November 2021

The Nation Reviewed

Pride of place

By Drew Rooke
Illustration by Jeff Fisher
Why the Bondi Memorial honouring victims of Sydney’s LGBTIQ hate-crime epidemic matters for victims and their families

When Alan Rosendale first visited Sydney in 1980, it felt like he had entered a gay paradise. He was 23 years old and living in Melbourne, and went to the harbour city for a week to see friends who had recently moved there. More than 40 years later, sitting in the sun in Petersham Park in Sydney’s inner west, he remembers that holiday with a glint in his bespectacled green eyes and joy in his gentle voice, rattling off the names of venues that he was introduced to, and which would later become his regular haunts.

“It was beautiful weather, just like today,” Rosendale – wearing denim shorts and a Hawaiian shirt – says. “We went to The Albury, The Flinders, The Beresford and Capriccios. It was a real eye-opener of gay nightlife and gay lifestyle.”

Within two months of returning home, he had quit his job and moved to Sydney “to strut my stuff” in what was quickly becoming a global heartland of LGBTIQ culture. He loved the sense of community that existed – how “you could just walk into a pub on Oxford Street and know at least two people there and the bartenders by name”– as much as he loved the colourful drag shows, the overflowing house parties, and the bigger events such as Sleaze Ball and the RAT parties.

“It was a really good time,” he says with a smile.

But a new memorial in Marks Park, once a well-known gay beat located on the headland between Bondi Beach and Tamarama Beach, serves as a reminder of a much darker aspect of that era.

Commissioned by LGBTIQ health organisation ACON in partnership with Waverley Council, the Bondi Memorial is comprised of a six-level stone terrace, representing the six bands of the pride flag, and honours victims of the LGBTIQ hate crime epidemic that swept through Sydney and New South Wales between 1970 and the early 2000s.

The total number of victims is impossible to quantify, but Joël Murray, manager of ACON’s Historical Violence Project, says the figure is likely to be “in the thousands”, most of whom would not have reported what happened to the authorities “because of the ­prejudice and violence within the NSW Police Force at that time”.

Many victims were brutally assaulted and even killed – including by being thrown over the cliffs at Marks Park and elsewhere along the coastline – because of their sexuality. A review by the former NSW Police gay and lesbian liaison officer program coordinator, Sue Thompson, and criminologist Professor Stephen Tomsen identified 88 suspected gay- and transgender-hate homicides across NSW in the late 20th century, more than 20 of which remain unsolved. According to the final report of the NSW parliamentary committee inquiry into gay and transgender hate crimes between 1970 and 2010, which was released earlier this year, the NSW Police Force “failed in its responsibility to properly investigate cases of historical gay and transgender hate crime”.

Rosendale is one of the people whom the memorial honours. On the night of May 5, 1989, he visited a gay beat in Moore Park on his way home from a night out on Oxford Street. He was wearing the “normal Oxford Street uniform”: R.M. Williams riding boots, Levi’s 501 jeans and a T-shirt.

Moments after he arrived, Rosendale heard a man shout, “There’s one! Get him!” Without looking back, he fled. Running from the park and over South Dowling Street, he was confident he would escape the group of men chasing him. But then he tripped – “maybe I had one too many beers” – and the vicious bashing began.

Just before he lost consciousness, Rosendale noticed a pair of car headlights coming slowly towards him. “And I thought, Thank God. Someone’s here. It’s going to stop.” But the attack continued and when he regained consciousness hours later, he was in St Vincent’s Hospital with a busted nose and several broken teeth.

He remained in hospital for a week, but the police did not investigate the assault. In the months after he was discharged, a rash broke out all over his body and his hair began falling out. He is now sure these were symptoms of the deep trauma from the attack.

Rosendale suppressed that trauma until one Saturday morning in 2013 when he read a news article about a man named Paul Simes who had witnessed an assault in May 1989 on South Dowling Street that sounded eerily similar to the one he had suffered. Simes, for example, recalled how he had tried unsuccessfully to intervene by shining his car headlights on the group of men beating the victim, whom he had seen trip over while trying to run away.

As cited in the 2013 article, Simes recorded the registration number of the car from which he had seen the perpetrators emerge, and after reporting what he had witnessed in the following days, was invited to a meeting with high-ranking police officials. During this meeting he learnt that the registration number he had recorded belonged to an undercover police car, and that the perpetrators were in fact a squad of officers with a violent reputation. He was assured the officers would be dealt with, but never found out if any action was taken against them.

Rosendale was certain that he was the person Simes had seen being attacked. But a subsequent internal police investigation concluded there was no correlation between the attack he suffered and the one witnessed by Simes.

This angered Rosendale. “There was no interest from the police in 1989. Fifteen years down the track, there was a little bit more but not much. They still seem more interested in covering their own asses than in finding out who it was that attacked me.”

The Bondi Memorial will be formally unveiled in coming months, and Rosendale plans to attend. He believes the memorial is important for victims and their families, and for the broader LGBTIQ community, which continues to experience high rates of hate-fuelled violence, noted “with concern” by the recent NSW parliamentary committee. For example, from November 2019 to November 2020, 79 incidents of LGBTIQ hate crime were reported to NSW Police, although the true number of incidents would be even higher.

To more fully address the injustice and trauma felt by the LGBTIQ community, Rosendale wants more action to be taken, including the establishment of an independent judicial investigation into the unsolved suspected gay- and transgender-hate homicides, and how NSW Police failed so many victims so badly.

He also wants the officers who he believes attacked him – and who might still be serving in the force – to be held to account. If he ever met them, he’d want to know: “Why the fuck did you bash me? Did you just do it for kicks? If so, what the fuck is wrong with you?” Rosendale thinks it’s unlikely such a meeting will ever happen. But he also thinks he is lucky that he can even imagine it.

“I could’ve easily been beaten to death or tossed in the boot of that car and then tossed over the cliffs at Bondi like the others.”

 

Lifeline: 13 11 14, QLife (LGBTIQ Counselling): 1800 184 527, 1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732

Drew Rooke

Drew Rooke is a journalist and the author of One Last Spin: The Power and Peril of the Pokies.

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