Fmr Darlinghurst Police Station, Sydney

December 22, 2012

Darlinghurst Police Station

A lot depends on how slippery the graphite is on the paper surface: if it’s hard (H or B), I go slow and there’s more architectural detail as a result, if it’s softer (high Bs), I slip-slide around and the outcome is more suggestive. Today no Derwent graphite pencils on hand, so am experimenting with the ordinarily quite waxy PITT Faber-Castell black pencil. Earlier in the day I was tightening up the foundation lines with Caran d’Ache 9B, which floats amazingly across the page.

This view looking north down Forbes Street is unusual because I was able to sit down on a step off Taylor Square in relatively peace and quiet and because the scene fits naturally across a double-page spread. Like the contrast between the Walter Liberty Vernon 1899 building (sandstone footings, conical slate-roofed towers, carved royal coat of arms) with the modern high-rise Horizon Apartments behind it. Luxury apartments “Dominion” are in the process of being built behind.

Certainly it no longer operates as a police station. The building has chilling memories for anyone associated with the gay community because it lay at the heart of standover tactics and backhanders from local gay businesses. That under-the-counter revenue source for corrupt Darlinghurst policemen was directly threatened one cold wintry night in June 1978 when patrons of local gay businesses were called upon to leave their drinking holes and march in the streets for gay rights. Not even Australian spy organisations keeping a close eye on gay activists at the time were enough to deter demonstrations. The police then took it upon themselves to trap a large group of the demonstrators, bash them up then arrest them. 54 were processed at Darlinghurst Police Station. The ignominy was perpetuated by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper which long had the policy of publishing names of arrested homosexuals in its pages. Like New York’s Stonewall riots, public sentiment turned against violent police action and Mardi Gras, such a revenue-raiser for the State, was born. Persecution of gay people by the local police out of self-interest continues unabated today.

Personally, that 24 June 1978 demo turned out to be one of the very few gay demos I missed. Having demonstrated more or less continuously since 1972, I was tiring of demonstrating. Demonstrating for the human rights of aborigines, women and gays in the early 1970s was futile and looking back after forty years, nothing has changed as a result. Certainly my life would have changed radically for the worse had I been there that night; any kudos associated with being one of the famed ’78ers would not have made up it!

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