Archive for the ‘gay’ Category

Conundrum 2

July 27, 2017

I’s taken me a while, but back to Calokerinos, Executor of the Estate of the late George Sclavos v Yesilhat; Yesilhat v Calokerinos, Executor of the Estate of the late George Sclavos [2017] NSWSC 666.

You will recall that George Sclavos, a pharmacist who had been generous to many or at least relaxed in his attitude to recovering monies lent to many, died suddenly aged 65, survived by his two nieces, Anna and Cleopatra, in whose favour an informal will was found.

Okan Yesilhat disputed the validity of the will. He said he was George’s surviving de facto partner. Okan said this relationship, of many years’ standing, had been a secret.

Obviously there must have been some kind of a relationship between George and Okan. George had advanced substantial sums of money to Okan – well above the other amounts known to have been advanced by him to others – and he had given Okan the means and authority to conduct his bank accounts.

To me, as a gay man, Okan’s claim of there being a sexual relationship is a plausible one. On reflection, perhaps that is putting it too simply. To me it is plausible that, if there was a sexual relationship, it would have been conducted in complete secrecy in the way that Okan alleged.

On the other hand, it is very easy to make up a story about someone who is dead. A court must scrutinize carefully any claims of dealings with deceased persons and especially where those claims rest entirely on the word of the surviving person who makes the claim.

Lawyers often talk about whether one judge or another is a good “draw” for their client. This preserves what in some ways must be a legal fiction, that there is some random process of selection of which judge hears a case. Often it may be that the selection of a particular judge from those available is a matter of chance, but the selection of judges itself is clearly far from being so.

In any case, it doesn’t look as Justice Slattery was a very good draw for Okan. As he said at paragraph [28] of his reasons for judgment:

The Court soon began to doubt Mr Yesilhat. Early in his evidence he explained how he deliberately deceived his first wife about his alleged relationship with George. Without a flicker of shame he elaborated upon a cynical scheme to mislead his first wife, Ms Susan Katri, into believing he was not with George at night. His story of lying to his first wife is barely worthy of credit. But the fact that Mr Yesilhat was prepared to parade such studied trickery carries its own significance. Why would one who shamelessly avowed deceit of a spouse, not practise deceit on this Court?

When I first read this, I thought “Whoah!” There seemed to be a kind of paradox  – a variant on “all men [sic] are liars” – in this case, “all closeted gay men are liars.” So is no self-confessed closeted man to be believed?

What Slattery J found “barely worthy of credit” (credit here means worthiness of being believed rather than reflecting well on the teller) was Okan’s claim that he used to go to a gambling club before leaving without placing a bet to spend time with George.  Okan said he did this so that he could produce the ticket to his then wife (who had already complained that he saw too much of George) as, in effect, an alibi.

Slattery J didn’t accept this.  I’ve inserted in bold the numbers for his reasons:

[211] (1) First, it is difficult to accept that Mr Yesilhat could have kept up this pretence for years, when he claims his visits to the deceased were regular. (2) Secondly, his claimed alibi was unstable. Other people frequented the same club and would have been able to see that Mr Yeslihat had left to go elsewhere. (3) Thirdly, such an alibi was likely to create quite separate domestic concerns: that he was gambling away the family’s money. He sought to answer that threat by explaining that this poker club was not one where gambling for money occurred. But that does not meet the problem that to a person being shown sign-in slips at a gambling club it may not have looked that way. (4)Finally, Mr Yesilhat’s case of arranging regular assignations with the deceased behind his first wife’s back infers that the deceased was complicit in this deception. How else could the deceased believe that a married Mr Yesilhat could spend so much time with him?

[212] (4A) But that is not consistent with the deceased’s character.  All the evidence about the deceased points to a man who  (4A1) had an open and friendly nature, (4A2) had deep moral feelings and religious scruples especially about his sex life, (4A3) maintained warm relationships with family and friends and (4A4) had never been involved in fraudulent activity. But Mr Yesilhat seemed comfortable to accept that the deceased was as dishonest as he was in conducting this relationship.

That’s a lot of reasons. Maybe 2 is the best, were it not that many affairs are conducted under cover of equally risky alibis.  My own skepticism would be of the elaborateness and consistency of the claimed ruse rather than its fragility – why not a variety of garden husbandly lies?   3 assumes Okan’s wife did not know/believe that no money was gambled at the club.  I don’t think I would be as ready as Slattery J is to take 1 and 4 (4A4 in particular is a stretch – how can you prove such a negative?) as from the start tending to preclude the truth of Okan’s account.

There’s a lot more in the judgment and the judge had plenty more reasons to which I find myself without the energy to do justice.  The thing is, unlike the rest of us who can afford a Marabar-caves sort of indeterminacy, he did have to make up his mind. That’s his job.

