‘Five years, stuck on my eyes’: An Australian woman’s harrowing ‘historical’ abuse
Author’s note: Please read this highly personal essay if you’ve experienced intimate-partner violence or you have an interest in the subject. The essay is a one-off piece that bears no relation to my grammatical posts or any of my other website content.
In the essay, I contextualise and outline the five years of abuse and violence I endured at the hands of ‘Brandon Kray’. I use the present tense and a chronological structure to enable you to be in the thick of the action with me. At the end, I bring the story up to the present day and share a few reflections.
It’s April 1977, and I’m Debbie Baer, a slender brunette sporting a carefully blow-dried Cleopatra haircut. I’m chuffed to be the newly appointed Union Activities Assistant at Sydney University, where I studied Arts–Law between 1973 and 1975. It’s a dream job because my three passions have always been English, art and music. My beautiful and generous boss, Gaille Jang, allows me to attend American Literature lectures so I can complete my Arts degree. Earlier in April, I went along to the Bo Diddley concert at the Wallace Theatre, at which I first laid eyes on Gaille: a beautiful, bubbly blonde packaged in a red and white striped maxi-dress. To look at, she’s a cross between Dolly Parton and Debbie Harry.
Music is everything! During the university’s three annual academic terms, I create text and artwork to promote concerts, dances, tuition classes, dinners and competitions. Gaille likes to know whether I think artists and bands will go down well on campus, and I often get to pay them after their performance. We work well and hard together and become firm friends, she the big sister and I the neophyte. She tells me how lucky she is ‘to have that sort of talent at hand’.
Days after I start working at the Activities Office, I’m asked to sing on a promotional jingle to launch Union Radio (SUX). The music, lyrics and vocal style are a take on Shirley & Company’s 1975 disco hit ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’. Singing is the fourth thing that makes me happy.
In May ’77, with my mates Andrew Quaver and Ethylene Chutney Albright, I see ground-breaking Brisbane band The Saints perform at The Refectory. Like everyone else, we have a wild time. The poster for the band’s debut album I’m Stranded is proudly on the wall next to my desk. The album was released in February, and in September ’76, when The Saints released the ‘I’m Stranded’ single, the reviewer for the UK’s Sounds magazine declared it ‘the single of this and every week’. Tonight, I pay the band and meet their drummer Ivor, who I fancy. He invites me to watch them record a live segment at the ABC Studios in Gore Hill that week. I do, and we start going out together. I write a review of the concert for the Union Recorder. Also in May, I have a Saturday job at the university’s Academic Dress shop.
Not long after Ivor and I become an item, The Saints move to London to ride the ‘punk music’ tidal wave being spearheaded by The Sex Pistols in England and The Ramones in New York. We write aerogram letters to each other. I very much miss his company, good humour and music anecdotes.
Within a month of my debut at the Activities Office, Gaille encourages me to sing at one of the lunchtime ‘cabarettes’ that Lamont Cranston is staging in The Cellar, one of the uni’s venues. She chooses a sheer, powder-blue negligee and matching stockings for me to wear while performing, as Blanche Almond, the 1963 Kathy Kirby hit ‘Secret Love’. I follow up the debut by chanteusing Bryan Ferry’s 1974 version of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’.
Some time later, Gaille books tribute band Eddy Haley and The Starliters, who are managed by her friend Bob Yates. While they’re setting up in The Cellar, Bob and ‘Eddy’, singer Tony Grose, pop into the office to say hi to Gaille, who, out of left field, quips, ‘I think it’d be great if Deb got up and did a song!’ By the time Bob and Tony have left, Gaille has my first gig booked. Half an hour later, I’m in The Cellar fronting The Starliters to rehearse Lesley Gore’s ‘It’s My Party’ and ‘Judy’s Turn to Cry’. That night, audience members shriek and holler, in a combination of shock and appreciation – or was I blinded by the spotlight? Whatever, The Hollies’ hit ‘I’m Alive’ goes round my head.
