As an Aboriginal street kid growing up in the slums of Carlton in the 1940s and ’50s, Tovey experienced homelessness, neglect and sexual abuse. With an alcoholic mother and a father in prison, Tovey admits he was “rather wild”. By the age of 12 he was working as a rent-boy.
Tovey’s one-man play Little Black Bastard, which he is performing for the Midsumma Festival, tells the story of his troubled early life. His stint in Pentridge came when he was 17, after the police raided a drag party in Albert Park. Tovey claims he was set-up and charged with “the abominable crime of buggery”. During his three weeks in jail awaiting sentence he considered taking his own life…
Arriving in London in 1960 with less than £1 in his pocket, Tovey landed TV work as a dancer and singer. By 1961 he had become a principal dancer with Sadler’s Wells and from there his career steadily gathered momentum. As an actor he shared the stage with Vera Lynn, Judy Garland and Steven Berkoff, while later he taught movement at RADA. Selected to do the original choreography for the West End musical The Boyfriend, Tovey’s research into the 1920s opened up yet more doors. He became a consultant on a range of films, from The Great Gatsby to Murder on the Orient Express, and used his specialist knowledge to open a decorative art gallery in Fulham.
But it wasn’t until his long-term lover died of an AIDS-related brain infection in 1986 that Tovey finally began to acknowledge his indigenous roots. “It was really a defining moment for me,” he says. “And I just thought, ‘Now I’ve been through all this, why do I have to lie about being Aboriginal any more?'”
Since returning to Australia, Tovey has made up for lost time by becoming an activist for indigenous rights. Among his many charity commitments, he is involved in the juvenile justice system, meeting young offenders and speaking in prisons to give hope to Aboriginal youths. “It’s too late to help people of my generation, but the cycle of alcoholism and petrol sniffing has to be broken somewhere for younger people.”…
Among the dark memories he had tried to suppress were the years of sexual abuse he and his sister suffered at the hands of their foster father. “I grew up thinking that was how grown-up people showed they cared about you,” he says. “I thought it was a sign of affection.”
Now Tovey is able to talk freely about his past without a hint of self-pity. “One of the pluses is that I’ve survived,” he says quietly. “I have nothing to be bitter about.”
Daily Archives: September 14, 2005
Much as I diverge from the above organisation theologically, it may prove that only something as singleminded as this can actually reach and change the people talked about in the previous entry?
There is historical precedent. We more secular people forget, or prefer not to acknowledge, this history. (That site is also aware of the weaknesses of the what it praises.) Jonathan W. Rice is interesting on this.
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Regard this as work in progress. It is really is a problem that has been around all my life and before that, but is bigger as the city has grown, as certain areas have been overwhelmed with problem families and problem situations — swept out of sight in many ways — and as many kinds of work that once supported people with basic skill-sets have disappeared. It is too big for me to solve. I am simply trying out a few thoughts, that’s all. My base position is that we need to approach this non-judgmentally, but not blindly. Above is William Hogarth’s famous “Gin Lane”: 18th century London bogans.
I happened upon Troppo Armadillo when I went searching for Bernard Shaw’s phrase “the undeserving poor”. You will notice he does not sentimentalise, nor is he “holier than thou” (I hope I am not either, as it would be SO inappropriate, and the first draft of this was a bit that way), but he does not demonise either.
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