From which you’ll probably realise that Justice Slattery totally dismissed Okan’s claim, and upheld Cleopatra’s claim for repayment of all monies paid to or taken by Okan, with interest.  Okan’s story was just that: the story Okan had to tell if, following George’s sudden death, he was to avoid having to repay the money he had already received from George and hang on to the money he opportunistically grabbed by continuing to use after George’s death his capacity to operate George’s accounts. That Okan had obtained monies on such a scale and authority to operate George’s accounts in this way was not to be attributed to any sexual relationship between them, but rather that (at [312]) Okan was an “intuitive and manipulative individual” who well understood and was close enough to take advantage of George’s generosity.

So much (so far as the monies obtained by Okan and his company in George’s lifetime were concerned) for any credit in heaven which George professed a hope to attain on account of funds unrepaid at his death.

Nieces and intestacy

Why, asked Cleopatra (rhetorically), would she seek to forge a will as Okan claimed she had when, as George’s nieces, she and Anna stood to benefit anyway under what looked like otherwise being intestacy?

It is possible that this emerged during submissions as a result of a remark by the judge himself.  As he said at [688]:

the Court did raise the hypothesis in submissions that George’s nieces would take on George’s intestacy. But in the course of preparing these reasons it is clear that hypothesis was based on an erroneous assumption as to the present State of New South Wales law at the time of the deceased’s death. The nieces or nephews of an intestate in New South Wales have no entitlements; the State of New South Wales would be entitled to his estate: Succession Act, Parts 4.3 and 4.5.

I think his Honour’s first instincts were better than his afterthought.

This is the contents page to parts 4.3 and 4.5 of the Succession Act (part 4.4 deals with indigenous families) to which his Honour refers:

PART 4.3 – DISTRIBUTION AMONG RELATIVES
Note

   127.    Entitlement of children
   128.    Parents
   129.    Brothers and sisters
   130.    Grandparents
   131.    Aunts and uncles
   132.    Entitlement to take in separate capacities

   PART 4.5 – ABSENCE OF PERSONS ENTITLED

   136.    Intestate leaving no persons entitled
   137.    State has discretion to make provision out of property to which it becomes entitled

If you go by the contents listing alone, there is no section which, going by the headings, deals with the entitlements of nephews or nieces.  However, section 129 is as follows:

129 Brothers and sisters

(1) The brothers and sisters of an intestate are entitled to the whole of the intestate estate if the intestate leaves:

(a) no spouse, and

(b) no issue, and

(c) no parent.

(2) If no brother or sister predeceased the intestate leaving issue who survived the intestate, then:

(a) if only one survives-the entitlement vests in the surviving brother or sister, or

(b) if 2 or more survive-the entitlement vests in them in equal shares.

(3) If a brother or sister predeceased the intestate leaving issue who survived the intestate:

(a) allowance must be made in the division of the estate between brothers and sisters for the presumptive share of any such deceased brother or sister, and

(b) the presumptive share of any such deceased brother or sister is to be divided between the brother’s or sister’s children and, if any of these children predeceased the intestate leaving issue who survived the intestate, the deceased child’s presumptive share is to be divided between the child’s children (again allowing for the presumptive share of a grandchild who predeceased the intestate leaving issue who survived the intestate), and so on until the entitlement is exhausted.

If I am reading this aright, contrary to his Honour’s observations, nieces and nephews (and for good measure any intersex children of siblings) do have entitlements under intestacy in the event that their parents had an entitlement but predeceased the intestate person.  Siblings have an entitlement if a person dies without parents, spouse or issue.

If George died without leaving a will, under s 129(1), George’s parents having predeceased him and he dying single and childless, his brother would have been entitled to the whole of his estate. George’s brother having predeceased him, under s 129(3)(b), that brother’s daughters, ie, Anna and Cleopatra, his nieces, would have been entitled to share that brother’s presumptive share equally.

 

 

 

 

A conundrum

July 9, 2017

Maybe we are all unusual people, if you can only look closely enough, but George Sclavos, who for many years conducted a pharmacy at Leppington must have stood out.

From the late 1980s, George, who graduated as a pharmacist in 1973 when he was about 25, owned and ran a pharmacy at Leppington (near Campbelltown).  George never married and you’d have to say that the pharmacy really must have been his life.   He befriended many of his customers, including the local “down and outs” from the caravan park nearby whom he would often invite in after hours to spend time with him after the pharmacy had closed.

George was the “go to” man amongst his fellow shopkeepers at Leppington for making up a float at the start of the trading day.  He lent many people money, but if they didn’t pay him back was apparently content to leave that as something which would rest on their consciences or probably souls (he was devoutly religious) if they failed to repay him.  He told a friend “If I die and they owe me the money maybe God will put that in my credit to cover my sins.”

