the way it deserved. It became a gay icon!
So started my life as a gay male. Like Sydney, Melbourne had its own underground gay press, and its underground gay scene. It wasn’t hard to get the local gay rags, you just had to know where to go. It was often a bit more difficult, however, finding the gay venues. The people may have been ‘out’, but the venues weren’t. Through the press, I started reading about a disco in St. Kilda called “Mandate”. Deciding that I liked the sound of any disco with the word ‘man’ in it, I decided on a night out there. Friends had already introduced me to places like “The University Club” in Collins Street in the city, where after 3am all the gay cabbies were on the prowl, and only too willing to give you a free ride home in return for a ‘favour’. There was also the young trendy “Smarties” in North Melbourne, the very butch “The Laird” hotel in Collingwood, “Ryders” in Fitzroy, and the drag queen haven of “Pokies” in St. Kilda. But they were nothing compared to “Mandate”! The gay scene was spread over a wide area in Melbourne, unlike the gay ghetto that eventuated in Sydney – and I now think it may be the one reason why the gay scene remained ‘gay’ in Melbourne, long after it started turning straight in Sydney. I was often less afraid to go to gay venues in the southern city, because if the straight boys wanted to go ‘poofter baiting’, it would have cost them a fortune in petrol, and it was too much of a hassle to drive from suburb to suburb, so one usually went unmolested, no matter which venue you went to.
The first time I went to Mandate, I walked past the entry door about six times. It’s not that a door wasn’t there, it’s just that it wasn’t wide open and there was no sign telling me to knock. I suddenly realised, after watching others enter, that I had to announce to the ‘door bitch’ that I wished to enter after being ‘checked out’ through a small covered window in the door. If I passed muster, which wasn’t a problem, being young and pretty, I got straight in. And I walked into another world! There was a small ticket office at the bottom of a flight of stairs. After paying the couple of dollars it cost to get in, I climbed the stairs, ignoring the sexual exploits going on under my feet. I then entered male paradise! The bar was set up directly to the left of the entrance door. If I turned to the right, I headed toward a huge cruising area, with a dance floor at the far end. There was a narrow, ‘L’ shaped area running around the dance floor filled in with metal bars, and it was in the cruise area behind these bars that I had my first experience with public sex. And enjoyed it! But that really wasn’t why I was there. It was the copper dance floor spread with a layer of talcum powder – to give it slip; the incredible light show; the constant, primitive driving beat of dance music that kept me riveted there; boys stripped down to the waist, covered in sweat; the ever-circling amyl bottle, and the blast of whistles to tracks like “Rock Your Body” by 202 Machine, “Hills of Katmandu” by Tantra, “Don’t Stop the Train” by Phyllis Nelson, “You Can” by Madleen Kane and “Hit ‘n Run Lover” by Carol Jiani. I would take a huge whack of amyl up my nose, spinning out on the floor for a few seconds. I would inevitably end the night in somebody’s bed, usually not my own. If I was lucky, they might speak to me again and if I was really lucky, I might fall in love for two weeks. That’s all it was about! The lights; the dancing; the naked flesh; the sweat and the sex. It was intoxicating! I became a clone and revelled in the tribal symbolism of ‘belonging’.
The Aussie gay clone could not have happened anywhere else except in the sub-cultures of the gay community. No.1 or no.2 haircuts, handlebar moustaches, ‘Bonds’ tee shirts or singlets, flannelette shirts, Levi ‘501’ Red Tab jeans and boots, “King Gee” shorts. It was a uniform, and it was gay. After years of stereotyping gay men as effete, arty, and poncey, we fought back with a macho extreme. By day, I was a mild, well-mannered retail manager, with a somewhat extreme haircut, and a pierced ear – its extremism reaching even the upper echelons of power in Sydney and almost costing me my job. But by night, I came into my own as a nightclub clone – the term nightclub was preferred to disco by this time. Many adopted the ‘Village People’ look of hardhats or ‘Akubra’s’, and as far as most of us were concerned in the nightclubs, all this type of regalia was totally acceptable and part of the clone persona. The gay elite – read: old and conservative – were aghast at this new, unabashed sexuality, writing tomes into the gay rags about how we were adopting straight stereotypes to exhibit our own lack of masculinity. I wrote a letter into “Campaign” newspaper – it had not achieved magazine status at this time – accusing them of being ‘cloneophobes’, sadly locked in their tired, conservative, in-the-closet- sexuality, listening to their Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand records, unable to express themselves as gay men, as the new, younger generation were doing. This new generation of gay was no longer content to have circuit dinner parties, or arrange nights at the theatre or the opera. They had a new freedom, which was being expressed, with revelry, through our nightclubs. Nobody wrote back to argue with me. The battle for the rights of clones was won!
In early 1982, news from overseas was filtering through via the gay press that rare forms of pneumonia – called PCP – and a cancer called Karposi’s Sarcoma, were killing gay men – seemingly very selective diseases, only picking on a minority group who were sexually ‘different’ – who frequented the baths and backrooms in San Francisco. Like everyone else at this time, I thought “Oh yeah, another STD to worry about. Can’t be any worse than the crabs, or a dose of the clap. They’ll find a pill for it”. It didn’t turn out quite that way. At the same time, I decided I had had enough of Melbourne. I couldn’t have coped with another winter down there. I was homesick for the beautiful harbour. News from the Sydney gay community was of boom times, a scene very much tied into what was happening in Melbourne. ‘Capriccio’s’ caught fire, ‘Patchs’ caught fire, and ‘Tropicana’ caught fire. Sydney was literally burning. It didn’t sound like a thriving scene if one relied on reports in the ‘Sydney Star’ newspaper, but visitors from Sydney raved about the new venues replacing those that had been incinerated, especially the ‘Midnight Shift’, which had risen like a phoenix out of the ashes of ‘Tropicana’.
