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?”.

Darlinghurst History Walk

I spent the early part of the day teaching at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. As part of the lecture I gave, I repeated the mantra, “there are no boring stories, only boring story-tellers” which I’ve heard many times from radio consultant, Valerie Geller. She’s absolutely right. Just about any story can be interesting, so long as there’s someone interesting to tell the story.

And thankfully, the second part of the day was a combination of both: interesting stories and an interesting story-teller. As part of History Week, I participated in a Walking Tour of the Darlinghurst area conducted by History Council President Mark Dunn. I went on one of these history week tours last year and enjoyed it very much.

This year’s walk had more of a focus on the food and wine of the Darlinghurst area, as we visited the locations of former sly-grog shops, the sites of former butchers, and the sites of former pasta and pie factories to name but a few. We also took in some of the Razor Gang sites which are generating a lot of interest now, thanks to the Underbelly series on television right now.

Appin Bi-Centenary

“I have a connection to the pub across the road” I told the woman who was looking after things at St Bede’s Catholic Church in Appin today. “Two of my ancestors ran the pub back in the 1840s”, I told her, referring to William Rixon and Ann Hoare.

“There was a close connection between the church and the pub” she told me, pointing to the family, the Carolls who owned the pub and who ran it as a guest and boarding house, who were buried in the graveyard. “The sisters also used to have rooms there”, she added.

With a strong and long-term interest in family history, I hopped on a train early this morning and made my way to the 200th Anniversary Celebrations for Appin, located about 15km from Campbelltown in Sydney’s West. My ancestral connection to Appin is pretty much confined to the period when they ran The Union Revived. Their main connection was with Campbelltown itself, which is where William is buried, along with his mother, in the graveyard of the Anglican Church. I visited their graves also today, for the first time. Meanwhile, Ann went on to marry a few more times, moved closer to the city, and was finally burried under the name Ann Phibbs at Waverley Cemetery. I visited her grave a few months ago.

After a look around the St Bede’s Cemetery, I made my way down the street to watch the street parade. Mostly, the parade was made up of school groups, sports teams, organisations like the Rural Fire Service and pipe bands. I couldn’t believe there could be that many bagpipes in one parade, but then I guess, the area is called The Southern Highlands and the main town is Campbelltown. My favourites were a young girl, maybe five years old, who was impressively beating her drum in time, and seeing a 16 year old emo girl as part of one of the bands. Later I saw an emo boy dressed up in colonial gear which also gave me a bit of a giggle.

Naturally enough, there were art displays, Aboriginal cultural displays, sausage sizzles, jumping castles, and of course gözleme.

But for me, the most interesting thing was going to see the pub that was once run by some of my ancestors. The building is in a very poor state of repair now. There were no signs to say you couldn’t enter the building, so I just did. But as I walked through I needed to be particularly careful, as I discovered the floor could give way with one too heavy foot-step. “It’s a real shame it’s in such a poor state of repair”, a woman who was doing the same said to me as we passed each other.

I picked up a book about the town which mentions William Rixon’s brief period at the pub, and I placed an order for another book commemorating the anniversary.

And that cleaned me out of my planned spending money for the day which became a bit of a problem as I went to use the ATM at the servo. “It’s empty”, I told the bloke behind the counter. “Yeah, it’s been flat out since five o’clock this morning”, he told me. I reckon it was one of the busiest days in the history of Appin.

Colonial Wine Tasting

Ten green bottles
Ten green bottles

Talk about four seasons in one day. What began as a fine sunny day in Sydney, had, by mid-afternoon turned into something cold and wet. Cold and wet enough to drag out the possibly fake “North Face” rain jacket I bought in Beijing a few months ago. As the rain tumbled down, I could think of nothing better than an afternoon of wine tasting at Elizabeth Bay House.

And not just any kind of wine tasting. No, it was Colonial Wine Tasting, an event at Elizabeth Bay House put on by the Historic Houses Trust.

Having been to the Colonial Spice Dinner there a couple of years ago, I was intrigued when I saw the listing in the HHT’s semi-regular events calendar. So intrigued, I invited along fellow Blogger-Twitterer etc, Tom who had come with me to the Colonial Spice Dinner in April 2009.

According to the blurb associated with the event…

Like most gentlemen of his day, Alexander Macleay kept an extensive cellar and he produced grapes at his Elizabeth Bay and Camden properties. Colonial wine expert Dr Julie McIntyre will talk about tastes and wine production in the 19th century. Includes tastings in the cellar and light food.