Being 22 in ’77 is a blast. Since September ’75, I’ve been renting a beautiful three-bedroom apartment in ‘Wyldefel Gardens’, a 1936 Australian Continental Moderne complex in Wylde Street, Potts Point, with my friend Andrew Quaver. Two years earlier, in a legendary escapade, he and I spent four hours talking and drinking with Lou Reed’s musicians at the Chateau Commodore in Macleay Street, Potts Point and ultimately spent half an hour with the man himself. Andrew did most of the talking and held his end up well, being more au fait with Lou’s back catalogue. Although starstruck, I went on to recover enough to write a rather surreal account for the Union Recorder. Quaver and I had passed ourselves off as two journalists and Lou aficionados from Sydney University.
In March ’78, when I revisit my review of the Saints concert – in response to a negative Union Recorder article about punk and new-wave music – Gaille, calling the shots, as usual, says, ‘You should take that down to Anthony O’Grady at RAM, dear!’ Everyone associated with the Activities Office is ‘dear’.
At 77 Glebe Point Road, I quake in my sandals as I sit opposite curly-haired founding editor Anthony while he reads the piece. I’ve been reading RAM – Rock Australia Magazine – ever since its first issue came out, three years earlier – including during third-year English lectures. The reportedly prickly O’Grady looks up from across his vast desk, nods, and welcomes me to his stable of freelance writers. He gives me my first assignment: to review The Angels’ album Face to Face. Next, he sends me off to interview Tiny Tim at Martin Sharp’s house in Bellevue Hill (‘Oh, how lovely to meet you, Miss Debbie!’). At one point, I’m chatting with Kate Bush in the back of a taxi. I’m a thrilled bundle of nerves when each new assignment comes around. If this isn’t living the dream, I don’t know what is – and the extra money comes in very handy.
For a while, I also write an unpaid column, ‘Permanent Waves, with DB’, for The Sydney Shout, which music promoter Bob Yates is producing – another feather in his ever expanding cap. More long-lasting is the artwork I do for him while he’s booking the bands for the Civic and Rex hotels. I especially love dreaming up a slogan for the bottom of each Civic handbill, such as ‘They must be terrivic if they’re on at the Civic!’. The $15 cash I receive for each handbill is also very welcome, especially during the uni’s term holidays.
In May ’78, just over a year after Gaille and I launched our double act, we have to move office, from the Wentworth Building to the Barton Room across campus in the Holme Building. She delegates me and Lamont Cranston to attend the Australian universities’ Activities Conference at La Trobe University in Melbourne. Lamont is the same age as me, a fellow Arts–Law survivor and a talented member of SUDS, the university’s dramatic society. Not long after this point in time, he goes on to write and produce the union revues The Iceberg Cometh, Stalin: The Musical and Dingo Girl, as well as the spectacular Beach Blanket Tempest. As well as attending the conference with him, I travel to St Kilda to see The Highrise Bombers perform at Bananas and go to a Melbourne-scene party at a house in Fitzroy Street. While there, I meet a guy I fancy, and things move fast.
At about the same time, Andrew, Ethylene and I move to a ‘three and a bit’–bedroom cottage in Boyce Street, Glebe after the owners of the ‘Wyldefel Gardens’ apartment have told us they’ll be moving back in. We know it’s the end of the era of playing deafeningly loud music and having dress-up fun at house parties, but we continue seeing bands at The Bondi Lifesaver and myriad other venues throughout Sydney.
I’m happily busy creating handbills and posters for Bob Yates, who I’m now calling Uncle Bob and who’s also promoting bands at venues such as The Royal Antler in Narrabeen, The Family Hotel in Rydalmere and Players in Paddington.
May ’78 also includes my attendance at the Arts degree–conferring ceremony at Sydney Uni, accompanied by my mother, her second husband and my father. As usual when my mother and father are in the same space, I’m outwardly happy but inwardly a mess.