I yearned for my birth city. I fell in love with a ‘bear’ from Waverton who was visiting Melbourne, and decided to move back north. The bear turned out to be a psychotic, but that’s another story. I fucked him off, moved into a unit – with harbour views – in Neutral Bay, flatting with a radio announcer from 2SM a a plutonic relationship, I can assure you – and proceeded to get on with life. I joined the soon to be defunct Gay Rights Lobby – defunct because we obtained gay rights. We gained the right to have sex with another man without being arrested, and anti-discrimination laws were set in place. I decided to be apolitical from then on – until HIV came along anyway. The gay ghetto of Oxford St – ‘The Golden Mile”, or “Vaseline Alley”, depending on who you were talking to – was a seething mass of depravity, deviancy and sexuality. I automatically felt at home, joining in with gusto. It was also wall-to-wall clones. I felt doubly at home. Like most people in Sydney, I had my regular haunts. Not for me were wasted hours of hot, steamy sex in the baths, or the cravings for anonymous sex in the gloryholed back-rooms and sex clubs like Club 80, that many frequented. I had only visited the baths once, and that was to get off with a friend of the ‘bear’s’, who I met while I was still living with him. Don’t get me wrong, I never wanted for sex! But more on that later.
Until The Oxford hotel opened in 1982, my Saturday night out always started at The Albury. In some respects, The Albury has never changed. Clientele would be spilling out onto the footpath by 10 PM, and drag shows are synonymous with the place. If you were into the leather scene, your haunt would be The Beresford, but a fire in that hotel around ’84 changed its character forever, and the leather brigade moved on. I met my third long-term lover at The Albury, really a substitute for the guy I was actually after – his flatmate John. I hoped that by having a ‘thing’ with Frank, perhaps, by some perverse stroke of luck, I might eventually be screwed by John. It never happened, though John and I ended up good friends. However, Frank’s reign as my partner was only to last until I realised that there was a world of men out there for the taking. I was missing out on too many opportunities and his bleached hair and tinted eyelashes became too artificial for my liking. I dumped him!
So, as I said, The Oxford opened in late 1982. It became a clone haven overnight, and was my regular watering hole for the next fifteen years. I survived two of its reincarnations, but the third was just too much, a little too trendy for its old clientele. But in 1982, it was heaven, a paradise of the latest dance music, and the hottest, sweatiest men. One thing I will always say about gay men – it doesn’t take much encouragement to get them to start removing their gear. It was also home to several Oxford Street institutions – well, institutions at the time, anyway. Dexter was an idea stolen by one of the pub managers after visiting the States. It was an electronically controlled penis that sat on a trapeze hung from the ceiling toward the back of the pub. Underneath the ‘head’ was a mouth, the entire apparatus being controlled from the dj’s box, tucked away against the west wall of the main bar. At designated times during the night, some popular dance track like “Maybe This Time” by Norma Lewis would start playing, the trapeze would start swinging, and Dexter would go into a full mime routine. Very camp. Dexter’s demise came about after some Yank visitors to our fair city went back to the States and dobbed us into the copyright owners. They threatened to sue if Dexter didn’t hang up his balls, so the next thing we knew, he was gone. As far as I know, he is still packed away with a heap of other props in the roof of The Oxford.
Regular Saturday night visitors to The Oxford were ‘The Planet Sluts’. These guys were really over the top as far as gutter drag goes, being the models that I eventually used to put Cleo, my own gutter persona, together. They would appear from nowhere, often accompanied by the blessed Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. There would be frocks for days, wigs backcombed to within an inch of their life, make-up and moustaches that were totally over the top. They would barge their way through the front door, climb up onto the bar, and mime to whatever dance number happened to be going at that time. I always wanted to be a member of that troupe, but as with all these groups, it was all very cliquey. I did have the privilege of fucking with Carl, out of ‘Carla and the Cosmetics’; a drag trio who used to perform at ‘The Honest Irishman’ at Camperdown. It is a claim to fame that probably only I and Carl remain alive to remember. So that would be how most nights started out.
However, this wasn’t just how things started out on a Saturday night, or Saturday and Sunday night for that matter! In those bad, bad old days, I went out every night of the week. I didn’t work to live, and I certainly didn’t live to work. I worked to earn enough money to dance, party, and play the game hard. I went out seven nights a week, often not getting home until 3-4am, getting up at 7am to get to work, then going back out again at 10pm to repeat the cycle. There were many mornings that I turned up at work straight from some piece of trades home. But every night, the pub was just a prelude to what was to follow at The Midnight Shift. If I had enough sense, I’d leave The Oxford at 11pm to go to The Midnight Shift. I would always walk down the left-hand side of Oxford Street, as walking down the right-hand side meant I had to pass “Frenchs”, which was a skinhead hangout. They had a reputation for harassing gays passing by on their own, so I avoided it as much as possible. Being an observer to a number of punch-ups right outside its doors, I had no desire to have my night ruined by any such carry-on. The Shift, as it was affectionately known, had been a pinball parlour in the early 70s, became Club 85 (its street address) in the mid 70s, then Tropicana from the mid 70s up till the fire in ’82, soon after becoming what it still is – The Midnight Shift. It was the nightclub of the clone/macho set.
