Bunburying

Bunbury +‎ -ing, coined by Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) after Bunbury, the fictitious invalid friend of the character Algernon whose supposed illness is used as an excuse to avoid social engagements.

I loved this announcement on Facebook from my alma mater and former workplace.

I messaged Mitchell, a former SBHS student, now an English/ESL teacher and a FB friend quite well known to some of my other friends there and on this blog.

Me: Loved the idea of this but obviously I won’t be there.

Mitchell: haha good on them!

Seems to be an all male cast too, as well as multicultural — as is the school. The free cucumber sandwich is jusr brilliant!

My Wollongong High colleague from the 1970s commented:

How delightful that students are still performing plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest. The farcical comedy and the witty dialogue can still entertain a contemporary audience. And with the added accompaniment of cucumber sandwiches, who could resist! So many witty quotes I still remember……”I’m sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever these days.” “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” are just a start!

Took me back twenty years!

Mitchell and Sirdan — Shakespeare Hotel June 2009

Thursday, March 21, 2002

(Mitchell was by 2002 well into his university studies.)

Cecily. Well, I know, of course, how important it is not to keep a business engagement, if one wants to retain any sense of the beauty of life, but still I think you had better wait till Uncle Jack arrives. I know he wants to speak to you about your emigrating.
Algernon. About my what?
Cecily. Your emigrating. He has gone up to buy your outfit.
Algernon. I certainly wouldn’t let Jack buy my outfit. He has no taste in neckties at all.
Cecily. I don’t think you will require neckties. Uncle Jack is sending you to Australia.
Algernon. Australia! I’d sooner die.
Cecily. Well, he said at dinner on Wednesday night, that you would have to choose between this world, the next world, and Australia.
Algernon. Oh, well! The accounts I have received of Australia and the next world, are not particularly encouraging. This world is good enough for me, cousin Cecily.
Cecily. Yes, but are you good enough for it?

That is of course from Act II of The Importance of Being Ernest and still got a good laugh from an Australian audience on a warm night when there was hardly a neck tie in sight!

Particularly when Cecily was played by a six foot tall Australian male in a fetching Edwardian summer frock.

Yesterday was a sheer delight. I met Mitchell for lunch where we discussed some matters of mutual interest. We then remembered that a rather important horse race was being run that day, or at least Mitchell did, so we went in search of a betting shop, managing to walk straight past the nearest one. However, we found another and Mitchell made a small investment on our behalf, which (it turned out) confirmed my ambivalence about gambling…

Then to the New Theatre where we met up with PK, Sirdan and Colin. The first play, Gross Indecency was Moises Kaufmann’s docudrama on the trials of Oscar Wilde, and is quite a splendid play. Peter Flett as Wilde was convincing in appearance and I was moved, I have to say, particularly by the speeches of Wilde towards the end as his life descended into chaos and the prison house beckoned. The Marquess of Queensberry, on the other hand, was just a bit too caricatured. There was a delightful sequence where Queen Victoria was literally wheeled in to sign into law the Act forbidding “Gross Indecency” (except between women).

One could not but be struck by echoes of the past week in Australia (the Justice Kirby issue).

The Sydney Morning Herald reviewer had damned the second play, The Importance of Being Ernest out of hand. It is, admittedly, Barry Lowe’s transformation of the text: we find ourselves at the beginning in Reading Gaol, the prisoners (including Wilde) circling in the exercise yard. Then we move to Wilde’s memory of the performance of The Importance of Being Ernest with Wilde sitting to one side of the stage. Twice he appears within the play; after the interval we enter the theatre and see Wilde talking to Cecily, who addresses her first lines to him. Then near the end, Wilde makes a short speech just before the last few speeches of the play. I thought it worked very well, particularly when you had just seen Gross Indecency.

The play itself was fresh, funny, well-paced, and the audience loved it. Sirdan had never read the play before or ever seen it, and he really enjoyed himself. The fact all parts were played by men was not at all disturbing. In fact it added to it, in my view. They did not camp it up outrageously but stayed in character and respected the text; the disjunctions, when they occurred, were delicious. I loved it. So did Mitchell, and PK, who is a bit of a purist when it comes to theatre.

We concluded the Herald reviewer must have been to another play!

Between plays we had the most delicious African food in a restaurant in King Street.

It was a really beautiful afternoon/evening.

Later

I had fun rereading The Importance of Being Ernest at various times during the day.

Then, this evening at 7.30 SBS showed the first episode of the PBS series on the reign of Queen Victoria. I certainly learned something from it. Next week it deals with India–must watch.

Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde

World AIDS Day

As some of you already know it was not until the mid 1980s that I had anything to do with the gay scene — and my first experiences involved Beau’s, by which name Chippendale’s Britannia Hotel was then known.

Heady times of assertion and discovery — and this was the anthem:

And also it was this time….

William Yang — from Sadness

Here are extracts from some earlier posts on my blogs.

Posted on  by Neil

The things one finds on Facebook!

One on Lost Gay Sydney is a thread about Dr Cassy

She was my GP – and M’s — for the best part of the last 20-25 years so I saw what she did up close. (I also coached her son in English for the HSC not all that long ago. This was taken from her place in the course of that.)  See also Reflective of the 80s and 90s–others and myself for Lyle Chan’s story on Dr C.

David and I became much closer after I started collaborating with a doctor named Cassy Workman. Cassy and I together with Lois Johnson from ACT UP formed a radical AIDS treatment center masquerading as an ordinary doctor’s office. We ran our own clinical trials, recorded and analyzed our own data, and devised treatment regimes using drug combinations obtained by lying to the hospitals about what drugs our patients were really on – to circumvent a thinking-inside-the-box limit about how many experimental therapies a person could be on simultaneously. Our patients were clearly healthier than most. Some of it was due to the stealth combination therapy. Most of it was because we treated AIDS patients like normal people…

Since Cassy uncompromisingly gave her everything to every patient in front of her in every moment, it meant unpredictably long periods of waiting in the doctor’s office. A big part of my friendship with David came from talking to him while he waited his turn to see Cassy. He’d come with hilarious gifts for me, such as a compilation video tape of cartoons (eg. Son of Stimpy) and 1950s bodybuilding and soft porn footage. He also gave me a compilation cassette tape of campy songs, which I eventually understood was either a prototype or an offshoot of his “Toxic Queen presents …” and “Funeral Hits of the 90s” projects.

Humor – actually, sarcasm and bitchiness – was a key ingredient in David’s art. His works had titles like “Lifetimes are not what they used to be”, “Darling, you make me sick”, “AIDS victim dies alone – family profits” and “It’s my party and I’ll die if I want to, sugar.”…

On Facebook there is many a comment. For example:

GARY: There are more than a few who are still with us because of this Maverick

BRIAN: I’m another lucky one because Cassy hastled the shit out of the establishment, thanks Cas

DAN: Wow Cassy, what a legend, and a pioneer, saved lots of boys lives, when they would have been left by the wayside, myself included!!!

FRANK: Me too Lloyd, I would be long ggooonnneee if it wasn’t for Cassy…What a genius both medically and emotionally, an amazing support!!!

LLOYD: The stories we could tell…… Suffice to day her practice that was housed in the original Club 80 wasn’t called “Ground Zero Medical” for nothing…..

Ground Zero 12 March 2009

That post on Lost Gay Sydney has attracted a lot of attention and many testimonies and stories about the “Woman Warrior” of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst, and a serious suggestion she be nominated for the Order Of Australia. I think she should be.

One sample recent comment from Pierre:

my partner had his old school doc being older than me at the time even my partners doc admitted to me @ the funeral that i was in good hands and i was — thank you Cassy i didn’t mind the 2 hours waiting

let’s face it boys every one was dying back then we all were on the pension it was a blessing to go there have a chat to the receptionist who was one of us talk to friends on the single bed & sharing our pains and sorrows what better dropin center could we have had than her clinic — so what is was not 3 stars it made us lucky to live this wonderful bitch of a life .

Posted on  by Neil

This was a must see –  a special episode of QandA on ABC — much more so than #QandA often is. The panel and audience included people from the World AIDS 2014 conference in Melbourne. You will recall that some of the researchers coming to that conference perished on MH17. And what a panel!  Do go and see/read, wherever you are in the world.

Me with our friend Malcolm in the Hospice at St Vincents, 2007

And let me repost a great story which is relevant to the education issues raised in #QandA.

REPOST: 21 years on– a sad but also brilliant episode

Originally posted on September 26, 2012 by Neil

Lost Gay Sydney on Facebook threw up another set of memories yesterday, cuttings that in the peak years from 1989 through 1993 were only too familiar, but for me one name stood out.

Phil Ainsworth, English teacher at Sydney High School.

That’s him on the right in 1989 in his role as trainer of the 1st Grade Rugby team. The skinniness is starting to show there. As it became more obvious he was up front about what was happening with his students, and I remember Phil telling me how difficult this was, but also that he received messages of support and thanks for his honesty from the parents of many of those students.

I in fact worked with Phil rather briefly, as in 1988 to early 1989 I was teaching in St Ives, in 1989 dealing with a range of personal matters and sometimes not quite with it, and in 1990 to early 1991 at Wessex College of English. I did work at High in Term 4 1989, and again from 1991. I saw a fair amount of Phil nonetheless and was there in the final stages when, sadly, AIDS-related dementia also showed itself at times.

Phil was greatly respected, even loved, by staff and students alike, and greatly admired for his honesty and courage. The school officially attended his funeral at Christ Church St Laurence in 1991, students from Sydney High carrying his coffin. I was there. Later, both M and I attended the wake in Pitt Street, Redfern, not far from where M – whom I had met in 1990 – and I were then living.

A prize for a senior student showing courage in difficulties was endowed in Phil’s name at Sydney High and is awarded to this day.

Awful as the whole thing was – Phil after all never made 40 – I also remember it along with much else from the early 1990s as a shining time of acceptance and hope. The way the school totally embraced Phil in his last journey is the shining example – and kudos to all my colleagues then, from the then boss Bob Outterside to Tony H (also in that picture above), to Con, to Marcia, to Tess… The lot of them! And in late 1989 through 1990 I had occasion to experience that acceptance myself as they embraced me – especially my English/History colleagues and even a few senior students who knew what was happening – over Rob’s suicide, even accepting quite strange visits in working hours from Rob’s grieving boyfriend Mark.

1988

I fear at times that the intervening Howard years have led us to fall away in some respects from where we were around, say, 1990-1991.  Do you think we have? Is this a less kindly time?

Footnote from Justin on Lost Gay Sydney:

I went to school with Phil Ainsworth, he was in the year ahead a me. He was an amazing bloke and a legend at the school – captain of the footy team, dux of the school, school captain – he excelled at whatever he put his hand to.

With that 80th year looming I look back 20 to find I was blogging!

This post is for the evening of the 29th and the morning of the 30th of June.

Look at the evidence from 20 years ago, thanks to the Wayback Machine!

Oh my!

30 June 2002

Instead of going to Forresters in Surry Hills, we went to the Yum Kee in Chinatown and shared a meal of (somewhat modified?) Northern Chinese cuisine, the fish dish being particularly splendid. There was a new visitor from Taiwan via NZ, plus Sirdan, the Empress, Lord Malcolm, and Lord Bruce. The Crown Prince had logistical difficulties.

The Empress has lent me two books, one of which I have begun. It is Tariq Ali’sThe Clash of Fundamentalisms dealing with the current “War on Terror” and the Middle East. His perspective is clearly left, but none the worse for that; while lingering respect for the old communist regimes is a worry, what has come into play lately, the New World Disorder and the assorted insanities that drive so many, are as much a worry surely; also Ali is right: the USA is not the unmitigated “good guy” in all this. The book deserves reading.

Deserving watching (especially by those who wonder what trades unions might be for, and what exploitation actually means) is a documentary recently on SBS here in Sydney on the sweatshops of US Saipan. Read about it here. And get very angry.

1 July 2002

Yesterday after our Chinese lunch we adjourned to our favourite Irish pub, where the conversation eventually turned to the relationship between gay sons and their fathers, a relationship that often proves very problematic. A number of stories were told, some inspiring hope, others revealing sadness or tension.

The Porterhouse on Riley Street — our favourite Irish pub

In my own case, the issue was postponed as at nineteen or so I was closeted (without even knowing there was such a thing) and impeccably respectable. The major issue for my father, looking back on it, at that time was probably that his business and career had come crashing down around him and he was in fact economically dependent on me, at least for a while. I sense now how humiliating that must have been. I am now the age he was then, older in fact. Some years later he broke down mentally, so our subsequent conversations ranged from the bizarre to the mundane, and we never discussed my emerging realisation that I was gay, but I know he knew–don’t ask me how, but I just know.

My mother certainly did, and when at the ridiculously (but not uncommonly) late age of forty or so I came out to her, she was “accepting”, though she admitted not to understand. I have to say that my attempting to educate her by getting her to read Loving Someone Gay, a very fine book in its way, did backfire a little.

It was a case of my new-found zeal to be open was just a little misplaced. Nonetheless, in the few years left to us after that, my mother often delighted in regaling me with the latest gay gossip she, quite oddly, was well-placed to hear in the particular “sunset home” she was in at the time. (Her personal carer was at the centre of one of the most publicised gay “scandals” in Sydney during those years.)

That I was able just before he died to tell my father that I loved him and for him to tell me “I love you too, son” brings tears to my eyes even as I type this, but I am very glad it happened.

I had a call from my older brother when I arrived home. He lives in Tasmania, and his partner (female) of very many years died early this year. It turns out yesterday was her birthday, so he wished to talk to me, as I am all the immediate family he has left (aside from his own children, none of whom live close to him.) A few months back he and I met face-to-face for the first time in twenty years. I have never discussed my sexuality with him, but he knows; he certainly knew when he saw my living arrangements, but he knew before that. The hugs we shared that day matter so much to me; he is a laconic person, not a verbal junkie like me, so the hugs mean even more.

I have checked Google for resources on straight parent/gay son issues. There is a good column in Mogenic called Educate the parents, which has among other things this lovely one-liner: There is a big taboo about converting straight people to homosexuality. (Personally I think the chances of that actually happening are as good as your chances of getting kicked to death by a duck.)

3 July 2002

Our friend Sirdan was admitted to St Vincents Hospital on Monday afternoon. That it is serious is borne out by his admission despite the current crisis affecting St Vincents and other major hospitals: Overcrowding in city hospitals worsened yesterday, with almost every major emergency department forced to turn away ambulances carrying patients who were not critically ill. He is suffering from an antibiotic-resistant infection that was causing him much discomfort even on Sunday, when the Empress advised him to go to the doctor next day, which he did with the result just described. He is apparently in good spirits, but I propose to confirm that for myself very soon.

Meantime the last diary has really set me thinking about my father, who passed away in 1989. I think I shall write something about him here soon.

4 July 2002

First off, Sirdan was quite chirpy yesterday afternoon, and only a part of him is afflicted–but it is a part he would rather keep. We wish him well. He has been in a lot of pain, but as of yesterday that had improved. His problem is certainly not to be taken lightly though.

Yesterday too I had an email requesting some good Australian sites for young gay people. The request came from a very remarkable young man in Texas, Garith, whose email acquaintance I made via a comment I left on his guest book at the currently beleaguered Talk City domain. His site had simply blown me away!

Our correspondence since has been sporadic, but enough to know he has not always had it easy, but what a man he is proving to be, in less than promising circumstances in some ways. Judge for yourself, for here are … some great quotes, as sent in the email yesterday:

“Because families are defined by love not gender. Because hatred is not a family value. Because equal rights are not special rights.”
Anonymous

“The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That… THAT my friends, is true perversion.”
Harvey Milk

“When religion sanctifies hatred, it lends to that hatred a special ferocity. Normal moral inhibitors are erased.”
Johannes Cardinal Wildebrands

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image, when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
Anne Lamott

“In man’s world, gold, diamonds and money are greatest in value…. in actual reality, dirt, water and air are of greater importance.”
Garith

5 July 2002

I haven’t been able to see Sirdan again since Wednesday, but plan to at the weekend. If I go to Yum Cha (and I am not sure I will this time–the vibes may not be quite right) I will see him after, or maybe on Saturday.

