GAY DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN HAPPY. Fortitude Valley is still Brisbane’s sex centre. Like many of the world’s flesh pots it caters for all tastes, straight and gay. The pubs and clubs attract a variety of clientele, whether it is by social standing, ethnicity, age or sexual preference. Whatever its source pubs mean one thing for a copper, trouble. If you were in uniform you could only enter a pub during the execution of your duty, it was different for Detectives. They would mingle there gathering information, talk with their informants or get on the booze. One well-known Gay pub was located in Brunswick Street, it was a meeting place for both sexes. The only real trouble happened in the car park, at the rear. The occasional fist fight or lover’s tiff rarely came to light. So I was surprised when I received a call to attend a disturbance in the main bar.
It was a dark and stormy Saturday night. (It really was) Brisbane’s summer storms can be fierce. My partner, a policewoman I attended the academy with, and I trudged up from our beat to the hotel. We both looked like advertisements for condoms in our bright plastic rain coats and clear plastic hat covers. The weather had kept the clientele base down a tad and as we walked into the bar the source of our disturbance was immediately obvious. The bar was one of those trendy glass and stainless steel places with stucco concrete columns spaced along the centre. A young man, glass of beer in hand, leant against one of the columns crying.
Like bartenders everywhere the barman stood polishing glasses behind the bar and nodded at our man. Two girls sat at the bar and I thought they either, A: knew each other very well or B: were practicing to be gynaecologists. I have absolutely no problem with what consenting adults do, so I had a quick look around for any other sources of trouble. A few men sat at booths around the walls quietly drinking and chatting. The only disturbing thing was the crunching sounds as the young man beat his forehead against the column. We approached him and pulled him back, he shrugged us off and smacked his head a beauty on the column. Already bleeding from small grazes his forehead erupted in a spray of blood.
We moved him away again and he stood, beer in hand staring longingly at the girls. They were now probing each other’s tonsils with their tongues. Y M cried out, “Tanya why, I thought you loved me?” One of the girls raised a finger in his direction; he sighed and took a drink of beer. The blood hadn’t stopped running and it flowed down his nose and into the glass. The contents went from amber to bright red and he kept drinking. I’d had enough. The barman brought a towel over and we stuck it against his forehead, my mate called for an ambulance and we took the star-crossed lover outside.
It had stopped raining and we stood together on the edge of the footpath. Cars streamed past through the puddles, wetting us even more. Their occupants by the looks on their faces thought, police brutality. We made for a lonely late night trio, two ticked off, blood spattered coppers and a sad, lonely victim of Cupid’s bent arrow. It appeared that Y M struggled with his gender identity and had met the girl there the previous week. He’d fallen madly in love with her and was devastated when he came into the pub and met her girlfriend. The ambulance turned up and we handed him over to them. The girls left, the barman went back to polishing glasses and we plodded off into the night, knowing in our hearts that true love wasn’t dead.
MORE BLACK LEATHER THAN A TANNERY. The Terminus bar sounds like a place that engine or tram drivers would hang out, not the one in Brunswick Street. I was vaguely aware of its existence, a gay bar for men only, nuisance level – zero. The entry was discretely situated between I think a travel agency and a café. A pedestrian crossing was situated outside the railway station entrance in line with the arcade entry on the opposite side. Another Friday night and the punters flocked the streets, all looking for their own particular end of week release. I’d stopped near the crossing to keep an eye out for jaywalker’s; the last thing you wanted on your shift was a flat pedestrian. I heard the sports car as it turned off Wickham Street, a throaty roar from a Maserati is hard to ignore. The driver brought it to a screeching halt on the crossing, jumped out and disappeared into the gloom of the arcade. He wasn’t hard to miss in his white suit, floral shirt and big mop of black hair. Loosening my ticket book I crossed over and followed him, the door into the bar swished shut as I reached it.
After giving it a couple of thumps it was opened by a short round man in leather chaps and not a lot else. There was a leather bikini bottom a vest and a headband. His gut stuck way out and I could almost see my reflection in his bald dome. The music boomed the sound waves making my eyes hurt.
Me, “Where’s the bloke in the white suit?”
Him, “What bloke, what suit?”
Me, not happy, “The bloke you let in?”
Him, “Oh yeah in there.”
I followed the direction of his finger and stared down into the smoke-filled, dimly lit room. If you can imagine putting together a gay club scene created by William Blake, Dante and Fellini then you have an idea. A bar was located in one corner. Men looking like half-naked extras in a cowboy movie stood around, kissing, cuddling, drinking, others danced together. There were SS torturers, bedecked with chains and whips. Biker types were popular, I was the only copper. The Village People were big at the time and the only thing I didn’t see was an Indian Chief. High sided booths lined one wall, the leather clad occupants appeared to be part of a Proctologist’s convention. It seemed like only one light bulb illuminated the club.