It’s July ’78, and Anthony tells me he has a hot new music writer coming over from Adelaide to work at RAM. This person is ‘Brandon Kray’, who I’ve mentioned in the intro to this essay. He accompanies The Angels in their truck for their trip back to Sydney from Adelaide. I meet him at a Union Theatre lunchtime concert I’m selling tickets to.
In August, Anthony has me collating news items from New Musical Express and Melody Maker, the UK’s top two music papers, during Sydney Uni’s term break. Brandon and I become chatty and dine together at a Vietnamese restaurant on Glebe Point Road.
Uncle Bob tells me he’s thinking of managing a recently arrived New Zealand band, Mi-Sex. He asks me to see them play at The Kings Cross Rex, which I’m doing his handbills for, and tell him whether I think he should manage them. A few people are there, and Brandon is standing in the middle section near the front of the stage. I can’t help noticing how thin, unkempt and uncared for he looks. He’s told me he’s living in the cockroach-infested Eaglesfield Hotel in Darlinghurst Road, along with other members of the music scene. A few days after the gig, I tell him he’d be welcome to move into the tiny ‘bedroom’ off the kitchen in my share house in Glebe, till he can find somewhere more suitable. He moves in promptly, and stays with me, Andrew and Ethy rent free.
I start to realise how lonely I’ve been in Ivor’s absence, one thing leads to another, and Brandon and I become intimate. Each of us is a music tragic, but our tastes differ. In our working lives, he’s busy with his RAM assignments and sharing his encyclopaedic knowledge – with me and anyone else within earshot – and I’m full on with my day job and artwork side hustle. I’m impressed with his musical knowledge but also intimidated. He sure knows his stuff, I think to myself, but he can be too harshly critical of bands and musicians he doesn’t like. I start feeling like a dumb-arse and about half my five foot six. I decide not to go to a night-time Sherbet concert Anthony wants me to review; I don’t feel like being out in the cold, alone at night – and Sherbet isn’t my cup of tea. I decide to leave the RAM writing gig to the new kid in town, who’s obviously the bigger ticket.
I receive a letter from Ivor, in which he tells me he’ll be arriving back in Sydney on 14 October and he’s looking forward to seeing me. Yikes: what to do?! Someone’s feelings are going to be very hurt. I confess my confliction to Brandon, secretly wishing I could juggle the two boyfriends as some guys juggle their girlfriends. Unluckily for me, Brandon hasn’t found new accommodation, and why would he want to make the effort? He’s living with a new, vibrant, tertiary-educated, only-child, music-mad, on-The-Pill girlfriend who lives in the same suburb as the RAM office. He sulks, lays a guilt trip on me and wonders out loud why I’m considering reuniting with ‘the little drummer boy’ rather than sticking with him – the one who clearly has the superior intellect – and nurturing our very special and happy relationship. Lesley Gore’s hit ‘You Don’t Own Me’ fills my head.
On 14 October, Brandon makes me persona non grata when I make the hard decision to meet Ivor at the airport and confess how my relationship status has changed. Ivor and I spend the afternoon together, but I’m worried sick about Brandon’s devastation. When I get home, I find his pair of thongs on my bed and him nowhere to be seen. His clothes are still in place, however.
Ivor visits me one night not long after. We get close, but I’m wracked with guilt about Brandon and his hurt feelings, and I don’t factor in that I’ve been ‘with’ him for only two months. I feel like his need for devotion is more important than my need for personal freedom. However, I decide to stick with Ivor, enjoying his company and appreciating his lack of neediness and self-aggrandisement.
Brandon gets the hint and moves out to a friend’s place, but despite my best efforts with Ivor, I start to miss Brandon’s brains and work ethic. I decide to break it off with Ivor and ask Brandon whether he’d like to get back together. He’s miffed at being made ‘bloody second best’ but doesn’t decline. To prove I’m serious about making amends and hoisting him back up on the pedestal he belongs on, I offer to find us a house to rent together – just the two of us. I find one, in Percival Road, Stanmore. We move there a few weeks before Christmas. I’ll be turning 24 on 1 January, and he turned 22 on 11 September: Capricorn and Virgo; Horse and Monkey; good and not good.
