(Archive Copy 2004)
Little Black Bastard is the poignant monologue by arts elder Noel Tovey at Melbourne’s Carlton Courthouse Theatre.
Here is an excerpt from a post-performance interview with Noel Tovey on Thursday April 2004 for MCV (Melbourne Community Voice)
What an extraordinary life Noel, tell me something of the experiences in your life you didn’t script into the Little Black Bastard monologue?
Well in the first draft I didn’t tell or go into detail about my time on the streets as a street boy. You don’t get all of my petty criminal days in the play, in the book I do but not in the play. I was afraid of being vilified again I guess. There are some people and old friends who I have tried to encourage not to come to see my show they, people who are not aware of my early life.
I was also a very good ice-skater when I was very young.
Mixing with all the elite boys at school and I was taken into the elite locker room. It was at this time I’d invented this Rowan Scott Rowan character and I literally lived this alter ego.
Eventually the boys in the elite locker room found out that I was a street boy and they weren’t too friendly after that. So I always lived a double life, all my life growing up I’ve lived a double life, until just in the last few years, when I started to write my autobiography.
Also, I came home to Australia after living in London because my long term lover of 17 years died of an AIDS related disease. I had the doctor kill him actually. Today we use the word euthanase.
I went into hospital a short time later myself, not with any of that, in fact I wouldn’t have the test for 2 years and finally I did, and of course I was negative, I knew I was.
I just knew, you know I would hold Dave and he would say, Can I sleep with you? and I would reply, ‘of course’. I’d hold him, this frail little body willing to live another day, with body fluids going all over me and never having time to put on gloves and all of that. Remembering of course that this was the early 1980’s when we didn’t know the nature of HIV infection and transmission. It was really a bad time when dear friends would only put their hands through the door to shake our hands, they wouldn't come in. Dave’s own mother wouldn't come in, relax and have a cup of tea.
In fact at this time I helped set up the first AIDS training clinic in London at St Mary’s Hospital along with a young New Zealand psychologist and a nursing sister from the STD clinic where we brought people for workshops about HIV; priest nuns, doctors, nurses, anyone, everyone, whoever was interested.
How did you and Dave meet?
I was in Kenneth Tynan’s original production of Ol' Calcutta in the West End. Dave came down from Yorkshire for a job interview. Ol' Calcutta was in preview and it looked like it was going to be taken off stage by the police.
Dave bought a ticket from a tout outside and came to see the show. I spoke to Dave before the show; he was talking to my friend “the blonde barmaid “, and he was still there after the show. His hotel was just near where I lived with a wel known actress of the time and I said why don’t you come to my place and have supper so he came home, and to cut a long story short he stayed the night.
I remember Dave said look I’ve never done this before and I said look its easy and then we were supposed to meet up the next night and I stayed up till 3 o'clock in the morning and there was this tentative knock on the front door and Dave had come back to see me once again. Then just as quickly as he’d appeared he disappeared and eventually he started writing me a string of fan mail, beautiful love letters.
He didn’t give me a return address because he was from Yorkshire and he didn’t want anyone to know he was gay. He came down to London eventually and got a job, I actually found him a room. At the end of the first week he said look if I can’t live with you I’m moving back to Yorkshire so he moved into live with me and we we’re together for 17 wonderful years.
Do you still have those letters, do you read them from time to time?
Some of them yes.
Maybe now I could read all of them.
After Dave died I kept finding things which reminded me of him, and I used to see his handwriting everywhere, and it was very hard for me.
When you live with someone experience so much together, and we had a business together in time; an art gallery called The Odeon in Soho for many years. We still talk. Even now before the show I talk to him. I don’t hear his voice.
It is reassuring to know that if I’m having a problem even if it’s not at the theatre or some other thing I’ll discuss it with him. Luckily for me, in my family; another thing which I don’t discuss in the play, my sister is a (psychic) medium and my grandmother is a medium and I’m a not a medium in that strict sense. Psychics always tell me however I will be a mystic in my old age.I think there are certain elements of the word love that is just that. It is energy. It is. I've studied comparative religions and I've studied Buddhism and I’m a great believer in Eastern philosophy and this is the other thing that saved me is that I believe in my ancestors and I believe they are the energy and there is something outside me that has never let me go and even though it May sound horrible what I've been through they always pick me up.
What was it like being a gay man in the 1950’s, the Menzie’s McCarthy era?
Fear was one of the main experiences and that fear drove one to be really excessive, it was because you knew, if you were gay you were walking this tightrope and this would lead to wild, wild parties. Benny cocktails all the time and also being beaten up by the bodgies.
Poof bashing was a big thing so we’d all go down to a café in St. Kilda called Sollies. Little Sollie was this great personality, rather like when Val had Val's Lounge in Swanston street, both amazing meeting places for gays and lesbians and others of the day, and they, the bashers would wait around, groups of bodgies, on the street waiting for you to come out. So we used to go to St Kilda in groups of our own to deliberately flaunt my dear. I’m mean that was the only way.
Flaunting was defying. Defiance.
I have a friend who is now a guru in San Francisco with long silver hair and caftans, the whole shabang. In those days, he was outrageous too, he made himself a pair of lime green trousers with a floating panel off each leg and would walk down Collins street with these things flapping in the breeze you know, inviting people to react, to observe and notice I guess.
Talking of flaunting just now reminds me of the Arts Ball in Melbourne, which ran for many years in the 1950’s, it was the one night of the year when everyone and anyone could get into a taxi dressed in drag. I also remember one year when a friend, Max rented the Southern Aurora train and there were twenty drag queens and their boyfriends in the sleepers and we had a wild party between here and Sydney.
These are just some of the many things you did flagrantly in acts of defiance.
You, we always, knew the police where at the other end waiting in Sydney, that was a part of the thrill.
Another 50’s example, a great case in fact was what we termed the ‘ Wedding of the Painted Doll’. Two gay friends got married in Kelvin Hall in Little Collins Street. They invited ten bridesmaids and ten matrons of honour and
somehow, The Truth newspaper got to hear about it- our fake priest and all the other goings on- and everyone got out of it on Benny cocktails and we were all doing high kicks from here to heaven knows. As it so happened a photo of “the bride” doing a high kick was published and the Truth headline the following week read; “Wedding of the Painted Doll”, it was great we thought, being noticed again for who we really are.
People went out of their ways to defy that’s what I mean when we deliberately flaunt it to challenge the laws because it is our sovereign right to exist.
Forgive my utter ignorance Noel but what is a bodgie?
Bodgies and widgies, louts and loutesses of the 1950’s rockers and rollers.
And Benny cocktails?
Benny cocktails, well they were made from Benzedrine inhalers. Inhalers for breathing that also produced an amphetamine effect. These inhalers among others were melted down and the Benzedrine which was one of the strongest of all- the ‘speeds’ back in those days - and it was this melted down concoction mixed with copious amounts of cherry brandy and was called a Benny cocktail. You could stay awake for days, to make those wild parties and days last so much longer, the come down was pretty bad I have to say, mmmm yes, I remember that well too.
For the full interview with Noel Tovey see INTERVIEWS- ELDERS: Long Lives, Well Lived.