AAGH – the politicians we deserve


To the Editor SMH 31 October 2016

I thought I was reading about some Kafkaesque piece of ideology (Govt. wants life ban on asylum seekers entering Australia SMH 31 October)

If I read the proposed legislation correctly, it will mean any current or future refugee banned from Australia, will never be allowed into this country as potential residents, temporary visitors or; for a holiday.

What will happen if a refugee on Mannus is resettled to a third country, makes a success of his/her life and is invited to Australia for either short term work in their area of expertise, to attend a conference or simply for a holiday?

We will need an Act of Parliament to allow them in!!

The idea that you can ban someone forever, without any regard to how their life may evolve over the next fifty years, is not only excessively punitive, it is also excessively stupid.

We know many refugees have proved to be resilient and resourceful, a quick scan of any list of achievers in Australia will show a far greater percentage with refugee heritage than for the general population.

If Luke Nguyen or Anh Do were to arrive in Australia today, as they did thirty odd years ago, they would be excluded from ever living in this country. There would be some benefits; the standard of food on Nauru would dramatically improve, the internees could have their portraits done and they may have something to laugh about.

I heard Pauline Hanson on radio today, supporting the legislation by stating “we do not welcome refugees” at least in her ignorance, she did not use the weasel words, “illegal immigrants”.

When did we turn so blindingly inward?

When did we lose our compassion?



Manic optimism and depression


Hi Sas

The years after my diagnosis and through to 2001 were marked by shifts between absolute optimism and deep depression.

Whether this had anything to do with the drugs, the diagnosis itself, or; my general state of mind, I really don’t know.

I do know,  I oscillated between drunken nights, some drugs and the effort of keeping everything together as far as work goes.

I was actually doing well at work;  Auctioneering, some work for Chris and project marketing were keeping me busy. There was however; still a real gap in my life, I felt I had let myself and everyone else down.

There was one night when Myffy was in town and I made the mistake of calling in to see her after a long night of grog and dope.

It may not have been too bad if I had gone alone but I took one of my fellow miscreants with me. We left Myffy’s hotel room in a far worse state than it had been in when we arrived.

I was too far gone to know who was responsible for the mess in the bathroom, but Myffy had to get housekeeping in to clean up after we left.

It put a fissure in my friendship with Myf and I wish it had not happened. It was just one of many nights where alcohol and drugs became a haven from the poison and the threat of HIV.

Christmas 1999 was spent with you Douglas, Bob and the kids. It was a great day with all the family together and me on my best behaviour.

Was and I left on Boxing day, we were heading to Bali to celebrate the turn of the Century and for two weeks of sun and surf.

I had met Rudi earlier in the year and I was looking forward to spending some time with him, we had great plans for our big New Year celebrations.

The holiday was wonderful but fueled by grandiosity, Rudi and I started to make plans for the importation and sale of Balinese furniture.

I had some money in the bank, I was earning good money but I wanted more, I needed the esteem and I needed to make a statement. I was lost but I wasn’t smart enough to know this.

I wish I could have spoken to you at this stage about the recklessness engulfing me, but keeping up the appearance of success was all important.

How hollow that looks in hindsight, but it is hard to be honest; even with people you love, when you can’t be honest with yourself.

The strength of you and family would eventually be the bedrock I needed, but there were still mistakes to be made before I would move forward.




Bad Planning

Hey Kayla

Somehow, I could never get the timing right when it came to telling you about myself, the HIV diagnosis was no different.

Mum, I and the two elder girls had all agreed you should not be told before your HSC at the end of 2000.

Ah, the best laid plans!

Towards the end of winter in 2000, you, Jassie and I went to Bowral for a weekend away.

I had hired a house for two or three nights, we were all looking forward to this time away. Just Dad and two of his daughters having special together time, it was also a great opportunity to give you a break before the hard slog of study was to begin.

The trip down on Saturday afternoon was a cacophony of hair brush microphones with Springsteen trying vainly to compete with his own songs.

We wandered out for dinner and bought some food to make a big breakfast in the morning, before coming back to our little cottage for a movie night. We hadn’t planned on the weather turning wet and icy cold but it didn’t matter, we were determined to make the best of this precious time.

The soundproofing of the house was not great and the 2.00 am pills and spew session obviously filtered through from the bathroom.

There was nothing said next morning or over the rest of the trip, but Jassie told me later you had been asking questions.

There was no room in our family for secrecy anymore and I knew I had to bite the bullet and tell you. The worry and suspicion would be worse than the facts.

I went down one afternoon to pick you up after school and we drove out to the Audley Weir for an ice cream and some time together.

You were prim and proper in your crisp uniform complete with Prefect’s Badge and I was dressed for work in shirt and tie. We must have looked an odd sight, sitting on rocks above the water licking ice creams and deep in conversation.

You have never been a pushover darling, and this day was no different. You searched for the right questions and I told you about the combination drug regime and the hope for this new treatment.

