When 1972 is remembered it is often in these terms 'I remember that I was doing...' or 'I was ....in 1972'. So some of these things really happened in 1972 and that's what the 'I' (the autobiographical I) signifies. At least that's the generic convention of reading 'I'; linking the subject of the text and the speaking subject. For example: 'I am inside the Duncan death. I have no idea why 'I' is inside this event'. But there it is.
Supreme Court jury was told yesterday to 'walk back in time' to understand SA's 1972 attitudes... Crown Prosecutor Mr P. Rice, QC, suggested the 'time warp' because attitudes had changed since the death of homosexual law lecturer Dr George Duncan Advertiser Sep. 14 1988:1.
I was doing a social studies project about Captain Charles Sturt. The lesson was about how he sailed up the Murray River and was speared by some aborigines. I remember feeling afraid looking at the picture of him being speared. It seemed that he was all alone and there as no one around to stop it happening. In the picture he is falling backwards towards the river and is going to die.
Homicide Squad detectives hope that car keys found on the body of a man dragged from the River Torrens yesterday will lead to his identity. Advertiser 12 May 1972: 9.
Doom struck and fearful, of individuals and institutions, this subject is suspicious of hidden meanings and entrapment.The fear that'I' is doomed to be killed is the fear of the suicide and the abjected subject. It is fearful of an uncanny reversal. The uncanny strikes when what was apparently familiar becomes unfamiliar. It strikes rapidly, out of the dark, and from the light.
Dr George Duncan ...drowned on the night of May 10, 1972, after a group of men threw him into the Torrens [river]...Duncan, a homosexual ...was killed less than a kilometre from the city centre. By day, this stretch of the river is idyllic; families picnic and hire paddleboats. By night it is a well known homosexual 'beat'. Police involvement in the killing was widely suspected....police often threw homosexuals into the river for 'fun'. In 1986, three former vice squad officers were charged with Duncan's manslaughter. The case against one was dismissed: the other two were acquitted. (Cadzow 13).
Dunking is holding someone under water. In 1972 we used to dunk our friends. We did this by pushing someones head under the water and holding it there for at least a while. They had been dunked then. So we were dunking each other in summer at the pool . Dunking was a way of demonstrating superiority. Often under water you might feel the fear of drowning, or the desire to be drowned.
I feel that treatment of homosexuality, if you feel it should be treated, is rather like the psychological and psychiatric treatment of suicide in our society: we can help individuals quite a lot if they want treatment, but we can't make any significant change to the overall incidence of the problem in society (Tottman 32).
The phrase 'should be dead' can be articulated over a range of discursive sites: personal; political; sexual; popular; expert. These articulations take the generic form of autobiography, print journalism, poetry, commentary and criticism, historical narrative and institutional rhetoric. They are mixed up with fluids and violence and a drowning.
Now I remember:
Sturt had already noted the exceptionally strong currents at this spot, but nevertheless Barker stripped off, and when Kent had fixed the compass securely around his forehead he dived in....after Barker had landed, he continued on for some distance to the second large dune from which he was probably intending to take his bearings. From someway off, however, three natives had watched him approach and were particularly puzzled and frightened by the compass. Realising this, Barker tried to reassure them; but as they closed in on him with their spears he retreated towards the sea and was at the water's edge when the first spear hit him in the side. This did not stop him, and he was already among the breakers when the second struck him in the shoulder. With this he turned round to face the natives, but the third spear must already have been in flight, for, as he did, so, it plunged deep into his chest. The blacks dragged him from the water, retrieved their weapons and completely mutilated his body before throwing it back into the sea, where it was carried away by the tide (Langley 100-101).
The subject is named by being tagged or branded on its surface creating a particular kind of 'depth-body' or interiority, a physic layer the subject identifies as its (disembodied) core. Subjects thus produced are not simply the imposed results of alien, coercive forces; the body is internally lived, experienced and acted upon by the subject and the social collectivity . . . the subject is marked as a series of (potential) messages from/of the (social) Other . . . . (Grosz 65).
There may be something camp and erotic about this body. Camp if we focus on the body as an aesthetic pose, a pose of triffling and exaggerated gestures, of penetration and succumbing. Think about the plasticity of an early nineteenth century mourning. Sentiment and excess rule over PC politics in camp. As for erotic, it's the kind of erotica we might find in Christian iconography (St Sebastian) where sublime pleasure (union with God) is coupled with extreme and prolonged pain. So here we are entering into the erotics of masochism, and the pleasure of identifying with the victim of a sublime death.
The Bishop of Adelaide now stated that he would not object to a relaxing of the laws on homosexuality. 'While I condemn the sin, I am extremely sorry for these unfortunate people. I don't think they should be put in prison and I think the law should be such that it protects them from being exposed to the possibility of blackmail' (quoted in Reeves 24).
Sorrow and compassion rise to fever pitch when an abjected other begins to return, like a prodigal son. Begins to return because he must for the city good. He's someone we remember. Who is really one of us. Who has rights too. Because we are so enlightened.
If Forster could not be frank about the pain of homosexual love, as Proust and Gide were, he could have learned from the superb example of Death in Venice, published in 1912, the year before he began Maurice. There is a paragraph in Maurice (and it is not enough) where the hero responds to a lascivious sign from an aged homosexual and then knocks him down, and he 'saw in this disgusting and dishonourable old age his own.' This is thematically similar to the scene when von Aschenbach is revolted by an old invert on the boat to Venice, and ironically, becomes very like him by the end of the novella. Mann portrays von Aschenbach's physical yearning for Tadzio ambiguously and suggests that a homosexual love, modelled on Hellenic idealism, can be a nourishing as well as a destructive passion (Meyers 61).