George was a heavy smoker, and it seems that other aspects of his shopkeeping lifestyle were quite unhealthy.  In 2013, aged 65, he died suddenly at the pharmacy.

George’s older and only brother, his father and his mother had predeceased him in 1980, 1979 and 1992.  He was survived by Anna and Cleopatra, his brother’s daughters.  George had told his nieces that they would find a will in his house.

George had lived since 1983 in a house in Strathfield first owned by his father and later by him.  He was a bit of a hoarder.  His nieces and family friends set about tidying things up in the hope that the will would surface in the process.

A document later admitted to probate as a informal will was found in George’s bible (which was on the table next to his bed), folded around an old photo of Anna and Cleopatra.  This appointed Cleopatra (who is a barrister by profession) as his executor and left George’s estate of about $6 million to her and Anna equally.

But there was another claimant.

Okan Yesilhat claimed he had met George in 1999 when Okan was 17 and George about 51.  Okan said he had been in a sexual relationship with George from that time and was in a de facto relationship with George at the time of George’s death.  Okan said that the document found in the bible must have been planted there and was not a will.  He said that probate of the will should be revoked, in which case (on his contentions) he would take the entire estate as de facto “widower” on intestacy.

As a fall-back Okan claimed family provision on the basis of his asserted relationship with George.  As a fall-back or parallel claim to that, Okan also said that money which he had received from George in George’s lifetime was a gift rather than money that Okan had to pay back. This was about $386K less payments by Okan or his company in George’s lifetime of about $82K – a net amount of $304K.

Okan had also taken money out of George’s accounts after George’s death using means of operating these accounts which George had given him.  Even if you are authorised to take money from someone’s accounts while they are alive, that authority ceases on their death and any money taken out after usually has to be repaid to the estate.  One way or another (as the heir on intestacy or by means of provision in a greater amount) Okan sought to resist having to repay these post-mortem amounts, of about $206K.  Okan had made a further $7-8K of withdrawals from George’s accounts which were reversed by the bank when it stopped the account at Cleopatra’s request.

Anna and Cleopatra knew about Okan, because in 2011 George had told them that he had lent upwards of $100K to Okan for a tyre business on Canterbury Road in Lakemba.  Anna and her husband had visited the business and met Okan not long after that.  You could not blame Anna and Cleopatra for feeling some disquiet about this, let alone about the full picture which came to light after George’s death, not only of the substantial amounts which had passed in his lifetime, but also the post-mortem withdrawals from his accounts.

But Okan’s claim of a 14-year homosexual relationship with their uncle came as a complete shock to them.  As far as they were aware, although unmarried, George had had a number of girlfriends in his life.  There was a bit more mystery over the circumstances in which George had harboured in his home from 2005 to 2008 a (since deceased) married mother-of-five sex worker with a drug problem whom he had met on Canterbury Road.

To Cleopatra and Anna Okan’s claims were not only a shock but a calumny.

Okan for his part maintained that his relationship with George was secret for cultural reasons.  He rubbed salt in to the wound (so far as Anna and Cleopatra were concerned) by claiming that George was dismissive of and said disparaging things about them.

By the time the matter came to trial, it emerged that if Okan was telling the truth, he had his own cultural reasons for keeping his relationship with George secret, including two marriages of his own.  For good measure, witnesses claimed that even when married he was seen consorting with other women.

There was no evidence from anyone, even Okan, of either George or Okan having any other same-sex relationship.

The matter was heard over 21 days in early 2016 before Justice Slattery. It took his Honour over a year to deliver his decision: Calokerinos, Executor of the Estate of the late George Sclavos v Yesilhat; Yesilhat v Calokerinos, Executor of the Estate of the late George Sclavos [2017] NSWSC 666.

That seems a long time, even if his Honour was off on leave for some of it, though the reasons are certainly lengthy.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to skip to the end of the book to find out the ending, or to look up the endings of TV serials on the internet (I am that kind of person) you can find out more there. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until I have the energy to write another post.

Forty years on

June 5, 2017

On Saturday night I went to a reunion of my year from high school.  This was a “back to school” day where you could watch the football matches of the day, have a tour of the classrooms and facilities, and then have dinner.  I just went to the dinner.

The school is a boys private school.

In my time boarders made up about an eighth of the students – less by the end. Lessons seemed almost a sideline: the sociopathology of the school was overwhelmingly sport, played on Saturdays against other schools.  Rugby was the dominant winter sport.  In the junior age groups (13, 14, 15, 16) teams went down to “G.”  In summer, cricket and rowing shared the crown.  Tennis and swimming were outliers.  Soccer (as we called it then) and basketball were introduced under sufferance for winter and summer respectively.