If I arrived at 11pm, I’d be able to walk straight in. If I left it any longer, which I often did if the alcohol was kicking in early, or the DJ was playing a string of favourites, I queued. Not that queuing was a problem. It gave me a chance to start the night’s cruising, the street being a good place to get in the mood to party. Standing in line with the others, usually with friends, we’d stare blankly into the display window of the manchester store, situated at the left of The Shift’s staircase. The queue more often than not would go back as far as Crown Street. To the right of the staircase was a supermarket, and from 11pm onwards, you could hear its glass doors rattling from the bass of the music upstairs. Like everybody else, I would eventually find myself climbing the long, steep staircase, my senses being assaulted by the music pounding through the walls. Then I would be at the top, ready to pay the entry fee, and enter the inner sanctum. The Shift had a very strict dress code – you either looked macho, or like a clone, or you were banned from entry. We had fought so hard for acceptance of this image, even from our own peer group, that we basically encouraged this sort of stereotyping of The Shifts clientele to maintain the image. This was no world for the well-dressed businessman or the city trendy in Hawaiian shirt and pleated pants. People only got in wearing denim jeans – preferably 501’s – “Bonds” singlets or tee shirts, or flannelette shirts. This and leather! Nothing else was appropriate. We all had the obligatory no.1 (street hardened boys who worked and lived in the ghetto), or no. 2 (guys who had to work, and couldn’t risk being too out) haircuts, nearly everyone having a moustache of one description or another. Back pockets of jeans usually carried a bunch of keys; in the left pocket if you liked to fuck guys (active) or; in the right pocket if you liked to be fucked (passive). Preference was often for a coloured handkerchief or bandana in the respective pocket, the colour giving others a coded invitation as to what you were into – Navy blue-straight sex; red-fist fucking; yellow-water sports; black-S&M; grey-B&D; khaki-uniforms; and white-masturbation (though this later came to signify safe sex). As for me, well, I wore navy blue, and my keys were always in my right pocket. Some guys also liked to carry small teddy bears in either pocket, signifying that for that night at least, they were into either cuddling or being cuddled. There was a strength in that clone sameness, that stripping away of ‘straight’ stereotypes, a feeling that everyone in the nightclub was equal, and male. The Shift only allowed men to enter its hallowed walls…
Seeing as I have managed to get you to the door- you must have had the regulation uniform on, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered getting you this far – feel I should give you a quick guided tour before leaving you to your own devices. To the left of the doorway is the main bar, named ‘Charlie’s Bar’, at least up until Charlie died, early in the AIDS epidemic. It is ‘L’ shaped, and dominated by the dimly lit bar, which is packed. There are four barmen behind the bar, all going flat-strap serving drinks. In an alcove to the left of the bar a guy is smoking a joint, and another sniffing a line of speed from the bar’s corner. As we wonder through the bar (cruising) we come to another doorway on our left. Music is roaring out of it, and as we push our way through the crush of sweat-soaked men (cruising), we find ourselves on a large platform, which overlooks the dance floor. There are rails around it, with several sets of stairs leading down to the extravagantly lit dance space. I pull you to the left, then we wonder along a narrow corridor to one side of the dance floor. This is called the ‘Meat Rack’, being where guys stand if they are not dancing, and are definitely available to be picked up. Unfortunately, it has gained something of a reputation for only having desperadoes as its clientele, those who have little chance of being picked up in the better lit areas, feeling they might be luckier in the dimmer zones. I take you past the dj’s box (cruising), glancing in through the huge glass window. Steven Cribb is playing. No wonder the floor is packed and raging. He is the current supremo amongst our disc jockeys, having earned himself a reputation as a dance floor God. His beat (continuous) mixing is flawless. He can mix a 118BPM record into a 128BPM record, and you would never know a mix was happening until the track change. His music has made The Shift THE place to be on the weekends. However, I am going to keep you off the floor for a while until we finish our tour. We go down several steps, and we find ourselves in a barn-like area, set up with long tables, and benches. There is a bar at the back, but not a lot of people use it. The area is very dimly lit, and it doesn’t take much straining of the ears to deduce that the place is humming with sexual energy. If you glance into that corner, you can see a guy giving another a blowjob, with a similar activity going on only several feet away from them. Instead of taking you up the back for a more intimate look, I will drag you through this door to the left. There is a toilet to the right of us. This toilet is actually used as a loo, or you want to share some drugs around. A corridor is to our left, leading us past the DJs box, then back to the main bar area. As we exit the corridor, you will notice another corridor to the right. This corridor leads past the cloakroom, then the manager’s office – do you want a bottle of “Rush”? I know the owners, so it won’t be a problem – then around a corner to the ‘other’ set of toilets. These are the ones that are used for sex. Don’t confuse the two! Nothing will piss a queen of quicker than having to have a piss, and finding someone getting off in the wrong loo. Now that you know where everything is – you’re going to THOSE toilets, eh – well I guess we’re here for different things – I’m going to love you and leave you. The dance floor calls (cruising). Steven has just put on Yvonne Elliman’s “Love Pains”. Have beat, must dance!..
