Bondi Badlands Historical Violence Walking Tour

Went to ACON’s Bondi Badlands Historical Violence Walking Tour today. Author/journalist Greg Callaghan filled us in on each victim’s life story and pointed out the general vicinity of where they had been murdered by juvenile homophobic gangs. It was organised by ACON project manager for safety, inclusion and historical justice, the lovely Michael Atkinson.

The walk, around the clifftop from Bondi Icebergs to Tamarama, started off sunny, but was soon totally freezing with biting wind and rain and we were huddled together with heads bowed like those penguins during winter in Antartica. Luckily, we found shelter at the public toilets in Marks Park — a popular beat where many post-Mardi Gras parties and celebrations had been held. It was also, unfortunately, the scene of many murderous homophobic crimes. But happily, it will also be where a memorial will be placed to remember those we lost.

I used to live in Bondi during 1991-1994, and the clifftop walk was a renowned danger spot at night, as there were no railings, no lighting, and gangs of drunk youths used to hang around there, do drugs and bash people.

Greg, who’s written a book, Bondi Badlands, showed us photos of the people who had lived happy, everyday lives with loving friends and family, before they were brutally bashed and shoved to their deaths. There was John Russell — who’d inherited property and was going to move to the Hunter Valley to enjoy his new life; Krichakorn Rattanajurathaporn, from Thailand, who’d been studying here for only six months; and Ross Warren, an ambitious Wollongong TV newsreader who’d just signed a contract to join Channel 10. Many of these deaths occurred before the railings were installed in 2000, so it was easy for some Bondi police to dismiss these incidents as “a drunk person fell over the cliff” or “he committed suicide”.

Gay men’s lives were discounted, and minimal effort was put in to finding the perpetrators.

Some bodies were never found, so the murder spree continued, because noone was held accountable.

I always appreciate the respectful language on these history walks — we learn about each person’s life story, the context of the times, and the fun they had catching up with friends etc. It’s great to hear much more about the victims and honour their lives than the criminals, who seem to get most of the public coverage.

From Greg’s book blurb online:

“The long concrete pathway skirting the cliff face between the beaches of Bondi and Tamarama in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs seems too spectacular to have the odour of murder hanging over it, but it was here in the late 1980s that a handful of young men were dragged to their deaths after nightfall. With blood stains on the walkway and screams heard at night, the area was dubbed ‘Bondi Badlands’. Bodies started turning up at the bottom of the cliffs — these included men such as barman John Russell, who was found with his right hand still clutching a clump of his murderer’s hair; TV newsreader Ross Warren, whose keys and wallet were discovered on a sea ledge, his body swept out to sea; and Thai national, Krichakorn Rattanajurathaporn, who fell off the cliffs while fleeing his assailants after being bludgeoned with a claw hammer. A gang of teenage thugs (some as young as 14) were engaged in a murder spree and this cliffside walk – then a popular gay beat – was one of their favourite killing fields. This book is about the slow road to justice for several distraught families, the inadequate initial police investigations and then the ferocious single-mindedness of one police officer, Detective Sergeant Stephen Page who, moved by a series of letters from a victim’s mother, revived the investigation and slowly but surely pieced together the dark mural of murder he code-named Operation Taradale.”

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