ACON and Waverley Council join forces to commemorate gay hate crimes. Photo: State Library of NSW

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Waverley Council and LGBTQI health organisation ACON have joined forces to endorse Tamarama’s Marks Park as the site for a memorial commemorating those killed in historic homophobic attacks.

As part of the Bondi Memorial Project, Waverley Council and ACON have partnered to commission and install a memorial art piece in Marks Park to acknowledge the gay men targeted in homophobic attacks from the 1970s to 1990s.

Waverley Council has committed $100,000 in its Capital Works Program for 2018/19 to the commissioning of the memorial art work, which will honour those who were assaulted and murdered along the coastal walk from Bondi to Tamarama, including Marks Park.

Waverley Mayor, John Wakefield said that the Marks Park location was selected by ACON due to its historic significance and beautiful scenery.

Mr Wakefield also said that the memorial could potentially contain names of the victims but insisted that careful thought and consideration needed to go into the process to ensure a sensitive result.

“It overviews the water and looks towards the cemetery and it is in the location of the bashings and the deaths. There’s clearly a number of different angles of memory and honour involved in this,” he said.

“It’ll be a memorial. It will have, I dare say, the names of those who were the victims and general comments about regrets and sadness.

“A memorial is not just something you shove somewhere, it’s a dedicated piece of land. It becomes registered as a place where these horrors took place, it’s not just like putting up a poster.”

Marks Park is situated south of Bondi and was a renowned gay beat – a place where gay men went to have discreet sex in the days before the internet made hook-ups easier – as well as an event space that was notoriously used by LGBTQI people for Mardi Gras after parties.

The Waverley area has been heavily influenced by LGBTQI culture since the 1980s with many moving to the previously working-class region for the attractive beaches and the outdoor lifestyle.

The area’s cafés, boutiques and restaurants attracted large LGBTQI crowds, while the iconic Bondi Theatre further developed the area’s blossoming queer art scene.

ACON’s historical violence and memorial project manager, Michael Atkinson said that gay culture has a large historical presence in Marks Park and that LGBTQI people make an enormous contribution to Bondi’s current atmosphere.

“Today Bondi is a popular place for many LGBTQI people to live and they contribute to general civic life there through their art, businesses, culture and of course through their history,” he said.

“Marks Park has been a community hub for many years. After Mardi Gras it was a really popular destination, people would go to the park after the parade and hang out with other friends, play music and watch the sun come up as a community.

“What you then had was a mix of more ‘traditional’ residents, then you had a probable clash of culture because you had gay and lesbian people moving into the area, so different values, lifestyle etc. Because of that we were more visible and easier targets for violence and harassment.”

Local couple Stephen Heasley and Andrew Borg have donated $64,000 to the Bondi Memorial Project after reaching a settlement with the online printing company which sent them religious pamphlets instead of the programs they had ordered for their wedding.

The couple said that their reason for donating was to show solidarity with the survivors and victims from their community.

“Without the progress our community has made we would not have found ourselves in a position to be able to marry,” Mr Borg said.

“We’re very grateful to all those who’ve been brave enough to stand up and fight for our rights and we wanted to use our story as a way to give back to the community.

“This memorial and our personal story both mark the progress we’ve made as a community but serve as a reminder that challenges remain. We hope the memorial will stand as a symbol of hope, progress, encouragement and respect,” Mr Heasley said.

The couple said that they also decided to donate to the project because of personal connections they both have to Bondi and the Waverley area.

“I brought Andrew to Bondi for our first date, and I’ve always felt a deep connection to Bondi and Marks Park,”

“I grew up in the US but visited Marks Park for the first time when I was 12 years old. I bought a surfboard sticker as a souvenir that day, and every time I walked into my bedroom growing up I saw a smiling stick-figure surfer dude and the words “Bondi Beach”.

“When I moved here about 4 years ago, I stayed in short-term accommodations in Tamarama and Bondi, and I’d often sit near or jog through Marks Park to reflect, soul-search and seek wisdom from the surrounding natural beauty. So even though I grew up in small-town US, I’ve always felt very personally connected to this special spot and a part of the extended Waverley community.”