Oxford Street was a different place in 1989.
The thumping gay clubs scattered up and down Sydney’s unofficial queer headquarters were still thriving — but in the late ’80s, there was a fear in the air.
A spate of gay bashings — as well as the horrific AIDS epidemic — had put a dark cloud over the rainbow that usually lit up the area.
And for Alan Rosendale, that fear turned into an awful reality.
Mr Rosendale, then a young man, was walking home from a night out on Sydney’s Oxford Street when he was stopped at a park.
It was Moore Park — a well-known meeting place for gay men looking for sex.
“I went into the bushes,” he said.
“I was there for a couple minutes before I heard the words, ‘there’s one, get him!’
“I ran down South Dowling Street, but I tripped on a gutter. That’s when they hit me, hard. I thought I was being bashed with wooden planks.
“The last thing I remember was a set of headlights coming towards me, and I thought, ‘thank God, someone had arrived.'”
Police number plates
Paul Simes was driving at the same location, on the same night in 1989.
He remembers four men getting out of a car, before attacking a man — thought to be Mr Rosendale.
“I turned on my headlights and reported the registration number to police,” Mr Simes said.
A chance meeting
Mr Rosendale and Mr Simes met for the first time in 2013.
Mr Rosendale had read Mr Simes’ recollections of that night, in a newspaper article about gay hate crimes.
Mr Rosendale lodged a police report the night he was attacked.
But, when he eventually obtained a copy, he was infuriated.
“They spelled my name wrong, my date of birth was incorrect and they used the term ‘skinheads’ to describe my attackers,” he said.
“The facts of what happened were also questionable.”
Sydney’s ‘dark chapter’
New South Wales Assistant Police Commissioner Tony Crandell said Mr Rosendale was attacked at a time when police culture and societal attitudes were different.
“I don’t think his case was given enough attention at all,” Assistant Commissioner Crandell said.
“I don’t think he was afforded the appropriate care and attention.
“But moving forward, I think we’ve come along way. Alan’s case would certainly be handed differently today.”
In light of today’s changed attitudes, the AIDS Council of NSW (ACON) has released a landmark report calling for further investigations into at least 30 unsolved gay hate murders.
Scott Johnson was among dozens of gay men who were killed or disappeared at various locations in Sydney during the 1980s and 1990s.
For decades, NSW Police were adamant that the American killed himself, until a third coronial inquest in 2017 ruled it a gay hate murder.
ACON CEO Nick Parkhill described the ruling as a “watershed moment” for the loved ones and victims of “a dark chapter in Sydney’s history”.
Key recommendations from the coronial inquest included:
An independent investigation or parliamentary inquiry into the police response into the gay hate crimes that occurred last century
A formal apology from the state government on behalf of the parliament and from NSW Police
A special taskforce dedicated to investigating historical gay hate murders and unsolved crimes
A dedicated counselling service for the victims and families of those who lost loved ones because of homophobia
History must never repeat
Mr Parkhill said homophobia was common among all government agencies at the time of the attacks, not just the police.
“There is a concern, then and now, that the police didn’t do enough to respond and therefore we really need an external body to investigate the unsolved cases,” he said.
Two years ago, NSW Police launched Operation Parabel to investigate the police handling of the gay hate crimes.
“One of our lead investigators is a gay and lesbian liaison officer,” Assistant Police Commissioner Crandell said.
“The Commissioner is right behind the review, and we’ve also included academics in the research.
“So, I hope the community can be confident that we are taking this seriously. We fully recognise the suffering experienced by the LGBTQI community.
“We must look at the situation and make sure that the appropriate processes and policies are in place to ensure that dark chapter of Sydney’s history is never repeated again.”
Cops investigating cops
Independent MP Alex Greenwich said Operation Parabel was problematic because police were essentially investigating police.
“It really doesn’t make any sense,” Mr Greenwich said.
“So, why would you let the police investigate their own poor response to these gay hate crimes.
“There’s no doubt the police do a great job — they have come along way and they march with us at Mardi Gras every year — but we can’t afford to sweep these injustices under the carpet.
The findings of Operation Parabel will be handed down at the end of the year.
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