On most Saturday nights, you could stand in the bar and listen to Steven taking us into a different world with his often impossible mixes. He would mix from “Love Pains” to Eastbound Expressways “Primitive Desire” as people headed onto the dance floor. With its growly under-chant of ‘You Tarzan, me Jane’, it was a dance floor favourite; a definite floor filler. I was often entranced by the lighting technicians, as they started the strobes flashing, and filled the floor with fog. Overhead, eight various sized mirror balls would be clustered together, reflecting multi-coloured flashes of light from the sate-lites and vari-lites situated nearby. A techie would start the sate-lite whirling and flashing through the fog. Suddenly, I would find myself in another world. Stephen would mix “Primitive Desire” into Miquel Brown’s “So Many Men, So Little Time” (This morning, I open my eyes, and everything is still the same. I turn to the guy who stayed last night, and ask him “what’s your name?”). There would be whelps and yahoos from all corners of the room. Suddenly, I would find that I cannot move on the floor. Somebody might hand me a bottle of amyl, and I would take a huge snort of it, placing my thumb over the top to stop the liquid from spilling as we dance around. For a few seconds, my head may spin, the dance beat would become all pervasive, driving everyones feet into a frenzy of sleazy dance. I would find that some guy next to me had stripped off his sweaty tee shirt, and is sharing an ethyl soaked handkerchief with another dancer, also stripped to the waist. More fog would be pumped onto the floor as Miquel is mixed into Hazell Dean’s anthemic “Searchin’ (I Got to Find A Man)”. More hoots and hollers – this is something everyone related to – (Searchin’, looking for love, every place I can, searchin’, looking for love, I got to find me a man). On the speakers at two corners of the dance floor, guys in Speedo’s are dancing with 3’ gold fans, rotating, spinning, and intertwining the fans to the beat of the music. Hours of rehearsal in front of the mirror at home are paying off! Guys standing within range either duck to avoid the spinning fans, or move completely out the way. Steven has the floor ultra hot! God only knows how long it will be before he puts on something to give everyone a break. He has had me on the floor for two to three hours at a time without a break before tonight. This is the magic that a good DJ can spin. He will then mix in the huge anthem of Norma Lewis’s “Maybe This Time” (Maybe this time I’ll be lucky, maybe this time he’ll stay), and the whole dance floor will turn handbag, at last a short break from the endless, relentless beat of Hi-NRG. Often you would find a couple of guys have stripped down to jock straps, and are weaving their way around the floor, their butts glistening with sweat. The pervasive odours are of sweat, testosterone and amyl. This is a domain only male animals can love, and we do! Steven will go for the pull of an oldie with Shirley Lites “Heat You Up, Melt You Down” (I’ll heat you up, I’ll melt you down, let’s do it, do it, do it, come on baby, I’ll heat you up, I’ll melt you down), and I may yell at the memories the track invokes. Oh Romeos “These Memories” (These memories, these memories haunting me) follows, then Earlene Bentley’s “Boy’s Come to Town” (When the boy’s come to town around midnight, I’m gonna find one, take him home. When the boy’s come to town around midnight, I won’t spend the night alone), following this with Divine’s gay anthem “You Think You’re A man” (You think you’re a man, but you’re only a boy. You think you’re a man, you are only a toy. You think you’re a man, but you just couldn’t see. You’re not man enough to satisfy me) then brings the beat down to Princess’s “Say I’m Your Number 1”, which gives some of us an escape route to get to the bar to replenish our drinks before he builds the beats up again.
I would often cruise a guy on the dance floor. He would, hopefully, stand next to me at the bar, and glance at me out of the corner of his eye. My taste ran to navy blue ‘Bonds” singlet, thus anybody who had one on, a greater stimulation if they are so old and well worn that they are more indigo than navy, and worn with a pair of 501’s. If nobody else comes along, you both have already created a frisson. I watch him as he picks up his drink. He smiles at me as he turns from the bar. I check out his butt as he walks back towards the dance area. Nice! Denim-clad. Right up my alley. I have this thing about mid-thirties to early forties guys (I’ll never be that old!). Being young and pretty, I have no problems getting picked up by anyone I fancy.
If I want a break from dancing, I will pull up a stool to the doorway between the main bar and dance area. Just sit, looking like a real sleazy, cruising slut. It works every time. I find older men much sexier than guys my own age, they are more confident than my own peer group. They also don’t throw you out on the street five minutes after you cum, preferring someone to cuddle up to during the night, and usually cooking you breakfast the next morning. Gay life can be a very lonely life sometimes, especially as you get older. They have a network of guys in the same age group, and if you have been good sex – and who my age isn’t! -, the word is passed along, which makes picking up an easy job for a while.
I get my drink, then move to the corner to speak to some mates. They offer me a line of speed, but tell me I will have to go to the toilets to take it. The manager has warned them that the cops are doing one of their token raids on the place, but the right amounts of money have been placed in the right hands, so provided nothing obvious is going on, things will be fine. I disappear into the toilet with one of the guys, and we sniff speed off the top of the cisterns through a rolled fifty-dollar note. This should keep me going for a few hours. He says he will have some MDA next week, maybe with a bit of luck some crystal meth. I tell him to keep me some MDA. The fucking stuff makes me so horny I could fuck my way through a football team.
