Ballad of The Plebiscite

equalloverallyinperth

Open today. Have your say.

Why are the good sorts either married or gay?

 

Have your say…and do it today.

Saying nay is not OK

 

Don’t delay! Mail it back today.

That’s OK, you know what I’ll say

 

After that, it won’t be nay

That’s the story of this survey

YES! to future wedding days

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Henry Fielding’s The Female Husband

 

The Female Husband (1746) is a fascinating tale. Originally published in a pamphlet, which originally sold for . In our modern age, it is a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in same-sex marriage, whatever your opinion on this issue. For all the moral outrage in the story; you can feel that the author is titillated by what he is writing about, the gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.

Originally published anonymously, it was later revealed that the author was Henry Fielding (1707-1754), who was a playwright, magistrate and the author of Shamela, Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones. Anyone who has read these novels knows that the content is extremely salacious at times, and this is always interspersed with comic scenes to provide entertainment. His novels tend to be in picaresque style, and The Female Husband is no exception, except that instead of the adventures of the male characters, we have his “heroine in iniquity”.

I am tempted to give Fielding’s short story, only based on the facts of the case where the real Mary Hamilton was tried, a scathing review because his language is homophobic and at times patronisingly sexist. However we should consider the times in which he lived, in the 18th Century society was ferociously heteronormative, despite the men’s fondness for frills and lace in their shirts, and sometimes satin breeches. You only have to read accounts of the raids on the molly houses, which were the gay bars of that time, and the severe punishments to which these men were condemned, including the gallows and the pillory.

So I will say that Fielding was a product of his time, as are we all, and we should be glad that times change sometimes. However I do think that something published in 1746 does have relevance to what is a big issue in 2017, in a country not yet discovered at that time. So whatever your opinion on same-sex marriage is, this is a fascinating read. If you download and read The Female Husband, it will show you that there is nothing new under the sun.

 

Fielding, Henry (1746) The Female Husband. eBooks@ The University of Adelaide Library. Retrieved from: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/f/fielding/henry/female-husband/

 

Wisteria Gardens

Wisteria Gardens is undoubtedly the best place on earth, at least for 2 months out of the twelve.  It shows that the regenerative power of spring is real, in that regard it shows exactly what Mother Nature is capable of.  It truly is the garden of paradise.

The rest of the year it is a place that is anything but spiritually uplifting.  It is a part of Cumberland Hospital, even though plenty of supposedly sane people tramp through there every spring to the Flower Festival.  That’s why my smartarse nickname for the place is Hysteria Gardens.

So, it’s a horrible place most of the time, filled with confined souls: the ghosts of the Female Factory convicts still shackled by their leg-irons, the modern inmates shackled by their diagnoses.  Really, I have more of a problem with their treatment, than with them.  My mother used to work for the mental health service; after hours, she had to put up with me on my soapbox, telling her, no you’re not really “helping” these people, you’re just putting a label on them and drugging them.

Another reason I find Parramatta depressing these days, is because of all the construction work there.  Make that destruction – of so many places that were once landmarks in my life.  That makes you feel like you are losing a part of yourself, smashed by the wrecking balls and huge machinery.

I’ll retire to Cumberland!  No, I’m being as sardonic as old Scrooge was there.

One better remedy is this: to go for a walk.  Particularly if you walk to the north part of Parramatta, where all the old Colonial buildings still stand, which gives off a lovely feeling.  They were here long before I was born, here’s hoping they will still be here long after me.

Fuck, I mean forget, progress!  I think I would like to live in a wattle and daub hut with a large Colonial verandah, wearing a long dress.  Just as long as I could have the mod cons: a fridge, electric stove, flushing toilet, TV, computer and the internet.  I’m not much of a pioneer, granted.

Perhaps the best part of Parramatta Park is the wide-open paddock, with the gums in the background.  Just as it would have been from time immemorial, when this was the Burramattigal tribe’s space.