Instead of an elected school captain, we had an appointed senior prefect – invariably a prominent athlete and cadet under-officer and usually at least reasonably academic. Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen. The same goes for senior prefects – he has sent out the invitations for reunions in previous decades and did so again this year, though with the assistance of the school which by now has become very organised in its alumni relations.

Email and the internet make this sort of thing much easier than it would once have been.  Starting a few months ago there has been a flurry of emails as far-flung ex-schoolmates hit the “reply all” button announcing their intention or inability to attend and the odd broadcast reminder seeking missing contact details.

I did not respond to these.  At these reunions, it is the sporty element and boarders who are best represented.  A circulated list of those who had accepted to date confirmed this prospect. Few of the people I had much in common with were on it.

Then a “reply all” from an unlikely source mentioned me.  I havered right up to the last moment, then took the bait, making the necessary payment on the Thursday just before.

On the night we were about 50 out of a year which started with about 150 boys in first form and ended up with about 125 at the end of year 12.

I don’t know if we ever had a ten-year reunion.  I went to a twenty-year one in 1997.  That was the first time I saw my school fellows as a group as adults.  For me the chief interest was the small group of people (including myself) who had turned out to be gay.  Even then, not all of them chose to make any general declaration about that.  We formed a little quasi-masonic secret society for the night.

I remember some of our little sub-lodge as having a miserable time at school.   It never really occurred to me that any of them might be gay.  It was sufficient explanation for their plight that they were not sporty.

I don’t even recall having any particular theory about NH, a singer and dancer who went on to make a career around the world, though perhaps subliminally I did.  I shed a tear on hearing of his death some time in the 90s and I still remember him for both his beauty and his sweet disposition.

Seven other members of our year have died since we left school, so far as is known.

This time I was “the only gay in the village.”

The noisy sporty ones behaved pretty much as I expected.  Rowers were the hardest-core.

It wasn’t a night of many revelations or long-deferred denouements.  Those mostly happened 20 years ago – apart from the news in the meantime that a he (not one of the gay group) has become a she.

Nevertheless I’m still feeling a little shaken up, without being able quite to identify why.  Maybe it is just a matter of reverberance, a milestone passed, and the reminder when seen together of how old we are and are becoming, forty years on.

 

 

 

Angry

March 5, 2016

Homosexuals demand the right to work!

When, about 10 years ago, the push for marriage equality first emerged, the “establishment” gay and lesbian rights groups such as the NSW gay and lesbian rights lobby were caught on the hop. They were still focussing on substantive and de facto equality. It’s not as if they weren’t opposed to John Howard’s (with the ALP’s complicity) entrenchment of inequality by the amendment of the statutory definition of marriage (which would preclude any judge-made evolution of the definition of marriage at common low), but at that time gay marriage seemed like a symbolic and aspirational goal when there were so many other changes needed. Why try to run before you can walk?

That was my view, too. The most urgent need in gay rights was to improve the situation of gay adolescents in their high school years. That was based on my own experience at school and also as a teacher – experiencing homophobic abuse myself and witnessing the plight of the more obviously effete in the boys’ school where I taught for a bit over 10 years.

In your adult life, you can to an extent determine your social environment. You can seek out like-minded friends and to that extent protect yourself from direct abuse, though there remain some workplaces which are best avoided. It’s not that that prejudice against gays and lesbians (let alone (btqi people) does not exist, but abuse is rarely directed to your face except from strangers in public places.

School, however, is a bit like prison; it is a place you are forced to be by virtue of compulsory education, with company not of your own choosing. The same applies to your family whilst you are still a child/teenager. If there were any doubt about how tough adolescence is for gay [shorthand here] people, the statistics for youth suicide make the situation plain. And who can doubt that this trauma has a lasting effect into adult life for many?

But formal equality – where the availability of same-sex marriage is the great hold out, is also important – even if, in most respects, same-sex partners can arrange their affairs to achieve de facto equality. Even then such de facto equality is not even de facto equality because you have to take those steps. What it’s about is R.E.S.P.E.C.T..

Progress for LGBTIQ requires a pincer movement: on the one hand, the on the ground things like improving the plight of young LBGTIQ people; on the other, the higher order symbolic changes, like marriage equality.

That’s confirmed when the Tony Abbotts of this world obviously see things the same way, from the opposite point of view.

In part what they are reacting against, in the latest nasty political bout against the “Safe Schools” program is the fact that even anti-bullying requires higher-order attitude changing.  You don’t change the situation for kids in a school by saying “don’t bully [x] or [y]’ where X or Y are the specific children being bullied – although you also have to do that sometimes.  You have to change the children’s attitudes to the sorts of people that [x] and [y] are – create a more tolerant atmosphere generally.

