Mardi Gras Festival, Part 1

look at the life of a gay man 40 years ago

Blurred picture of a gay rainbow flag

 

The last two weeks of February are celebrated in Sydney as Mardi Gras Festival, culminating on the first Saturday in March with the fantastical celebratory Grand Parade down Oxford Street. 2018 marks 40 years since the first March, held on Saturday June 24, 1978. We’ll hear about the Day of Solidarity and that March from Buzz in Part 2.

In Part 1 I want to look at the life of a gay man 40 years ago, as exemplified by Harry’s friend Jaroslav.

In 1970s Sydney, Jaroslav has two black marks against him: he is a Croatian migrant, AKA “a wog”. [It didn’t matter what nationality a migrant or “New Australian” was, they were termed “wogs” or “dagos”, often interchangeably.]

Even worse, he is a homosexual, AKA “a fag” or “poofta”.

We understand Jaro is gay through his reminisces of his poet/political activist lover, Damir in Zagreb.

He was so beautiful: those wide bright eyes

and curling light brown hair, his footballer’s legs

his wandering hands, his kisses.

 In outback Australia after fleeing civil war in Croatia, Jaro has brief encounters with men like him, mining at Kalgoorlie and Broken Hill. In Sydney, he finds his way to the fringes of homosexual society, beats in Hyde Park (the toilet block, and certain large trees), and in Newtown, the toilets in Hollis Park. It is in Hollis Park, as he is leaving the toilets —I’d hoped someone would come back to me— that he is retraumatised by the bombing.

However, when Harry and Jaro become friends, she has no inkling of his carefully hidden homosexuality, appreciating instead his courteousness: he’s such a gentleman and European sophistication. It’s not until Tom yells at her in the disco that Jaro’s a sad old poofta … he’s a fag, that she realises.

Unlike many gay men then —and up to quite recently— Jaro was never beaten up, bashed, stomped on, punched, kicked or stabbed just for being gay. Often these attacks were by gangs of men on streets leading to parks, or in the parks, regardless of whether they were actual beats.

Jaro’s friendship with Harry: meeting often at the Art Gallery, cafes and the ‘underground bar’, combined with his naturally discreet demeanour, may have protected him, acting as cover for his sexuality. Not that he was using her — he genuinely enjoyed her company — but it didn’t hurt that Harry believed Jaro was courting her.

Lock the toilets

Not one of the Guardian’s front page screamers, this was a small item, reporting a discussion at Marrickville Council on a motion “that public toilets should be closed at night to avoid any public nuisance”. I rewrote it as a prose poem.

Problems were caused by homosexuals, he said, who

frequented public toilet blocks after dark. “I don’t have 

anything against homosexuals,” Cr Broad told the Voice,

“but problems develop from their activities.” Asked what

were the problems, he declined to answer, but stressed

“We’ve got to stop these people loitering in the toilets

in the late hours of the night.” Homosexuals regularly

gathered in groups at Petersham Park, he said, and could

appear threatening to other people wishing to use the park

or its toilets. “Toilet blocks in Marrickville, Erskineville,

Enmore and Newtown are well known magnets for homosexuals.”

If this motion is passed all the public toilets ill be locked after dark.

When I moved to Newtown in 1997, all public toilets in Newtown and Victoria Park were permanently locked, day and night. The nearest available one was at Broadway shopping centre, 20 minutes walk away. I suspect the City of Sydney’s ordinance that cafes and restaurants must provide toilets for their customers was to get around the problem of permanently locked public toilets.

In 2001, I rented an apartment in Alpha House, (just round the corner from the infamous 2 Fitzroy St) and Hollis Park became my daily walk. Its toilet block was an ugly brick building fronting onto Wilson St with rusty bars and wire netting over the windows.

I didn’t take any photos of the park then, but after South Sydney Council demolished the toilets and magnificently refurbished Hollis Park, I took quite a few.

Hollis Pk corner 2006

This is a corner of Hollis Park in Warren Ball Avenue, looking across Fitzroy St to the ‘60s public housing towers over in Waterloo.
You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

 

 

The Greek Conspiracy (aka The Medicare Fraud

“Startin to think this whole multiculturalism business
isn’t as easy as politicians’d have us believe—
. . . I reckon it’s pretty tough on the migrants too. Take
this whole Greek Conspiracy shemozzle, aka the Medicare
Fraud.”

TMedicare fraud aftermath

This is a Christmas story of sorts, but a sad one. Beneath the Guardian’s screamer head for December 20, 1978 is a pic of the Salvation Army headquarters in Marrickville, blazing with Christmas lights, “a beacon for all to see.”

Towards the end of 1978, the stories Tom’s been covering for The Voice have got him thinking, reconsidering his smart-alec views about people, especially ‘wogs and dagos.’ What really brought home to him the inequality experienced by people on his patch were stories about blatant discrimination toward local Aboriginal people, and the plight of the Greek pensioners caught up in the Greek Conspiracy (aka The Medicare Fraud).