Term has ended. I am taking on the Year 12 Extension English class for the HSC, following the sudden departure of Ms X amidst some drama. The topic: Post-Modernism! The text left to study is Australian David Williamson’s satire on the subject, Dead White Males (1995), and the class have already done the movie of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (a copy of which I have brought home from school) and John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which I must reread.

[2022: See Workshop 06 — Year 12 Extension 1: pomo 2002.]

Speaking of Post-Modernism, one difference (totally subjective) that strikes me about the two books I mentioned last time is this: while PowerBook and The Monkey’s Mask both are Lesbian/Queer Literature and while both contain quite a lot of sex, in PowerBook this seems less foregrounded, less strident. PowerBook is just as ideologically committed as The Monkey’s Mask but somehow seems more–how can we say?–relaxed? I am really not sure of my ground here–just impressions. I should add that the verse in The Monkey’s Mask really is quite impressive in the range of voices it can capture–it is a verse novel, remember–and it works well. The story in The Monkey’s Mask is entirely more conventional; PowerBook is a palimpsest, a display of intertextuality, yet absolutely clear in its way. Psychologically and philosophically it is the deeper novel, yet wears this lightly.

I will return to Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady for healing drafts 🙂 Like the reasons for my reading it in the first place, it is a pure pleasure in itself, made more pleasurable by having been shared; there’s no need in my life for more than that level of pleasure and I am lucky to have known it.

A significant note: M cooked up some nice food tonight. You have to know me to know what that means… His life is looking good, and is his–and that is his gain over the past time, some of which has been hard. But I rarely talk about him, as regulars here know.

Got a note–quite a long one–from Garith in Texas (see July 4) who is not unhappy about being featured. His site has an unselfishness about it as well as a quite amazing maturity for a person his age. There is a lot there that could help those he seeks to help.

14 July 2002

This rather magnificent photo of the Paris Gay Pride was sent this month by Timur, an OUT friend in England. Amazing how much these guys resemble me! 😉

30 July 2002

Went to the dentist and got a temporary filling and a threat of root canal therapy; so far so good, and I am hoping the antibiotics fix the problem.

M. moved today and the big rearrangement is well under way. He’ll be around though.

2022

So it is 20 years since Michael moved to East Redfern! Unbelievable. We had been together in Elizabeth Street Surry Hills since 1992.

East Redfern: South Dowling Street from M’s balcony

June 2012 on Neil’s “Final” Decade blog — 1

So much! This may also extend to THREE posts I fear!

The 9,000th read in June 2012!

Posted on  by Neil

Just arrived – well, from Adelaide, Jun 29 2012 9:56:38 am.

This is what they were looking at.

I am quite amazed by this month. Apart from English/ESL – which is freaky – this is the best month ANY of my blogs has ever had! Smile

june12stats

This blog’s stats

South Sydney Uniting Church last Sunday

Posted on  by Neil

I dropped in briefly on my way to Jim Belshaw’s place as the Kingsford/Daceyville bus goes right past – well nearly.

portraits

Miriam Cabello’s portrait of Dorothy McRae-McMahon:

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See also my 2009 post Special art work at South Sydney UC.

Sunday lunch in Daceyville

Posted on  by Neil

It has been a while since I ventured back up to Sydney for a Sunday lunch. That I did so yesterday is down to Jim Belshaw who now lives in Daceyville, a most interesting suburb not far from the University of NSW.

Today, Daceyville is a tiny, often overlooked suburb located six kilometres south of Sydney central business district. In 1912, however, it was a hive of activity as its construction brought about Australia’s first public housing scheme. Built by the state’s first Labor government, and using the skills of well-known Sydneysiders like architect John Sulman, it is one of Sydney’s unique suburbs.

astrolabe

1913

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In Jim’s street yesterday.

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atjims

Jim, followed by (L-R) Noric Dilanchian, Clare Belshaw, Neil Whitfield and Dennis Sligar.

Picture0023

In the train on the way home.

