The Curse. Chapter Five: Long Bay Gaol


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John Wilson

The hidden camera extortion racket uncovered at New Farm’s trendy Avalon Flats shocked pre-war Brisbane. The victim — John Wilson, by all accounts, a remarkably devout English lad. The villains — Fred and Dalham Affleck, the sons of Sir Frederick Danby James Affleck, 8th Baronet of Dalham Hall, a Buderim orchardist. Previous to this crime, Fred Affleck spent most of his adult life in Sydney’s Long Bay Gaol.

Read the previous chapters:

1: The Hidden Camera

2: Sir Frederick Affleck & Sons

3: Fred Affleck, a modern Raffles

4: Dalham Affleck

The Supreme Court heard allegations of all-male orgies. Lawyers waved photos of homosexual sex acts. But the jury never heard from John Wilson. Justice Macrossan ruled they could rely on John’s previous testimony after he shot himself on the eve of the trial. Another victim perhaps of what Lady Lily Affleck described as the curse of the house of Affleck. However, despite the conviction of her sons, the trial never came close to the truth. A web of lies surrounded the entire case. Everyone lied, including John Wilson. So, what was the truth and who was John Wilson really? In truth, everyone was cursed because, for most people in the 1930s, survival required endless deceit.

Long Bay

In December 1927, Fred Affleck thought all his Christmases were coming at once. He, Reg Worters and Albert Gibbs made a fortune robbing the homes of the rich and famous.

long bay
Fred Affleck, Albert Gibbs and Reg Worters

But for Christmas that year, Santa brought Fred Affleck his first prison sentence. On 21 December, police ushered him and three other men through a tunnel from Darlinghurst Courthouse into the neighbouring police station and out to an adjacent platform. Signs on a waiting tram stipulated ‘No Passengers’. The custom-built mobile lock-up conveyed prisoners the seven miles to Long Bay Gaol.

Accompanying Fred, his partner in crime, Reg Worters. Albert Gibbs took the Number 948 a few days earlier, sentenced ahead of his accomplices. Also, on the tram — George Devine, a 20-year-old single-punch killer and 39-year-old ‘simpleton’ Henry Littlewood, convicted of molesting a thirteen-year-old girl.

At its destination, the 948 passed through prison gates and deposited the felons into The Birdcage, a barred loading bay and reception area resembling a giant aviary.

long bay
George Devine and Henry Littlewood

The prisoners formed a line. Devine, then Worters, Affleck and finally Littlewood were photographed, measured and weighed. Fred gazed warily into the camera lens, forewarned of the ordeal ahead. Reg had travelled aboard Number 948 previously.

A guard noted Fred’s brown hair and eyes, along with the absence of any distinguishing marks or tattoos. Then began a humiliating admission process designed to emphasise the authority of the prison regime. Prisoners in His Majesty’s NSW jails forfeited all rights to privacy, dignity and personal choice.

“Strip!”

“Strip!”

“Open your mouth.

“Lift your balls.

“Pull your foreskin back.

“Spin around. Bend over. Spread ’em.”

Fred obediently parted his buttocks, and a guard scrutinised his arsehole, checking for contraband.

Searches complete, the warders hosed the prisoners down like cattle off to slaughter. Fred and Devine probably feared they were precisely that — fresh meat.

Years later, a detective sergeant boasted he warned juvenile offenders that if they ended up in Long Bay, they would be “f_cked, bashed, murdered, or all three.”

Sex, sex and more sex.

Speaking anonymously, a former Long Bay warder said prisoners filled their long monotonous hours with “sex, sex and more sex.”

He claimed if he had money for every time, he caught prisoners having sex, he could have retired a wealthy man after five years on the job.

But in the 1920s, factual accounts of prison life rarely penetrated beyond the barbed wire to the public domain. Escapees usually made it further over the sandstone walls than talk of jailhouse sex. Both prison authorities and prisoners thought it better than what happened in prison, stayed in prison. However, in the 1930s, scandal rags began to expose the truth.

A former Queensland prisoner shared his impressions of jail in 1932.

“I served eight weeks and one day in Boggo Road Gaol. If I had the misfortune to have a son convicted— a boy in his teens — I would shoot him in the dock. Homosexuality is rampant.”

Another inmate said the same to a different paper.

“Men innocent of the slightest sign of homosexuality when they enter are lucky to get out unimpaired. No matter what strength of character or what their upbringing. In nine cases out of 10 — EVERY 10 — they succumb. And the great pity is that usually, the victims are mere boys and youths.”

Finally, the warders issued the sundried inmates with uniforms. Fred pulled on grey pants and a shirt. On the back of the shirt, a circle of white canvas displaying the number he would now be known by.

He also received socks, boots and a singlet — though no underpants. The inmates of Long Bay went commando in summer, only allowed underwear in winter. While they shivered under threadbare blankets, their testicles remained warm and toasty.

The prisoners were marched to their eleven feet by seven concrete cells. There was a window, or at least a barred hole in the wall nine feet from the floor. No bunks or mattresses. Just hooks in the walls where the men would attach hammocks at nighttime. Hammocks allowed three men to share a cell intended for a single occupant.

Shitcanned

In the corner, a steel can for a toilet – no indoor plumbing. Other Australians took the expression ‘shitcanned’ to mean suffering dismissal from a job or discarding something. But in Long Bay, shitcanned meant shitcanned. Being drenched in the contents of those buckets.

And who said the authorities had no sense of humour? The bureaucracy referred to the fetid receptacles as ‘sanitary trays’.

After his first night in prison, Fred awoke at 6 am to a clanging bell. He and his cellmates carried their stinking toilet bucket out into the prison yard and emptied it into an open sewer.

Asking for sugar risked unwanted attention

For breakfast, they ate wheatmeal porridge and drank tea. No milk or sugar with either. Any innocent who asked for sugar risked unwanted attention from insistent and dangerous admirers. Sugar was sweet. In prison jargon, sex.

Fred Affleck and his fellow passengers all received sentences of two years with hard labour. Judges regularly tagged hard labour onto sentences, but Long Bay had too little work for too many men. The NSW justice minister complained that he could provide meaningful employment for less than half of the three to four hundred detainees. Most spent their day yarning, smoking, gambling and fighting. As one newspaper said, “with nothing to do but pick up points in crime from your fellows. At Long Bay, there is often a dearth of work.”

At midday, the inmates consumed a meal of meat, vegetables and bread. The institution reputedly served the worst food of any Australian jail. Inmates grumbled about the jailhouse rumour that prisoners in South Australia received a piece of fruit once a week. Lifers went decades in Long Bay without ever tasting fruit.

At 3.40 pm, the prisoners ate their evening meal — more porridge. Then, the warders locked them up for the night.

Gay for the Stay

Many prisoners experienced their first taste of male-on-male sex during the long hours from 4 pm to 6 am. Gay for the stay. But others were there purely because of gay sex. NSW and every other Australian jurisdiction criminalised private, consenting, adult sex acts between men.

Fred Affleck completed his last NSW jail term in early 1937. Declared a habitual criminal by a Sydney court, he would be subject to constant police surveillance. So, he returned home, undeterred by his time in prison and still determined to seek his fortune through criminal endeavours.

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4 <— The Curse —> Read Chapter 5: Putting the Oral into Floral from Sunday, April 10.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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