Bondi Badlands – a new true crime podcast launched on Friday – delves headfirst into the spate of gay hate crimes and murders that tainted Sydney between the late 80’s to early 90’s and left the community living in fear. It is a five-part series from The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, hosted by deputy editor for the Good Weekend Greg Callaghan.

Callaghan told Star Observer that the anti-gay crime wave that spread across Sydney during the late 80s and early 90s had always fascinated him. 

“There was a level of violence right across Sydney that was unprecedented. In revisiting it through the podcast, it really struck me that the scale of violence was just staggering. The murders were one, and the worst, part of it but they were only the tip of the iceberg,” Callaghan explained.

Blossoming Of The Gay Scene In Sydney

“The community at the stage had an unprecedent profile for the first time, the gay bars on Oxford Street that were once tucked away, were in the 80’s suddenly bursting into life. Of course, this blossoming of the gay scene coincided with the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic.”

Over the course of four decades, there have been at least 88 murders of gay men and transgender people in Sydney, with 30 cases still unsolved.

“When you speak to people of a certain age, they just recall how there was violence everywhere. It wasn’t happening all the time, but there was a real problem and a real issue,” Callaghan said. 

“In the early 2000’s when I was working at News LTD, I was going to the coroner’s court. It was around 2003 that Jacqueline Milledge was the Deputy State Coroner.

“Milledge looked into the cases and two years later bought down findings which were damming of the police investigation.”

Arrests After Three Decades\

Of course, Callaghan is no stranger to these crimes, having released a critically acclaimed book of same name as the podcast in 2007.

“I wrote Bondi Badlands at the same time, and it was published a couple of years later. I thought that would be it, but I was surprised by the level of interest that bubbled up a few years later and has continued.”

Callaghan goes on to add that while the book focused on the Bondi murders, it also took a look at the “wider picture in Sydney.”

“The LGTQI community, we don’t give up, if we see injustice, we stand up and look after our own. What’s accompanied that [attitude] is a greater social maturity and greater interest in social justice, and there has also been a dramatic shift in social attitudes.”

‘The Grief Never Goes Away’

The view south from Marks Park, which is the site of the Bondi Memorial to honour victims and survivors of homophobia and transphobic violence. Image: Waverley Council.

In an attempt to humanise the experience of those that are still affected by this dark chapter in Sydney’s and the LGBTQI communities’ histories, Callaghan has used their voices and stories in Bondi Badlands.

“What we tried to do in the podcast is get under the skin of the people involved and show them as human beings through the voices of their friends and family, to empower the victims through their friends and family.

“Unless it happens to you directly you don’t understand. When you lose someone, you don’t forget them, they stay with you. In the podcast you can hear [a] couple of the friends and family of the victims, the real emotions come back, because they are talking about these people, and they are still fresh in their memory.

“One of the relatives of John Russel spoke very powerfully about how the grief never goes away. A lot of the stuff is pretty raw even now.”

For some listeners this period in time may seem so long ago, however, as Callaghan reminds us, “we are discussing a time only 30 or so years ago.”

“I think it is really important for young people to realise this wasn’t so long ago. The other thing that these crimes remind us of is that social change doesn’t always move in one positive direction, things can take a bit of a back step sometimes.

“We live in a society which has matured and become more tolerant, but we have to guard that, not take it for granted.”

You can listen to Bondi Badlands via Apple Podcasts, with new episodes released every Friday throughout October.



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