He told the police he had been sitting on a bench when another man, Dr. Duncan, had been thrown into the river by a group of young men. He said he did not know Dr. Duncan and that the same men who had thrown the lecturer into the river also threw him in. Advertiser 13 May 1972: 13.
In cross-examination, he said that while the family had not had any 'in depth' conversations about homosexuality, he had no doubts that [his son] was against it. 'I can remember us walking across the University Bridge once and telling him about the Duncan Drowning. And I can remember telling him that people have rights which should not be intruded upon. He never argued back against me'. Advertiser 7 April 1990: 1
What is this? It's nothing. It's empty. It's a picnic in the sun with friends and family. It is a wholesome swim in the sea. It's kindness and friendship and laughter. It is a beautiful day. This is easy to write because it is so apposite.
I turned around to see just where he was, but there was just the top of his head and two of his hands above the water. He was just opening and closing his hands. I remember being amazed because I always assumed someone drowning would splash, yell and panic, but he just slipped away and it was like he was never there (Hunt 144).
'Should be dead' is a terrifying phrase. Especially when spoken in the corridors of power. It prompts a consideration of the rational deployment of power. It is an utterance that makes violence possible. The 'should' means that it would happen if it were possible. It is an utterance that motivates both covert and overt acts of injustice. (Both of which are features of this textual field) . It allows conspiratorial acts to flourish in the dark and within an enlightened city. 'Should be dead' is a phrase that is articulated in Church rhetoric, the actions of the killers (alleged cops), in the father talking to his son, and the psychiatrist making an analogy between suicide and homosexuality. Better off hidden, out of the way, underwater: dead. These are institutional but also personal articulations of the phrase 'should be dead', or, 'has no right to live'.
He said that he had called out to those on the bank that a man was drowning. He had scrambled back up the bank. The group had returned and one of them had pushed him back in saying: 'Go save your mate!' (Hunt 144).
Sorrow and compassion wane when the good son turns bad. When he's so rank and rotten he needs to be expelled. Like the colonial explorer. Who should be murdered. Dumped out of sight. Who did not ever have a right. For whom there is no tear or beating heart. Because we are so postcolonial.
In 1972 I was at school in grade six. I used to put on puppet shows for my class with some friends. We would make the puppets and the show was usually violent with some death. And laughs. We put on a play about Ancient Greece or Rome. People died and were poisoned and stabbed.A soldier would return from the colonies in Thrace. Emperors ate Malteesers.
When 'should be dead' is sanctioned by friends and family there is little space for sorrow and compassion. Below the water-line and operating below the threshold of consciousness. The subject who 'should be dead' will be found in whatever causes disturbance to order. Whatever needs to be expunged in order for the system to remain stable.
As I fell there was loneliness and fear and fear of death. It is darkness and isolation. It is polluted water, poison, sour milk. Gagging. Bad water and the body inside of all that. It's a bad birth remembered. A bad birth hung on to for too long. In a medical chamber. The darkness and the drowning and the lights of an exploding life.
The murder of a respectable university law lecturer provoked horror in the wider community, bringing into question the role and reputation of the Police Force and the legal discrimination of homosexual acts. For the State's gays and lesbians, Duncan has come to represent much more over the last twenty years. His death is seen as the galvanising force behind law reform and he has become a symbol of the persecution and maltreatment of a misunderstood minority group by an ignorant, intolerant and hostile society (Reeves 10-11).
There was also a record that I put on once in 1972 which I think was The Right of Spring ? It has a cover which scared me. (The doomed to die fear again). It was blue green watery background and there was a man dancing and he had the head of a horse, or was it a goat? He had huge horns and he had something in his outstretched hands. Branches. Thin, like small trees.
It might not be unusual for a State that would be swept along by the Dunstan social reform package to take the lead in decriminalising homosexual acts. But the first Bill was...simply a rash and empty libertarian gesture fuelled by community concern over an appalling and senseless murder. It was not introduced to bring homosexuals into parity with heterosexuals within the wider community. It was aimed at reducing blackmail, keeping the police force out of decoy activities and allowing homosexuals to seek 'treatment'. Most importantly, it ensured that homosexuality was removed to the private sphere and out of the public eye (Reeves 67).
Cadzow, Jane. 'Adelaide: Tales from the Dark Side' Good Weekend 21 April 1990:10-17
Grosz, Elizabeth. 'Inscriptions and Body Maps: Representations and the Corporeal.' Masculine/Feminine and Representation. eds. Terry Threadgold and Anne Cranny-Francis. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1990.
Hunt, Nigel. 'The Dark Side of Adelaide.' Australian Crime: Chilling Tales of our Time. Ed. Malcolm Brown. Sydney: The Book Company, 1995. 141-150.
Langley, Michael. Sturt of the Murray: Father of Australian Exploration. London: Robert Hale, 1969.
Meyers, Jeffrey. 'Forster's Secret Sharer.' Southern Review 1972: 5.1
Homosexuality in South Australia. Adelaide: C.A.M.P, 1972.
Phra Ajahn Yantra Amaro. Out of the Free Mind . Bangkok: Prasit Santiwattana, 1989
Reeves, Tim. Poofters, Pansies, and Perverts. Adelaide: Dept. of History and Politics, University of Adelaide, 1992.
Smith, Russell. 'Murdering' (Unpublished) 1995.
Tottman, Vance. 'Psychiatric Aspects of the Law.' Homosexuality in South Australia. Adelaide: C.A.M.P, 1972. 30-32.
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