On my brother — some images reconsidered

See Ian Jeffrey Whitfield 3/10/1935 – 5/4/2017.  Last Friday on Facebook I posted a photo from c.1940 of Ian at 61 Auburn Street Sutherland, where I also lived 1943-1952. My niece Maree (with whom I have only recently renewed contact) commented that she had never seen it before.

That took me back to the image I used in the post linked above. I cropped it in order to think more about exactly when it was taken. It also shows my sister Jeanette (19 March 1940- 15 January 1952).  My father was in the RAAF from 8 April 1940 to 23 November 1945. The following photo was taken probably in 1944. It shows the family grouped in the yard at 61 Auburn Street.  It is possible my father took the photo before he was sent to Port Moresby, where he served in the last year of the war. Reflecting on the fact that these are wartime photos has been part of my revisiting them.warfamily

Left to right: back row: my aunt Ruth Christison, my uncle Neil Christison (in RAAF uniform), my aunt Beth Christison. Front row: me, my mother Jean Whitfield, my sister Jeanette, my brother Ian. The photo is creased so much because my father took this copy with him to Port Moresby.

Now the cropped photo, which may even date from the same day. If so, Ian would have been eight or nine years old.

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Just over ten years later, Ian (right) on his wedding day at 1 Vermont Street Sutherland, 1955:

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And I blogged 15 years ago…

Longer, in fact, but this morning thanks to the Internet Archive I found quite a few survivors from Diary-X. “In early 2006, the server’s hard drive failed. Since there was no backup, the entire website and all of the users’ diaries were lost irretrievably.” Well, not quite.

Here are some samples.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

I had dinner with Sirdan last night — fish, asparagus and rice, and very good too. We got to talking about those ancient times we have both lived through, pre-leporine you know. (I just had to use that word, having found it recently.) Anyway, it turns out that among his past accomplishments are pottery and photography, and that last one I happen to have shared. In fact I began to get serious about it when I bought an ancient Praktica in Cronulla some time around 1968: single-lens reflex, a shutter that sounded like a gun going off, and no electronics whatsoever…

Later on I learned developing and printing (as Sirdan also did, but before me and in another country) and began to achieve some pretty fair results. I even taught photography for a couple of years…

Well, all my gear was stolen around 1987-8: the house in Glebe where I was living was burgled three times in one year. The last break-in happened while my flatmate Andy and I were both asleep upstairs; we heard nothing despite the burglars having neatly removed the back window in order to get in. The burglars, too, were disappointed and took nothing. In fact, one of them left behind a pair of sunglasses…

Yum Cha

Nine Dragons again today. We agree that it is probably the best over-all of the venues we go to. The spicy calamari, roast pork, duck are almost orgasmic. (I obviously should not have read Wendy Perriam!) Oh, and we, for the record, were Sirdan, the Empress, bus-driver Paul, James, Malcolm and myself.

20 September 2004:

Michael in Tasmania wrote a delightful entry yesterday, the last item being his reflections on 1964: “I remember 1964. At that time I had never seen a cassette tape, an FM radio, a calculator, a computer, a color television set or a video recorder. Heart transplants were still the stuff of horror movies and there were plenty of people who doubted that astronauts could ever land safely on the Moon.” It is indeed hard to believe this is forty years ago…

I had been talking to Mister Rabbit about this very year only last Friday, since this was the year I did my English Honours under Professor Sam Goldberg, got hepatitis, and completed my degree… I wrote about all this on my old diary, and looking back at those entries I am rather proud of them actually. So have a look, eh. (“Vermont 4 is wonderful. Well done.” — ICQ Message 🙂 18 January 2003.) This one and the one following it deal specifically with Sydney University.

Mind you, a few links there won’t go anywhere: Mister Rabbit’s old website is long gone and the new one is still in gestation, so to speak, and I doubt that literary quiz of mine still works….

12 February 2005:

One of the most marvellous writers of the 20th century, one whose enormous talents as a writer for the stage enthralled me totally, one whose wisdom I could only aspire to, has passed away. I refer, of course, to Arthur Miller, a voice for all that has been best in America. Interviewed in 2002 for the Christian Science Monitor, Miller ruefully acknowledged the applicability of his 1953 Tony Award winner The Crucible to the America of George Walker Bush.

In researching the play, Miller read through transcribed testimony from Salem court records. He compared the religious devotion of the 17th century with the trust Americans had in their judiciary and Congress following World War II.

In both cases, people in positions of power were “manipulating the faith” that Americans had in religion or in government, Miller says. “It’s a little bit like how you have millions of people in Muslim countries all worked up now, and I’m sure the mullahs who lead them are manipulating those people.”

The play’s prosecutor warns that “a person is either with this court or against it. There be no road between.”

Miller points out that “in one way or another, that speech is repeated anywhere this kind of a movement begins. It’s always ‘it’s a new time.’ We don’t consider the shades of evil. You’re either for us or against us.”

I am one of the many who found their own fathers in Death of a Salesman. Truly a wonderful writer….

Wow! Hard to take in the time that has passed since I wrote those. Naturally the internal links may or may not work, but being themselves web archived they just might!

Meanwhile here is an interesting 2004 item about the reality TV performer who later became The Donald, aka President Thug. Extract:

 Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed to have been against the Iraq War from the beginning, and he has cited this story as proof. The Iraq War began in March 2003, more than a year before this story ran, thus nullifying Trump’s timeline….

One thing about television, it brings out personality. People are able to watch me in action. They hear my voice and see my eyes. There’s nothing I can hide. That’s me. Television brings out your flaws, your weaknesses, your strengths, and you truths. The audience either likes you or it doesn’t. Obviously, the audience likes me.

In the history of the business, there’s never been anything like this—a businessman has the highest-rated show on television. Businessmen don’t even get on TV, let alone have the number-one show. What can I—[phone interrupts]. Hold on, I want to take this….Reeeeeg! How are you? … I’m sitting here with Esquire magazine. They’re putting me on the cover. It’s a story about…wait, I’ll let him tell you. [Turns on speakerphone.]

Esquire: What it feels like to be an American icon…

Everything I do in life is framed through the view of a businessman. That’s my instinct. If I go into a pharmacy to buy shaving cream, then I’m going to look for the best deal on shaving cream. I watch Carmelo Anthony play and think, How stupid was it for Melo to be drafted third? Can you explain that one to me? Look, I watched Detroit. Carmelo still would have been one of the best players on the team. He’s as smooth as silk. And Detroit uses its second pick to take this kid from Serbia. A project. First year, the guy doesn’t even play. A friend of mine says, “It’s gonna work out for them. It’s gonna be good.” What’s gonna be good? No matter how good Detroit is, is this Darko gonna be better than Carmelo? And even if he does become good in four or five years, he’ll look somewhere else for more money, right? I just can’t believe it. How stupid a move was that?….

I’m competitive, and I love to create challenges for myself. Maybe that’s not always a good thing. It can make life complicated. I’ve gone through so many phases—although to me it’s been one steady life. I used to be thought of as an eighties phenomenon. When the real estate market crashed in the early nineties, I was billions in the hole. Yet right now my company is bigger, stronger, and more powerful than ever. The show is the biggest thing on TV. And I’m saying to myself, Where do you go from here? And my answer is: I have no idea….

Of course now we know.

Avoiding comment on Greta, President Bonespur, Scomo or Boris…

Well, what can I possibly add?

So slightly early I present some photos I took ten years ago next month.

An Elizabeth Street memory:

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In Devonshire Street:

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Lane in Surry Hills near Taylor Square:

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East Redfern — jacaranda:

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Spring in Haymarket: Joy!

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Aunty Beryl

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R U OK? And related…

Yesterday 12 September was R U OK? Day here in Oz. Question Time in Parliament opened with both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition speaking in support. The idea of the day is to realise that the simple question “Are you OK?” could lead to a conversation that may help someone labouring under depression, may even save a life. Scott Morrison said that he had been at school with Gavin Larkin, the founder of R U OK? He could also have added that the school captain in his year later went on to commit suicide, very much related to the experience of homophobia. I taught the brother of that school captain; he now lives in California.

Scott Morrison actually spoke well yesterday, I thought.

41827011Coincidentally my reading the last two days — I finished it yesterday — has been Train Man by Andrew Mulligan, London, Chatto & Windus 2019. (Hot off the shelf; Wollongong Library’s acquisition date is 21 August!) This Guardian review gives you a good idea of what the book is about. I borrowed it totally at random, and am very glad I did. I love it when a random book turns out to be a treasure — and how apposite to have been reading it on R U OK? Day! Andrew Mulligan has rendered the central character’s internal voices in a way that was a touch discomforting, simply because it is so close to the way my own internal dialogues play out. I was reminded too, in a way, of Marcel Proust — though Train Man is just 313 pages!  But that could explain why it gets mixed reviews on goodreads.

In a note at the end Andrew Mulligan reveals the kernel of the character is “an old friend who killed himself years ago on a railway line.” And tomorrow, the 14th September, is a significant date in my memory, and still at times in my internal dialogues. Thirty years ago I was living in Paddington and not all was well. I was living here.

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Living not far away was an old Wollongong friend, indeed a decade or more earlier an ex-student. Sadly, on 14 September 1989 he took his own life. I was deeply affected, and even more so were his family in Wollongong and his former partner. Again, homophobia had a role.

In the midst of it all, as therapy really — and indeed at the time I was undergoing therapy with the wonderful Cedric Bullard — I committed the whole thing to writing, as fiction, but not a thing in it didn’t happen pretty much as I told it. You can find the whole thing here. This is the 1989 section.

September 5 1989

— Well look who it is!

I have not seen J for some months, not since a few weeks before my birthday party. He had not come to the party. He is in the Darlinghurst Bookshop.

— This looks interesting Colin. You should read it. He is holding a copy of Surprising Myself by Christopher Bram. J likes to keep up with new gay writing. Later I would read it looking for clues. It has a happy ending, with a central character in a relationship with someone he calls “Boy”. At one stage, before the happy ending–and J likes gay books to have happy endings as a political statement–this central character considers killing himself:

“Petty, selfish, stupid? But none of the names seemed to contain the hatred I was feeling for myself. Hatred spread into my life, until there was nothing worth saving.”

Nothing surprising about running into J. We often meet like this by accident. So we have coffee at the Green Park Diner and then he comes with me to the decaying terrace in Paddington which is looking better than the last time he’d seen it. The talk is of birthdays and I comment that his is next week on the 14th and he repeats so formally yes it’s on the 14th and I think nothing more about it.

— I’ve been seeing your ex-friend lately

— What, Boy? Not ex-friend: we just don’t see each other any more.

J and Luke had broken up a few months before. I had fragments of the story from both sides.

— I hurt him, Colin.

J is sitting at the top of the stairs, his back resting on the bedroom doorpost, smiling. He wears black. Always that air of formality.

— How are you REALLY, J.

Code for asking about his Depression.

— Not very well.

He often said that. I knew there was nothing to say. But I look at him and say

— You know I would have given my head to see you well.

— I know that Colin.

Smiling.

— I must have been a real nuisance, J.

— No you weren’t.

— But if back then I’d been in the frame of mind I am now it would have been a lot easier for both of us. Coming out has made me less neurotic! Did I ever thank you for that?

— Colin you need to remember I was playing the Virgin Queen.

— You don’t understand how I hurt him. You know what Luke’s like. Really in touch with himself, fun, but also maddeningly irresponsible.

— That’s true, but I like him.

— So do I, a lot. But he needs to grow up and that’s the point. My need was the opposite: do you see what I mean? With him I could do all sorts of silly things I needed to do…. Dancing down the back lanes of Darlinghurst doing Barbra Streisand impersonations. It was great! I’d never done things like that, but now I’m afraid I held him back, so I had to let him go.

— I’m sure Luke enjoyed every minute of it.

At the door.

— You’ll see Boy before I do. Tell him hullo from me and that I still like him.

We walk down Oxford Street together. It is strange, as if J does not want to let me go. We have been talking for two and a half hours, more than we’ve talked in years. He seems so open, he who is so often closed off.

— Are you going all the way to Chinatown with me?

— No, I’ll cross here and get something to eat at Raquel’s.

— OK, J. See you. It’s been good. Laid quite a few ghosts.

— Yes, it has been good.

And he crosses when the lights change on the corner of Crown and Oxford, looks back once, and is gone.

September 14 1989

— I miss that man so much.

— I know that Luke.

— I don’t know what to do about his birthday. I phoned but there was no answer. He doesn’t want to see me. It makes me so angry.

— Listen, Luke, he told me to tell you he still likes you. Take it from me, when he’s like this you just have to wait.