The Guardian’s headline and sub-head don’t make it immediately clear to us what the story is about, but Tom gives us the low-down in ‘The Greek Conspiracy.’ It’s obvious that whoever he’s talking to (at the Courtie’s, as usual), knows next-to-nothing about the Medicare Fraud. Basically, back in April that year hundreds of elderly Greek migrants were arrested and taken to court, accused of defrauding Medicare with spurious health problems, and they and many other Greek migrants had their pensions stopped.

The Guardian’s article is not about the so-called conspiracy and the arrests and convictions—of 181 arrested and tried, only four were found guilty of defrauding the Commonwealth, and three of them actually pleaded guilty! But the government continued harassing many more elderly Greek people it considered were part of ‘the conspiracy.’

What the Guardian article does cover is the staunch advocacy and efforts of community welfare agencies to get conspiracy charges dropped and compensation paid to the wrongly accused. Tom is dubious about the likelihood of compensation being paid, but has sympathy for the people swept up in the raids.

Startin to think this whole multiculturalism business

isn’t as easy as politicians’d have us believe—

. . . I reckon it’s pretty tough on the migrants too. Take

This whole Greek Conspiracy shemozzle, aka the Medicare

Fraud.

In dawn raids, the Commonwealth cops entered 160 homes and five

doctors’ surgeries an arrested 181 Greek pensioners,

an chucked em in the cells.

700 people on Social

Security had their benefits taken away and their

Payments stopped without any warnin. Not a good time

to be a Greek, specially a pensioner! Well that was eight

months ago, an now it’s nearly Christmas. 

. . . so many of the poor buggers’re struggling to live,

pay rent, buy groceries. A few of them

have actually dropped dead or killed themselves from the stress.

An there’s plenty who dunno how they’re gonna buy Christmas

presents for their kiddies. Seems like they haven’t had a fair go

We’ll hear more about local community welfare groups and social services in other posts. Life in Newtown 40 years ago wasn’t easy for anyone except the ‘big boys’ running gambling clubs, brothels, and other illegal activities.

But for the small fry: the poor, the single mums, the latchkey kids, the homeless, the ‘abos,’ and the ‘wogs’ and ‘dagos’ life was a daily struggle.

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

Yellowcake!

Radioactive Convoys

Sydney’s Inner West residents are familiar with the colourful mural fronting the Crescent at the foot of Johnston St. Annandale, opposite Rozelle Bay. Among the local events and characters commemorated in the quirky sketches is a reference to the mysterious and highly dangerous night-time transport of uranium yellowcake from the Lucas Heights reactor through the streets of the Inner West to White Bay. Although the mural was repainted in the 1980s and political slogans referring to the 1975 sacking of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam by the Governor-General, John Kerr were painted over, a reference to the yellowcake protests was included in the new work.

 

Ban Yellowcake

The front page screamer in the weekly Guardian of July 12, 1978 was the first most residents of Newtown and Marrickville knew of the midnight yellowcake convoys, although political activists in Annandale had been actively protesting them a year earlier.

Yellowcake powder is an intermediate form of  uranium, produced from crude ore, but needing further processing to be suitable as nuclear fuel. The yellowcake transported secretly through Inner West streets to the White Bay  container terminal to be shipped overseas was produced at the Lucas Heights reactor near Sutherland.

“Convoys of yellowcake have been racing through Marrickville streets early in the morning. But nobody knows anything about it.

Neither the Marrickville Council, nor the Newtown police have been told.”

“If there should be an accident involving yellowcake, there is no organisation to cope with it.

“Newtown police say they would get in touch with Marrickville Council. “However Marrickville Council officially knows nothing at all about the shipment.

“Its workers have received no training in handling a substance like yellowcake, and the council has no protective clothing for them.

“Shire Engineer, Mr Bob White says an accident would be the responsibility of the State Emergency Service, which would initially call on council trucks and workmen.

“The State Emergency Service has an office in Newtown Town Hall — but it is hardly ever used.

“So far there have been seven convoys of 15 trucks, each convoy carrying up to 2000 tonnes of yellowcake. They travel through heavily populated suburbs of the municipality.”

In ‘Yellowcake’ we hear about the midnight convoys from Tom, chatting over a beer at The Courties (Courthouse Hotel):

…real cloak an dagger stuff: convoys of

radioactive uranium yellowcake racing

along narrow Newtown an Marrickville

streets before dawn, with no-one know-

ing a thing about it.

‘…I could just see a bunch a hoons in a hot

wired car runnin a red light an crashin

into one of those convoys—huge pileup—

radioactive dust flyin every-bloody-where.

Contamination of a nation—

The Guardian’s editor wrote a strong comment about the lack of information surrounding these mysterious convoys, and the unknown levels of danger they danger they flirted with.

. . . Nobody is willing to admit responsibility for the uranium convoys racing through Marrickville streets late at night;

Nobody knows what will happen if there is an accident.

All three levels of government simply refer enquiries

back to each other. It’s like an endless piece of string.

What happens when that string breaks? Nobody knows.

 

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices