I lived in a 35-square-metre studio apartment for seven years. The saving grace was the balcony. The suburb was Newtown, inner west Sydney. The years were 1987 to 1992. This would repeat itself on at least two or three more occasions, but this was the first one.
My balcony faced north, overlooking a lane on to a rectory where Father Jeremy Flynn resided. Father Flynn was a theatrical fellow, given to showy street processions in full priestly regalia, complete with mitre and staff, followed by a rag-tag flock, corralled for, say, an Easter service, and paraded through the narrow back streets of Newtown with a sort of slovenly pomp.
Father Flynn had dark, baggy shadows under his eyes, a handshake like a cold fish, and was otherwise quite creepy. He was also demonstrably gay. He came from a wealthy family who had benefited from the Tattersall fortune. He owned a private apartment in Sydney's exclusive Bellevue Hill. This was a closely guarded secret, except within the gay community of Sydney, who had moved en masse into Newtown in the late 1980s and renovated. Real estate prices quickly rose.
It was not too long before Father Flynn and I intercepted. I was probably on my balcony, where I spent a great deal of time, musing about nothing in particular, because the city was always buzzing around you 24/7.
Balconies, it should be known, are a godsend in Sydney, especially during the summer. Otherwise, you would stifle in the humidity and heat, especially in the gritty inner west.
A lack of greenery distinguished the neighbourhood, although the back streets did offer a few stalwart bottlebrush trees and the odd handkerchief-sized park.
Living among terraces and 1970s red-brick apartment blocks cheek to jowl kept the heat bouncing around into the small hours.
Autumn remains for me the most comfortable season in Sydney. I would often exchange banter with Father Flynn off my balcony, and that is really where my story begins.
I had lent him my special, Collected Poems of Gerald Manly Hopkins, a gift from my mother on my 19th birthday. He returned the volume unread, standing under my balcony guffawing, and then hurled the volume into the air for me to impossibly catch. Books don't like being thrown around, and at that point, I knew I disliked him with the intensity of a heretic.
The man was an unctuous impostor I decided, not to mention depraved, with a clandestine lifestyle as a homosexual, while practising as a priest. That's not in the rulebook. I knew this from a friend of mine who lived in the same block, who was gay.
I got him back for the book insult. He had a habit of driving old wrecks around, like Ford Falcons or Fairlanes borrowed from parishioners. He was in the habit of parking these grunt machines on the curb alongside his closed-up garage in the lane.
It took a moment under cover of dark to let down the inside tyres. The following morning, I heard him rev up and drive off with a flap, flap, flap sound. I got a good laugh out of that. Juvenile I know, but I enjoyed it.
I don't know how it occurred, but Father Flynn invited me to the rectory for "a glass of wine".
I accepted. He fed me a plate of oysters, washed down with two bottles of Koonunga Hill Claret, then started to pontificate at me, "Confess Stephen! Confess!"
Confess to what? I thought.
I thanked him for the hospitality and beat a hasty retreat. The sacred office of the confessional complete with oysters and claret? A new one on me! Yessiree, I concluded, he was a smarmy character, no question.
I had one or two girlfriends who thought him the devil incarnate, and at least one drinking buddy who, after consuming a cask of Yalumba Red with me one evening, hurled the near-empty cask off my balcony with unerring accuracy into the rectory garden. Father Flynn's final chapter was curious. He was a licensed pilot. He flew a Cessna and was a recreational flier. I had observed from my balcony on the rare occasion when his garage doors were up, what looked like to me a spare Cessna wheel part with attachments, or was it a piece of wing with wheel?
About this time, the Catholic Church in Australia came under investigation for paedophilic activities. Father Flynn and a flying buddy went missing in a Cessna off Tasmania. Some weeks later, the wheel of a Cessna (or was it part of the wing?) washed up on Tasmania's wild west coast. No bodies were ever recovered, however. He got a big write-up in the Sydney Morning Herald.
But we in the inner west knew better. We reckoned he had made a daring escape to South America. The "wreckage" was a decoy.
Stephen Oliver is the author of 16 volumes of poetry. He lived in Australia for 20 years and now resides in the King Country. He works as a freelance writer and voice artist.
- Waikato Times