Dennis turns out to have been just one year ahead of me as a student at Sydney Boys High in the 1950s and we reminisced ourselves silly. Smile  He was also a Public Servant of note and gets mentioned in Kim Beazley’s autobiography. Noric is of Armenian background and among topics raised by him was the matter of history and perspective. Jim’s daughter Clare is also quite passionate about history, particularly about the Julio-Claudians it appears and has a perhaps not unrelated interest in zombies. I also learned for the first time – though I am sure most of you already knew – about Kickstarter,  a funding platform for creative projects. What a great thing it appears to be!

All that and roast lamb too.

Thanks, Jim.

On piano bars, friends and nostalgia — sweet, fun, and a touch of sad

1970s Wollongong

On Facebook an old friend has returned from that time and place, a Wollongong High colleague, and a frequent visitor to my place in Gilmore Street some 45 years ago where this song no doubt would have been heard more than once.

At that stage I had never been in an actual piano bar

10+ years later — Albury days 1987-2001

Forward to the inner Sydney suburb of Paddinghurst, as some call this particular part of Oxford Street. I became a regular at the Albury Hotel’s famed Piano Bar. Years? 1987 through to the place closing in 2001. I mentioned it the other day in connection with my old friend Peter Cosgrove who passed away so recently.

There was the front bar too, where you might have found me after work or in the early evening. But when the Piano Bar act began it was there I would most often be.

I met Michael Xu, who would loom large in my life (and I in his) from 1990 through to quite recent times, in that Piano Bar. As I have mentioned before:

Thursday July 13, 2000

This Thursday ten years ago is when I first met X. While I was away from my seat at the Albury Hotel that night he came and sat on it. Thus we met, and the rest is history as they say. Thinking about some of the funny times we’ve had. Like him telling me a certain Mandarin expression meant “darling” when in fact it was something very rude and uncomplimentary. Like in the first year we were living together and his English was not of the best: we were sharing with another couple, Philip and Michael, at that time. Philip had prepared a nice dinner, and my friend said “Sorry. Not hungry. Have big lunch and steam bum.” No, he was referring to a yum cha he had been to, not an encounter in a steam bath–or the size of his…

Albury Front Bar

Another post from the past:

mais où est l’Albury d’antan?

Posted on  by Neil

Last night I confessed on Facebook:

Instead of watching what I intended on ABC2 I have found myself deep in memories thanks to Bruce Part’s photos of The Albury Hotel. This is a rendition of one of those photos.

And someone comments on Bruce’s album:

Such an beautiful original old pub destroyed! I was saddened when I finally moved to Syd and it was gone. I met a lovely guy there on my first visit around 1996 and didn’t leave empty handed….a big deal for a country boy!!!

“Such an beautiful original old pub destroyed!” indeed. I hope Bruce finds a few more to share in that “boot box full of photo memories.”

I have cropped a couple and given them the art makeover treatment.

31 October 2001: Is it that long since it closed? Odd conversations come to mind.

January 26 2001: Australia Day/Invasion Day/Indian Republic Day

A conversation last night, as well as I can remember it. PLACE: a sacred site–the unofficial throne room of the Dowager Empress on Oxford Street.* PARTICIPANTS: Ninglun, and Y, a twenty-something Korean who once displayed a surprising interest in Ninglun’s body and continues in touchy-feely mode during this conversation. He is, I should add, not totally ugly. Several others were present, including Rhodesia D, hereinafter (at his request) known as Sirdan. Please remember Ninglun is really a Caucasian.
Y: New Year yesterday.
N: Chinese New Year?
Y: No, Korean New Year. Why do people always call it Chinese New Year?
N: There’s more of them. And yes, I know–there was a late phonecall to Shanghai last night.
Y: Was it noisy? Chinese are so noisy, and rude. You walk through Chinatown and they push you.
N: No, not noisy. Isn’t that a bit racist?
Y: Australians are racist.
N: Really? Am I racist? You’ve experienced racism?
Y: Oh yes.
N: But Koreans are racist.
Y: That’s true. We don’t like Chinese, or Japanese…
N: Well I can understand the history behind that one…
Y:..or blacks. Koreans really hate blacks…
N: Well yes, I did read on the net about a black American teaching in Korea. He went to the swimming pool and everyone else got out. He couldn’t believe it… Everyone’s racist really. Chinese can be racist, and Japanese definitely…
Y: Koreans don’t really like anyone, but Caucasians are OK…
Sirdan: Why did you leave Korea?
Y: Too competitive, too stressed, too polluted…

* The Albury Hotel.

