by Blake Dawson* <>

From the Preface to Chapter 1:

If you like to read this kind of story but are concerned about possible legal implications, work to change the law! If you don’t, why are you here?

*Blake Dawson is the person the otherwise anonymous author would be if “trading places” became magically possible.

Chapter 8: Uncle Bruce

The people mum had known from before I was born had come to play a very minor and ever decreasing part in our lives, although to her those we did see were “family” whether or not they were blood relatives. Calling them “family” did nor grant them any superior status to our complementarily growing circle of friends. Rather, it had become a disparaging way to describe connections we had little choice about.

One who was a continuing, if infrequent, visitor from interstate was always known to me as “Uncle” Bruce. He had won a favoured spot in my mind because he was always more than prepared to include me in conversations until quite late on the nights he stayed with us. I knew he was in the computer business and had helped mum get a good deal on her little desktop publishing set up. He was usually only in town for one or two nights mid-week, but on the visit that coincided with the installation of mum’s computer, he had suggested that he might be able to schedule his following visit so he could take me to see his team “beat the Sydney Swans at the real footy.”

It was hardly the kind of invitation I would object to, and that long awaited day finally arrived. Mum and I picked him up from the airport early enough to head back to our place for a quick brunch. She was more than happy to have the day to herself at home and give Uncle Bruce the keys to our car. As we were leaving, he suggested that he and I might grab a bite after the footy to save her the trouble of preparing dinner.

In this then still predominantly Rugby League town, I had kept myself much more aware than other kids of the “foreign code” of Australian Rules because it had become my perpetual excuse not to get involved in playground scrums, let alone organised Rugby matches. But actually going to see a football match at the Sydney Cricket Ground was a new experience, although I had found somebody or other to take me to the cricket there more than once during the previous summer. Although Bruce tried to convince me to support his team for the day, I knew in my heart that I really wanted Sydney to win despite the odds, and he surprised me with his eventual willingness to buy me a little red and white Swans emblem to wear. Irrespective of how the game was to turn out, the one thing I really wanted was to enjoy it enough that it would legitimise my proclaimed interest. That wish was sufficiently satisfied for me to wear my memento to school on Monday and tell the many knockers that I thought the Swans had played pretty well.

We had snacked enough during the afternoon, that neither of us were in a hurry for our planned evening meal, which I realised later was exactly what Bruce had planned. To kill a couple of hours he showed me round parts of Sydney that he was more familiar with as a visitor that mum or I were as residents, including a big loop through the inner north shore before returning over our famous Harbour Bridge. He found a parking spot which enabled us to take a stroll around Circular Quay to the Opera House after which we were feeling more like a meal. But instead of just grabbing something easy at a take away or even a cafe, his choice of venue for the evening gave me a real eye opener as to how the other half live.

He said it was just a spot he had found through “industry friends” and come to enjoy on most of his visits, and the Woolloomooloo Woolshed that night planted itself so firmly in my psyche that I have managed to find excuses to get other visitors back there more than a few times since. It started with Bruce’s warm welcome from the lady in charge who was equally quick to include me in her welcome, then our waiter who was able to balance plates and glasses all the way up his muscular arms while sharing a joke. They had a man wandering from table to table playing music with what I learnt to be a piano accordion, and there was this elderly white-haired guy who appeared to be just another customer having a quiet drink before dinner, but who started to sing along in the kind of pure and powerful voice I had never dreamed anybody could have, as he revealed himself as part of the act. I was so entranced and mindful of the manners that mum had instilled in me that I ate everything that was put in front of me. Although I had left it to Bruce to make the actual choices for me, and they all at first looked unfamiliar, I found myself thoroughly enjoying every morsel and finishing up feeling more full than I ever have before or since. The old man’s songs were unfamiliar although felt equally comfortable in what for my nine year old eyes was a place of pure magic, and his vibrant chorus If I Were A Rich Man echoed in my head so much that I told the lady as we were leaving “if I were a rich man I would eat here every night.” Never in my mind was that any complaint about the food at home, but purely my response to the amazing ambience. The lady said she would remember me and she always has.

By the time we hit the main road, the “ladies of the night” were out in full force. If you were half awake in the eastern suburbs, even by nine years of age you had at least heard about prostitutes, but it took a few moments for it to dawn on me that that was what I was actually seeing and mention them to Bruce. The traffic was going nowhere fast and we had phoned mum from the Woolshed to explain that we would be a little later, although I was sworn to secrecy about exactly where we were eating, so Bruce suggested that we might as well finish off our day by giving me “a quick tour of the Cross” which took us very slowly up and down the length of Darlinghurst Road where we played “spot the pro” and he seemed to take particular delight in pointing out a couple of “working boys” at one end and several more similar young men at the other.

By half way home a few things had churned around enough in my mind for me to offer: “Do you want to fuck my arse?” For a couple of minutes it seemed he was ignoring the question, until he suddenly jerked the car to the side of the road and into a parking spot he had almost missed, so suddenly that I momentarily thought he was going to have me there and then. After a short pause, Uncle Bruce chose his words carefully: “I’m sorry but I think I just proved that I could not answer your question and drive the car safely at the same time. The only way I can answer you at all is if you tell me what you want the answer to be.” I didn’t know and made it clear I wanted to hear his story. I think he surprised himself a lot more than he surprised me by admitting that he did have sexual feelings towards boys, but that he was trying to keep me out of those thoughts because he really cared about mum and because I was so young, even if I obviously knew a lot more than he had expected. I asked him what he had been into when he was nine and he conceded that he had fumbled around with a couple of mates. I still didn’t have any idea what, if anything, I wanted and said so. He said his door would be open while he stayed at our place, but that he did not expect anything, and that it might be better for me to invite myself to visit his place during some future holidays if I really wanted to take things any further.

I finished up using his open door to get him up on each of his mornings that visit with a bit of rough and tumble and just a hint of affection but nothing explicitly sexual. A few things changed for him which kept him away from Sydney for five years, during which I never felt pressed to take up his invitation to visit. He kept in touch with mum through a couple of letters each year and I made sure there was always a message from me in her letters and looked forward to the return messages she would convey from his.