That’s just what the reactionaries – truly, the homophobes – don’t like.  And we see it coming out in the arguments mounted against gay marriage/marriage equality, all about children when of course regardless of whether their parents are married or not there already are and will continue to be children with same-sex-partnered parents.

Right now I can’t be bothered spelling out more.  It makes me so angry.

I’ve used the picture above before.  In fact it’s of my elder sister in her Socialist Worker’s Party phase.   I’ve not asked her if she got up in time to go to the morning march and as she was a musician it seems unlikely to me.  But she was at the original 1978 Mardi Gras parade and a band she was in played at the first party in 1980.  Earlier this year she mentioned to me that the police violence was so unpleasant that it was 20 years before she could bring herself to take part in any demonstration/rally/march.

 

 

Surprise

December 28, 2015

Sir Kenneth Jacobs, former justice of the High Court of Australia, died, aged 97, this year.

I expect Jacobs’ death will have come as a surprise to many, as it did to me for the simple reason that I assumed he was already dead.  The authors of this obituary of his elder sister, Marjorie Jacobs, who died in 2013, appear to have overlooked that he survived her.

Jacobs was born in 1917 but because of the war had a career that ran on similar lines but mostly in advance of the career of Anthony Mason, born in 1925.  Jacobs was Mason’s predecessor as Challis Lecturer in Equity at the University of Sydney (during which time he wrote the text that still bears his name: Jacobs on Trusts) and preceded Mason to the NSW Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.  Mason was appointed to the High Court from the NSW Court of Appeal by the McMahon Government in 1972.  Jacobs was appointed to the High Court by the Whitlam Government in 1974.

At his swearing-in, Jacobs’ reputation as a judge of liberal views and wide cultural interests beyond the law, particularly in art and music, was acknowledged. When he was subsequently welcomed in Melbourne by the Chairman of the Victorian Bar, Richard McGarvie QC, he was described as a judge of independent and forward-looking mind who placed great importance on civil liberties.

In April 1979 Jacobs resigned from the High Court.  He had been ill and had not sat on any cases in that year. Jacobs was diagnosed with stomach cancer and told he had only a few months to live.  Reportedly, the then chief justice, Garfield Barwick, did not want him to retire and urged him to take a period of leave to see what happened, but Jacobs (who had previously been a judge of the NSW Supreme Court and Court of Appeal which he left as President) took the view that it would impose an unfair burden on other justices to leave the court a judge down.

Cancer turned out to be a misdiagnosis.  Jacobs saw another specialist and was told he had diverticulitis (a very “in” ailment at the time).  He recovered.  It must have been a bit embarrassing and his eventual survival for a further 36 years even seems mildly comical.  It happens.

Since then, a number of other judges have had lengthy absences from the bench owing to illness.  Perhaps his example has deterred any premature resignations.

Jacobs moved to England in the early 1980s (according the The Australian).  His wife, Eleanor, whom he had married shortly after the War (she was a widow – I infer a war widow – with a young son; they also had a daughter) died in 2002.

Jacobs must have been a sprightly octogenarian as in 2007 he graduated with an MA in Classics from the University of London (that’s a bit non-specific – London has many parts – but it’s the best my source provides).

It seems that over the years various Australians popped in to visit him in England, including James Allsop and that inveterate judicial socialite, Michael Kirby.  The National Library has an oral history interview with him conducted by Peter Coleman in 1996.

Jacobs died in May; news filtered back to Australia in early June; the High Court held a ceremonial sitting in October.  The address was given by Chief Justice French which has since been expanded and published as an article in the NSW Bar News, from which I have filched the bit above about Jacobs’ swearing-in and the remarks by McGarvie. The expanded version also held, to me at least, one last surprise:

The court extends its sympathy upon the death of Sir Kenneth to his daughter, Rosemary Henderson, his stepson, Peter Stewart,and his partner since 2008, Christopher Horodyski.

 

 

 

 

Brumal wanderings

July 23, 2015

D is away.

It is winter, or what passes for it in Sydney.

Parsnips and porridge are in. The dishes pile up and are intermittently scraped, soaked and washed.

It is my first complete winter in the Ashfield house. The house is all electric and I am dreading the electricity bill when it comes.

On the weekend June tipped into July I made a trip to Canberra to see my father. We went together to an NT Live screening of Bernard Shaw’s play Man and Superman at Canberra’s Dendy cinema, which lives atop a Westfield shopping centre in Civic.

It is easy to feel like Rip van Winkle whenever I go to Canberra. When I lived there in the early eighties the site of the Dendy was mostly open air carparks, save for the Griffin Centre, home of various community organisations including the Canberra Recorded Music Society which I suspect may now be defunct judging from the date (2004) of its latest web presence – though I note it is still at least listed as a tenant of the new Griffin Centre.