All manner of topics would arise around the bar at the Albury Hotel.

Yum Cha this morning was myself, The Empress, Clive, James, and eventually M, absolutely exhausted and needing the food. It was a good Yum Cha (The Emperor’s Garden service was friendly and excellent). After that M went home to sleep — he starts again tonight at 6 pm, and I went with James and The Empress to the Albury — yes, I was there this Sunday — where we surprised the bar staff by eating barbecued quail that Ian had purchased, and added a Chinese tonic to our beer (it said it could be used in beer) which caused the beer to look like some Jekyll-and-Hyde potion, but actually improved the taste!  — March 4 2001

And there was the music of course:

It would get crowded and people would talk through the songs… But that was part of the atmosphere. Along with the cigarette smoke, some of which may have come from me….

Late at night the front bar would be transformed — but I was more likely, if still there, to be in the less crowded Piano Bar.

Famous for its drag shows back in the day — some of them very elaborate.

Sic transit: Lee from the Albury

Posted on January 12, 2017 

And a face and smile we all got to treasure in those days: barman Lee Bowman. But much more than just a barman at The Albury: see also this 2010 post. A little while ago Sirdan, now in Queensland, rang me to tell me that Lee had passed away. Today he rang again, having discovered the details. Many a conversation did we all have over the years.

YOU only had to look at how many Bondi clubbies turned up at the hospital in Lee Bowman’s dying hours to realise his popularity.

The 59-year-old was rushed to St Vincent’s Hospital on New Year’s Day after he collapsed on Bondi Beach from a stroke, just hours after winning a club swim race.

Two days later, Mr Bowman was given only hours to live.

More than 50 people gathered by his bedside to say goodbye, some still with sand between their toes.

A nurse was so impressed by the clubbies’ solidarity, she penned them a letter to say she would never forget the day.

“Never in my 15 years of nursing have I ever seen such an amazing group of friends,” she wrote.

“This speaks volume of Lee. He must have been such an amazing man.”

Mr Bowman died late on January 3 but Jacob Waks, president of the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club, said he would never be forgotten.

“He was part of the furniture down at the beach,” Mr Waks said.

“If someone walked past the club, they would see him either sitting outside the club or in the club gym.”…

“He never complained,” Mr Waks said.

“He was one of those people who made everyone feel special. He’d always be there for you.”

Long-term friend Michelle Rogers from the Royal Motor Yacht Club of NSW, where Mr Bowman used to work, said he had a rough beginning in England.

“He kind of grew up on the street until a kind man brought him to Australia in 1977,” she said.

“But whatever happened to him in life, he always showed integrity and humour.”

A service in celebration of Lee Bowman’s life will be held at Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club at 3pm on Sunday 22nd January.

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Surf lifesavers paddle out for Lee Bowman.
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Lee Bowman 2012: The Australian

More memories:

28 Oct 2001

UPDATE

I went and saw Father John in hospital and he has come through well; indeed he expects to go home tomorrow.

After that I decided to drop in on the Albury’s final party. There was an invitation list; I was never sure I was on it, as I am in some ways a rather anonymous person there. It turned out someone of my first name was on the list, albeit apparently associated with the Bayswater Fitness Centre. Despite my denying any association with fitness centres, they let me in anyway; not sure what happens if the other N. turns up!

Sirdan, the Empress and Malcolm were there, with many a person I didn’t know and some I did. “Hugh La Rue” whose caberet act I have described in an earlier entry was there, but not performing, and recognised me. It was nice to see him again. I didn’t stay all that long–the free punch was dangerous I suspect. I saw a fair bit of the final “Pollie’s Follies” drag show and some of the acts were very good; one even actually sang. Miss Lucy was the first number after Pollie and did “The Lonely Goatherd” from The Sound of Music, with some quite remarkable leaps (in high heels) for such a large person.

