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

 

 

Cathy’s Child

Not a horror headline but a glimpse of the lighter side of life in Newtown. Not all the poems in Newtown Voices are directly related to the Guardian’s front page stories. This was a small news item towards the middle of the paper that caught my eye. Cathy’s Child

Not a horror headline but a glimpse of the lighter side of life in Newtown. Not all the poems in Newtown Voices are directly related to the Guardian’s front page stories. This was a small news item towards the middle of the paper that caught my eye. Cathy’s Child was an Australian film about the true story of a Maltese mother’s efforts to get her little daughter back from Greece, where the father had taken her. Some scenes were filmed in Newtown streets and a local pub, the Carlisle Castle, reputed to be one of Sydney’s oldest pubs. In 1977, the Carlisle celebrated its centenary. In 1978 it was the venue for some crucial scenes in the film.

Carlisle Castle

The Carlisle Castle, Albermarle St, Newtown. Photo:Jon Graham & G’day Pubs

Some scenes of Cathy’s Child were shot in other parts of Sydney, but Newtown was chosen for crucial scenes because of the large numbers of Greek, Maltese, Polish and other European migrants living there, giving an “ethnic atmosphere,” as the Guardian put it. The film was directed by Donald Crombie, and based on a book by Dick Wordley who had interviewed the real Cathy Baikis. Cathy was played by relatively unknown Michelle Fawdon, who won Best Actress in a Leading Role at the AFI Awards in 1979. Also a newly rising star was 31-year-old Bryan Brown, who played The Sun’s Hot Line editor Paul Nicholson .

This little story gave me the starting point for a poem about everyday pleasures for Harry, her friend Buzz, and Tom, the deputy editor of the Voice, who fancies Harry (despite thinking her name’s stupid). The story is told by Harry.:

Buzz woke me up early this morning, throwing

two cent coins at my window. Quick, get dressed

an come down, we’re gonna watch the filming. Err,

what? I mumbled, not fully awake. The filming,

she said, impatiently, Cathy’s Child, come on, we

gotta get a good pozzie. We scooted round to

the Carlisle Castle, a couple of blocks from the

Courthouse (both the real court next to the cop

shop, and the pub.)

Both the Courthouse, known by all as the Courty or Courties, and the Carlisle Castle are still much loved local pubs, as is the Art Deco style Marlborough (the Marly), on the corner of King St and Missenden Road (and on the cover of Newtown Voices). They are the three main pubs, but as Harry says, ‘Newie’s got a pub on every corner, just about.’

After they’ve seen the small amount of filming outside the Carlisle in Albermarle St, Buzz and Harry team up with Tom, who’s finished interviewing the film’s director, and they all go round to the Courties (Tom’s favourite pub) for beer and bacon and egg rolls.

Tom told us some funny yarns about the cops and local

identities, maybe a bit slanderous, but I don’t

know any of the people he was gossiping about,

so it didn’t matter. Buzz was cackling away; being

a local, she knew just who Tom was talking about.

It was fun, the three of us, beers and bacon rolls

and a lazy winter’s morning in Newie.

Courties. (possible 1970sjpg

The Courthouse Hotel, Australia St, Newtown.
 Photo:G’day Pubs
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

Life wasn’t meant to be easy

PEOPLE KICKED OUT OF HOMES
While people sleep in the streets, government migrant flats have been standing empty

Kicked out of homes

Once again, a screamer headline across the front page of the weekly Guardian, this time on October 25, 1978, teamed with an incongruous photo of a Surf Rescue speedboat breasting the waves at Bondi, (a piece of advertorial)

No houses for the poor

Steep rise in rent cost

“While people sleep in the streets, government migrant flats have been standing empty for up to three years.

 “The Marrickville area has one of the highest percentages of people looking for emergency housing in the State.

 “According to a recent survey, 40 family groups, involving nearly 100 people sought emergency housing within a month.”

The Guardian estimated that “one and a half percent of the Marrickville population —a third more than the State average” was homeless. It quoted the NSW homeless organisation Shelter, that

“people are now sleeping in cars and parks —as in the 1930’s depression. Meanwhile government flats at Annandale and Marrickville are standing vacant.”

This story, and several others about poverty, homelessness and evictions— especially ones related to Sydney University’s expansion beyond its 1860s City Road site —led me to put much of this material in Buzz’s voice, in ‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy.’