Just after I returned to Sydney, I went out with some friends one night. I was a bit of a drug ‘virgin’ at the time, always having a slight fear of them. One of the guys gave me a ‘moggie’ (Mogodon), and said if I had plenty of alcohol to drink, and forced myself past the sleepy stage, I would have the best time. Yeah, sure! I sat down just for a little minute and got woken up by the doorman several hours later, telling me the place was closing. I have never done that again I can assure you. If money gets a bit tight, I will wonder up to “Rely’s” pharmacy in Oxford Street, and they will sell me a bottle of pseudo-ephedrine tablets – under-the-counter, of course – for a few dollars. I can get a cheap thrill very much like speed from these. It is better than nothing for a night out, despite playing hell with the water-works.
I return to the dance area, and my eyes are like stoplights. I sort of hope for a quick pick-up, like I had last week. A guy just walks up to me and says, “Do you want to go home and fuck?” This is the entire intro I get until we get back to his place in William Street. I find out I have seen him in an ad on TV. I wish pick-ups could always that easy. Beats sitting around playing games for hours. Suddenly, there is a break in the music. There is the soft ‘hiss’ of smoke being pumped onto the dancefloor, the soft hum of sate-lights and vari-lights being manipulated into position. The strobes start a soft pulse. There is a quiet squeak from the mirror-balls as they start to revolve. The air is electric. Something major is about to happen! From the 20,000 watts of speakers spread over the four corners of the dance floor issues the voice of Gloria Gaynor, an almost whispered “I am what I am, I am my own special creation, so come take a look, give me the hook, or the ovation. It’s my world that I want to have a little pride in, my world that’s not a place I have to hide in. Life’s not worth a damn, ‘til you can say – I am what I am”. Chaos reigns. People run from everywhere in a mad frenzy. We are all on the floor for the biggest gay anthem of all time. Poppers are going from hand to hand, and everyone prepares for the explosion of sound, indicating that the track is about to rage. The lights all go up at once, rainbows of brilliant colour reflect through the smoke. Guys with tambourines circuit the borders of the floor beating them on the palms of their hands to the beat – the first time I took a tambourine onto the floor, I came home with a bruise from the top of my arse, down to my knee. God, it hurt! – the fan dancers take up their positions on the speakers, and everyone starts to blow whistles. It is a wonderful insanity. It is a song about our own lives, the pride and freedom we are still fighting for, the exhilaration of being what we are! We are all as one for the duration of this one track. Gloria Gaynor is Goddess! Steven mixes the heavy drum beat intro of Dee Martin’s “Lover Why?” into “I Am What I Am”. A frenetic pace is being set for the next hour. This will be a long tiring night.
But then the guy I have been cruising joins me on the dance floor, and I think that maybe I’m not so tired after all. At 3 AM, there is another sudden stop with the music, but only for a change of beat. Wind-down is about to start. Everyone is tired and sweaty, though those on speed and MDA sweat for reasons other than dancing. The beautiful low-beat guitar strums of Chaka Khan’s anthem “Ain’t Nobody” throbs through the silence (Ain’t nobody does it better, makes me happy, makes me feel this way. Ain’t nobody does it better than you), then mixes into the fabulous choir styled “Life In a Northern Town” by Dream Academy. The opening notes of Brenda Starr’s “Tonight I’m Gonna Make You a Star” gets the two-hour wind down off to a slow, sleazy start.. Those who were here for just the Hi-NRG leave to go home, or perhaps to traipse up to the Taxi Club for some gambling and drag acts. The die-hards like myself, and my potential evening’s trade start to sleaze dance to the slower beats of the music. It gets a bit more commercial with The Thompson Twins “Hold me Now” being followed by Spandau Ballet’s “Gold”; Patti Labelle’s “Oh, People” – all too soon to become almost a funeral anthem- and “On My Own”; Gazebo’s beautiful Italo sleaze track “Masterpiece” are concessions to gay romanticism. My friend grips me on the butt, and pulls me in close. Most people have left The Shift by 4am, though my trade and myself don’t leave till 5am.
I find it is a bit of culture shock finding yourself on an almost empty Oxford Street in the early hours of the morning. Before I get him home, the sun will be rising, but it is Sunday morning, and I only need a couple of hour’s sleep before I start to get ready for tonight. Sometimes, especially at this hour, I wonder if this is not an addiction, like my cigarettes. But like my smoking, I’m not yet willing to give it up. I am young, and I just want to party, and party! If I have my way, this will never stop, and neither will I.
FOOTNOTE: Just after I returned to Sydney in 1982, I contracted a mysterious illness, very flu-like, but much more severe than any flu’s that were around at that time. Doctors were mystified, and the symptoms disappeared as quickly as they had begun. I never gave it another thought, and it wasn’t until 1985 that it was recognised as sero-conversion illness for HIV.
This article was first published in the Queer issue of “Vertigo”, the student newspaper at the University of Technology Sydney in 2002. It was published “as is”, though I have edited and cleaned it up since.
I’ve spent most of my life sitting on the sidelines of a radical’s playing field
It’s not that I’ve never had opinions; it’s always been more a matter of having different opinions, and a strong urge not to end up affiliated with the unpopular (read losing) team. So, I’ve shut up and put up where I shouldn’t have; sat back and listened to endless tirades of bullshit sprouted by individuals who have no idea what they are talking about; held a glass to the wall while the downfall of sanity was planned in another room; and watched people selling off or ignoring the weight of sane idealism. White-collar elitists undermining the structures of a blue-collar world!
Perhaps I could carry on like this; perhaps I could continue to use my soapbox as a storage devise for my now unused vinyl collection; arse-end my megaphone and convert it into a vase; or start a petition to sue the growers of marijuana for being inept at keeping me (us) permanently stoned. Nothing can change the fact that these days, I am getting fucked off by just about everything going on around me, and fucked off by having allowed myself to keep quiet for far too long.