The screening was at 1pm on a Sunday. Driving towards the enormous carpark I spotted an archetypically Canberran elderly couple in the car next to me. I bet to my father that they too were going to the screening and sure enough when we had finally navigated the carpark and found the cinema (both new to me) so they were.

I looked around at the rest of the audience.

“I think I may be the youngest person here” I commented to my father. Right at that moment someone younger than me sat in front of me but she was just about the only one I could spot.

“Well I’m probably the oldest,” replied my father, just a touch triumphantly. He is 88.

I wasn’t so sure. There were quite a few who could have at least given him a run for his money and I suspect there may have been a few people there in their nineties. I put it down to the combination of old-fashioned high culture (for which a certain class and generation of Canberrans have a particular enthusiasm) and the matinee time. The couple next to us (who had booked seats on the aisle) brought out a thermos of tea at interval and they weren’t the only ones who had brought their own refreshments. I sensed a self-reliant spirit of days gone by – something which in a way the Recorded Music Society also manifested.

By contemporary standards, Man and Superman is an impossibly wordy play. Indeed, even by the standards of its time it was wordy to the point that the wordiness of the protagonist (played in this production by Ralph Fiennes) becomes of necessity a kind of running gag in itself. It came in at over 3 hours even with substantial cuts.

Some of the most substantial cuts were within a dream sequence, which has often either been cut or performed separately, where Don Juan (ie, Don Giovanni) goes to hell. There is a bit of a literary tradition of philosophical riffing on the Don (ETA Hoffmann and Kierkegaard, for starters). Nowadays the libertine figure he cuts is generally depicted as less attractive and more rapacious. Femininism may have something to do with it but I suspect, looking at Shaw’s approach, that it is also because the conventional morality the Don defies is no longer felt to have such stultifying force.

It was almost dark by the time we drove home round Lake B-G, past Black Mountain and catching the last of sunset over the Brindabellas.

Back at my father’s house I looked in vain for the Complete Works of George Bernard Shaw which my parents used to have. I knew that the book (in a way a monument to GBS’s fame at its height) had been left with my parents along with a portable typewriter (on which we all learnt to type) by a friend who left Adelaide in the early 1950s leaving these with them for safekeeping and who never retrieved them.

I asked my father more about this mysterious person. Apparently the book and typewriter owner, Jim Wright, had a friend who was a non-English speaker (necessarily at that time a European; if anything else that would have been remarkable). Somehow my mother had got involved teaching that man English (she was at least a teacher though without any special ESL skills). Not long after, Jim left Adelaide for Europe (my father thought Italy). A couple of years after that my parents moved to Sydney.

I suppose it is possible, depending on exactly how this teaching arrangement had arisen, that Jim might have returned to Adelaide and been unable to trace my parents to Sydney. If they had any acquaintances in common, though, he could have traced them. More likely, he did not return, at least until the trail went cold.

I mean no disrespect to JW to say that this tickled my historical gaydar. Single man with European friend travels to Europe in the 1950s and does not return. Makes you wonder.

Local News – on the beat

November 13, 2013

I put my postcode into the ABC’s Local News site. I wanted to find out more about a cyclist killed in a collision with a truck.

Before I tracked that story down, I read that a man was bashed and stabbed at about 9.30pm last night in Ashfield Park.

According to the report, he walked to a “nearby railway station” (I wouldn’t have said any station is particularly nearby, though two are within walking distance) and rang a family member. At this point the man noticed a small cut on his leg.

His relative took him to the hospital. It seems the injuries are not particularly severe. The story concludes:

“It is understood the victim is not co-operating with the police.”

Not forgotten in Mudgee

March 12, 2010

On the way up the stairs to the organ loft at St John’s Mudgee.

See Green v R [1997] HCA 50; (1997) 191 CLR 334, an infamous case.

Mr Green (22) slew Mr Gillies (36), who had been his friend for about 5-6 years, in a frenzy after what he said were unwelcome sexual advances by Mr Gillies when Gillies came to the room where Mr Green was sleeping after they had spent an evening drinking and watching television together at Mr Gillies’ place. [Poignant detail: in fact it was Mr Gillies’ mother’s place, but she was away.] Mr Green told the police “Yeah, I killed him, but he did worse to me” and, later, when asked why he had killed Gillies, “he tried to root me.”

When first tried, Green put forward a defence of self-defence (which was not allowed to go forward to the jury) and also one of provocation (which reduces what might otherwise be a murder to manslaughter). He was found guilty of murder. The gist of the provocation defence was that Gillies’ actions put Green in mind of the assaults he had witnessed his father visit on his mother and other family members and the sexual assualts he had been told his father had committed against his sisters, so that he simply “lost it,” picked up the poultry shears which he said were just in sight in the bedroom and stabbed and bashed Mr Gillies to death.

On appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal the prosecution conceded that the trial judge had made some errors but claimed (under what is known as “the proviso”) that this had not deprived Green of the chance of an acquittal. The High Court thought otherwise and granted Green a retrial. On the retrial Green’s provocation defence succeeded and he was found guilty of manslaughter.

See also here for the sentencing after the retrial.

There’s an extensive secondary literature. Tom Molomby appeared for the defendant and has continued to defend him subsequently in Quadrant. I’d find Molomby’s defence more persuasive if it were less selective (he doesn’t like to dwell on the self-defence claim or the “he did worse to me” justification). I don’t derive any particular comfort from the jury buying it.

What cat’s averse to fish?

February 21, 2009

The Monster

Not my cat, here caught tidying up after the (lesser) dirty deed on the nature strip.  He isn’t the smartest or most enterprising of cats, so his enthusiasm is confined to cat food or scraps (dropped – he’s no leaper) from the table or the kitchen bench.

Diesel

Nor Diesel, who lives two houses down from us.   He is much smarter than our cat and an indefatigable hunter.  D has seen him leap into the air to catch a bird (successfully) and we have also lost fish to him.  We suspect him of catching the frog which disappeared from our garden last year.  It is because of him that our temporary fish pond in a shopping-trolley is encased in additional wire and netting protection.

I sometimes worry what might happen if Diesel were to attempt to slip under the protective wire and netting, though he is probably too smart to try.  Would he make it out, or would he drown?

And nor was Selima, Horace Walpole’s tortoiseshell cat, whose fate (circa 1747) is the source of that worry and the occasion for Thomas Gray‘s poem, “Ode On The Death Of A Favourite Cat Drowned In A Tub Of Goldfishes,” (also here) which I can’t resist setting out in full.

‘Twas on a lofty vase’s side,
Where China’s gayest art had dy’d
The azure flow’rs that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclin’d,
Gazed on the lake below.

Her conscious tail her joy declar’d;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw: and purr’d applause.

Still had she gaz’d; but ‘midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The Genii of the stream;
Their scaly armour’s Tyrian hue
Thro’ richest purple to the view
Betray’d a golden gleam.

The hapless Nymph with wonder saw:
A whisker first and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretch’d in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat’s averse to fish?

Presumptuous Maid! with looks intent
Again she stretch’d, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by, and smil’d)
The slipp’ry verge her feet beguil’d,
She tumbled headlong in.

Eight times emerging from the flood
She mew’d to ev’ry wat’ry god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No Dolphin came, no Nereid stirr’d;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
A Fav’rite has no friend!

From hence, ye Beauties, undeceiv’d,
Know, one false step is ne’er retriev’d,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wand’ring eyes
And heedless hearts is lawful prize,
Nor all, that glisters, gold.

In the essay on Gray in his Lives of the Poets Dr Johnson was rather severe about this last line. He said:

The sixth stanza contains a melancholy truth, that “a favourite has no friend,” but the last ends in a pointed sentence of no relation to the purpose; if what glistered had been “gold,” the cat would not have gone into the water; and, if she had, would not less have been drowned.

That seems strictly correct, though perhaps it fails to make sufficient allowance for the poem’s mock-whatever nature. Johnson said it “was doubtless by its author considered as a trifle, but it is not a happy trifle.”

In fact, Johnson was rather severe about Gray altogether and about all of his works except for the Elegy in a Country Churchyard. Part of the key to this must surely be that Johnson, who was Gray’s near-contemporary, having worked his way up from Litchfield via Grub Street, took a rather dim view of Gray’s hobnobbing from a rather early age with those much richer than himself, and what Johnson saw as an unseemly affectation of dilettantism or amateurism in one who lacked the means to support this. It probably also should not be overlooked that Johnson was a Tory, whereas Gray’s patrons were Whig grandees.

Gray is usually thought to have been at least temperamentally gay. Johnson also comments on his “effeminacy” and much is made of his homosociality. If there were any doubt, and however vexed the question of a “gay sensibility” may be, this poem would for me be the clincher.

I particularly like the allusion to a cat’s proverbial nine lives in the penultimate stanza.

A shilling life will give you all the facts

February 16, 2009

It’s now a fortnight since Michael Kirby retired from the High Court of Australia.

How shall we manage without him?

In the burst of publicity which surrounded his last circuit of the showground (at least as a judge) we have had teasers from a forthcoming biography. A Festschrift of sorts has also been published. RRP (so far as there can lawfully be one these days) about $59.

Kirby has a large and quite devoted following and it is hardly surprising if publishers want to cash in on it.

The prospect of a biography by A.J. Brown of Griffith University is the more intriguing.