It’s 1979, and life in the new house has started out okay. We’re both busy with the work we love and seeing bands for free, courtesy of Anthony. Various rock ‘n’ roll luminaries come to the house, as do Uncle Bob Yates and his mate ‘Waza’, who prints some of the posters and flyers I design and plays bass in Eddy Haley and the Starliters. Brandon accuses me of sleeping with both of them. No amount of denial makes any difference. He’s very hurt whenever he has to remind me to hold his hand in public. He affects a little-boy-lost voice, complete with an upwardly inflected ‘Er-er-er!‘ if I fail to tell him I love him at the end of a phone call.
Various friends and my father pay a visit, but once only. They feel uncomfortable having what they variously call this haughty, scruffy, pasty-faced, up-himself partner glare at them, passively-aggressively belittle them or outright ignore them. Gaille can’t stand him, and the feeling is mutual. She calls him Green Teeth, having noticed his lack of dental shine.
One night, I come home to find he’s locked me out. He lets me in when he’s good and ready – not a minute earlier.
Drawing on my lifelong ability to dissociate from extreme unpleasantness and live with what I later learn is called cognitive dissonance, I pretend that none of this nonsense is happening and convince myself that all I need to do is try harder to be the shadow the brighter spark he wants – nay, needs – me to be.
Two significant things happen in July ’79. The first is that Brandon surprisingly says, ‘That’s really good,’ about the handbill I’m drawing for the Dr Feelgood concert coming up at the Union Theatre. It’s the only time he compliments me for my artwork skills.
The second thing is that even though he poo-poos my love of joyous songs by groups such as The Beatles, The Monkees and The Turtles – what’s later called sunshine pop – he gives me his blessing when I decide to follow my dream of forming a pop-rock group featuring three girl singers. I place an ad in Rolling Stone: ‘Whatever happened to Dusty, Sandy and Cilla?’ Vocalists and musicians apply, and I co-form The Proteens. We do vocal and acoustic rehearsals and write songs in my living room. We’re all fired up. Guitarist Keith and bass player Tony are about a decade older than we three female vocalists and Bruce the drummer, and we’re impressed that at one point in their musical careers, the two veterans were in The Bee Gees’ backing band. Brandon, by contrast, remarks, ‘They went up to Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven and found two that were still warm.’
Brandon develops a habit of walking through the lounge room, to and from his work area, swigging a flagon of cheap white. Despite making good suggestions for cover versions and giving the group a couple of favourable mentions in the music press, his assessment of our prospects – for my ears only, predictably – is, ‘Give up – you’re never gunna get anywhere.’ The only time he’s relatively calm and comfy is when we’re alone at home. I keep trying to hide my unhappiness from the outside world by devoting myself to the band, my uni job, freelance art, friendships and family connections. This guy is high maintenance. ‘Pretend you’re happy when you’re blue!’ sang Gerry and The Pacemakers. ‘Surrender; surrender, but don’t give yourself away!’ sing Cheap Trick.
For RAM or Adelaide magazine Roadrunner – I can’t remember which one; Brandon co-founded Roadrunner – I write an article about the history of jukeboxes. For Roadrunner, I write and illustrate a double-page 1970s-music retrospective I call ‘My Not So Brilliant Decade’. I mention Brandon towards the end of it so he gets to believe he’s my indispensable mentor who needs to breathe down my neck so I do a decent job of whatever I’m writing about. I’ve started to fear him because of his mood swings and increasingly weird behaviour. By way of example, when a random young woman walks past our side gate one day, he exclaims, ‘Oh! What’s Laurel doing here?! I don’t want to see her!’ Laurel was a girlfriend of his in Adelaide. ‘What?!’ I respond, knowing that seeing the young woman as Laurel is all in his head.
He’s proud of having crime fiction as an entry in his cerebral encyclopaedia and enamoured with playing both the video game Space Invaders at a café on Parramatta Road and serious games of squash with music-industry people. Nil interest.
