Murders and vicious assaults occurred against the unlikely backdrop of Sydney’s most attractive coastline, with the victims all suspected of homosexual tendencies. What should have been Australia’s own watershed of gay-hate crimes lay untouched by police for over 10 years.
When the cases finally reopen, Detective Sergeant Page finds a senseless war of terror against a population unable to defend itself. In The Beat, I.J. Fenn takes us into that terror with his recreation of the 1989 Bondi gay murders and the investigation that came too late.
Wasted and bored, teenage gang members as young as 16 attempted to prove their masculinity with displays of increasing violence. Nearby, late-night visitors to Mark’s Park were well known to be faggots and poofs who don’t fight back. Taking the name of a black American gang, the troubled youths commited muggings and assaults until the stakes were raised to murder.
Fenn distances himself from the established True Crime genre by compartmentalising fiction and analysis from the official police investigation. Caricatures of poofs in high frivolity and gangs hunched in shadows sit awkwardly adjacent to the dispassionate witness interviews.
The creative additions may not lend journalistic credibility, but they do provide context. They remind us that many of the protections we take for granted today, including the ubiquitous mobile phone, were not available.
In The Beat, Fenn attempts to show us the magnitude of risk faced by the frequenters of Mark’s Park. The situation has an uneasy familiarity for those who lived through these times in Sydney and those from areas where these attacks continue. We are caught between not believing this could still happen and considering events from our own lives.
This story is more than a mere whodunit, it is a damning catalogue of injustice and negligence. Page discovered the initial police reports were falsified, evidence was lost and mistakes made. It’s hard not to imagine some malice behind what the coroner called a grossly inadequate and shameful investigation.
While Fenn’s own research methods are questionable -“ the book seems to be written from transcripts rather than interviews -“ Page’s investigation was detailed, from secret wiretapping to prisoner interviews.
Witnesses provided all manner of accounts, including misleading fantasy and fearful denials. Fear led the former gang members to close ranks. With so many suspects and almost as many victims, the case seemed an impossible challenge to solve.
The Beat is not a pleasant story, from the implication of brutal murder to the glacial and inadequate police bureaucracy. It is an important story with no happy endings -“ only a pointed finger and burning resentment at justice on hold.
I.J. Fenn’s The Beat is published by The Five Mile Press, RRP $24.95.