MY desert boots were right on the edge. Bathurst St, Sydney — a warm March evening. 1983. I rocked back and forward with a sense of exposure, like I had no edges to keep me in. No one was looking at me. I knew that. But I seemed to be inwardly blushing anyway, which I did a lot then. Next to me was my newly-acquired friend, Rosie. I was 18. Rosie was 27. She didn’t say a lot. I met her in a youth hostel on the south-western Australian coast.
The youth hostel was like an empty ship. It was like no one had ever been there. A school friend and I had caught the bus from Sydney to Perth — $90 each way. This was our first youth hostel experience. The front steps were wide and sandy leading up to open French doors. All the window shutters were swung open and swayed in the ocean breeze. The whole building looked like it had been washed in sunlight, salt and sand for hundreds of years. Warm and worn.
The other person I met in that youth hostel was Charlie, a carpenter from Liverpool in England. He was sun bronzed, cheekily handsome and also keen to come and see me in Sydney after he had travelled around Australia. He was 21. We liked chatting to each other. He came to Sydney. We hung out. He wanted to kiss me. This was something that hadn’t occurred to me. Unfortunately, it ruined the friendship plans. It seemed I was already a lesbian, although I thought I would be straight and soon to marry. But whenever straightness raised its head I felt odd and moved away. Hopefully, he married in Liverpool and had lots of cheeky kids.
Rosie and I didn’t talk about sex or relationships. It just didn’t fit on the agenda between us. We talked about bus travel — a lot. How awful it was that people could smoke on buses. What a long way it was from Sydney to Perth — by bus. And what an overwhelmingly long way it was from Perth to Sydney. About other places she had been to in Australia. I admired Rosie. She was big and slow and carried all of her important things in a huge money belt around her waist. She mostly wore the same clothes. She was Scottish and brave. She had saved up all her hard-earned money, come all the way to Australia and stayed in youth hostels on her own.
Rosie and I were probably going head-for-head in the social confidence stakes. She stuttered sometimes. We both were prone to blushing. I would grow up to find out that I loved talking to people and getting to know them but I didn’t know that then. I didn’t know that at all.
It was on account of Rosie’s courage that we found ourselves teetering on the edge of Bathurst St on a balmy summer evening. I wouldn’t have gone with anyone else who could have assumed that going to Mardi Gras meant that I was definitely gay. Rosie didn’t assume things about me because she just didn’t work like that. In fact, we didn’t even talk about anything gay while we were standing there. We didn’t talk about anything.
Neat boys in spangled red shorts slinked through their warm up moves. Strong lesbians with body paint and drums thumped out political rhythms. These were the first gay people I had ever seen. One, I noticed, was completely gorgeous.
Standing on that kerb, my life possibilities swirled from schooly blues and greens, from sensible brown and grey pathways to up and down and roundabout delights coloured with radiant gold, purple and red, all backed with disco anthems. I didn’t step off the kerb yet. I turned and strolled quietly to Circular Quay with Rosie, chatting, inwardly ecstatic at what could be.
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**This story was first published in the June edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.