When I crashed out of the closet in the early 80’s – at the grand old age of 25 – it was into the perfect environment for a potential dissident – the gay liberation movement. Yeah, let’s hear it for gay rights! Sure, if you can find the time between checking out the latest bar, and keeping your cock in your pants long enough to fight the good fight. Naturally, I sympathised with all the boys out there trying to make life easier for us, and sure, I had an opinion. I just didn’t want the opinion to stand in the way of a good time. Oh, I did write a letter to ‘Campaign’ (newspaper, not magazine back then) defending the rights of guys to look like clones if they wanted to – and accused those who didn’t like it as being ‘cloneophobes’. Nothing like inventing a word! Did I ever feel guilty about this lack of radical action? Sure I did, as someone yelled ‘faggot’ at me as they drove past in a car, or I read in the latest gay rag about the increase in gay bashings in the local ghetto. I even determined that I was going to the next rally, or the next kiss-in, or signing the petition that was sitting in my local pub. The problem was that I had to manage to get past the pub door, or get up before midday, or say no to a bit of trade to accomplish any of these things. So I left it for those guys to do. You know who those guys are! They are the ones who wander from club to pub with the petition that you should sign, but never seem to remember. The guys who always had their photos in the gay papers, as they tried to rally a community to action. The guys who always had letters published in the same gay rags, defending us all against the rantings and ravings of the vocal minority, who saw fit to hold everyone ransom to every other standards of morality than those we accepted as right. Yep, those guys! I admired them, I supported them, fucked if I wasn’t even just a teensy bit envious of them for being so out there, but I mean…I was just a 25-year-old male bimbo with a life to burn. I’m sure they understood!
So, the 80’s passed me by. I never did get to any of the gay rights marches, or the kiss-in arranged by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence on the steps of government house, or the first march, that political pivot point, that was to become Mardi Gras. I did, however, manage to work my way through three relationships, got the clap no less than four times, and found myself trapped in a frantic lifestyle that generally left anyone caught in its vortex an alcoholic, a drug addict, or dead! Even I, from my ivory tower of intellectual snobbery, sprouted from a bar-room stool, should have foreseen the next chance at radicalism – a bigger stage that I could have acted from, another soapbox to yell rousing, unrhymed verses from, finding uses for milk crates other than what we annually used them for – viewing a parade!
No, not even I foresaw HIV. No one knew the devastation, the heart wrenching desolation, the sheer bloody mindlessness of this pandemic like those of us in the middle of the fray. Behold, another opportunity was handed to me, and still I sat back, still took the easy road, still tried to pretend that tomorrow I would do something, tomorrow…
Sure, like many others I put up the pretence of radicalism. I joined the fringes of the AIDS groups, at least long enough to say that I had done my bit, I shouted members of ACT-UP a drink if they happened to be in the same bar as me after a demonstration; I unfolded quilt panels; attended auctions to raise money; visited the sick and dying in hospital; ranted, again, that everybody was doing something except those who should; then took myself off to the local and again, got my priorities right from my bar stool in the corner. Let it never be said I didn’t have an opinion – it was just aimed at the wrong ears. When I realised it was no longer good enough to fight this battle this way, it was almost too late, and the white-collar elitists had almost kidnapped the whole epidemic to their own benefit.
There is nothing quite like a degree, nothing quite like a network of those in the know to give people a sense of wisdom beyond that of everyone else. It was time to act! Enough of pub politics, opinions whispered into the crotch of the latest bit of trade, the mind numbing importance of yet another drink – like I really needed it – or another joint, or another tab of acid. Life leeching away at the speed of the next line of coke. I had a frightening experience – I got ill. I had another, more life altering experience – I survived the illness. I had the most frightening experience of all – I got older! When I think of all the frightening things that have happened in my life, perhaps the latter was the most frightening of all. Years flying past at the speed of light.
So, like Lazarus, I arose from the dead, marched from the hospital ward and back onto the streets. It’s too late, I kept thinking to myself. It’s too bloody late and you’ve missed the fucking boat. But no, it’s not too late. In an age of complacency and burn-out, there is time still for a yet-to-be-a-has-been radical. I find myself at a rally in support of equal age of consent for gay and straight men, not quite comprehending what makes one sector of the community more irresponsible than the other in terms of sex. All I really find is that the era of great radicals has passed, and no one seems to be moving up the ranks to fill their Doc Martens. The rally leaves me feeling flat, wondering where all the great bullhorn vocalists have gone! Even the turnout is small compared to those of the 80’s. There was no value in rallies and parades anymore. As far as these forms of radicalism go, perhaps I have missed the boat.
I join the underground world of working groups, sub-committees and networkers, and at last started to find the missing flame of righteous indignation. The written word is something I am more than proficient at, and my letter writing on anything from ugly McDonalds advertising to condom use – and misuse – becomes prolific. I discover the hidden world of ‘the article’, and start to churn them out by the zillions. I discuss, initially, disease and its impact on life, but soon find myself drawn to the palliative issues of illness, and how best to survive in a world that barely recognises your existence. Public speaking is my next step up in this alien world, and I suddenly start to realise that it is not too late to be a dissident. You just need the right soap-box at the right place and the right time. Being there when something is happening doesn’t mean that you have to act on it. Sometimes, coming in through the backdoor can be much more beneficial.
