Tag: History

I really like history, learning about it, and documenting what I know.

Behind Bars

It’s thirty years since the decriminalisation of consensual male sex in New South Wales, and “some of the leading figures responsible for that change have all died in a six month period”, we were told by Murray Maclachlan at the Australian Homosexual History Conference held at Sydney’s University of Technology. He was referring to former politicians, Gough Whitlam, Neville Wran and Ron Mulock, and to the academic and homosexual activist, Lex Watson.

As a young man thirty years ago, first becoming aware of homosexual liberation politics, Lex was a name I knew well. He was the “go to” person for the mainstream media for discussion about homosexual law reform. It’s amazing to think it was only thirty years ago that you could go to gaol in NSW for gay sex. In fact, the laws were so incredibly odd that the penalty for homosexual rape in NSW was seven years, whereas the penalty of consensual homosexual sex was fourteen years (I don’t think I’ve misrepresented the case there).

At the conference a series of speakers spoke about the moves to homosexual law reform in the different states and territories during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. In some states and territories, the changes were as the result of the state government leading public opinion, in others, the politicians had to be dragged along by the sentiment of public opinion. In others still, it was a combination of both. And then you have Tasmania, where it was the result of strong action by a small group of activists, who had to take their battle internationally, before the long overdue change could occur back here.

The keynote speaker for the conference was the former politician, and now Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan. She told the conference she had grown up in a fairly conservative Catholic family, and so it wasn’t until she went to university that she learned about homosexuals. “Camp as a row of tents was a phrase that was used at the time”, she told us, reflecting on both the negative and positive use of the phrase. Feminism informed her understanding of sexuality, she added. She spoke early in the piece about the political turmoil of early to mid 1970s, and how there was deep distrust of her in the heavily male-dominated Australian Labor Party. “There was a general view in the ALP in support of homosexual law reform, but there were fears about the political consequences”, she said. Forty years later, she pondered the opinion gap between the public and politicians on the issue of homosexual marriage, with a clear majority of Australians in favour of making the change. “The community won’t go backwards so the politicians will need to go forward”, she said. Now, as the Age Discrimination Commissioner, one of her major concerns are the issues facing older homosexual Australians in faith-based aged care. Though she says the sector says they don’t discriminate, she thinks that needs to be tested, though noting “there haven’t been any complaint yet”. During her speech, she reflected on the massive changes which have occurred in the last forty years, saying with a grin, “We used to say in the women’s movement how come they’ve done better than us?”.

More History

I went in search today of details about the still-born child my mum and dad had back in 1953. As with many things in my family, it wasn’t something that was talked about. Indeed, when I mentioned it to one of my older sisters, and showed her the record from the online historical indexes of the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, she seemed genuinely surprised.

Although unnamed on the BDM records, a visit to the Lismore Lawn Cemetery revealed she was buried on July 10, 1953 and that her name was Joan Kathleen O’Brien (named after an aunt). With a map in hand, I set off to the East Lismore Cemetery to find her, which I eventually did in an unmarked grave in the midst of another of other infant deaths. Although she doesn’t have a headstone, there’s a lovely tree overlooking her grave.

She’s also buried not far from my dad’s parents, James and Lena who died in 1944 and 1953, respectively. I was pleased to discover their previously unmarked grave also now had a heastone. I assume it must have been erected by the children/grandchildren of their son Matthew (known as Robert or Bob), who also now has a headstone. Perhaps it’s time for one for little Joan too?

Aside from a visit to my aunt – the one little Joan was named after – it was a day back at work for me. Although I’ve been doing lots of work over the last few days via the mobile and the netbook, I needed to go in today to sign a few things, make a few longer calls and so on.

And then tonight I went to the Tropical Fruits Film Festival at the Star Court Theatre. The Star Court was the cinema I used to go to most weeks as a child. Although a few things have changed, it remains relatively unchanged from the early to mid 80s renovation that occured. It was funny to hear the Film Festival spokesperson refer to it as an “old cinema”, as it seemed still modern in comparison with what I remembered as a child.

The films? There were a couple of good short films. My favourites were “Last Call” (about a bloke whose relationship with Mark failed because of his alcohol problem, who wants to get back with him, but who realises things have changed), “Oscars First Kiss” (about a male uni student chatting up a female class mate on a tram, but who ends up with an unexpected same-sex first kiss), and “Hens and Chicks” (about a lesbian couple with an eight year old daughter who need to have “the conversation”). All three were very enjoyable.

Less enjoyable was the longer featured called “Flow Affair”. It’s a fascinating story about “flagging” in the gay and lesbian communities of New York. “Flagging” is an art-form which involves a lot of twirling flags around in dance clubs, pride parades and so on. It’s quite an interesting story. It’s such a shame it was told so badly with almost no narrative evident. The film needed a damn good editor to chop at least 30 minutes out of it and to give it some structure, IMHO. It’s not enough to have a series of vignettes where a group of people keep saying over and over again little more than, “I like flagging. It makes me feel great”. Boring.

The main feature was a film from Romania called “Trip” about a group of twenty-somethings living in a share house of sorts who take drugs, have sex, and generally hang out in a pretty wild post-communist kinda way. It’s a pretty out there film, but I enjoyed it very much.

