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September 20, 2021

The ghost in the archives #3: Sexism, legal discrimination and ‘the game of bastardry’

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In which a former Echo drudge dives into the crypt and comes up covered in dusty memories.

Swami Cootamundra says… By Michael McDonald.

Michael McDonald

Of prejudices we’ve had a few, but not too few to mention. Of those verging on the misanthropic we may include now-retired magistrate Pat Caldwell’s.

In January 1991 His Honour fined AIDS sufferer Leiff Falconer $500 for possessing marijuana. Leiff later claimed that he was dobbed in by a neighbour who found having a person with AIDS living nearby distasteful, and that the Byron Bay police ‘treated me like rubbish’.

A popular and witty man among friends, Leiff was successful in having his convictions overturned in the Lismore District Court in March that year and his appeal was partly funded by donations from supporters. His solicitor was Richard Moloney, he of trivia night, croquet, and chess tournament fame.

Five hundred dollars was a lot of money 30 years ago and as Leiff noted, ‘If I had tried to pay the $500 fine from out of my pension, it would have put me straight into the pet food aisle of the supermarket.’

Leiff left the Bay and found a good home in a weatherboard house in Stuart Street, Mullumbimby. It was there he lived and died, cared for by friends.

The 1996 Ernies

Mr Caldwell’s unhealthy attitude got a mention in 1996 at The Ernies, the awards given to men for outstanding misogyny. His remark to a female defendant, ‘Come back when your IQ is as high as your skirt’, seemed a worthy contender. You can read more in The Ernies Book: 1,000 terrible things Australian men have said about women, by Meredith Burgmann and Yvette Andrews. Irrational prejudices and fragile masculinity linger on, unfortunately.

Sexism and violence towards women is still rife, drugs such as cannabis are still demonised by alcohol-swilling law-and-order populists, and people who choose not to identify as male or female get pilloried for being different, as if ‘the norm’ has created a healthy society.

The mention of Byron Bay solicitor Richard Moloney in the news report on Leiff’s case stirs many memories. Among them the chess tournaments Richard organised on the first-storey terrace outside his office, next to The Echo’s Byron Bay office in Jonson Street at the time. Echo co-founder David Lovejoy, a champion chess player, occasionally took part.

The game of bastardry

Richard was also a fan of croquet, known as ‘the game of bastardry’ – an appropriate sporting outlet for lawyers – and I ran a couple of reports aimed at recruiting players for the Byron Bay club. Trivia nights also took advantage of Richard’s skillset. He was an urbane and witty MC, glass of whisky in one hand and a firm control on proceedings. The nights benefited many community groups and proliferated like lantana across the Shire.

The Echo had a team called the Echologics and often ranked in the top three. Having some grasp of a range of disconnected information, I was a team member until the long nights began to pale. One of the important events of 1991 was the release of council planner David Kanaley’s draft rural settlement study, which aimed to bring some order to a piecemeal approach to residential development. Since then various councils and state governments have done their darndest with coconut oil and a crowbar to squeeze as many people as possible into a small and under-resourced Shire, disregarding the messages about ‘minimum ecological impact’. Nicholas Shand wryly noted that the study had ‘a somewhat strange origin. Council asked for any rural landowners who wished to have their land examined for possible rezoning (how about cutting the old property up into nice blocks, eh?) to contact Council.’

Nicholas also pointed out there were various other studies under way – the Broken Head study, an urban study, a village study – and that to consider these studies one by one was ‘ludicrous’. ‘What they collectively amount to is a major revision of the whole Shirewide plan with new goals and targets for population expansion well into the next century.’

Now the next century is here, and planning is still at the mercy of state governments and their bureaucrats.

♦ Michael McDonald was The Echo’s editor for 15 years.

He spends his time watching magpies trying to cram themselves into a small birdbath.

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  1. Good to remember such “lessons”, eh, Michael!
    Apart from the retirement of Pat Caldwell (a trog of similar ilk to former Northern Star editor Jim Brigginshaw), have any of those matters improved much?
    Keep digging!


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