Then there is the Colonial aspect, that seems to overshadow everything to do with Parramatta Park, from the time you walk under the old Gatekeeper’s Cottage.  A guide took my friend and I through here when we were kids; I was amazed by the old-fashioned stove, baking in summer, and parlour furniture.  Keep walking past the memorial to Lady Fitzroy and her carriage accident, till you climb the hill to what was Governor Brisbane’s bathhouse, now just an ornate gazebo.  In 1823 it must have been a wonder of modern engineering, piping the water up from the river.

As I approached the Old Government House, with its grapevine covered fence, I saw a retro-style carriage.  How historic, like the steam train that used to run through this park.  For a moment, I wondered if they were now offering horse-drawn tours – then I realised.  While chatting to the driver, I asked him if there was a wedding on in Lachlan’s Restaurant?  He confirmed to me that there was.  It would be a beautiful antique backdrop for their special day, an historic occasion.

I walked on, down the track until I came to the old Colonial cottages, one with that classic wide verandah.  The gardens around are well-maintained.  I saw a man in the other one, whose verandah is enclosed by windows.

“You don’t live here?!”

He told me that, no, he was one of the caretakers.  I would be able tour the places if I wanted to arrange it with the Park office.  I joked with him about modern people being stuck without their mod cons, so different to their ancestors.

 

Finally, I arrived at the famous Wisteria Gardens, following the stone lined path into the gates.  Spring had definitely returned here.  The eponymous vines were growing over the old rusty Colonial fence, its arrow points impaling the sky.  It was now a riot of purple.

The vernal air was filled with its lovely fragrance.

However at this time of year, the highlight is the peach blossoms, the most spectacular part of this old orchard.  They were a rainbow of colours, sometimes even on the same tree.  There were the white ones, pink ones and those in fancier hues.

They led into the garden in long avenues, lined by their astonishing beauty.  On this beautiful spring day, people came to admire them, some bringing their children.  All of them snapped photos on their smartphones.

As you continued walking, down beside the creek, there were the bluebells, poppies and daisies in the garden beds.  Ornate white roses climbed over some fences, wisterias grew over others.  In purple and white, they decorated the many trellises.  The beauty of the peaches was accompanied by blooming crab-apples.

I spent hours here, in this enchanted place of magic.  Not forever, but for two months only, this is an enchanted fairyland.  I was mostly rapturous, but a little sad, knowing it must end soon and my snapped pictures the only thing left.

All in all, there was no better place to be, on a warm spring afternoon.

 

As I was leaving, the wedding party turned up.  The bridesmaids wore deep purple dresses; the groomsmen were in matching bowties.  The bride’s dress was nice enough, for a bridal magazine. I would have gone a lot more retro in style; Regency perhaps, or the more ornate Victorian wider skirt.  It would be in keeping with the Old Government House wedding and the carriage.

“Congratulations!” I told them.

Now they were going to pose with the magnificent flowers as a backdrop.  In Wisteria Gardens with the air fragrant with the eponymous vines.  I couldn’t think of a better backdrop for the happy couple, the splendid peach blossoms framing the photographs of their big day.

Yet it made me sad in a way.  That they would have to have John Howard and his hateful words there at their ceremony.  Given the choice, I’m sure they wouldn’t have invited that along, for their Big Day.

HOW LONG?  How many more times must the peach trees flower, while it must be like this?  One day some other people’s dreams will be able come true.  On that day, it will be a nice day for a white wedding – and that’s all I will say about those men’s shirts.

Having said that, let me say that I wish the bride and groom nothing except the very best.  May their marriage, like the blooming peach trees, bear much fruit.  May their love return every year, blooming as the peach blossoms.  A perfect backdrop.

When the spring returns, I shall return to this enchanted place.

WE’RE HERE, WE’RE QUEER…AND WE’RE NOT GOING TO THE MAINLAND!

“I have no doubt that we shall win, but the road is long, and red with monstrous martyrdoms.”

