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Simon Copland

6 Oct 2016 - 12:01 PM  UPDATED 7 Oct 2016 - 11:35 AM

A memorial for the victims of gay hate crimes in the Bondi region has been announced, to remember the gay men who were assaulted - and in many cases murdered - in the late '70s through to the '90s. The memorial - to be located in Bondi’s Hunter Sculpture Park - will be developed by the Waverley Council, in conjunction with the NSW-based, LGBTI health organisation ACON.

Bondi was the site of a number of high-profile gay hate crimes, including the cases of John Russell, TV presenter Ross Warren and frenchman Gilles Mattaini. The area around Marks Park in Bondi was a popular beat for gay men, and was a place of regular violence against gay men from the late 70s through to the early 90s. While in 2005 the then Deputy State Coroner Jacqueline Milledge found both Russell and Warren were murdered in hate crimes, all three cases officially still remain ‘unsolved’.

The memorial in Hunter Park - close to Marks Park and the site of the murders - is seen as one step in the healing process for LGBTI communities. ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill explains:

“SBS’s Deep Water content serves as a chilling reminder of a time in our state’s recent history when the LGBTI community was confronted not only with the devastating impact of HIV and AIDS, but also this horrific spate of murders,” Mr Parkhill said.

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“The willingness from so many quarters to support the planning, commissioning and construction of a memorial to honour and bring justice to the victims of these events recognises how we far we have come as an inclusive society.”

The memorial is still in the early stages, with ACON and Waverley Council announcing they will soon enter into a community engagement phase. This consultation will allow members of the LGBTI community - as well as victims' family and friends and local residents - to provide feedback on the purpose and parameters of the memorial. Waverley Mayor Sally Betts said that it was the right thing for the memorial to go ahead, in order to pay respect to the people who lost their lives.

“It’s a long-term project,” Mayor Betts said. “It’s at the very early stages but we are committed. We need to do a lot of preparatory work and ACON intends to raise the money for the artwork.”

The memorial is one part of a broader process within local LGBTI organisations, who, in conjunction with the release of Deep Water, have announced they are “ramping up” efforts to deliver justice for gay hate crimes. ACON has also announced that it is working with the Inner City Legal Centre (ICLC), the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) and Dowson Turco Lawyers on a broad-ranging response to the crimes.

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Alongside the memorial at Bondi, ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill has said there are three key elements to this process.

Firstly, organisations are working with NSW Police on Operation Parrabell - a police operation established in 2013 - which has reopened 88 unsolved murders in the Sydney region to determine if gay hate was a motive. Operation Parrabell is due to close in the coming weeks, and while Parkhill has said they cannot comment on the outcomes of the Operation, organisations “expect to then further work with NSW Police and other agencies to ensure that justice is delivered to the victims and their families.”

In addition to this, ACON is conducting its own investigation into these crimes, based on data available from ACON’s Anti-Violence Project Report Line, as well as other community-based data and information. Parkhill has said that “this is an important process in ensuring that all relevant data - and context circumstances – are taken into account when determining what has actually happened to these men.” ACON is intending to report its findings to community partners.

Finally organisations are working within their own networks and communities to encourage anyone with information relating to these crimes to come forward. Parkhill says he believes there are still people out there who know something about these crimes, and organisations are working hard to encourage people to come forward and assist police with investigations.

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These community responses seem essential at a time when NSW police continue to face criticism for their handling of the crimes. While the outcome of Operation Parrabell is yet unknown, an investigation by SBS has revealed a number of ‘blunders’ by the NSW Police in recent years, including the dismissal of a potential gay-hate murder due to a simple spelling mistake. Worryingly, Superintendent Tony Crandell, who is overseeing Operation Parrabell, was not aware of many of these blunders until alerted of them by SBS.

Once again, this highlights the need for communities to be involved in this process, to ensure justice for the victims for murder and violence. It is LGBTI communities and the family members of victims who have kept these murders on the agenda, and announcements yesterday will aim to ensure continued community involvement in the process. This includes LGBTI people being involved in police investigations, and in a process of healing for communities. The Bondi Memorial is an important first step in this process. 

Inspired by these true events SBS drama Deep Water is currently airing on SBS – stream the first episode in full at SBS OnDemand or right here:

Then Deep Water – The Real Story airs Sunday October 16 at 8.30pm on SBS and will then be available to stream in full at SBS OnDemand.