I believe love is written in the stars. Or The Star.
Except in The Twilight Zone, how else could you explain that on the front page of the local gay newspaper I picked up passing through Sydney that sizzling January day in 1981, that the hot young girl on the cover would one day be my wife? Her name was Frances Rand and she went on to publish the hugely successful magazine she cheekily called Lesbians on the Loose.
A reality check for those celebrating marriage equality—who never knew The Dark Ages—Frances’s father slapped her across the face when he saw that newspaper. But she was the strong one. He was the bully. She lived happily ever after, he died homeless and unloved.
I was not to meet and fall in love with Frances for another 11 years, after I had become, in 1993, the first Lesbian editor of that very same newspaper, by then known as the influential Sydney Star Observer.
Inside that 1981 edition, the editorial was looking forward to summer Mardi Gras on February 21. The paper called on the community to heal its idealogical differences. We are different, the paper said, yet we have one common goal – “acceptance and the freedom to choose our own lifestyle and sexual partners.”
But the brighter the light, the darker the shadow. AIDS was creeping into Sydney.
Believing visibility was the best way to achieve acceptance, Frances published Lesbians on the Loose. The masthead was later changed to LOTL and exists today even in the crowded digital world. Before the Net, it was every dyke’s bible.
In celebration of the upcoming 40th anniversary Mardi Gras, here are two of the double acts outfits we wore in the 90s.
We never dreamed we would be able to marry those we loved yet here we are, married, after 25 years together, and giving that vow about ‘sickness and health’ the rounds of the kitchen.
So Happy Mardi Gras to you all. Let’s not just remember the very memorable ’78ers, but also those who came before, those who came after, those who just came, and those who died along the way as HIV/AIDS left all those “shadows on our dance floor”.
I was told I’d be in a box by 45. (Never did what I was told). So we sold LOTL and went somewhere better for my lungs. Actually it was better for our souls, too. We had done our time as urban activists and next we would transform into girls from the bush, become vegetarian, volunteer for the Fire Brigade, Meals on Wheels and Wildlife Rescue. Frances would work as a local reporter, I would review books. We would bury three cats and get a new kitten. We love our place by the sea at Currarong on the South Coast of New South Wales and feel blessed in every way, bar one: The clock is ticking. The hot breath of death is on the back of my neck and I need just one more miracle. Like in ’81.
Tomorrow, February 27, I hope to turn 61. It was touch and go and I’m in palliative care but like Clive James still hanging in there and seeing our Japanese Maple bloom another year. I love my wife. I love my life.
At 35 kilos, or five and a half stone, I know, without photos, what my ancestors looked like during the 1845-52 Potato Famine in Ireland. I know how their tail bones hurt them to sit, and their hip bones hurt them to lie down on their sides. I understand how exhaustion from starvation would lead you to dig your own grave and hop in and just wait, as they did. I know why they ate grass or spiked milk with blood from a living horse or cow. I know why they got on the boats and sailed away forever to strange lands, a long thin green thread criss-crossing the globe. Seeking sanctuary. Looking up at different constellations knowing you’d never see your parents or brothers or sisters again. We said a lot of goodbyes, us Irish.
My ancestors were stripped by the English of education, culture, language, beauty and land. And let it be admitted by one of their daughters five generations later, that hurt people, hurt people. In our rage, desperation and ignorance we killed and took what wasn’t ours to take. We defiled sanctuary. We did to others what was done to us. Not personally, but those of our blood did these things.
Do the arithmetic of racism: There were 750,000 Aboriginals in Australia when Europeans arrived. Down to 75,000 when the killing was done.
I live in a time of plenty and I cannot get fat. There is air everywhere but I cannot breathe.
Homophobia causes smoking. Hatred is a health hazard. Prejudice kills.
Racism causes suicide and sadness.
What’s wrong with us,? Why are we sacrificing the many for the few?
On the 9th of January 2018—undreamt of—the yoke of oppression was finally lifted from me and Frances with our marriage.
It released in us a new and rare energy, even others have remarked upon. Other lesbians who are married have felt it too. End oppression and the world would be soaked in this revivifying energy. The last crust of patriarchy would turn to dust and, lest white men think it works for them, there is one fact to smash that delusion: suicide is the biggest killer of men 50 and under.
The energy of Liberation would heal our First People, our multicultural population and our Muslims, who are hardly less hated now than the Irish Catholics were when old white Australia banned the Mass. Then Poacher turns Gamekeeper.
It takes a lifetime of watching politicians to see they are the ones their Christian Jesus would have taken a whip to, and his priests who so defiled the temples. Any religion which excludes women is a stag club.
I left the tribe a long time ago. And it hurt. For a while. I left the place of my birth and took my deep wounds to Australia, first to Adelaide, and began a healing that first required protest and activism.
I’m 61 and these mellower days more inclined to the four virtues of the Tao: reverence for all life, including animals plants and people; gentleness, simplicity and service. So the great churn of life will go on.
One hopes to be kinder and wiser when the bell tolls.
A note: I am stoked the National Library of Australia has deemed my blog worthy of inclusion in its digital archive, Pandora. To that end, I shall keep writing.
Cheers Queers and anyone who stops by here.
15 thoughts on “Happy Birthday & Happy Mardi Gras!”
Happy 61st birthday Barb and may there be many happy returns. I’m hoping and praying that you will be accepted for your lung transplant but I know that either way you and Frances will have a wonderful day together to celebrate your birthday and enjoy life a day at a time.
