Hundreds of people gathered at the weekend for an emotional ceremony to launch Bondi’s memorial to gay and transgender hate crime victims in Sydney.
From the 1970s to the 1990s, gay and transgender people were targeted in hate crimes across Sydney and NSW. Many were assaulted or killed, including along the Bondi coastline and Marks Park at Tamarama.
A public artwork titled Rise: The Bondi Memorial in that same park is now dedicated to those lost and survivors of the brutal violence.
Former NSW deputy coroner Jacqueline Milledge spoke at the emotional ceremony launching the memorial.
In 2005, Milledge led an inquest into the deaths of gay men, including barman John Russell. Police failed to investigate the crimes and others adequately. Milledge found vicious gay-bashing gangs had likely murdered Russell and two other men.
“It’s hard to imagine this beautiful part of Sydney was once a hunting ground,” she said.
“Gangs of brutal individuals were responsible for bashing, robbing, raping and murdering men – targeting them simply because they were gay.”
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Milledge shared the story of one survivor, David McMahon. Sydney was one of many gay men assaulted or murdered at Marks Park during a decades-long wave of violence against LGBTQ people in Sydney.
McMahon was jogging in Marks Park when assailants bashed him. The attackers dragged him towards the cliffs and told the man they would throw him over.
“He fought for his life and managed to escape with them chasing after him,” she said.
“He screamed for help, and a voice from the units in front yelled out, ‘We’re not helping any p____rs.’”
The meaning behind Bondi memorial’s design
Now, the public artwork Rise: The Bondi Memorial sits in that same park. The project was a collaboration between health organisation ACON, Waverley Council, as well as United Art Projects (UAP).
The six-level stone terrace represents the bands of the pride flag. The design was inspired by the nearby ocean cliffs, but flipped to resemble a staircase ascending towards the horizon.
“The act of climbing inverting the act of falling, a pathway away from the history of violence [that’s] no longer, or ever was, acceptable,” Waverley Mayor Paula Masselos said.
She said “deep pain remains” for those “who lost loved ones to these crimes and were deprived of both justice and recognition.”
“In a world where unspeakable tragedies occur all too often, Rise: The Bondi Memorial reminds us to be kinder to one another and create a future that’s safe, welcoming and tolerant.”
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‘Monument of remembrance, healing, hope, strength and justice’
ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said the ceremony “marks an important milestone in our communities’ journeys towards healing and justice.”
Parkhill dedicated the artwork to “those we have lost and also those who survived, to their families and loved ones.”
“Your bravery propels us in our continued efforts to eradicate homophobia and transphobia in this state and beyond,” he said.
“We hope this monument helps heal the trauma these horrific events have caused for their families and loved ones, as well as broader LGBTQ communities and many local residents.
“And we honour all those that were lost and pay tribute to the survivors, their families and loved ones.
“We dedicate this monument of remembrance, healing, hope, strength and justice to you.”
Earlier, the NSW government announced an upcoming Special Commission of Inquiry, headed by a judge, into dozens of unsolved murders.
ACON President Justin Koonin hopes the inquiry will shed more light on the dark chapter.
“Questions persist about what happened during those dark times. Cases remain open,” he said.
“There are people still at large who must be caught, and, meanwhile, violence against LGBTQ people still continues.”
If this has brought up issues for you, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.
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