  • Oscar Wilde, 1897 {quoted in Cooper 2014}

 

‘Hell can freeze over before they get homosexual acts legalized in this State’

  • John Bennett, Tasmanian Attorney-General {quoted in Morris p30}.

 

Today, 1 May 2017, marks twenty years since homosexual acts were finally decriminalised in Tasmania, through a bill finally passed through their upper house, the notoriously reactionary Legislative Council. During the Nineties, gay activists fought an epic battle for nearly a decade, in order to bring an end to these laws. Sometimes fighting against seemingly impossible odds, they never gave up.

These were the laws, in the Tasmanian Criminal Code, 1924:

  1. Any person who –
  1. has sexual intercourse with any person against the order of nature;
  2. has sexual intercourse with an animal;
  3. consents to a male person having sexual intercourse with him or her against the order of nature,

is guilty of a crime

Charge: Unnatural sexual intercourse.

  1. Any male person who, whether in public or in private, commits any indecent assault upon, or other at of gross indecency with, another male person, or procures another male person to commit any act of gross indecency with himself or any other male person, is guilty of a crime.

Charge: Indecent practice between male persons.

{Morris 1995, pp6-7}

 

‘This law had destroyed men’s lives’ {Brown 2014, p67}. He and other gay men campaigned against the laws, with a courage and strength that defies all negative stereotypes about them, fighting like Greek warriors. However, they were not the only ones who took this side in the argument. There were those with a commitment to human rights, for whatever reason, and those who simply regarded the laws as an anachronism by the end of last century. This was particularly true if they lived in other Mainland states, or countries, where their sodomy laws had been abolished.

 

There was another side to the debate, who presented their arguments vociferously. These were arguments such as that of Chris Miles, a politician and Baptist lay preacher, who claimed: ‘homosexuality was not acceptable in any society, let alone a civilised one’ {Morris 1995, p35}. He clearly was not a scholar in classical Greek History. There was the gem from Jack Breheny, the Ulverstone councilor, whose comparison hardly flattered either, with ‘representatives of the gay community are no better than Saddam Hussein’ {Sainty 2016}. Then there was the pronouncement by John Bennett, the Attorney General that ‘Hell can freeze over before they get homosexual acts legalized in this State’ {Morris p30}.

 

Finally, there was George Brookes, a leading campaigner to retain Sections 122 & 123, and a member of the Legislative Council, whose views were not atypical. For a law that already carried 21 years’ prison time, seven years longer than it ever had in any other state, he stated: ‘I believe we ought to be tightening up the laws, making them a little more drastic than they are now, a little more draconian, and maybe we would influence a few more of them to take the plane north’ {quoted in Milliken 1992}. He continued: ‘Do not let them sully our state with their evil activities’ {Morris p97}.

 

The gay activists would counter this with the memorable slogan: ‘We’re here, we’re queer. . .and we’re not going to the Mainland’ {Croome @ Fidler 2013}.

 

 

BOB BROWN

The year any campaign began for gay law reform in Tasmania was 1976, a year after South Australia became our first state to decriminalise homosexual behaviour {Carbery p}. The first group was called the Tasmanian Homosexual Law Reform Group, established in Launceston, where their first meeting was held at the Women’s Liberation Centre on 10 March 1976 {Carbery p37}.

Bob Brown, then a doctor in northern Tasmania, would come out in June 1976 {Carbery p37}. He appeared on the ABC program This Day Tonight {Carbery p37}, and a reporter from the Launceston Examiner drove out to his Liffey home, the headline was ‘Doctor Says He’s Gay’. He claimed that this was the first time he had heard this term {Brown p31}. This may have been a boon for the law reformers, but Brown would pay the price with ‘the angry homophobic tirades from wound-down car windows, the subtle innuendos from political opponents, the cowardly sniggers from people passing in the street’ {Brown p32}. He received letters from many people. ‘Censorious citizens from near and far quoted St Paul and advised I change my ways or burn in Hell. Even more men and women wrote thanking me for this breakthrough news and telling me of their troubles – or the risk they were taking by writing to me’ {Brown p31}. This would also be used against him in his later political career, with bumper stickers reading ‘ARE THE GREENS FOR NATURE OR AGAINST IT?’ {Morris p35}