We have a holiday in Tasmania, staying with his mother and father, in his hometown of Launceston. His brother visits the house in Stanmore, and Brandon belittles him and big notes himself for being the higher-achieving sibling. I’m starting to think he’s the higher sibling in a more chemical sense.
He takes every opportunity to berate me for having chosen ‘the little drummer boy’ over him – a year earlier. The more I try to be perfect, the more I ‘wallow in the mire’. Nobody I introduce him to likes him. He turns up at the Union Theatre unannounced one lunchtime when I’m selling concert tickets. I know he’s there to check on me and catch me flirting. I fantasise about getting away from him. He tells me how old I look in The Proteens, compared with the other two female vocalists, who are four years younger. He cries when our cat dies but laughs at people less gifted and is fond of spouting quotes such as ‘When in doubt, keep on lying.’ Surely you haven’t said what I think you’ve just said! I think to myself, horrified.
Earlier in the year, he claimed he was an honorary feminist, but now I’m thinking he’s a misogynist who tells me what I want to hear so he gets what he wants: ‘total control over you’. At that early point, he boastfully showed me a photo of himself and another guy during their Flinders Uni undergraduate days, holding up a ‘KEEP LEFT!’ sign, but now I’m thinking he’s a reactionary conservative in bolshie clothing. I suspect he’s hiding more than one mental-health problem from me.
One night, he tells me he wants to hurt me and asks me to take him to Callan Park for psychiatric assessment. I accompany him there in a taxi. He stays there overnight and comes home the next day, assuring me he was deemed A.O.K. Another night, when he’s adopted the monotone voice and sturgeon face, I escape to the nearby apartment of a musician friend and his wife, and spend the night on their lounge, terrified. The next day, he phones them, gets on the blower to me and persuades me to return. He apologises, reminds me how good we are together, tells me he loves me and promises to behave himself.
One night in January ’80, he’s drunk on red wine and as cold as ice. I’m sitting on the bed. He starts up about my travesties and promiscuity and my faux pas of having chosen ‘the little drummer boy’ over him. He tells me I need to be sensible and that he’s only concerned about me. He knows me better than I know myself, and knows what’s best for me, right? ‘You whore,’ he mumbles. He punches me in the stomach and pours wine over my head. I decide to pretend I’m crazy and put on a little-girl voice so he’ll pity me and/or be scared of me. Mercifully, the tactic works. ‘Oh, dear, Debbie,’ he says, full sturgeon face: ‘you really are behaving very strangely, aren’t you?’ Mercifully again, the phone rings elsewhere in the house. He goes to answer it. I grab a few things, walk briskly to the phone booth a few streets away and call Gaille. Knowing I don’t drive, she tells me to get a taxi to her place, in East Lindfield.
I stay with her for the rest of the month, enjoying her company and keeping occupied by socialising with her and designing the Lent Term Calendar ahead of Orientation Week and Term 1. Brandon phones me there and threatens to kill himself if I don’t return. Gaille, as usual, cuts through the crap and advises, ‘Let him top himself! Who gives a shit?! It’s a new year and a new decade – get the hell away from him! What’s wrong with you?!’
A friend tells me there’s a room vacant in a share house, in Watkin Street, Newtown. His girlfriend lives there and would be happy to have me take the partitioned dining room at the front of the lower level. My father and his brother move my things out of the Percival Road house. Brandon is there the whole time. My father and uncle ignore him. He’s as cool as a cucumber. I feel ashamed because I had to ask my father and uncle to rescue me. My relationship with my father has always been equal doses of heaven and hell, as has my relationship with my mother. Can you see the pattern? I feel very frightened and alone. Why me?
It’s 1980, and the six-piece Proteens are playing a plethora of pubs and other venues around Sydney and a bit further afield, in places such as Goulburn and Wollongong. I’m enjoying trying my hand at songwriting, both alone and with my bandmates, along with working out the harmonies with Caryn and Julie, practising in proper rehearsal rooms, and performing in venues large and small. We’ve developed a bit of a Mod Revival following.