The teaser publicity has concentrated on who said what to whom at the time Keating approved Kirby’s appointment. Lavarch, Attorney-General at the time, has (broadly speaking) confirmed that certain things were said. Keating has denied the account.

Kirby, as is well known, is perhaps Australia’s, and certainly also the judiciary’s (possibly worldwide) most prolific speech maker (vice-royalty and elected politicians aside). Inevitably he has let drop little snippets of reminiscence.

Kirby has recounted that at Summer Hill Opportunity School in 1949 he told two grey-coated career advisers that he wanted to be either a bishop or a judge. “The Church missed out, which was probably a wise career move in all the circumstances.”

Kirby claims that at law school it was Murray Gleeson who, by nominating him for some position in his absence, started him off on his student political career. He seems to have protracted his time at university by undertaking an Economics degree during his early years as a solicitor in order to prolong this. Student politics brought him in contact with top people at the top table early in life. Politics is the other career he obviously might have had, and some of his detractors would probably say it is a career he has never really abandoned.

Everyone has their reasons, but objectively speaking it seems fair to surmise that Kirby’s sexuality was an obstacle to his path either to a bishopric or as a professional elected politician. Apart from that, his Ulster protestant background probably precluded a path in Labor politics, assuming that to be the direction he might have taken.

In Australia we generally do not think highly of politicians, but they must nevertheless possess some distinctive talents in what they do. Kirby has traits common to those “political” people I have known, including an energy to maintain and cultivate a wide circle of acquaintance. You can call that networking if you like but that doesn’t really capture the whole thing. He often talks of those who have been his mentors. He is great at buttering up his audiences -he will be asked back. He keeps in touch with people: he writes them little notes in a truly elegant hand; in the days when he was President of the NSW Court of Appeal he was reputed to mark any kind of visit (obviously not actual official business) with a photo of himself with the visitor which he subsequently sent to them; I am sure he is an indefatigable attender of funerals. Another way of putting that is that Kirby is a great promoter of brand Kirby. I’m not criticising him for that, though I expect it is something which annoys some, especially those who have known him since their youth.

I first met Kirby at a memorial service at S James King Street for Peter Dennison, professor of music at Melbourne University (but originally, I think, from Wollongong and Sydney) after his untimely death, aged 47, in 1989.   We weren’t introduced though we conversed briefly at some point.  Along the pew I could tell he was an old hand at such occasions. I wandered into the service because I was at law school across the road at the time. I won’t say I knew Dennison well – I only met him twice – but I had known SK, Dennison’s partner in his final years, since first year at Sydney Uni. They both died of AIDS. 

By then Kirby’s sexuality, though not officially acknowledged, was no secret at least to law students or to anyone at all well educated about such matters. I don’t think it is entirely a coincidence that around about this time Kirby started popping up as rather a kind of secular bishop of AIDS causes. In retrospect that was a very long dry run for his ultimate official coming out in 1999. In case you might think that is rather late in life, the subsequent (and since discredited) Heffernan accusations of use of Commonwealth cars to ferry rent boys show why Kirby might well have delayed it further. An outed public figure is always at risk of such retribution in a way that a straight person or an “everybody knows but no one says” gay figure is not.

Judging from the teasers, I doubt if I am going to find the things which are really of interest to me in A J Brown’s biography. A biography by David Marr might be more to my taste, but Marr has probably been at the high table with Kirby too many times to write one. Some of the things or people I would like to read more about include:

  • Tony Larkins QC, who moved Kirby’s admission, seemingly always mentioned by Kirby in connexion with his monocle (though to be fair that is in a chunk of a speech which appears to have been delivered more than once) and described by Sir Anthony Mason in his reminiscences of the NSW Supreme Court as “flamboyant;”
  • the occasions when Kirby and his partner, Johan, “danced the night away” at the Purple Onion in 1969 (I hard it hard to believe this happened often: I just don’t believe Kirby had many nights free for this sort of thing); and
  • the parallel but (judging from little hints which are too subtle to enumerate here) also divergent lives of Kirby and the late Justice Graham Hill of the Federal Court, whom Kirby first met at Summer Hill Opportunity School way back in 1949, and who, like Kirby, then went to Fort Street, Sydney University Law School and, eventually, the bench.

Biographies of living people are problematic. It’s not simply a matter of defamation risks (though that is a factor) but also a question of privacy, not just of the subject of the biography, but of others. Kirby hasn’t finished his active or even his public life yet so I very much doubt if Kirby would be prepared to co-operate with the preparation of a full kiss and tell biography – even using that phrase only metaphorically.  Nevertheless, I hope such material is preserved for a later date when more can be told, and particularly for the benefit of gay people who could learn from the links that Kirby has to life before the great change in gay people’s lives which has occurred in Western societies since his youth.