The Sydney Order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence held a picnic at the weekend to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of the local house, the second one of its type in the world (the first is in San Francisco.) Several nuns were dressed in their homemade habits among the Gathered Faithful at Long Nun Point Birchgrove (used to be known as “Long Nose”, now Yurulbin Park) because this was where the Sisters held their first event in November 1981.
This fabulous park, with a view of the Harbour Bridge and the vibrant waterway traffic, caused some trepidation for older participants, as there are no nearby toilets.
The picnic lunches and beverages were along traditional lines of seasoned chicken, mince pies and Pinot Grigio.
The effect of a group of men dressed as nuns is still potent. A father and son walked towards the park, saw the Sisters and looked hesitant about sitting nearby, but finally found a secluded spot. I think the Dad didn’t want to explain it to his son. Another family came and sat nearby with their friendly cocker spaniel, unworried.
A large ferry sped by and the Sisters stood up and waved and several passengers waved back.
There was much joking and japery (of a suitably unedifying nature) and checking of Grindr, a free gay iPhone app, which uses GPS to locate nearby men looking for sex. There was much chuckling and perusing of photos, with comments of: “I wouldn’t walk 150 metres for him”, “The photos are probably 10 years old”, “He’s married and his wife’s just popped out to do the shopping.”
Talk turned to serious matters, such as the death last month of Sister Mary Mary Quite Contrary/Sister Nun Bouy, which was a big shock. An operation had gone wrong. “He was a highly intelligent man, a very quiet and calm soul with a dry sense of humour. Clever and talented. He was our attack dog if a Christian confronted us about the scriptures.”
Deaths can be a shock because, having been founded in 1981 (three years before gay sex was legal in NSW) older members often used to keep their private lives separate from their Sister identities. Members might have worked for religious organisations in the teaching or medical areas, or have family who are religious, so they wanted to keep their anonymity.
One of the Sisters said he’d been surprised to be named as “next of kin” to a former gay work colleague he’d barely known. “I had to go through his possessions. The only thing I kept was a pair of shiny shoes. When I went to the funeral I was horrified to see him laid out in a smart suit and sneakers. The funeral director said those were the only good shoes he had. It was too late to do anything. I felt bad, but I always think of him when I wear them.”
One of the Sisters is a Muslim, born in Indonesia, joined “after 7/11”. “That changed my mind. How can you be religious and kill people?” He said the custom in Indonesia is for gay men to do their duty and have a family, but have gay lovers on the side, or get divorced. “Once you’ve had children, they always say you’re straight, even though you were gay all along.” He has never married, and “came out” when he moved to Sydney. “My friends in Indonesia say I look much happier. I still get questions from my family: ‘Why have you not got married?’ I have to pretend. I follow family members to the mosque. But I can be myself in Sydney.”
The event ended with a formal In Memoriam to honour 13 Sisters who had died “in veil”, such as Sister Carmen Get it, Mother Cum Dancing and Sister Joan a’FAAARQUE.
A few words of tribute were said and then a prayer was recited to the Great Dingo, which always ends with “Dingo vobiscum”.
[might be a couple of corrections to make on this … waiting for the OK.]