Brandon turns up somewhere, some time and says he misses me. I’m now in the upstairs bedroom at the front of the terrace house in Newtown. Under cloak of darkness, he comes and goes by shimmying up and down the wooden post that leads to the balcony. I wonder why, if I’m so bad, he won’t let me go. I’m scared of him, but my self-esteem is shot to pieces and I’m embarrassed by my inability to shake him off. He’s a honey-tongued viper who’ll decide when and why our ‘relationship’ will end, thank you very much. We’re sort of together but sort of not. A feeling of unreality, isolation and helplessness pervades my waking hours. I hide my pain and self-disgust by burying myself in my day job, freelance art and band duties, including dealing with seemingly endless line-up changes.
In mid-’80, he invites me to holiday at Broadbeach, Queensland with him and his parents. We go, and have a pleasant enough time cycling around the neighbourhood, visiting tourist spots and playing the happy couple. The photos tell another story, however: I look strained. ‘Time goes and here we stand: laughing at the sideshow; sinking in the quicksand.’
One night, at the Trade Union Club, he insults me in front of a group of people, but under his breath so only I can hear the correction. In response to banter about food, I’ve said, ‘Mmmm: chocolate!’ and he’s looked down his nose at me and said, ‘Oh, for God’s sake, Debbie, grow up!’ I want to shrink into the beer-stained carpet.
Proteens vocalist Caryn is living with me temporarily, and we throw a house party. Brandon attends, as does the nice guy I met in Melbourne in May ’78 and was seeing for a while. Brandon sniffs him out and says to me, ‘Oh, my God, Debbie, you’ve got appalling taste in men!’ Straight from the Monkey’s mouth.
The Proteens record a demo of original songs at Festival Records and another one at Ramrod Studios. Due to conflict between some band members, we lose three and decide to start auditioning for a new vocalist, guitarist and drummer. Personally, I’m growing tired of teaching old songs to new members. We’ve had a couple of managers, and we still have one, so I at least don’t have to spend as much time finding gigs and doing promotional work.
I bring Brandon along when I meet up with an old friend, Penny, who I worked with at Nicholson’s music store in ’76 and hung out with for a year of fun and laughter. Early that year, after failing Contracts twice, I’d decided to drop the Law part of my Arts–Law studies and spend a whole year working at the George Street store, at which I’d had a ‘Thursday night and Saturday morning’ job since mid-’74. After the catch-up with Penny, Brandon can’t help but confess, ‘She’s the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen.’
It’s February ’81, and The Proteens’ new third vocalist is impressed with Brandon’s rock ‘n’ roll pedigree. She fusses over him and gives him a haircut at my place. As I later suspect, they have it off together at the old house in Stanmore. Further down the track, he tells me, ‘Some people are only good for f***ing.’ I hear he’s into snorting cocaine and shtupping females all over Sydney, including an acquaintance of mine I haven’t seen for a while. I get on the phone to another of his notches and beg her to take him off my hands. He’s telling anyone who’ll listen what a bad person I am. I pray to God that someone will take him on more permanently so I can live in peace and not have him destroying my equilibrium. I’m obviously a hopeless case, but I’m not married to him and I have no children with him, so why won’t he rack off and let me move on?
In late ’81, I develop a cold and am nervous about getting through tonight’s Proteens gig, at which we and The Johnnys will be supporting Men at Work. Brandon helps out by giving me a measure of speed he just happens to have at hand. I get through the gig okay but can’t stop talking to people. I take three days to throw off my cold and get my body clock back to normal.
Late one Saturday night after a gig, I’m in a taxi with a guy, arriving at the Watkin Street house. When we open the door to get out, Brandon slinks out of the shadows and says to the ‘date’, ‘Debbie and I go back a long way – don’t we, Debbie?’ The guy takes off, and Brandon gives me a right hook to my left eye, which has always been my weak eye. For the next two weeks at work, I wear thick eye shadow above both eyes to camouflage the left-eye gash and bruise, from which I still bear a faint scar. I wear the eye make-up plus Raybans when I’m out and about. Rock bottom.
