7 Sins of Sydney 5: Smutty Little Secrets

7 Sins of Sydney 5: Smutty Little Secrets

Let’s sit for a while with Richard Clapton in a 1970s Kings Cross cafe as he watches the ‘Girls on the Avenue’:

Girls on the avenue, Their tryin' to get you in
Strollin' by with a rose bud smile
They’re all dressed up to kill
Lean on the window sill
Lookin' your way with eyes of fire
But don't you slip
Don't you slip in love with the girls on the avenue

Friday night, we see the girls on the avenue
Like a child at big store windows, you feel confused
So many girls on the avenue

Girls on the avenue, Know how to get you in
Casting out signs like drinks from a hat
All the miss lonely hearts
Ooh, they look awful hard
And sometimes they seem as fragile as glass
But don't you slip
Don't you slip in love with the girls on the avenue

Friday night, we see the girls on the avenue
Like a child at big store windows, you feel confused
So many girls on the avenue

Don't you slip, don't you slip
In love with the girls on the avenue

Friday night, we see the girls on the avenue
Like a child at big store windows, you feel confused
So many girls on the avenue

Don't you slip, don't you slip, In love with the girls on the avenue
Don't you slip, Right now boys don't you slip
In love with the girls on the avenue
                                                             Richard Clapton

The biggest brothel

In May last year it was announced that Camperdown, less than a kilometre from where I live, was about to get Australia’s largest brothel. The development application put forward for the Stiletto brothel on Parramatta Rd was for a $12 million extension of the property to include 40 working rooms and 21 waiting rooms. The property was to have underground parking and rooms ranging over three full storeys of the building.

The scale of the proposal shocked locals, but perhaps they should not have been so surprised: after all, there are a number of legal brothels operating not very discreetly in the same area, as they are all over inner western Sydney. (A clue: any shop that has a prominent street number but no other signage is probably one.) Clearly it is a profitable business and the investors feel that business is not going to go away soon. The sheer turnover needed to make 40 rooms a worthwhile investment gives you an idea of the increasing social acceptance of prostitution in Sydney. It’s big business; and now that it is legal, there’s little you can do to stop it.

Legalization of prostitution, while it arguably protects vulnerable sex workers from violence, is still harmful to women and does nothing to eradicate illegal prostitution. This paper gives a detailed account of why legalization of this business has actually increased the number of women in prostitution and done nothing to remove the taint of organized crime and sex trafficking that goes with the business. In addition, it claims that 1 in 6 Australian men has paid for sex.

Herein the problem: legalization ends up becoming endorsement. In the end the government becomes the pimps. No-one wants to go back to making prostitution a dangerous business for women. However, so successful has the campaign against wowserism and in favour of permissiveness been, that Sydney has lost the ability to say ‘no’.

Sex in the city I

Sir Eugene Goossens was a world class conductor and composer who in 1947 had been invited to work with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. It was a successful move; but it came to a disastrous conclusion nine years later when Goossens was discovered at Sydney Airport with a case full of pornographic material.

It transpired that Sydney police had been monitoring Goossens’ behaviour for some time – ever since had become involved with one of Sydney’s most unusual figures, Rosaleen Norton, the so-called ‘Witch of Kings Cross’. Norton was a devotee of the occult and of unorthodox sexual practices, and Goossens, the very pillar of high culture, was her lover.

Goossens was charged with and plead guilty to bringing "blasphemous, indecent or obscene works" into the country. He was fined only £100, but the punishment was really the complete destruction of his reputation. The disgrace ended his career in music in Australia and elsewhere.

Sex in the city II

The extraordinary case of Dr Bogle and Mrs Chandler scandalized polite Sydney. On New Year’s Day, 1963, the semi-naked bodies of Bogle, a respected CSIRO physicist and a married father of four, and Chandler, a mother of two whose husband worked in the same building as Bogle, were discovered on the banks of the Lane Cove River. There were no signs of violence.

No killer has ever been found, though a third person must have intervened in order to place Bogle’s clothes over his body. The presence of vomit and faeces indicated that poisoning of some kind had been involved. The latest theory suggests that the couple died accidently of hydrogen sulphide poisoning, with the gas emanating from the polluted river; and a third person, not a killer but simply concerned for modesty, covered over the bodies but never came forward.

But it was the allegations of high society wife-swapping that really set tongues wagging. Sydney in the 1950s was not known for its unorthodox sexual behaviour. Both Gilbert Bogle and Margaret Chandler’s husband were discovered to be involved in numerous affairs; and Geoffrey Chandler admitted that he had agreed to his wife beginning an affair with Dr Bogle.

Perhaps the 1950s Sydney of apparent domestic bliss wasn’t what it seemed…

We like to party

It would be a strange thing to attempt a discussion of Sydney and sex without talking about the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and the community that celebrate it.

Why is Sydney arguably the gay capital of the southern hemisphere, the ‘San Francisco of the South’? Other cities have visible gay communities and other cities have gay pride parades. But only Sydney at the Mardi Gras – that annual festival of sexuality as identity.

Is it a reaction to the puritanism of the 50s and 60s? It would be true if Sydney’s religious leaders had led a campaign for public morality somehow more vehemently than elsewhere; but that is not the case.

Is it the hedonism of Sydney? With the waves lapping the coast line and the sun glinting off the waves it is pretty hard to stay too buttoned-up. It breeds an easy-going attitude that means that Sydney-siders, however conservative and suburban they are, are easy to convince with live-and-let-live arguments. And the argument that it generates a lot of cash – which it does – was always going to be decisive.

Perhaps the explanation is more subtle than any of these. There are large gay communities in the largely coastal, truly global cities of the world, of which Sydney is one (and Melbourne isn’t). In addition, the fame of the Mardi Gras has created its own momentum as a symbol of gay identity and liberation. It has given Sydney the reputation of being gay-friendly, which has then led to it becoming a hub for the gay community.

But see: perhaps the most interesting thing about the Mardi Gras is not that it is gay, but that it is about open sexual freedom. In contrast to the stories of Goossens and Bogle/Chandler, which are tales about Sydney’s surprise at the debauchery in its own midst, there is nothing secretive in the least about Mardi Gras. It is out, and proud.

At least there is an honesty to it.

The city, and sex

What can a Christian, who is also a sexual being, do in such a town? It is a city which by turns parades its sex addiction and keeps it a secret. It can’t find a way to articulate a thoughtful response to the world of legal brothels. The total victory of sexual permissiveness and the pervasive doctrine of freedom means that any discussion of sexuality has morality already framed out of it. It is only with the rigorous application of statistical data that any ground can be gained against the sleaze of the city. It only talks in numbers.

One of the pathologies of the discussion of a society sexual behaviour is how easily it becomes framed as an us-and-them discussion. It is too easy to point to the Mardi Gras and say ‘ooo, there’s a man in a g-string walking down Oxford St and I don’t like it’ than it is to say, ‘you know, the way I as a male treat women as sexual objects is the problem here’. Christians have got to learn a way of speaking about sexual behaviour that both a) condemns sexual sin and b) locates us among the sexually sinful, not above them.



Feature photo: Rob Warde


Michael Jensen is rector of St Mark's Darling Point and is the author of the book My God, My God: Is it Possible to Believe Anymore? He's on twitter: @mpjensen

Comments (1)

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  • Robert James Elliott
    July 24, 12 - 10:26am
    I did not know any of this about Sydney. Intriguing as well as disturbing.

    This is an issue that also concerns me, especially as young people are so exposed to sex from such a young age through technology.