If you haven’t met Buzz yet, she’s a social justice warrior who lives in an anarchist squat and teaches car maintenance at WEA (Workers Education Association). She’s very outspoken about the injustices she sees around her, and frequently quotes items she‘s read in the Newtown Voice.

“Life wasn’t meant to be easy” was a famous quote in 1971 by Australian Federal Liberal Party leader (later Prime Minister)  Malcolm Fraser. A wealthy grazier and powerful politician, his quote was resented by ordinary Australians  who understood it to mean “stop complaining about your lot.”  Buzz wasn’t going to take that lying down!

Jeez, Harry, when Malcolm Fraser told us

life wasn’t meant to be easy—the smug

patronisin bastard—I didn’t think it was

gunna get this bloody tough.

… Seems like things are almost as

bad as in the Depression, specially in

Newie an Marrickville. Welfare groups say

lotsa people are sleepin in parks an cars.

An guess what? Accordin to The Voice

there’s plenty of places empty that are

owned by the government—blocksa flats

for migrants in Marrickville and Annandale,

But never been used. Jeez, Harry, I dunno,

where’s this country goin? What happened

to the lucky country? To a fair go for every

one? I reckon we need a bloody revolution!

An I mean Bloody!

Sadly, many of the issues that affected people in 1978 have come around again.

Buzz has some strong words to say about Sydney Uni’s relentless expansion beyond City Road into surrounding streets, and the added effect of students sharehousing on the shortage of affordable housing in the area. I’ll cover the Uni effect in later posts.

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

.

The Mad Bombers!

“A new wave of bombing has hit inner Sydney, the latest in the heart of Newtown shopping centre, early on the Australia Day holiday.”

 

Horror Headlines from Daggy Old Newtown

The stories behind the poems in Newtown Voices

In May this year (2017), my verse novel Newtown Voices was published, and launched at Better Read Than Dead in Newtown (Sydney). Set in the late 1970s, it looks at life through four characters in an environment of poverty, crime, bombings, corruption, racism and homophobia – and disco dancing.

While my four characters: Tom, Buzz, Jaroslav and Harry (Harriet) are fictional, their surroundings and the crimes and social issues of the time are not. They are all taken from the headlines and news stories of the time. In these posts I show those headlines and the poems they triggered.

THE MAD BOMBERS!

 A screamer headline across the front page of the weekly Newtown Guardian newspaper on February 1, 1978, under a photo of smashed glass windows and debris.

 

 “A new wave of bombing has hit inner Sydney, the latest in the heart of Newtown shopping centre, early on the Australia Day holiday.

 “The Newtown blast demolished a jeweller’s store and florist shop, partly wrecked the local Rural Bank branch and 10 other buildings, and flattened three cars. Damage is estimated at more than $100,000.

The article continued: “Police closed King St between Erskineville and Missenden Rds for 10 hours on Monday while Disaster and Rescue Squad men cleared away wreckage and searched for casualties under tons of rubble.

“Cracked second-storey brickwork on one of the shops hung precariously over the footpath for several hours before the owner and South Sydney Council building inspector could be summoned.”

The Sydney Morning Herald ran a follow-up story on January 31, having initially covered it on the morning after the explosion.

Mad bombers damage

 

“Police were still trying to determine late yesterday the cause of the explosion that destroyed three shops and damaged other buildings, including three on the other side of the street.

“The explosion, which occurred about 12.50 am, ‘was like an earthquake’ one resident said.“Immediately afterwards, a yellow Ford Falcon car was seen speeding from the scene along King Street.”

SCOOP!

These news stories gave me the basis for journalist Tom’s poem ‘Scoop!’ Six weeks after the Newtown bombing, on February 13, 1978, Sydney’s Hilton Hotel in George St was rocked by an explosion, and two people killed. The hotel was hosting CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting), which both Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, and Indian PM, Morarji Desai were attending.

For dramatic tension, I changed the date of the Newtown bombing, putting it after the Hilton, so Tom can say:

…mine’s

a hummer of a yarn, my bomb blast

coming just three days after the Hilton

in George street copped a bomb,

with all those foreign nobs. They say

that’s down to the Ananda Marga.

Maybe mine is too. I can see the headline:

Mad bombers in Australia!!


You can read more about Newtown Voices, including Tom’s ‘Scoop!’ and where to buy the book at newtownvoices