It’s January ’82, and I’ve just turned 27 – the same age that Jimi, Janis and Jimbo were when we lost them. I’m now The Proteens’ only vocalist, and we’re auditioning a talented young female keyboard player at our usual rehearsal space. The line-up changes, tired repertoire, stalling of original songs and altered vision statement have taken their toll on me. Sad and conflicted, I decide to break up the band and look for creative fulfilment in some other way.
I’m grateful for not having to wait long, because in February ’82, I successfully audition for the latest Lamont Cranston union revue Dingo Girl, singing Gene Pitney’s 1964 hit ’24 Hours from Tulsa’, a cappella. I’m assigned the role of Darling River: wife of Todd and mother to Murray, Lachlan, Macquarie and ‘our girl Delta’. I’m also the long-lost love of Dirk Stare, who performs with me the show-stopping original ‘Dance to the New Dingo-Go Music’. Throughout April, the show at the Footbridge Theatre – formerly the Union Theatre – is a smash hit with the Sydney public, and it goes on to attain cult status.
In November ’82, Gaille has to leave her job as Union Activities Officer. I decline an offer to fill the post, feeling ready for a new workaday challenge and unable to envision working with anyone other than my gorgeous, faithful, hardworking, cheeky friend. Dolly and Cher are joined at the hip, right?
I’m successful at an interview for a position as Publications Assistant at the Local Government and Shires Associations of NSW, which is based in Clarence Street in the Sydney CBD. I help produce The Local Government Bulletin, learn Wordstar word-processing and illustrate the Community Services Manual – nowhere near as fun and glamorous as the uni job, but I work a 35-hour week all year round and am paid respectably.
I invite Brandon to a staff Christmas get-together at a local Chinese restaurant. He puts on the sturgeon face and talks condescendingly to my workmates, later telling me how boring they were.
Brandon moves into a share house in Cathedral Street, Woolloomooloo. I visit him there a few times. I’m not a happy glamper, a shadow of my former self.
He accompanies me to a relative of mine’s wedding in western Sydney and continuously and embarrassingly asks me, in the trademark low, whining voice, ‘Can we leave? … Leave?!’ At times such as these, I feel as if I’m dragging a whingeing toddler around the world of the big people. ‘And I would rather be anywhere else than here today.’
He introduces me to a female inner-city artist whose work he admires and says how much he enjoys hanging out at her studio.
In March ’83, my Watkin Street housemate Nigel and I are given notice because the house has been sold. We decide to move together to another two-storey house in Newtown, this one in Margaret Street.
At my desk at the LGSA, Sally, who’s a temporary word-processing operator and an alternative-health practitioner I enjoy talking to, performs acupuncture on my upper lip, and I fall fast asleep. I’ve grown accustomed to going up and down in the lift and asking God to take me.
One day after visiting Brandon at his Woolloomooloo pad, I decide to cease all contact with him and start reclaiming my mental and emotional health. The decision feels so very right.
Some time later, I receive a note from him in which he writes, ‘I think of you often.’
Beyond the beyond
Over the ensuing years, he’s popped up in many guises, such as interviewer or interview subject, author, commentator and radio host. I read he’d had a son with the female artist whose work he’d admired so much back in ’82. In 1994, the curator of the Real Wild Child exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum asked me for permission to display two colourful, psychedelic-style posters I’d created when I was 12. Brandon had apparently gotten hold of them and given them to the artist he’d had the son with. At the time, I was married and living in Brunswick East, Melbourne with my (then) husband and two small sons. I asked my husband to visit the female artist, who was also living in Melbourne, to retrieve the two posters, and he complied. She told him what a ‘terrible father’ Brandon had been.
