Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Small town blues

I lived in Canberra between 1982 and 1987.

In those days life for an unattached gay man in a small town dominated by government employment was a sort of double jeopardy. For one thing, regardless of your sexuality, career status played an inordinate role in social situations. Meet someone new at a party and inevitably you would quickly be made to 'show yours' to the newby. 'Show your' public service grade, that is. Wobetide that your grade wasn't sufficiently high in which event the newby would start looking around the room for someone more 'useful' with whom to spend their time chatting.

And being gay meant other perils. It wasn't easy to be open about your sexuality in case that endangered your career prospects. One often had to resort to gay cruising to meet sexual needs. There were a few 'beats' around Canberra and being a comparatively small town you kept running into the same cruisers over and over. Realistically the odds were that most of these cruisers were also public servants but the sexual exchange was often conducted in silence and done with so quickly that you rarely discovered much about these fleeting partners.

I remember one very satisfying, if cramped, encounter in the backseat of my car - how teenage is that! - which was followed by the equivalent of an after sex cigarette in bed. That is, the two of us, having never previously met and still naked and entwined and cramped on that backseat with the windows steamed up and my car parked at the remote back end of a shopping precinct car park actually engaged in a conversation. To our mutual astonishment, we discovered that we worked for the same government department. Not only that, but our names were so alphabetically similar that they followed each other in the departmental telephone directory. We only met for sex once more after that.

There were others I would see regularly at the beats who were not interested in a sexual encounter with me and/or vice versa with whom you conducted a sort of 'gay tango' trying not to intrude in each other's search for a partner. One of these was the driver of a Mercedes who studiously ignored me whenever we passed each other. I would have been happy to exchange a courteous non-commital smile with him but he would have none of that. One day I accompanied a high powered group from my department across the lake to important discussions with a related department on the other side. Our group was ushered through a number of security points to an inner sanctum to meet, across a massive formal conference table, the equivalent high powered group from that department. To my surprise, the lead member of that group was Mr Mercedes! I offered Mr Mercedes a firm handshake and what I hoped was a neutral smile but received only an unfriendly glare in response. His unspoken message was unmistakeable. 'What is a queen like you doing in a high powered group like this?'

Fast foward twenty-five years and I live in Sydney with it's population approaching five million and would you believe that Mr Mercedes also lives here? I see him from time to time; most recently last Sunday when he was having breakfast and reading a newspaper at the nearby Westfield. He still ignored me.


  1. His loss, not yours Victor.

  2. I was in Canberra for some of that time: in 1983 I was involved in helping run a gay cafe held as an entirely cooperative venture in an old peoples day centre or possibly a kindergarten just accross Barry Drive from ANU. Maybe it was once a month - I remember baking a carrot and zuchinni cake and taking it. Somewhere still I must have a piece of paper with the contact details. I am ashamed or at least chastened to say that mine is one of those starred to indicate that contact should be made with discretion. Perhaps you too are on that list? Perhaps not. It wasn't more than a page or possibly 2.

    I have especially fond memories of Casuarina Sands, though at that stage I wasn't bold enough to take full advantage of the possibilities it offered...

  3. Marcellous - I'd forgotten Casuarina Sands. I went there a few times.