This book is something of a chronicle of my life (I am 76 in a month). I have lived so much of the life of the gay men revealed and discussed in this book. Whether it be the initial fear, self-loathing and closeted existence of the early years, the beats, the beaches, the baths, the bars (less so for me) as a secret separate world with its own culture, the fear of discovery and the effect that authority could have on one’s life and career, and yes, the bashings – I was there too (almost lost an eye). Living under the mantle of the late unlamented Joh Bjelke Petersen and his coterie of misfits and fundamentalist wowsers, a visit to the sin city of Sydney was always a pleasurable adventure. I knew most the places where these assaults and murders took place and the social venues mentioned (even stayed in the very first gay pubs and B&Bs). I can even report that the story of a helicopter being used to scan and round up gay men in Queens Park is true (I was there also).
Like many of my generation, I have had a growing familiarity with some of the stories of bashings and murders and the personalities described and have read, in a variety of sources, of the progress (or lack thereof) in pursuing the criminal cases set out. As such, there is little that was startlingly new for me with the exception of the role and behaviour of individual police, coroners and inquest hearings. This creates a new dimension that parallels the passage of these sad events in time. It is possible to make excuses and say that many of these authority figures are just creatures of their time and place, but that simply doesn’t cut it with me when there is clear evidence that wiser more thoughtful minds offered alternatives that were abruptly aborted, ignored or treated with contempt.
Can I offer one more perhaps unpopular thought that has long been with me. It is similar to the ‘time and place argument’ but it still irks me. I see a clear linkages between the beer-soaked biff-loving culture of many lovers of NRL and the behaviour of these young bash gang members (often Junior players or avid followers) ‘Get ‘im!’. I have seen research which looked at the impact of past club boozing culture on younger players and any reasonably aware individual is aware that elements of the problem remain both with alcohol and other drugs. NRL is a worthy and athletic game which has often done much to channel otherwise rowdy and possibly destructive young tribal youths and young mens’ urges into more socially acceptable directions. However, like the detailed example drawn by McNab of some Police involvement, I feel there has often been a climate of denial and ‘keep it quiet for the Club’ that has dogged this culture. (Sorry for the rant)
I have no intention of providing a detailed account of the content of this book but would like to suggest that it be ‘required’ reading particularly for younger gay men who need a reminder of just how thin the layer of acceptance can be and the darker clouds of denial, disliked and outright hatred that are always present. There are plenty of Fred Niles growing like weeds out there and they don’t need much encouragement to vent their feelings of disappointment, disengagement and pure malice.
This book is a worthy clearly-written exposition of a key aspect of gay life in Sydney and other parts of the world (varying degrees of intensity) which resurrects material touched on elsewhere in a variety of sources and modes. Its principal claim to fame is that it brings a clearer eye to the repeated self-serving failures of the key organisation that could have done so much more in the original context and then stubbornly refused to re-evaluate, with the wisdom of new experience and understandings, the probable errors of their past – the NSW Police (not the only offenders vide Dr George Duncan). This is not to say that there have been improvements in practice and personnel over the years (hopefully no more Police Commissioners carousing with Premiers on illegal unlicensed premises) but there will always be a lingering doubt that the prejudices and lack of understanding of the past have yet to be ‘put to bed’.
Looking at my contemporary world, I can only wonder at what may be the current practices in these respects if the words ‘gay’ ‘homosexual’ or ‘poofter’ are replaced by ‘ethnic bastards’?