Growing up on a farm in Cootamundra, I was never really into sports. If I had to get on the sporting field, I did okay, but I was just never really into it.
That all changed at 15 when I was sent to Sydney to boarding school. There I found myself at the bottom of the pile, and the competitive side of me really didn’t like that at all, so I began to work from one sport to another. Within 12 months, I was into squash, athletics, rugby, rifle shooting, and cross-country running. But rowing was a special passion and the one I put the most effort into.
With rowing, there is no half way. It is the ultimate competitive sport and ultimate team sport. Every single person on a crew has to work together to get the goal. We did pretty well as a school team but, by the time I went to university, I dropped out of rowing as I was more involved in student politics. In the final few years of uni, I was tempted back and when I went back on the water I realised just how much I had missed rowing.
When I left uni, I was in another rowing crew, but it wasn’t a happy time. I was just coming out, but the other three rowers were very aggressively masculine and would express their aggression through homophobic commentary. For a young man who was just beginning to deal with who I was, it was way too confronting. While I put up with it for a while, eventually it became too much. At the same time, I had begun my career and all of that eventually led me to say, Enough!
I was working hard at my career, but I was ready for a change and thinking about moving to England. I met a Scottish guy during Mardi Gras, and I remember sailing across Sydney Harbour with him, talking about how much fun it would be to be in a gay rowing team. It really sparked an idea in me.
When I arrived in London, we went out on the water and at first it was just four mates going for a row. Three months later, it had grown to 60 rowers, all with the goal of rowing at the 1998 Gay Games in Amsterdam. Twenty-eight of us went as a team, and all of us except one came home with a medal.
What I saw develop was a rowing group which had its own sense of community. I saw some of the younger people who joined us totally change as people as they developed confidence and a sense of being a part of a community that they weren’t getting from the scene.
But it was soon time to come home and in mid-1999 I arrived back in Australia. I had discovered rowing was not going to be among the sports at the 2002 Gay Games, which really disappointed me. I set up the Gay and Lesbian Rowing Federation (GLRF) and also began working with the Federation of Gay Games and as a consultant to the Sydney Games. By 2002, the GLRF was admitted to the Federation of Gay Games.
Once the Sydney Gay Games were over, I started up a new local rowing team with the intention of rowing at the Montr? games. I had such a great time in the rowing team in London, I wanted Sydney people to experience that as well. But it was hard. We had some problems with setting it up as the rowing club, and then my international responsibilities with the Federation continued to increase. In 2003, I had enough and resigned from the Federation.
In 2004, I was one of the founding members of the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA) but, at the end of that year, I broke my back at a Christmas party and had to have five vertebrae bolted together. I was out of action for three months and back to normal after seven months. I healed pretty well and have no pain. I really do believe I have an angel sitting on my shoulder.
I joined Team Sydney and was president for a while, but now I am on the board. We have already had a great year and are really pushing forward. On Sunday at Fair Day, Team Sydney is hosting a Sports Village, as well as promoting our Sports Festival over the coming weeks (see the Team Sydney website).
A new Sydney rowing crew has now started and is headed for the Montr? Outgames and I will be part of their crew. I wanted to go to the Chicago Gay Games as well, but simply getting that much leave from work is not an option.
What I see on Oxford Street is an unfulfilled bar and club scene with people going out, getting drunk and taking drugs. It is fun, but not a constructive lifestyle. What I would like to see is hundreds of sport clubs around the world, where gay people can find a community in a positive environment. I do think we are going to see more of that as the dance party culture declines. People want a different outlet and I believe sport is going to give us that.
Interview by John Burfitt