March 2009


Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Eugene Goossens & the Witch of Kings Cross

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Sir Eugene Goossens was a man who liked a little magic in his life. Sex magic, to be specific.

Goossens was a world-famous conductor and composer, a friend of Picasso and Stravinsky. “My heart just loosens when I listen to Goossens,” wrote his pal Noël Coward. In 1947, aged 54 and at the height of his career, he was lured to Australia to take charge of the newly formed Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

The portly maestro was an instant hit, drawing audiences of 20,000 to free outdoor concerts, introducing Stravinsky to Sydney, mounting a production of his own opera Judith with an unknown local stenographer named Joan Sutherland in the title role, and persuading a dubious premier that Sydney needed an opera house and Bennelong Point was its only suitable location. In 1955 he was knighted for services to Australian music. But his fall was coming, soon and sudden.

In 1952, he’d bought a book of artworks by Rosaleen Norton.

‘Roie’ Norton was a notorious woman. As a child she had a crush on Dracula and a thing for spiders. Expelled from her Chatswood girls’ school for being a corrupting influence, she financed her art education by writing horror stories and modelling for Norman Lindsay, who called her “a grubby little girl with great skill”. Her paintings, a swirling melange of demons, naked bodies and occult symbolism, were grist for the mill of society’s moral guardians and police had raided exhibitions of her work. The press dubbed her the Witch of Kings Cross.

Goossens wrote to Norton and she invited him to tea at her Brougham Street flat, just a short stroll from his office at the ABC. He stayed for the secret rites of Pan.

Unfortunately, Norton’s coven had been infiltrated by one of the slithering minions of Beelzebub, a journalist from the Sun newspaper. Snooping behind her sofa, the hack discovered a bundle of letters in which Goossens described the bat-wing envelopings and “delicious orificial tingling” of their intimate rituals.

A sting was set in motion. When Goossens went to London for his knightly dubbing, the Sun had him followed. Landing back at Mascot, he was met by a posse of police, customs officers and slavering newshounds. In his luggage were “pornographic” pictures, rubber masks and incriminating sticks of incense. The great man’s disgrace was total. Convicted of violating the Customs Act, he left the country, never to return.

Rosaleen Norton died in 1979. Witches are now called goths and Eugene Goossens is an auditorium in Ultimo.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

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