It was hoped this regime would have the effect, of reducing the impact of HIV from a death sentence, to a treatable chronic disease. We spoke about the trial and the impact this level of poison was having on me.

We hugged and didn’t speak much afterwards, as I drove you home to Mums.

I didn’t come in this day, I wanted you to be free to speak to Mum on your own if you wished to.

I drove the hour home to my place, deep in refection and sadness that I had been so stupid as to have brought this on our family.

This was just one of the times in my life when I seriously wondered if the journey to honesty was worth the pain.

I have spoken about Jassie and Annie being two ends of the see saw. To continue with the playground analogy,you darling, are the slide; complementary but delightfully separate. There can be fear and trepidation at the top of the slide, but usually; we end up with joy and exhilaration before the ride has ended.

I sometimes dread the fear and trepidation involved in our “deep and meaningfuls”, but I would never swap them, if it meant losing the love and closeness we share afterwards.

Love Ya Heaps


Another daughter finds her life

Hi Annie

In many ways, my return from Melbourne at the start of 1999 was the resurgence I needed, it   was derailed to some extent by the HIV diagnosis, but once I managed to deal with the pills this really ceased to be an excuse.

I would just take myself off at the appropriate time, snarl at the array of poisons, dutifully swallow them and wait for the nausea to hit, before I would go back to whoever or whatever I was doing before.

Your attitude to the diagnosis was so typically Annie; “Ah well, you just have to beat it, don’t you”

You were at University from 1997 through to 1999, it was always fun to catch up with you and your electric group of Uni friends when you were in town. .

Your first job out of Uni in 2000 was at the Aboriginal preschool in Redfern. This was a tough initiation for any young person just out of Uni, but you immediately felt at home and fell in love with the customs and culture you were now immersed in.

This also meant you spent a lot of time with me in the City, there were many nights when going home to Mum’s  was just too tough after a night out with friends. You did like a drink darling!

Your 21st in 2000 was a night to remember, a whole group of friends and relatives gathered at Mum and Douglas’s to celebrate with you. The violent storm which threatened to wreck the annex, erected for the night; was laughed off and the partying went on.

I remember two things about that night quite indelibly; one was the sheer joy, mad abandon and love for you which was on display and the other, was something totally warm and fuzzy which happened afterwards

I was not drinking much because it played havoc with my treatment so it had been arranged I would take Ossie and Esme back to their hotel after the party, and then, drop Bob to his house on my way home. Your Nan and Pop were incredible people as I have said before, but for people with little education, born in the pre-depression era; their power of forgiveness and tolerance was quite extraordinary.

We had finally bundled everyone in the car; Bob was in the front because of his gammy leg and Ossie and Esme were squeezed into the back seat of the Alfa, not somewhere anyone ever wanted to be.

The joy of the night had everyone in high spirits but, halfway to the hotel, Esme leaned between the front seats and started to talk quite seriously. I did not know what to expect, these good people had more reason to dislike me, than almost anyone. I had married their daughter and then let her down. From Ossie and Esme’s point of view, it would have been perfectly normal for them to have thought, I had deceived Sas and to have held this against me.

“Bruce, I just want to say something to you while we are together”

My heart was in my mouth, Bob was a dear, family friend but if I was going to be reprimanded, I would have preferred, he was not there.

“I just want to tell you how much we really appreciate you still being part of the kid’s lives and, for the support you have always given Sas”

You could have knocked me over with a feather; this was Esme, a woman of few words and a person to whom any display of emotion was foreign.

I don’t know what I said in reply, but the warmth of your night and the joy of what happened afterwards has never left me.

Darling, you have wandered the world, you have been, seen and done things many can only imagine, but you have always walked with a wonderful naivety and warmth.

The contrast between my two eldest daughters has always thrilled me. You and Jassy are like the two ends of a seesaw. Having one without the other, would make my life quite lopsided,  but together you provide the balance I need.

Most of the time it works, LOL

Love Ya


The sentence can be commuted


Hi Jassy

Having to tell you I was HIV positive was not an easy thing to do, but it was impossible to hide anything from you, even if I wanted to.

Openness in our family had been a very long battle, but we had generally succeeded in getting rid of the secrecy that infected many families.

This battle would be no different, but the age difference between you, Annie and then Kayla raised its head again, we all agreed this revelation had to be managed carefully.

You were living with me at the time, it was a painful dinner when I had to confess my shame at the diagnosis.

You questioned me about many aspects; how did it happen? what are the prospects? What treatment is available?

I could not tell you how it had happened, I honestly did not know. My best guess is a blood to blood infection when I was trying to be a good Samaritan, but that may be a cop out.

Whatever; it didn’t really matter, somehow, somewhere I had been stupid bringing me to this reality.

We had all been through the hopeless saga of Steve’s demise,  I tried to reassure you about how much prospects had improved in the past ten years, for people with a HIV diagnosis.

I told you blithely about the Combination Drug Therapy, John E had suggested, without having any real idea of what this therapy involved.

