Tutu Bob

The Monthly (Australia) - - APRIL 2018 - by Linda Jaivin

Syd­ney’s Kings Cross is still, it seems, the kind of neigh­bour­hood where a 68-year-old man can get around in feathered millinery, a crisp bal­le­rina’s tutu as white as his neatly trimmed beard, and a T-shirt that reads “FUCK ME, I’M FA­MOUS”. Like the Cross it­self, Bob Clay­ton’s life has in fact qui­eted down con­sid­er­ably in the nearly four decades he’s lived here. He rues the lock­out laws in place since 2014. It’s not that he still fre­quents the clubs – “I’m a bit old for that” – but the place used to be more lively, es­pe­cially on week­ends, and he liked that. The lock­out laws may have sent Syd­ney’s float­ing pop­u­la­tion of club­bers else­where in search of late-night fun, but it is gen­tri­fi­ca­tion – ris­ing rents and im­pos­si­ble prop­erty prices – that’s driv­ing out the ec­centrics, drag artists, free spir­its, out­liers and out­laws who have long given the area its char­ac­ter and magic. The sight of Bob get­ting about in his tutu is re­as­sur­ing: the Cross ain’t dead yet. I met Bob at the Satur­day mar­kets, where he sells The Big Is­sue. I ad­mired his out­fit. A short con­ver­sa­tion re­vealed him as a big reader and en­gag­ing con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist. In­trigued, I signed up for two of his $5 “Walk on the Wild Side” tours: his “Sex, Drugs and Mur­der” in­tro­duc­tion to the Cross and his “Gos­sip” tour of El­iz­a­beth Bay, where we both live.