Leather was the order of the day, hats, caps, collars, vests, shorts, chaps, wrist bands, hoods, arm bands. Chains and metal studs next, visions of elf like shoemakers working long into the night came to mind, that and the decline of cattle herds to supply the leather. I made my way through the drinkers towards the toilets, on the way I was propositioned more times than I’d care to remember. Someone squeezed my truncheon where it hung in the side of my pants, accompanied by a, “Oohh, officer arrest me first.” Keeping my cool I smiled politely and moved on, ignoring the come-ons, taunts and catcalls. I’d spent the previous five years as a prison officer so half-naked men cavorting around the place was nothing new. If they were doing it outside it would’ve been different.
I finally reached the toilets, white suit stood in a cubicle doorway in deep discussion with another man. Someone yelled copper, there was a flurry of activity and flushing of toilets. By the time I pushed through the throng whatever they had was on its way to the Brisbane River. You can’t win them all and after some discussion I left with white suit. He had nothing in his car and I don’t think a twenty-dollar ticket would have made a dent in his income. He got the ticket anyway and his details passed onto CIB. I wandered off into the night pondering human relationships, the need for black leather accoutrements and wondering how any man over thirty thinks he’s sexy with his bare bum sticking out of chaps.
DRINKING TOO MUCH. The amount of liquor a person can drink and still survive is staggering. If you have a blood alcohol concentration of .45 or over you’re dead, the alcohol limit in Queensland is .08 and you are deemed to be under the influence at .14. No matter where you are in the world drink drivers are a problem. On the beat again and another Saturday night in the Valley, this was before the Brunswick street Mall was built blocking traffic turning from Ann or Wickham streets. You learned to keep your ears open and pick out the yells and screams that weren’t coming from partygoers. Add high-pitched screams to the smashing of rubbish bins, a high revving car and you know there’s trouble afoot. The footpaths are crowded at 11pm and it’s amazing how people find the speed and agility to jump out-of-the-way of a car driving amongst them.
I’d arrived at the beat changeover spot when the screaming began, looking up Brunswick street it was reminiscent of a scene from the Blues Brothers Mall chase. Only the one car though and it was smashing into benches, bins and flower pots. By the time I’d reached the middle of the intersection the car was bouncing off the footpath, onto the road and back onto the opposite footpath. I reached the car which had slowed down, leaned inside and grabbed for the steering wheel. The downhill slope of the footpath didn’t help, it picked up speed again and the driver realised I was there. A quick wrestle with the wheel and we all came to a sudden halt against a shop front.
After switching it off I yanked the keys out and opened the door. The driver stared at me and fell out onto the ground. Help arrived and we managed to stand him up against the car, he was barely able to speak. I arrested him and we took him in for a breathalyser test. It took a little while to get through to him but he eventually understood what was happening. He blew .44, the examiner tests the machine prior to every test and it was working well. The driver was a Merchant Seaman who had docked earlier that day and had been drinking since he set foot on dry land. He’d borrowed the car to drive back to the ship, I was thankful he wasn’t able to get out and onto Wickham street. If he had found the main road who knows what carnage would have followed. It poses a couple of questions, like how drunk was the person who leant him the car? How many guardian angels worked overtime that night?
Another little tale of how much you can drink and live. I received a court order to take a man into custody and deliver him into the care of a government rehab clinic. These were extremely rare, his elderly mother finally had enough and she couldn’t look after her alcoholic son anymore. He was a quiet unassuming type of bloke, his mum had him sat on the veranda with his little suitcase next to the chair. Motherly love is a great thing but this lady had come to the end of her tether. I’ll call the son Bill and I’ve never seen a person sweat so much doing nothing. Staring blankly ahead he held his right hand in a fist, thumb up and raising his thumb to his mouth sucked on the end of it and put it down. He kept doing this as I led him down to the car. I was on my own so I sat him in the front seat. He never made a sound on the way down to the rehab centre, every thirty seconds or so he’d raise his thumb, make guzzling noises and set it back down.
He didn’t stop sweating and it smelled terrible, like a pub after a grand final win. The staff weren’t too happy when I turned up with Bill, especially when he blew .43. After several huddled conversations and a firm no from me they accepted him, they had no choice it was a court order. In retrospect Bill should have gone straight to hospital in an ambulance. I wondered if he made it or not, I know one thing for sure if he died they wouldn’t have wanted to cremate him.