Luke cries publicly, there in the Unicorn Bar at 10 pm. Not something he would normally do. Later at the Oxford, trying to be wise I say something like breaking up is a bit like a death and you grieve and…

September 19 1989

I am in the Albury with friends, the usual cocktail hour chat after a day’s work. A cry from the other side of the long bar. It is Luke. Wearing his long white coat. When I go over to him I see his face red and swollen, tears streaming.

— Colin, where have you been? I’ve been trying to find you all day. I have something to tell you.

— What’s wrong, Luke. Tell me.

For a while he just cries unable to talk.

— Tell me.

— It’s going to hurt you.

— Tell me.

A dozen possibilities but not this one.

— J is dead.

Frozen.

— Tell me it’s not true Colin. He’s just run away…

I ring J’s father in Wollongong immediately. “Yes, Colin, J has passed away. He rang me on Father’s Day and said he was going to Melbourne. He obviously did not intend to go. He hired a car and…”

Apparently he died on his birthday.

— It’s true.

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September/ October 1989

We hold each other. Luke spends days sleeping in my room. I light seven candles in St Mary’s Cathedral.

We tell each other stories:
did I tell you when he
he told me that Colin
is there anything that bugger didn’t tell you about me?
not much

Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” has never seemed so good.

Luke, I have lost one friend–please, I don’t want to lose two. Luke outside my door at 4 am having spent the last 36 hours in Centennial Park. He is scrabbling in the little suitcase with purple locks. He carries it everywhere. I saw J carrying it when I first saw him again in 1987.

Did you know J was bashed last year?
Yes, he told me.
So much hate.
You know he told me a year ago he didn’t think he was going to win.
The most he could hope for was to live with it.
So much love.

When the Reverend Fred Nile and his fundamentalists march into Oxford Street set on a bit of cleansing I am out there with the crowd. I wear my Mardi Gras T-shirt with additions:

FOR JAY

Sept. 1961-Sept. 1989

‘Gone where fierce indignation
can lacerate his heart no more.’

AND FOR LUKE
WHO LOVED HIM

Fred has his thousand, harmless-looking folk pushing strollers, mingled love and fear on their faces as they march up Oxford Street.

But we have five, ten thousand voices chanting NO MORE GUILT! NO MORE GUILT!

And my voice is the voice of three, a trinity of love grief and anger, and in me sing J and Luke and I:

We shall all be free
We shall all be free
We shall all be free some day
And it’s deep in my heart
I do believe
That we shall all be free someday.

And I see his face, a touch side-on, the slightly crooked nose and shy smile, eyes so often fearful, the bursts of anger, the incredible gentleness and my tears choke my singing and a gay man hugs me and says So you’re human after all…

 

Hour-long phone call takes me back to Chippendale 1985

And much more!

Received on Facebook last Wednesday:

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That was my address — along with several other people — from the latter half of 1985 through to early 1987: Buckland Street, Chippendale, not far from the University of Sydney and perhaps more to the point back then, the Britannia Hotel. It was at the Britannia Hotel (Beaus as it was then) that I met Philip and Dean. Can’t recall the place being called “The Old Bicycle Factory” back then, though it may have been. The photo above was taken by and sent by Philip, a bit of a surprise as Philip now lives in New York. (Dean — aka Charles — lives now in Timor Leste.) You may read an old post about Philip and Dean here.  Observe, Philip on the left, Dean on the right c. 1985/6:

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Clearly Philip and his partner Tim are visiting Sydney. Philip requested my phone number via Facebook, which led to the one hour conversation of the post title. Which remains private, except to say that Philip has done, is doing, remarkably well.

As is Dean, apparently. Dean is also a Facebook friend and we have thus touched base from time to time.

Oh, the name “Trump” did crop up in my conversation with Philip — same page, same page!

M and I shared in late 1990 through early 1991 a house in George Street Redfern too with Philip and another Michael.

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Philip had a nostalgic day last Wednesday, it appears. Here is his photo of the revived Britannia as of 2019:

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When I first met them Philip was turning 21 and Dean was 19. I was not then a septuagenarian, which is just as well as that would make me well and truly a centenarian today!

And speaking of centuries — how about Steve Smith at that fourth test at Old Trafford! Last night, having just watched the somewhat wounded Bunnies get over the Roosters, I switched channels just in time to see that first century. The second one happened while I was sleeping.