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Our Blood Runs in the Street

"We needed more than words ..."

Words fail when it comes to hate crime, writes Alison Bennett. Physical theatre, she argues, can give us a truer picture of one of the darkest chapters in Sydney's history.

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Our Blood Runs in the Street: Physical Violence

Date: 4 Feb 2020

“Our blood runs in the streets and in the parks and in casualty and in the morgue …

Our own blood, the blood of our brothers and sisters, has been spilt too often …

Our blood runs because in this country our political, educational, legal and religious systems actively encourage violence against us …”

One in Seven Manifesto, Sydney Star Observer, April 5, 1991.

When I asked director, Shane Anthony, about why he had chosen physical theatre as the form for Our Blood Runs in the Street, it took me a little while to understand his answer.

I understood the verbatim element. It made sense to use the actual words from people directly affected by the crimes. This was a powerful and, in my opinion, ethical choice.

But physical theatre? I thought it might get in the way, that it might be distracting.

Shane said: “We’re using the physical stuff to communicate the real gruesomeness of it all, it’s too much to take in otherwise. We need the abstract to actually encompass all of it.”

Still, I had my doubts. I figured they’d work it out in rehearsal.

From the end of the 1970s to the early 2000’s more than 80 gay and transgender people were murdered in and around Bondi.

Not just murdered, but brutally murdered. Some tortured. Right here, right under our noses in ‘the lucky country’. The Police, with a few exceptions, did very little. It was just queers after all.

The media, for the most part, supported the Police. I guess it made for a distasteful story. This was the era of Alan Bond and Christopher Skase and they were sure fire newspaper headlines. The crimes also took place throughout and just after the terror that was AIDS so another gay story … well, everyone had had enough of the gays by then. All that AIDS nonsense was getting a bit much.

I admit with some shame, that when I had initial discussions with Shane about the project, I was only vaguely aware of the crimes. I’d heard of them, I knew something awful had happened in Bondi but not more than that. As I was enjoying the best of what the 90s had to offer – wearing bike shorts and busting out moves to TLC – violent murders were taking place … in Bondi.

Shane has painstakingly interviewed a number of people affected by these crimes.

Actual victims, families of victims and friends. One of these people is Michael Atkinson. Michael is the Program Manager for Safety and Historical Justice at ACON (AIDS Council of NSW). ACON have generously supported us in the development of this project. Michael is hilarious. He’s the kind of guy that you hug goodbye even though you barely know him. He laughs easily and you find yourself giggling with him over silly things.

One of his first tasks at ACON was preparing the case files in for the Parliamentary Inquiry into the crimes:

“88 cases. Most were very graphic and detailed and violent involving decapitation, testicles cut off, people gutted. One of the features of hate crimes is that they are frenzied attacks. Generally speaking, the perpetrator is quite worked up. You know, shotguns … people driving home, picked up their shotgun, driven back to a public space and in broad daylight shot people. They’re all pretty horrific. Half of [the murders] happened between 1988 and 1994. That surprised me. That shook me and it disturbed me, particularly when I reflect and thought nothing was done by authorities.” – Michael Atkinson

Michael was also a victim.

“I was in quite a lot of pain. A lot of shock, bleeding. Certainly didn’t think to report it to the police. I was like, nah, I’m not going to go into the police station. I don’t want to have to go in and say, I’ve just been gay bashed. I had heard so many people already say I’ve been to the police and I got laughed at or ridiculed …” – Michael Atkinson

Once I read the transcripts of the interviews, I understood the need for physical theatre. Shane was right. We needed more than words to encompass it all, not just the violence but the grief and the sorrow and the ongoing pain.

I also understood the need for the show to be created and to be created now. Right now.

So many voices have been systematically repressed. Victims and their loved ones have had no closure, nowhere to channel their grief or to express their disbelief. They have essentially been told to shut up and get on with it. There has been no justice.

This show is helping to give a voice to the voiceless. It’s hard for us to accept because these crimes are recent, and they happened on our watch. Just look at the statistics: hate crimes against gay and transgender people are on the rise again now.

Shane and the ensemble have created a vehicle to tell the story of the true horror of it all.

They are also lighting a way forward and paying respect to those people who have shown extraordinary strength and resilience in the midst of their suffering. They are looking toward the light in the darkness.

We are also working with ACON to encourage submissions to the newly re-opened Parliamentary Inquiry into these crimes. If you or anyone you know wishes to submit their experience to the inquiry, you can contact Michael at ACON (matkinson@acon.org.au) for further information.

Please also join us for a special post show event on Sunday February 23. This is a forum co-hosted by ACON to hear from those people who have contributed to the project and to raise further awareness of the Parliamentary Inquiry.

Our Blood Runs in the Street plays at the Old Fitzroy Theatre from February 19

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