Now, as I enter the noughties, I am finding the dissident gene that I thought was missing for so long. I joined groups, both community and university orientated, and feel that in some small ways, I am making a difference. Perhaps more importantly, I am no longer just focused on the smaller issue of HIV, but see potential for being a voice in all areas of disability. What achievements and benefits I obtain for myself I also obtain for others, and vice versa. Make a difference? You bet your balls you can. Shout, yell, scream, demand. Send emails and annoy people until they are sick to death of the sight of you. By the time they reach this stage, they are willing to listen to what you say. Be patient, be diligent, be aggravating. Trust me on this. I do it regularly, and yes, things are happening – perhaps not as quickly as I would like, but they are happening. In many respects, it has given me an alternative view. I used to wonder what the attraction was – name in the paper, photographs at rallies, police record – and like most others, I thought they really just craved attention. Now, when I see a set of stairs being marked so vision impaired people can see them clearly, when I see adverts for note-takers in lectures for the same people, when lighting is fixed in badly lit areas, or just an advert in a lecture about a disability meeting in a faculty, I know what it was that they obtained from all their vocalising and protests. It is that feeling of having done something for the greater good, and that is something you can do whether you are 16 or 60, gay or straight.
Feeling peeved? Pick up your soapbox. Find a patch of grass or asphalt big enough for a captive audience. Raise your megaphone high…and SCREAM!
(This article was originally published for World AIDS Day 2005. It is, with no modesty, the most powerful piece I have ever written. Written with love, it took me the longest time – about 2 months – to write. It is also the piece I have shed the most tears over. I received a huge amount of positive feedback from it, and nearly everyone who has read it has cried. I don’t know that the tears were over my stories so much, but rather that they had similar stories invoked by the writing. I have always hated the introduction to the snippets, and have taken this opportunity to totally rewrite it.)
Anyone who has been observing or participating in the Lost Gay (Insert your state) groups on Facebook would realise the immense value of collective memory. Writers, historians and archivists can churn out volume after volume on gay history, but nothing can match the real stories that come from individuals who lived within the community through its various phases. I personally submitted a tome of comments, stories, reflections and recollections – not to mention a plethora of photos – on other peoples submissions to the Sydney group. It was an energising, amusing, often happy, sometimes sad experience reliving what was, for me, a formative part of my life, and a period of gay history that was positive and empowering as a community.
No recollections of the 80s and 90s can skirt around or avoid the impact of HIV/AIDS on our lives. Indeed, reading through the groups posting on lost friends drove home the nightmare, the immense loss, the sorrow and the stories flowing from those of us left behind. It was a beautiful experience, and more than a few tears were shed. It also informed some of losses they had not been aware of. A friend of mine actually died during this period and his memorium was in real-time instead of being enclosed in the pages of a local paper.
HIV/AIDS was relentless and soul-destroying. There is nothing more helpless than being in the midst of all this obliteration and knowing there is absolutely nothing you can do. Many of us stood, stunned, and watched our entire social circle written off the face of the earth. It didn’t discriminate, it offered no mercy or compassion. Death and dying became an event that, even for those who left for nether regions, could not escape from. To write this piece, I have had to dig into photo albums not opened for years (with photos of groups of friends where not a single person is still alive), delve back into long buried memories. It was like a dam breaking. I cried, and cried and cried. Perhaps long overdue, it proved cathartic.
But the same question was being asked as I wrote – what of those who survived the carnage and live with its aftermath? However we have managed to come to terms with it, we are all scarred. Triggers are never far away – a photo, a memory, a casual conversation can produce a flood of emotion. So we learnt to tuck it away, to cope, to avoid. But how do we really feel about our survival? How do we place ourselves? What role have we adopted as a coping mechanism? Are we “long term survivors” (Like or lump the terminology)? Do we have “survivor guilt”? Are we in denial? “Victims of circumstance”? Or was it just “the luck of the draw”! Or have we found other ways to redefine ourselves! How ever we see ourselves there is one thing we can’t deny – we are the holders of all our departed friends memories,; the secrets that endeared them to us; their little irks and quirks. I have come to define myself as a Storyteller, and as a writer I could write tomes on all my departed friends lives, i could bash your ears for hours, and bore you to the point of sleep. But I won’t.
I have chosen the lives of three close friends to write about “in a nutshell”. This is not a biography about them. It is a random thought, that one thing that springs to mind when their name is invoked, that short story or snippet of their lives.
These are three people I love, three people I deeply miss. There memories are jewels in my mind, are stars at night. I hope they glow and twinkle for you!
Andrew Keith Todd
4 February 1962 – 26 December 1986
“I am white lightening and protecting you all.”
Andrew was, to give a modern comparison, a Hobbit. He would laugh uproariously if he knew I had drawn that comparison.