Lots of love
Sent from my iPad
Ah Happy Mardi Gras Barb and Franny…
I remember many if not most of those years and have witnessed much love between you both!
Hey what about the time we slung the Reclaim the Night banners high across the main drag of Kings cross …
I hope we keep dressing up for ever from time to time because most of the time we simply wear our skins as it is…
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Is that the tippy tippy sound of the Hobyahs we shivered to as kids, my little Leprechaun? That was a wonderful Reclaim the Night March rerouting it through Kings Cross and having the sex workers join in. Men who were our allies lined the side. As an organiser I marched with our sister Michelle and it was a proud night, especially as I conceived of changing the ‘fist’ of Liberation to an angel. The T shirts went like, well, a gram of coke on a fishing boat.
Nice to see you Rosco. Love from Joan.
Merona, witness to our wedding, dearest of friends, inner circle of my life. Uncannily similar experiences in wildly different milieux. Sister. Always here with your quiet support and fighting words. A true reader. A lovely writer, too. Before the Trinity was imposed on us, we were, as you know, the threesome Maiden, Mother , Crone.
Crone was no warty nosed witch but a wise woman, hewn from the word chronus, meaning time. Time meaning wisdom. Wisdom lighting the way to beauty. beauty delivering us serenity.
I can hear your grand piano 40km away and I always laugh when you remind me not to drive the car without brakes.
I take you best wishes as my best luck. Thank you.
Heart rendingly beautiful. Happy birthday Barb
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Thank you. That means a lot.
Jarv, I love that your boldness in going to New York has given you a new life, a cute wife and a tiny little dog. What others treasures will you find in your paradise?
But do call home from time to time.
Thank you for being such a mate for so long.
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Barb, Jules and I still talk about sitting at your feet at Jack’s in Adelaide while you imparted feminism 101, often on Sunday afternoons. What an education!. We had no idea then of course what things like the #Metoo movement would look like thirty years hence. ….
Susan also loved your post btw and of course was interested (as a librarian) that the National Library is archiving your blog. ………
I love being here in NY but miss my family and friends, sometimes desperately. But for now I feel at home here. It is a good place and I have met good people. I have just leased a small studio in Midtown Manhattan from where I’ll teach meditation and also use it as a photography studio. They allow dogs in the building! …..
Barb, I love your writing – the sentiments and the way you convey ideas. You really do continue to inspire me. Thank you for everything Barb. Love from us in Brooklyn. J
I miss you Barb.
You had a significant impact on my life.
Your friend, Jarv
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Beautifully written! Very witty yet poignant, as always. I hadn’t realised how close your birthday is to Mardi Gras – devastated to be missing the festival this year, albeit for a solid reason: Chris & Lindy’s wedding! (I’ll be the first of my friends to go to a gay wedding, I feel so hip and edgy haha)
I must say, that black and white photo of you and France is just my favourite image ever, makes me smile (and tear up) whenever I see it. And Lucy is looking the ever-majestic feline. You are the biggest trooper I know Barb, and I really hope we get you that lung transplant!
HAPPY (belated) BIRTHDAY BARB!!!
Love you lots,
Lucy (your government-recognised niece)
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Lucy (not the cat) ah sorry you couldn’t come to our gay wedding but you were there in spirit. We are so sorry to miss our sisters’ nuptials, but feel sure you and the Millenials will out dance the old perennials. I think I introduced you to two of life’s finest things, cryptic crosswords and Lady Croft . . . In return, you have shown me that a child can be a great artist and a great artist a child. Shine on.
I was talking about you last night in the car on the way to see Borders at Holden St theatre, Adelaide Fringe event. Pat asked if I knew how you are doing, unfortunately I had to say no. So this morning I searched for you and found you. I must say I have to agree with you on cryptic crosswords but am not so sure about ‘Lady Croft’. As I close in on 70 I find my thoughts turning to people I found in my 30’s and lost in my 50’s. Sustaining contact has never been one of my strong points, however you have remained in the top layer of my thoughts. Happy 61st Birthday Barb and congratulations to you and Francis on 25 years and your marriage.
Thanks a lot xxx
Hello Barb & Fran,
Wowee as usual so many 1st ‘s to congratulate you both on ,do not know where to start?
Wrote a really long loving reply ages ago & to my dismay it did not record ,so sorry.
Need a 3 yr. old to give me an urgent lesson on tech head stuff .
Col katie & I are totally blown away by all your recent announcements & brilliant writings.
Thx for including us still especially as we are such poor correspondents .
You are both been on our minds & in our hearts forever ,trust me.
How the heck you have managed to meet all your precious deadlines is beyond me.?
Sheer guts determination & stickability obviously.
We adored your wedding photos as well as the ones when you first met .
No wonder you fell in love
Take care ,gosh I hope this email gets through
All our love & much much more
Thanks Jules xxx
Dear Barb, i’m writing to you by email right now – in case this message doesn’t manage to get ‘stuck’ on to the blog reply thread – but here in this blog i want to honour you and your journey, and your love (especially for Frances and for your family, and these lovely friends i know not), and thank you for our wee connection that has long meant heaps to me, across the Ditch – you privilege me, as (i see) you so privilege many of your life-companions, and bless each of us, as we in turn turn our hearts to your Waiting Room and bless you…
from Aotearoa, Barb, to one of her most precious taonga, a coastie at Currarong – who celebrates life full speed, each moment – with love, tim xxxx