Tasting in the cellar at Elizabeth Bay House
Tasting in the cellar at Elizabeth Bay House

The first part of the afternoon went into quite significant detail about the history of wine in Australia. For example, I learned there were cuttings on the First Fleet and that a “Wine Industry” was part of the vision for the colonial settlement of Australia. The historian, Julie went into a lot of detail locating this, both within temperance ideas about the so-called “civilising effect” of wine consumption (as opposed to other forms of alcohol), as well as lots of economic theories about free trade advanced by the likes of Adam Smith. Though, Julie did ask whether Adam Smith’s theories may have, in part, been influenced by his love of French wine in a period when wine from Portugal was given preferential trade status by Britain. While it was interesting, most of us were probably there more for the second part of the afternoon…

The second part of the afternoon was a series of tastings of Angove’s wines. The idea was to give us an idea of the style of wines which may have been enjoyed during colonial times in Australia. Naturally enough you’d expect sherry and brandy and so on, but there were also lots of varietals and blends. There were some lovely wines and some not so great also. For me, there was a bit of a buzz in re-connecting with Angove’s, since I lived for a couple of years just down the road from their winery at Renmark in South Australia. “It’s great to have a winery down the road”, I told the company representative, but noted that it tended to stink the house out during crushing season. Eek.

There was another connection from my past also, in that Alexander Macleay used to grow wine around Wagga Wagga, where I also lived for a time. It was wonderful to try to imagine how it must have been to have brought the wine all the way from Wagga in those days by bullock dray, and then to bring them to Elizabeth Bay House, all the way down those stairs.

Garage sale in the downstairs carpark
Garage sale in the downstairs carpark

Elizabeth Bay House is a gorgeous property with terrific views. And it was great to go down into the cellar and to do some tastings. The people who spoke were also very passionate about their interests.

By the end of the afternoon, as we emerged at about 6.20pm the weather had cleared somewhat. It was no longer wet, and no longer cold. Or maybe that’s just because I chose to drink instead of spit?

The other two really cool things about the day were having a drink with my friend Graeme tonight (and meeting a visiting tourist, and having a garage sale in the basement carpark. While most people were participating in the great garage sale trail (or whatever it’s called), it’s not so easy in an apartment block. But that didn’t stop a couple of enterprising women in our block who set up a stall in the carpark downstairs. “All a bit girly for my liking”, I told one of them, a woman I used to work with, commenting on the assorted dresses they were selling, but still congratulating them on the efforts, and by maintaining apartment block security by declaring the garage sale “for residents only”.

Chinatown Tour

Chillis to bring passion and romance into my life
Chillis to bring passion and romance into my life

“These will bring passion and romance into your life”, the bloke behind the counter said to me as I handed over my planned purchase. “That was the general idea”, I told him and we smiled at each other.

It was towards the end of an “Historical and Cultural Tour” of Chinatown, co-inciding with Chinese New Year Celebrations in Sydney.

I love a good walking tour, and when I saw this one advertised a few weeks ago, I signed up immediately. Interestingly, I recognised two couples from some previous history walks I’ve undertaken in Sydney.

Chinatown Tour
Chinatown Tour

Of those attending, I was probably about mid-range in the age department, and possibly knew a little bit more about Chinatown than many of the others attending judging by some of the questions asked. More than general interest in cultural activities and history, I also spend a fair bit of time in Chinatown due to its proximity to where I live and work. I eat at least one meal each week in Chinatown.

But even so, there are lots of things I didn’t know about, and lots of things I’ve passed without paying too much attention to them.

I’ve never really looked at the big archways at either end of Chinatown before. I’ve never noticed the wording about how it’s about “Chinese and Australian Friendship”. I’ve also never really closely looked at some of the ornamentation on the archways and on neighbouring buildings. “They’re more of the style of Northern China” our tour guide, an older Chinese man told us, noting the incline of the rooftops allowed rain and snow to fall to the gutters easily.

Behind the scenes at The Emperor's Garden
Behind the scenes at The Emperor's Garden

Our guide was a man in his 70s, I’d guess, who had lots of great anecdotal stories of Chinatown in the past. For example, he spoke about going to an opium den at a very young age with his father. And he had a great knowledge of some of the different families and family businesses of Chinatown, and who did what to whom and so on.

But as we walked around and looked at various buildings, I felt a certain sadness: it sounded like the Chinatown of today is not as interesting as it used to be. Our guide mentioned Chinatown is getting a bit of a make-over in the next three or four years, and that’s probably a good thing, because as I walked around, I also noticed the place could do with a good lick of paint.

Aside from the architecture and the history, it was also interesting to do a few things I wouldn’t normally do: such as visit the Chinese Ginseng Centre of Herbs, and go into the depths of the kitchen of The Emperor’s Garden Chinese Restaurant, one of my favourite places for a plate of roast pork.

And it was great to look a little more closely at things I’d normally pass quickly by, such as the Golden Tree (a great meeting place in Chinatown) and the offices of the Chinese Nationalist Party, the KMT.

Fresh fruit and veg at Paddy's Markets
Fresh fruit and veg at Paddy's Markets

The tour lasted two and a half hours. And at the end of it all, Colin and I went out for some yum cha at Hingara, which I now know is a restaurant which has been in Dixon Street (an incorrect spelling apparently, it should be Dickson) for over forty years (though now with different owners).

We chatted about a few things including the gorgeous looking peaches selling in Paddy’s Markets at the moment. Although it’s mostly thought Paddy’s is an Irish reference, by the way, there’s an alternative reading that it related to people from the rice paddys, we were told today. So at the end of yum cha, we popped in there, where I bought some peaches and apricots.

A lovely day, and a very enjoyable tour.

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.