A. was there. Not quite at war yet, but hoping; very much at home at a drag show.

So, there goes an association (with The Albury) going back about thirteen years–longer with a few visits when I was still living in Chippendale, so it must be sixteen years** since I first went to the long-defunct piano bar. The crowd today was still not as big as when the pub was at its height, but big enough. The Empress, of course, was at The Albury’s opening night as a gay bar–I am not sure how many centuries that is–and was determined to see through the last night. When I saw him last someone had given him a schooner of punch. I do hope we see him again…

** Make that THIRTY now!

And:

June 7, 2000
Got the new computer today, and aside from stuffing up my Outlook Express (which I’ve sort of fixed) all is well so far. Anyway, true to what I said above (and this time I’ll make the diary go forwards instead of backwards) I’ll tell a story:

NINGLUN AND THE SAILOR.
It was about eleven years ago. I and three friends were sitting at the long bar in Sydney’s famous Albury Hotel on Saturday afternoon. A few other people were sitting around various other parts of the bar. In walked a young blond sailor in full uniform. Now, one of my friends was ex-RAN (Royal Australian Navy) and commented what a fool the guy was to be in a gay bar in full uniform. He did, as you can imagine, attract attention.
So the sailor sat, basically just being beautiful and ignoring everyone around him.
Person after person walked up to him, chatted –with intent  –and was politely ignored. My friends and I watched with amusement. For two hours the sideshow went on, and always with the same result. Disappointed queens of every description came and went.
In due course my friends went and I was left alone on my side of the bar. I was often a long sitter in those days (never a really big drinker though) as the Albury was virtually my loungeroom. I was living in a house not 500 metres away.
Well, I decided I would chat up the sailor. “Aren’t you a bit of an idiot coming in here dressed like that?” was my romantic line. I got a kiss for my reward, and asked if he’d like to come back to my place for something to eat. He accepted!
Let’s just say we had a nice time, the sailor and I. Like Cinderella he had to be back on base before midnight, so after a little getting to know each other (in several ways) I escorted him back to the Albury where I spirited him off to the back bar where he was not quite so much like a beacon from the street. When I went into the main bar to buy us a drink, I said to the Bar Manager, who had been observing the earlier charade, “Did you see who ended up with the sailor.” “I know, Ninglun,” he replied, “and the entire Albury is with you!”
Of course I never saw him again. He was blond, nineteen, and from Darwin. And yes–he was a real sailor!

Oh dear, that IS a long time ago! 

Not all fun

Those of us who were around the traps in the 80s and 90s never forget what it was like. One acquaintance I recall told me in 1990 that he had been to 14 funerals in the previous 12 months…. Column after column of obituaries every issue of The Star Observer. Talk of this one or that one gone as the conversation in The Albury, The Britannia, The Newtown or The Shift went reflective, or the friend wondering about the night sweats… The anxious waiting for the test results… The sometimes palpable fear and hatred out there — the catcalls, the bashings, the murders….

Any normal Monday night at The Albury Hotel oern Oxford Street Sydney with Sylvana and Ric James on piano. Filming by Ian Stahlhut (RIP) around 1986. Drag artist Sky Brooks commented: “God how we all loved you darling! still do, always will, you helped many many people, deal with the horrible things of that time. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU xxx”

1981: The Star Observer (then known as the Sydney Star) is the first publication in Australia to report on a new “type of pneumonia” linked to the “homosexual lifestyle” in the US.

1982: The first case of HIV, then known as Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID), is diagnosed in Sydney, with the first death recorded in Melbourne a year later.

1985: Eve van Grafhorst, one of the first Australian children to contract HIV via blood transfusion, makes national news when she is banned from her pre-school.

1987: The controversial Grim Reaper commercial, commissioned by the National Advisory Committee on AIDS, first airs.

1988: The Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt is launched in Sydney on the first World AIDS Day.

1993: The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act makes discrimination on the grounds of HIV status illegal in Australia.

1996: After 15 years and thousands of AIDS-related deaths in Australia, a lifesaving combination of HIV medications offers hope to people living with HIV.

“WE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT WAS COMING”: AIDS IN AUSTRALIA

And that beautiful Piano Bar?

Alas!

Footnote

The Albury — no longer a hotel. Now St Vincent’s Hospital operates clinics out of the former Albury Hotel on Oxford Street.