At one time, I read he was living in Blackheath with a magazine writer and their two young daughters. In 2009, having been back in Sydney with my husband, sons and daughter since 2004, I was chuffed to resume my friendship with Anthony O’Grady, after discovering we had a mutual acquaintance. During one of our many meet-ups, I plucked up the courage to tell him what Brandon had put me through for five shitty years. He said he was sorry to have been the common denominator. He also told me he’d heard similar stories over the years, including one incident in which ‘the sandy-haired lad’ had played with a kitchen knife in front of his young family, threatened to use it to harm himself or them, and been dissuaded by a music-industry colleague who’d ‘known the story’.
I’ve been in the same space as Brandon three times in recent years: at a music event at Red Eye Records in the Sydney CBD, at Anthony’s funeral at Macquarie Park Cemetery and Crematorium, and at a Paddo RSL gig at which the last act was Ed Kuepper and his outfit The Aints: The Saints without the S – full-circle funny, huh? I managed to hide in plain sight all three times – alone at the crowded record store, in Ray-Bans with Uncle Bob at the funeral, and with Quaver at the packed gig. The second and third times, I saw he was with a woman, who I hoped wasn’t copping the treatment he’d meted out to me and the other younger women who’d cared about him and persisted with him despite everything he clearly had wrong with him.
I’ve been diagnosed as having Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of my dysfunctional upbringing, my lost five years with Brandon Kray and my lifetime of struggles. I’m regularly consulting a very experienced male psychologist who’s helping me restore my faith in men and get back to myself, in the wake of the collapse of my 30-year marriage in 2017 and subsequent divorce.
If you see yourself in any of the cameos I’ve shared in this account, I urge you to recognise the ‘red flags’ early and know you’re worth better than the abuse your tormenter heaps on you. It says nothing about you but everything about him. I wish AVOs had existed in my time and I’d felt confident enough to go to the police. These days, Brandon’s aberrant behaviour is called out for what it is: intimate-partner violence or domestic terrorism. Brandon knew everything, and I knew nothing – these days it’s called mansplaining. Any positive qualities he had were swamped by his self-righteousness and sexual hypocrisy – think, Double standard and Slut shaming. Why is a boy in a man’s body still getting away with literal or metaphorical murder?
We women are taught – overtly or tacitly – to prioritise other people’s needs over our own, to give love unconditionally, to believe that everyone has everyone else’s best interests at heart, to give people the benefit of the doubt and to look for the silver lining. Like me, my dear friend Gaille took people at face value and wanted everyone to do well. Like me, she was raised in a troubled family and had no positive male role models. However, we smiled through adversity and made something of ourselves. She was Leo and I’m Leo Rising, and I like the idea that Leos shine their light so other people can be seen. Don’t ever let anyone steal your light because s/he doesn’t have any. Agency over your body, mind and spirit is your birthright.
‘Back in the day’, much mental illness was invisible and went undetected, and was surrounded by ignorance and stigma. We Baby Boomers might’ve broken through the societal and creative boundaries and had a lot of fun along the way, but we had to deal with a lot of very sick people out there in the world of Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Part of me understands Brandon because of his background, feels sorry for him and wants to forgive him. The other part wouldn’t pee on him if he was on fire. This cognitive dissonance, my constant companion since babyhood, remains a useful survival tool when I’m feeling overwhelmed by my feelings and unable to understand how an un-evolved, non-empathic person can inflict so much misery and cruelty on a fellow human being.
The MeToo movement and subsequent exposés of historical and present-day abuse in the private and public spheres have been the catalyst for this account of the five years I spent in hell with a clever but disturbed young man whose crimes I could no longer keep to myself and let him get away with. Other terrible things happened to me during those 60 months, but they’re too painful to share.
I’ve taken my lawyer’s advice and fictionalised my ‘historical’ abuser’s name, the logic being that if he gets wind of my published account, he probably won’t want to claim he’s identifiable, because he’ll be all but admitting he’s the subject. Apparently, truth is the only real defence in a defamation case. I wouldn’t want to fight a ‘He said … She said …’ battle in an expensive courtroom saga. When in doubt, keep on telling the truth.