As for the THLRG, they were campaigning for an issue which no Tasmanian politician of that era would touch. ‘It was viewed as being political “death”’ {Carbery p38}. In March 1977, the Labor government established a Select Committee on an Inquiry into Victimless Crimes {Carbery p38}. The THLRG made a submission, suggesting the laws were unjust, and should be changed. One of the recommendations of this committee was that homosexual acts should be legalized between consenting adults in private {Carbery p40}.

When such a bill was finally introduced, in late 1979, it was not a government bill, but was introduced by the Labor whip, John Green, as a private members’ bill {Carbery p40}. This led to massive public outrage, expressed in those days by letters to newspaper editors. Any hope that this would lead to law reform, would be dashed by the indifferent Labor government {Croome 2006}. The bill would finally lapse in February 1980, after John Green lost his seat {Carbery p40}.

Bob Brown would be imprisoned only for his activism against damming the Franklin River, after being arrested by a waterfall there, he spent Christmas of 1982 in Risdon Prison {Brown pp55-56}. After 19 days, he was released in 1983, and the day after this was successfully elected as the first Green Independent member into the Legislative Assembly {Bob Brown Foundation}.

In 1987, the Tasmanian Liberal government, under Attorney-General John Bennett {Brown p67}, changed the Criminal Code Act to make everything gender neutral, all instances of “male” or “female” were replaced with “person” {Carbery p39}. Before this, rape was considered a crime only committed by men against women {Brown p67}. However, two laws which were not affected were Sections 122 and 123 {Carbery p40}.

Now a Green Independent, Brown decided to challenge the law when he ‘attempted to use the gender neutral amendment to the Criminal Code to achieve at least a partial reform of Tasmania’s anti-homosexual laws’ {Carbery p40}. He attempted to repeal Section 123, but received neither Liberal nor Labor support for this amendment {Carbery p40}. ‘I was desperate not to let the rare opportunity to remove discrimination against homosexuals go by with no change’ {Brown p68}.

His next move was impulsive, to have Section 123 make unworkable, he moved for it to be brought under the gender neutral provisions of the rest of the Tasmanian Criminal Code, replacing “male person” with just “person”. ‘His intention was to make the section apply equally to homosexual and heterosexual indecent acts and it would not matter whether they took place in public or private. If he had succeeded the section would have been unenforceable’ {Carbery p40}.

Brown claims he did not realise what he had done, until he saw the headline ‘Lesbian Ban Looms’ {Brown p68}. He withdrew his amendment {Carbery p40}, but was forced to deal with the Legislative Council, ‘which had a well-earned reputation as the most hidebound and reactionary upper house in the western world’ {Brown p69}. He struggled to do this because some of the members thought criminalizing lesbianism as well, was a good idea, and he was only able to stop the bill by pointing out to them that the notoriously homophobic Queensland Premier of the time, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, disagreed {Brown p69}.

The laws against homosexual men would thus remain, until someone else had the opportunity to challenge them.

 

WORKS CITED

BOOKS

Altman, Dennis & Symons, Jonathan {2016} Queer Wars. Polity Press, Cambridge.

Brown, Bob {2014} Optimism: Reflection on a Life of Action. Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne & London.

Henderson, Emma {2000} I’d Rather Be An Outlaw in Stychin, Carl & Herman, Didi. Sexuality in the Legal Arena: pp35-48.

Hughes, Robert {2003} The Fatal Shore. Vintage Books, London.

Miller, Neil {1995} Out of the Past: Gay & Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present. Vintage Books, New York.

Morris, Miranda {1995} The Pink Triangle: The gay law reform debate in Tasmania. UNSW Press, Sydney.

Robinson, Shirleene, Ed {2008} Homophobia: An Australian History. The Federation Press, Sydney.