I met Andrew when I was the manager of ‘Numbers’ Bookshop, which was one of ‘those’ sex shops on Oxford St. He didn’t actually work for me, but for the ‘Hellfire Club’ – later to become ‘The Den Club’ – a Club 80-style sex venue next door to ‘Numbers’, both owned by the same guy. I can never recollect seeing Andrew when he wasn’t smiling, or laughing, or doing someone a favour. He was one of those easy-going guys who was liked by everyone. He was also one of the first people I knew to become seriously ill from AIDS. We knew so little about it back then that I don’t think anyone, including Andrew, was particularly perturbed. Over a period of about 6 months, we could see his health slowly deteriorating, weight loss being the most frightening symptom on someone his size. Shortly after that, his hospital stays started – or in his words, “just going in for a bit of a rest”. He was in and out quite regularly for the 6 months leading up to his death, with each outstay getting shorter and shorter. Several months before his death, the stay became permanent. There was no dedicated AIDS ward back in those dark days, so he would be placed in a ward for a while, then if the bed was required by someone else, he was moved down to A&E (St Christopher’s ward) until another bed became available. He had the dubious distinction of being one of our first HIV guinea pigs, suffering the discomfort of loads of antibiotics to try to help the PCP, and dozens of lumbar punctures as medical staff tried to work out how best to treat him. His back looked like a pincushion. By December 1986, we all knew he didn’t have all that long to go. Despite his constant good humour, his downhill slide was becoming more and more obvious. He looked dreadful! A Christmas lunch had been arranged by friends living at Glebe on Christmas Day that year. We called into St Vincent’s on our way there to deliver Christmas gifts to him. ‘I won’t die today,’ he said to me as we were about to leave. ‘I don’t want to ruin your Christmas’. Christmas lunch was a quiet, tense affair with everyone jumping every time the phone rang. But he kept his word. I had to work on Boxing Day – sex doesn’t recognise public holidays. The rest of our friends were at a party in Darlinghurst. I received a phone call in the early afternoon to say Andrew had died, and then had to put a dampener on the party with a phone call. There was a huge wake that night at “The Oxford’, the first of many to come. His funeral was held at Eastern Suburbs Crematorium, and at the exact moment that the curtains were closing in front of the coffin, every door in the crematorium chapel suddenly slammed shut.
He still managed the last laugh. In his will, he bequeathed me the books I had lent him to read in hospital.
Andrew was 24-years-old. He has no lasting memorial.
Stuart “Stella” Law
“Riding in my pink Cadillac”
My dear friend, how I still miss you! The mental image I have of you dressed in miles of pink tulle frou-frou, trying to not slide off the bonnet of that pink Cadillac as you were driven up Sims St in Darlo, to the sound of Stephanie Mills belting out “Pink Cadillac”, will stay with me forever. How we laughed! You were always such a ‘laydee’!
I had originally tried to pick Stuart up in ‘The Oxford’ one afternoon, but we had spent ages chatting, and the next thing I knew…we were friends. We proceeded to spend the next couple of years doing gutter drag together. How we turned this town on its ear! For those not familiar with the term ‘gutter drag’, imagine huge wigs, over-the-top make-up, miles of lurex and tulle, and body hair for days. Never one to shun the spotlight, he could be seen doing mime shows at ‘The Oxfords” Egyptian-themed birthday party in 1987, and doing an impromptu performance at my ‘Nuns, Priests and Prostitutes’ party in 1988. My dining table centrepiece was never quite the same after that performance. We did our last drag gig together in 1990. There was something wrong, and Stella wasn’t letting on! When he had to quit work, he finally told me he was HIV+. He became a regular at the ‘Maitraya’ Centre – a forerunner to the Positive Living Centre – and he was not one to say no to a free service! This was a bad period for all of us. In 1992, far too many died. Stuart was placed in the Sacred Heart Hospice. He looked as though he was just wasting away. I went to visit him one night, and lay on the bed with him, just holding him. There wasn’t a lot else we could do, even then. The hospice cat paid a fleeting visit. It came time to go, and I started walking towards the elevators. I remember this overwhelming compulsion to turn around. Stuart was watching me through the door, and suddenly I just knew that I would never see him again. I never did. He died that night.
Stuart’s life is celebrated on AIDS Quilt panel 057006.along with others from Maitraya
Geoffrey Gordon Smith
7 June 1943 – 9 June 1991
“The Sentimental Bloke”
.Famous for their ‘Port and Cheese’ parties, Geoff and his partner Steve were the Hosts Supreme, and entertained many of us in style from their converted shop in Glebe. Geoff was without doubt the last of the true blue gentlemen. With never a bad word to say about anybody, he always had a joke to hand out, a smile that never stopped, and was generous to a fault. Need to move house? Geoff would be there in a flash with his van. Need a lift? Just give him a call. At one function at their home, a stray cat suddenly appeared on the roof overlooking the yard. We managed to coax it down using Cabanosi and cheese, and noted that it was undoubtedly a stray, as it was very thin, and had some sort of skin ailment. Geoff spent all afternoon trying to shoo it away – if only he’d known that we kept coaxing it back with little tidbits. Later that night, Geoff rang me at home and said the cat was still hanging around the yard. A week later, the cat had been taken to the vet to get its skin cleared up, and had taken over one of the chairs in the lounge room. That was Geoff through and through. He and Steve as The Minister and Mrs Smith made several appearances at parties over the years. The minister was always well behaved, but Mrs Smith had some problems with the sherry. In early 1991, in an attempt to control the rapidly on-setting symptoms of AIDS, Geoff went to a quack – used in its literal sense – dietician, and was presented with a diet that was principally meat with little else. I didn’t really approve, as I couldn’t see the benefits of it, but Geoff insisted that theoretically it could work, so it was left at that. His health deteriorated quite rapidly from that point. I stayed over at Glebe after his funeral, and late that night Steve climbed into bed with me and cuddled up. ‘I just don’t know what I’m going to do,’ he said. ‘I just miss him so much’. All these years along and he is still missed. I am privileged to have had a hand in helping to make his quilt panel.
His life is celebrated in AIDS Quilt panel 037004