Same-sex marriage might be legal now, but the ‘yes’ vote did not bury Australia’s grim history of anti-gay violence.
The issue is the focus of a new play, Lost Boys, by award-winning writer Lachlan Philpott.
It juxtaposes the national plebiscite on same-sex marriage in 2017 with the spate of up to 80 unsolved murders of gay men in Sydney in the 1980s and 1990s.
The rise of violent attacks at the time took place following the legalisation of homosexuality and during the HIV epidemic.
“I want this to begin a conversation about the cycle of violence and homophobia,” Philpott said.
He said the resurgence of gay hate crimes in the build-up to the gay marriage plebiscite last year was real and under-reported.
Lost Boys is a fiction — inspired by real-life cases — which seeks to examine the perpetrators of these crimes from the historical to the contemporary era.
The Australian play, debuting this month, is by award-winning playwright Lachlan Philpott. (Supplied)
The play begins in Bondi in the 90s, when Sydney’s eastern suburbs were populated by violent teenage gangs after dark.
“There were quite a lot of gangs and three main ones I could find police documentation on,” Philpott said.
“Then there’s also a lot of evidence police were involved in gay bashing.
“So we’re talking about a culture where it was seen as acceptable to track down, to roll (and) to bash them,” he said.
One of the victims the play is influenced by is Wollongong newsreader Ross Warren. His death — his body was never found — at the Marks Park beat in Bondi during the 90s was understood to have been carried out by a gang.
Ross Warren, a news presenter from Wollongong, was last seen at Darlinghurst in 1989. (NSW Police)
“(The gangs would) ambush and even to take them to the edge of a cliff and say ‘Do you want to jump or we will push you?’. That information horrified me and that is why I was compelled to write the play,” he said.
Lost Boys then skips forward to contemporary Sydney, where rocketing real estate prices have altered the city’s veneer but not, Philpott said, the heart of a community which still harbours violence.
‘How do people live with themselves?’
“I was very interested in asking ‘how do people live with themselves after committing a crime like that?’.
“If you go on to be a parent and you go on to have teenage children, how do you live with yourselves day to day, particularly if you’ve destroyed people’s lives through murder,” he said.
Other notable gay hate victims include John Russell, who was found at the bottom of a cliff in Tamarama in 1989. French national Gilles Mattaini went missing from the same area in 1985.
“It’s really important that theatre bears witness to our times and for me this is a story that hasn’t been told to a wide audience,” Philpott said.
“The second act is set at the time of the marriage plebiscite and as a gay man it’s my job to document the horrors of that time and for it to be remembered in Australian drama.”
Gilles Mattaini, a French national living in Bondi, was last seen in Tamarama in 1985. (NSW Police)
Director Leland Kean said, “the story is one I’ve always wanted to tell, I ran the Bondi Pavilion Theatre before moving to Merrigong”.
“Particularly (regarding) the postal yes vote, this is a really important story, recognising what (the queer) community sacrificed before that event and making sure those people aren’t forgotten,” Kean said.
Actor Ben Pfieffer, a gay man, said playing an attacker who ended innocent lives was a difficult role.
In the play, the 2017 plebiscite triggers the youth Pfieffer’s character left behind.
“Right up until the very end of the play he has no remorse and he’s still absolutely wedded to his convictions, it’s very black and white for him,” Pfieffer said.
“He thinks he made the right choices and he would do it all again. It’s definitely a challenging role.”
The world premiere of Lost Boys will take place at Merrigong Theatre in Wollongong.
Lost Boys, Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, May 23 – June 2