In the late 1980s, gay men were seen as soft targets. In and around Sydney’s beats, they found companionship, sex, beatings, and occasionally death.
But of the scores of teenage thugs who dished out regular bashings, robberies and murder around the city’s eastern suburbs, only a few ever faced justice for their crimes.
I. J. Fenn is the pseudonym of a British writer who hopes to change that statistic. In his new book, The Beat, he wants to inform readers -“ and maybe even catch a few crims.
I’d like the book to stimulate some further discussion at street level, to get people to come forward and make a difference with these particular cases, Fenn told Sydney Star Observer.
Those cases were the subject of a 2003 coronial inquiry, which uncovered both gang activities and flaws in police investigations.
In one case, the body of John Russell was found at the bottom of a cliff below Tamarama’s Marks Park, a clump of hair on the back of his hand and his body in an unlikely position. Police determined he’d jumped, and crucial evidence was lost. Fenn believes arrests could still be made in Russell’s case.
Fenn described researching The Beat as the most disturbing thing [he’d] ever done.
I read 3,000 pages of documentation before I wrote the book, he said.
Every single page is disgusting. What those people did -“ it is unbelievable that people were still behaving with that level of depravity in the late 20th century.
Fenn has named names, going as far as reprinting transcripts of conversations between known gay bashers in prison. Although he chose to write under a pseudonym, he said he did not feel seriously threatened.
I’m moderately worried, he said.
I think these people were phenomenally stupid in the past and they’ve gotten away with it. They’d have to be doubly stupid to do it now, to bring themselves out into the harsh light.
So, intellectually, I’m not worried about it at all. But I don’t think these people work on an intellectual level. So there has to be an element of caution in my life.
Fenn referred to a recent Sydney Star Observer report of a serious gay bashing in Darlinghurst as a reason why the stories in The Beat had to be told.
It hasn’t stopped, he said.
We know it happens every weekend, we know where it happens every weekend. Surely they could have a police operation relating to this -“ to prevent it and, if they can’t prevent it, actually arrest somebody for perpetrating it.
And people in the gay community can’t not report these things. You have to report them. Even if it’s only to embarrass the police into doing something about it.
The Star has 30 copies of The Beat to pass on to readers. Be one of the first 30 to email firstname.lastname@example.org to pick one up.