Have a look at how much money the ABC gets in tonight’s budget, but before you do have a look at this piece from its website this afternoon.
I have a sneaking suspicion the item may disappear as soon as senior folk emerge from the budget lock-up, so here it is in all its, um, glory:
In search of Trough Man, an icon of Sydney’s 1980s gay scene
Before you go any further: this story contains content some readers may find offensive.
If Sydney ever had a superhero, maybe it was Trough Man.
This character would lie down in the male urinals at dance parties in the 1980s and enjoy a long golden shower. At least, that’s what I’d heard.
I came across the story gradually over the years, at social functions like dinner parties, as people got a bit drunker and the talk got more interesting.
I grew up in the “disco sux” era, though I never wore a badge. It didn’t really suck — it sounded better every year and if you ever wanted to give a party a lift, disco music always worked a treat, in any era.
The Trough Man story seemed to have similar powers.
I was intrigued, and started to make some inquiries.
A mysterious character in the urinal
Online I found a lot of material about Trough Man: a short film, a Wikipedia page, and a few links that we can’t share for obvious reasons, but you can look up yourself if you’re interested. Try water and sports and Trough and Man.
When I started asking around Sydney’s gay community, I was unsure how they would take my line of questioning.
Would it be considered infantile, if not outright offensive? The initial approach usually began with: “I know all gay people don’t know all other gay people … but …”
It became quite a detective story, and I was led to an eyewitness who told me what it was like to encounter Trough Man at a club.
“In the old days at the showground parties, you’d go into the toilets and someone would always twist off the neon lights, you’d get there and it would be really dark,” says artist Gareth Ernst.
“He was kind of nameless and a little bit mysterious … he never said a word.”
A time when the rules didn’t apply
Trough Man was just one of many characters who made gatherings like the annual Mardi Gras’ Sleaze balls and the famous RAT parties such colourful events.
As Tim Ritchie, a DJ from the time, reminisced: “The rules didn’t apply.
“It was this feeling of being on the edge. It didn’t feel dangerous, but it felt positively unsafe in a good way.”
HIV cast a cloud over the gay club scene in the mid-80s, and some people told me that Trough Man had been a casualty.
I’d pretty much given up trying to find him when a friend’s work colleague invited me to join the closed Facebook group “Lost Gay Sydney”.
People were incredibly helpful, and my post about dance party characters and DJs became quite active. It turns out social media is good for something.
It wasn’t long before an email appeared in my inbox. It was the real Trough Man!
Meeting the real Trough Man
Barry turned out to be a very unassuming gentleman in his mid-60s.
You’d never realise he had been involved in such extreme behaviour — but I was meeting the Clark Kent version of his character.
“Going right back, it was pretty clear I was gay when I was about 17,” he told me.
“It wasn’t easy to do that back in 1967, particularly in suburban Punchbowl, where I came from.
“Once I had my first sexual experience I realised the laws had to be changed.”
Barry had originally got into “water sports” when he saw it being done at a bar in New York in 1978.
He was also one of the original marchers in Sydney’s first Mardi Gras protest, that same year: a march that has since turned into the huge annual event.
“I didn’t do it to be famous, it wasn’t planned,” he said.
“The two things came together, my newly discovered sexual proclivity and my whole political involvement. Somehow they became enmeshed.”
‘It just wasn’t our party anymore’
Maybe Trough Man was a superhero, out there at venues like Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion through all those long nights, fighting for our right to party.
“I was part of this wild era, where there weren’t all these restrictions,” he said.
“When Fox Studios took over the showgrounds and the Hordern Pavilion it all changed. You just weren’t allowed to do that sort of thing.
“I can remember the last Mardi Gras party I went to. There was a whole group of us in the toilets playing around when security came in and shut the whole thing down.
“It just wasn’t our party anymore, and so I stopped going.”
The new world of occupational health and safety laws had caught up with Barry and the warehouse parties.
Sydney would never be the same again.
Your taxes at work. Talk about pissing money away.
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