On the way home I called in to The Civic for a post film drink. It was pretty amusing to see a pretty average working class bar in my home town overtaken by the Sydney and Brisbane gays who’ve arrived for tomorrow night’s New Years Eve Party.

“You planning to have a bet”?, the barmaid asked me as she collected up the TAB information cards. “I think you’re safe to put them away”, I told her with a smile.

Granny was a Hoare

The grave of Ann Phibbs, Waverley Cemetery, Sydney
The grave of Ann Phibbs, Waverley Cemetery, Sydney

Sometimes you can forget how beautiful Sydney is at this time of the year. That is, until you take a walk along the coastline near Bondi, Bronte and Tamarama. The sandstone cliffs, the blue-green colour of the water, and the gentleness of the walk are both relaxing and hypnotic. The walk wasn’t overly busy, though, as most people were down on the beach.

My reason for a visit today wasn’t to relax: I went in search of the gravestone of one of my ancestors, Ann Hoare. I’ve known for a number of years she was buried at Waverley Cemetery under the name Ann Phibbs, but until today have never really had the motivation to go looking for the grave. Others, like Joye Walsh have been there before and have taken photographs of the gravesite which are available online. But with a revitalised interest in family history lately, I figured I’d pay a visit to find the grave myself to help fill in this part of the story in my own mind.

Granny Hoare, as I choose to call her from now on, was only fourteen years old when she married William Rixon, the eldest son of early convicts James Rixon and Amelia Goodwin in 1826. For many years after their marriage, William and Ann lived and farmed in various parts of what is now Western Sydney, around places like Marsfield, Campbelltown, Airds and Appin. From farming, they diversified into hotels, being the manager or licensee of a number of hotels in a number of locations between Wollongong and Appin.

Elizabeth Hore and Ann Phibbs photo  from 1865`
Elizabeth Hore and Ann Phibbs photo from 1865 thanks to Elizabeth Friederich

Author Mick Roberts has documented their interests oin his website…

William Rixon licensed The Travellers Rest along the old coach road, between Mount Keira and Appin at the Wollongong court house during 1842. The location was known as ‘Stringy Bark’ or on some maps as ‘Lachlan Forest’. Licensing records state Rixon’s inn was located 18 miles (29 kilomtres) from Wollongong and 10 miles (17 kilomtres) from Appin. The license was described as a “wine and beer license” and not a “publican’s License” which indicates the inn was merely a refreshment stop for travellers and offered no accommodation.

Documents reveal the inn was under construction along the Appin to Mt Keira Road in May 1839. However, no records of the inn receiving a license can be found for another three years.

Lady Franklin reveals in her journal, while travelling from Appin to Wollongong and crossing the Cataract River, that she ascended the other side of Broughton’s Pass, and seen a hut and stable “where a man and horses for mail are”. She states the coach’s horses were changed there, while further along the track, the horses were stationed at a clearing where an inn was under construction. This building was no doubt The Travellers Rest and although Rixon moved onto another public house later that year, the inn probably continued in operation for several years as an unlicensed wayside stop for coaches and travellers until 1848 when Mt Keira was replaced by Rixon’s Pass at Woonona as the preferred mail route over the escarpment.

William Rixon became the licensee of the Union Revived Hotel at Appin later in 1842. The sandstone inn, still in existence as a private home, is located opposite Saint Bede’s Roman Catholic Church, on the main road through Appin village. Appin had two licensed inns at this time – the Union Revived Hotel and the Bourke Hotel – both had been in existence since 1826. Appin was the first large settlement reached after leaving Wollongong for Sydney.

William Rixon died on May 28, 1847 at Campbelltown and is buried at St Peter’s Church of England. After William’s death, Ann married twice more. On June 11, 1848, she married Owen Dunlaghan who died in January 1851. A year later, on January 24, 1852, Ann married William Henry Phibbs with whom she had one child, William Jordan Phibbs. Phibbs died on November 24, 1863. Ann lived on for many years after that, including at 362 Castlereagh Street, Sydney on the east side between Goulburn and Campbell Street. At the time of her death on August 8, 1895, she was living at “Adderborough” at 19 Denison St Woollahra, Sydney.

Finding her grave was no easy task. The office at Waverley Cemetery where they keep all the records is closed on a Sunday. So I had a copy of the photograph taken by Joye Walsh on my phone and walked around looking for it. Interestingly, it does quite stand out amongst the other graves, as it’s a reasonably simple crucifix, although it is quite large. Many of the other headstones are very very simple, or equally quite ornate. The best way to locate it, if you’re interested in finding it, is to go along the coastal walk, and when you see the main road which roughly equally divides the cemetery, take a walk up there about 100 metres. When you come to the next main “intersection”, take a left and you’ll see her grave there.

Ann enjoys wonderful views, and I reckon if she ever chose to sell, she could make a fortune :)

It was a lovely day and I’m so pleased I found the grave. It’s interesting for me and my sense of identity – as someone raised in the country, and having had ancestors in the country for several generations – to explore this more “urban” part of my family history.