As usual, you took charge, demanding we walk every morning and I was not to be allowed to sink into self-absorption and pity.

I started on the regime of twenty-three Horse pills morning and night. These were big ugly tablets, full of poison.

Their effect on me was worse than I could ever have expected.

I would take them in the morning and then spend the next hour cramped over the toilet, as my body tried to rid itself of this toxic mixture.

The same happened in the evening, I hated the sight of those fucking bottles!

Without you by my side, I have no doubt I would have shirked the taking of these vials of poison, but you were unrelenting.

We developed a routine; I would get up around 2.00 am to take the morning dose, spend the next hour retching and resisting and then go back to bed for another three hours sleep.

We would be up between 5.30 am and 6.00 am, to set off on our morning walk. I would resist but you would be adamant. We would walk across Prince Alfred Park, through Surry Hills and Darlinghurst and then do a lap of the Domain, gradually I would start to feel normal.

We would then both go off to work for the day around 8.30 am. I still had Kayla at Private School, I still had to pay the rent, there was no nest egg; I had no choice and you made certain I knew this.

I would take the evening pills around 4.00 pm, spent the next hour retching and vomiting before heading out for my evening Open Houses or appointments.

This would be my life for the next two years and you were by my side for the whole time. I can never thank you enough for your efforts and encouragement; if I can use that word loosely?

Now almost twenty years later; Billy and I often chuckle at “Tiger Mum Jassie”; he was not around when you were “Tiger Daughter”, maybe; that was your apprenticeship?

I would never have had it any other way and; I am damn certain, neither would your kids.

Tough love, indeed.

Thanks, Darling



How could you be so Fucking stupid?


Dear Patrick

I had been back in Sydney for more than eight months in 1999 when I started to feel bloody awful, I just could not shake off the hot and cold sweats and dragging my body around was becoming a chore, everything hurt.

At first, I thought it was a recurrence of the Shingles which I had in 1994, then someone told me you could not Shingles twice. I am not sure of the truth of this statement but it prompted me to go to the Doctor because I was certainly not getting any better. It was like the worst case of the Flu that would not leave me alone.

I went to Taylor Square Clinic and met the first of the two Johns I would come to know extremely well over the next years.

John E asked a lot of questions and suggested I have a test for HIV, all my symptoms were consistent with the initial stages of this sickness.

I could not believe I could be infected, I had watched Steve die from AIDS and I was paranoid about safe sex, but John was insistent I did the blood tests.

The turnaround time for a HIV test in those days was almost a week and I spent this time convincing myself it was impossible for me to have contacted this disease,

But; the damn symptoms persisted.

Jassy was living with me at the time, this had been almost an osmotic process, she was working in the Eastern Suburbs and would often stay over after she had been out for the night.

Gradually, a night a week turned into two or three, until she moved in permanently for the work week and would often be there for the weekend as well.

I loved having her there, but it did limit my social life, this was another reason I was confident John was wrong.

Jassy had heard me coughing and getting up during the night, she saw me struggle in the morning and she knew there was something wrong.

I remember exactly where I was when the call came in from Taylor Square, I was on the Princes Highway at St Peters coming back from an appointment in the St George area.

I answered the phone, expecting to be told I was clear of HIV but should come in for some other tests to see what was wrong.

Instead, I was told to make an appointment with John E urgently.

This was not going to plan!

I saw John E and he delivered the news in as positive way as it is possible to do so, he spoke about treatments and I told him about my experience with Steve and the experimental drugs that never seemed to work.

John was insistent I go on treatment straight away and he guided me towards a new Combination Drug Therapy Trial he was involved in.

There were to be 100 people on this trial throughout Australia and because John was involved, he found me a spot.

I had seen too many people succumb to this disease and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands, I think from memory my viral load count was 770,000 and my T cells were very low.

There was no time to lose.

Why am I burdening you with all this crap you already know? You may well ask and I promise, I will get to that.

It took me few days to absorb the news, but I was determined not to live in secrecy about my status. I had seen too many do this and I had fought too hard to live my life honestly as a gay man. Over the next weeks, I told almost everyone I knew about my status, straight and gay alike.

The phone call to you, was meant to be a phone call to a sympathetic, educated gay man, it was meant to be one of the easy ones.

Instead, you bluntly said what everyone including myself, must have been thinking.

“How could you have been so fucking stupid?”

This was the wakeup call I needed. Sympathy from well-meaning people only served to make me feel even sorrier for myself about the capricious hand, fate had dealt me.

You forced me to understand it had all been my own doing, even if I could not identify when or how it had happened.

It is hard to feel sorry for yourself in the face of such a blunt assessment. I thank you for your honesty, I needed it at the time.

Later, you would reflect and apologise for your bluntness, even while I tried to tell you it had been just the tonic I needed.

We have been mates for many years Patrick, but never has the honesty of a true friend been harder to accept, or; more warranted.

Look forward to seeing you soon

Best Wishes