For our tours, Bob wears his tutu and a berib­boned boater but es­chews his strappy sil­ver heels for com­fort­able men’s san­dals. As we stroll around El­iz­a­beth Bay, we spot a tiny el­derly lady in a big hat and polka-dot trousers mak­ing her way into a cafe, lean­ing on a cane. “She’s a palaeon­tol­o­gist,” he says with rev­er­ence. “Mind if we say hello?” I fol­low him in. She vis­i­bly bright­ens at his ap­proach. “How are you trav­el­ling?” he asks kindly. “Slowly,” she replies. Through Bob, I meet a num­ber of my own neigh­bours. On Ma­cleay Street, Bob points out the Potts Point Wool­worths, once the site of a fa­mous ho­tel. It was there that one of the most no­to­ri­ously cor­rupt Kings Cross cops, Ray Kelly, who col­lected pro­tec­tion money from il­le­gal abor­tion clin­ics, brothel own­ers and even bank rob­bers, threw him­self a grand re­tire­ment party at­tended by the equally cor­rupt NSW premier, Robert Askin. Bob re­veals a sur­pris­ing con­nec­tion: “Ray Kelly,” he tells me, “was Dad’s first cousin.” Bob’s fa­ther, a drover and “the most gen­tle­man of gen­tle­men”, de­tested Kelly from the time they were young. “If Ray couldn’t break a horse,” he told Bob, “he’d shoot it.” Bob grew up in Thar­go­min­dah, in out­back Queens­land. His mother was a cook on the same sta­tion where his fa­ther worked. She’d been an il­le­git­i­mate child who grew up in grind­ing poverty after her fa­ther died, gored by a bull, and her own mother stole the money he’d left for her up­bring­ing. Ne­glected, malnourished and un­schooled, she was saved by the in­ter­ven­tion of the town’s mayor, who be­came a friend for life. Thar­go­min­dah, Bob says with pride, was the in­spi­ra­tion for Mary Han­nay Foott’s poem “Where the Pel­i­can Builds”. In the mid ’90s, he tried to com­pile a book on Aus­tralia’s 100 most pop­u­lar po­ems. He was grat­i­fied to see that the re­sponses he got put “Pel­i­can” at num­ber eight. That project fell over. In 1991, how­ever, one year after Pa­trick White’s death, An­gus & Robert­son had pub­lished a vol­ume of trib­utes to White that Bob edited. Con­trib­u­tors in­cluded El­iz­a­beth Jol­ley and Wil­liam Yang. As edi­tor, Bob used the pseu­do­nym Clay­ton Joyce, the name in re­verse of his beloved, in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled sis­ter who died at the age of 21. He was keen to pull to­gether a sec­ond vol­ume, about Ju­dith Wright, but couldn’t raise enough in­ter­est. I meet Bob in El­iz­a­beth Bay’s har­bour­side Beare Park the day after one of our tours, to talk about his life. He shows me the book about White, and gives me a copy of Han­nay Foott’s poem along with a sheaf of other notes that, he ex­plains, will help me to bet­ter un­der­stand him. Th­ese in­clude his de­tailed fort­nightly bud­get (gas and elec­tric­ity $40, food $50 etc.) and his Pa­tient Health Sum­mary, which lists di­a­betes, hy­per­ten­sion and heart prob­lems to­gether with a long list of nec­es­sary med­i­ca­tions (medicine $25). Rent eats up 75 per cent of his pen­sion. But this is a neigh­bour­hood that ac­cepts and nour­ishes him. His sis­ter and niece, who moved here from Queens­land with him in 1980, live nearby and are still close to him. They come to his aid when he falls be­hind in his bills, though he hates ask­ing them for money. The tours and The Big Is­sue help him stay afloat. Some­times he sells the mag­a­zine at Cir­cu­lar Quay, but usu­ally in civvies, as buses and the CBD are not as tutu-friendly as the Cross. Bob also shows me an es­say he wrote that men­tions his three sui­cide at­tempts in 2017, each one “de­railed” by emergency in­ter­ven­tions on the part of his GP. On our tour of El­iz­a­beth Bay, we had stopped be­fore the Catholic Parish of St Can­ice on Roslyn Gar­dens. Bob takes three or more meals a week in their soup kitchen and is grate­ful. Can­ice was also the name of the Catholic Brother who sex­u­ally abused him at board­ing school from when he was nine to 14 years old. “You never get over it,” he told me. Bob gave tes­ti­mony to the Royal Com­mis­sion into In­sti­tu­tional Re­sponses to Child Sex­ual Abuse. Look­ing back, Bob can see that the abuse is why he dropped out of school at 16. He un­der­stands now why, de­spite grow­ing up in a lov­ing fam­ily who ac­cepted his com­ing out to them at 20, and de­spite mak­ing a good start in life as a clerk and com­puter op­er­a­tor, he went off the rails with drink for years and still suf­fers from de­pres­sion. “But,” he says, “you can’t live your life back­wards.” We’re med­i­tat­ing on this when the singer Jeff Duff comes into the park. Duff is tall and thin and dresses like the love child of Mick Jag­ger and David Bowie. To­day he wears ex­u­ber­antly colour­ful py­ja­mas and is lis­ten­ing to mu­sic through ear­phones. He smiles a hello at us. Sud­denly, he starts skip­ping, knees high, arms like wings, and then just as sud­denly stops, and con­tin­ues saun­ter­ing to­wards the sea­wall. Bob and I gig­gle. “He’s a very gor­geous dresser, isn’t he?” says Bob. An­other neigh­bour comes along, pet cocky on shoul­der. This re­minds Bob of some­thing that the late19th-cen­tury jour­nal­ist and ad­ven­turer Ge­orge Mor­ri­son once ad­vised: when walk­ing in the out­back, fol­low the corel­las at sun­down, be­cause they’ll take you to wa­ter. Bob says that grow­ing up in the out­back he was al­ways made to carry wa­ter when walk­ing. “No one,” he muses, “ever told me to fol­low the par­rots.”

Bob and I gig­gle. “He’s a very gor­geous dresser, isn’t he?” says Bob.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.