Filmmaker and theatre director Neil Armfield has revealed publicly for the first time that he almost died in a vicious gay-bashing attack in the 1980s in Sydney. 

Trigger Warning: This story has details of a homophobic attack, which might be distressing to some readers. For 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

Adelaide Festival co-director Armfield said that at the time he thought it was “curtains” for him, reported The Australian

Armfield is acknowledged as “one of Australia’s greatest theatre, opera and filmmakers.” He is also the director of the 2015 film, Holding The Man.

A Wave Of Gay Hate

Armfield is the director of Watershed, a new oratorio based on one of Adelaide’s unsolved gay hate crimes – the drowning of gay academic George Duncan, who was thrown into the Torrens River in 1972. 

Though there were accusations of police involvement, half a century later, no one has been arrested over the death and the case remains unsolved. Duncan’s death was the catalyst that pushed South Australia to become the first jurisdiction in Australia to decriminalise homosexuality. 

Watershed will be a centrepiece at next month’s Adelaide Festival and helped Armfield to find the courage to reveal that he too was a victim of a homophobic attack in Sydney 36-years ago.

This coincides with the time when a wave of anti-gay and anti-trans attacks hit SydneyAround 88 suspected deaths of men who were victims of hate crimes occurred between 1970 and 2010 in Sydney, of which 23 remain unsolved.

Attack Took Place At Sydney’s Moore Park

According to The Australian, Armfield revealed that the attack on him took place on a Saturday night in May 1986. Armfield, then 31, was at Sydney’s Moore Park, a well-known gay beat when he was “grabbed by my collar from ­behind and swung around and straight into a king hit on my nose.”

Armfiled said that his nose broke and there was a “gush of blood”. His attackers were five guys in their mid-20s “And as they hit me they yelled, ‘AIDS poofter’,” the Order of Australia awardee recalled.

Armfield said he lost control of his bowels. “I knew that if I hit the ground I’d be gone … I just fought to stay upright and I screamed from the bottom of my being, ‘Why are you doing this? … All they could reply was ‘AIDS poofter’,’ he said.

The attackers who had grabbed his watch demanded his wallet. Armfield thought this would be his chance to escape as he led them to his car, which was parked on a busy road. 

“I knew that I had to get away from this very dangerous, ­secluded place. One of them had picked up this big plank of wood … and if I’d been hit with that it would have been … curtains. I think they were a bit freaked by the blood and by the shit.”

Humiliation From Police

When they reached his car, a passing driver shone his lights on the group, which scared his attackers and they fled.

Armfield said he drove home and burst into tears. When he went to report the crime two days later with his friend journalist David Marr, Armfiled said that the police “did their best to humiliate me.” He said though he could have easily identified his attackers, but he never heard back from the police. 

“This happened at precisely the time people, who were more unlucky than I was, were being killed,” said Armfiled. 

“It could have been so much worse, and I know that for ­others, it was so much worse,” he added. 

While he has carried the mental trauma of the attack all these years, Armfield said the physical scars remained as well. The injury left him with a nasal-sounding voice and because of his broken nose, recently during a COVID test “they couldn’t get the applicator in the left side.”


If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.

For 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14

For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.




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