Smith, Babette {2008} Australia’s Birthstain: The Startling Legacy of the Convict Era. Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest.

Willett, Graham {2000} Living Out Loud. Allen & Unwin, St Leonards.

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/how-a-tasmanian-gay-rights-battle-influenced-the-world-20140412-zqt2p.html

 

 

 

Spring Reminiscing

“Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world.”
– Virgil A Kraft

Now that’s something to remember, now that spring is here again. The cherry, plum and peach trees are in flower, with the vines not far behind, the air filled with the sweetness of wisteria and jasmine. The brunsfelsia trees are also a multi-coloured riot.

The rains are over, for now. The days are beginning to warm up and it can only get better. When the wind blows, it is no longer the bitter cold of winter, but carries a promise on the air. The promise is that it can and will get better.

Fresh green, for the leaves. Gold for sunshine. Blue for the beautiful warm sky.

What colours are there for me? Grey for my misery, brown for the dirtiness of life in the city, and black for the hearts of some.

The horrible people who tried to take advantage of me, the arrogance of others who can’t wait to look down their nose at you, and the treachery of those who enjoy kicking anyone who’s down.

To hell with them all!!!

Spring is here. By now I know that it isn’t only the plants that can regenerate. It isn’t only the birds that can sing their happiness.

Bring on the sunshine.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

It was late at night, on another night in another big city. On a weeknight like this, all the respectable working people were in their beds. Only insomniacs, and perhaps ghosts, walk at this hour.

It was so quiet here! About as quiet as it gets in the heart of the city. Despite all the cars flowing down this busy road, I felt all alone in the world.

There was action around for those who wanted it. In the pubs a few blocks away, everything was bright and gay. I could have joined in the fraternity there.

However I kept walking in the opposite direction, enjoying a bit of quiet.
Crossing the busy street, I came to a corner, where the duilding had stairs leading up to a type of verandah or patio, which looked like a stage. Inside, the impressive foyer led to a wide staircase. It was a grand entrance to a grand old edifice, which must have been really something back in the day.

Nowadays, it was a place where homeless people often dropped their swags and slept.

Tonight, someone had put an old piano on this impromptu stage. I wonder who it was organised that? I guess I should tell them that all the world is one. Sitting there was Jack, a man who I knew around the traps.

I knew that he was not the full quid, a few snags short of a barbie, or had kangaroos loose in the top paddock – there are so many expressions for it. Whenever he wasn’t abusive, however, I didn’t disparage him for this.

My auntie had Down’s Syndrome after all, the whole family could take off her rather cracked voice. Her two big interests in life were knitting, which she was pretty ordinary at, and the piano, her playing was quite extraordinary.

Jack was similarly talented in certain ways: he played guitar, had once done a portrait of a veiled woman, she looked like a nun. On a bad day, all I would hear from him was “smelly arse” and the F word.

Tonight he was in a good mood, offering me a cigarette. I climbed the stairs and had a look around. Noticing the piano, I commented about how it made the place look like a stage.

He asked me if I could play? So I sat down and had a go, the only thing I could remember was Bach’s Minuet in G. All those years of piano lessons, all that practicing my mother nagged me about, just for this.

Jack told me it was good, but it was so much better when he took over. He played one of Beethoven’s symphonies, the notes flowing like water.
This was much appreciated by his audience of one, the music flowing over me like a mighty river. I sat on the stairs, my two hands to only ones clapping at his playing.

He then switched to Mozart. I may have been the only one sitting there, but I was not the only audience that he had. I noticed people sitting at the lights in their cars, by their reactions it was obvious they also appreciated his playing, as the music flowed over them.

You could hear the same music at the Opera House, or down at Symphony in The Domain. That would be one thing. It was quite another to hear such talent from such an unlikely person, in such an unlikely place. It was like splashing around in some dirty river, then coming up with pure gold.

I feel privileged that I was there to witness it on that night, to hear that music.