David Taylor

NORTHERN TERRITORY AIDS COUNCIL / NORTHERN TERRITORY AIDS & HEPATITIS COUNCIL 1995–2001

    So there's always that question, well how does this disease affect you? Are you affected by the disease? I don't have it in my blood stream, but it's in my soul because all or most of my soul mates and friends, so many of them are infected by the disease, I am affected by it.

     I'm David Taylor – aka Daisy or Daisy May or the Dowager Dame Daisy May, it depends on what level you're going up – but my real name, as I was born, was David Taylor.

    I was involved in the AIDS Council from the mid-90s until the year 2001. I volunteered, I went on the board, I was treasurer, vice president and then President and then I resigned 2001.

    I got involved when I moved from Perth and because I was in business in Perth – I didn't really have a real good sense of gay community, and what I found was the AIDS Council actually was the centre of the gay community for Darwin in a lot of ways. In Darwin in the mid-90s, there wasn't a Throb Nightclub. There was a club that would open spasmodically on a Saturday night only. That was below the Don Hotel, which is now the bottle shop of the Cavenagh, and of course Spellman's Mississippi Queen was there. Spellman's was the rail car bar, and the restaurant.

    I was asked to join the board because I was in business and so they wanted somebody with the business mind to complement the board. I really enjoyed myself. I met some amazing people. I had seen firsthand some friends that had passed away with AIDS-related illnesses in Perth, so it was close to my heart, and I have friends that are HIV positive. I am not positive, but I've got many friends that are. So there's always that question How does this disease affect you? I don't have it in my blood stream, but it's in my soul because all or most of my soul mates and friends, so many of them are infected by the disease, I am affected by it. From one point for me, and I've actually had serious debates and arguments with some of my friends, is this notion that you don't know what it's like. I guess part of me is upset by that because maybe no I don't know – but I'm standing beside you, I am helping you, I'm in the hospital when you when you're not well, and I stand and nurture you and look after you and try to get you to recover. Of course I'm affected by the bloody disease because it's a part of who we are generally as a community, okay?

    The era 1995 to 2001 saw Barry Horwood come in as the ED for the first time because I believe he did return to Darwin and was the ED for a little bit, later on. I feel under Barry's guidance that was a most amazing time. We had lost a really good educator in David Pratt, or DJ Space Ace as he might be known, and Jan Holt replaced him as the educator and she's still involved in AIDS and STI prevention. She still cares and this is going now, what 20 years on, which is quite remarkable really. But Barry Horwood came in and he is a gentleman of senior years, well past his retirement, and a gentleman that came out a little late in life, but my God, what an incredible, wicked, wild sense of humour the man had. He had an acid tongue and it would strip paint. He was just amazing, he really was. But what he did for the AIDS Council, he actually pulled it in as a more cohesive unit. He employed, and he will say, he employed a beautiful blonde young man called Jed Masters - a remarkable human being who has worked in Aboriginal communities in Central Australia, whose father was a doctor. This kind and compassionate man was sent over to the Tiwi Islands and it was because we heard there was trouble in the area. So Jed went over and he connected very, very quickly with the sister girls on the Tiwi Island. We'd found money, God only knows, but we found money, we got the girls over to set up some dance parties, we did some social stuff, 1996/97, around there.

    The AIDS Council building was in Manton Street and so underneath the elevated house we created some space and we did dress-up parties and we had talks. What we surreptitiously did was we would bring in the people from Clinic 34 and we'd have a little testing clinic going on upstairs and we just did it – that it was a natural thing. So I was involved with going around op shops and finding dresses so these girls can just have some fun and play. Someone else would bring some music. Someone else will do something else. We'd throw on a barbecue and we'd really look after the girls. But in [doing] so, get them into a routine and get them educated about the use of condoms and what is safe sex and what is not. To me, that was ground-breaking work to enter into a community that had had this third gender for many, many, many generations that nobody wanted to talk about. It was just taboo, don't talk about it, et cetera. This is where I first met my niece, Crystal Johnson, who has gone on to be a nation voice for the rights of sister girls all over Australia.

    The biggest significant issue for the AIDS Council then was funding. We had - and we were I guess in a way, we were lucky, very lucky to have a Minister for Health who was Stephen Dunham, whose brother, John Dunham who contracted HIV and subsequently passed away. John was married to Karen – she's one of the owners of Throb Nightclub – It was very good to have Stephen as Health Minister at the helm as he had a personal connection to the disease.

    At the time we were having significant rises in seroconversions, and wanting to get out and do outreach et cetera. More positive people here meant we were stretched. The needle exchange was actually going through the roof. It was almost crippling us and we simply weren't getting enough money to provide needles and safe injecting equipment here in the Territory. Unfortunately Barry Horwood resigned and left Darwin treasurer, and with the staff and board we had to pick up the peices. This would have been 2000.

    So as I say, he [Barry Horwood] did remarkable things, but sometimes he would say, “well let's do it and we will worry about the money later”. Well later actually came, and I was left holding that little baby. But needless to say we were still doing great things around the community. We would throw dance parties. Again, remember that there was no club at this stage because Throb didn't turn up until later. So we had four or five years of creating our own fun. We would find places like the Bowls Club, the Aviation Institute, and other places and we would put on our own party.

    They would say, “Oh, we need a banner” – usually that was made at my house, for the big craft works. Or, “oh we need rainbow flags, measuring 12 metres by four metres - okay well let's go over to Daisy's place and he's got a sewing machine, we'll make one”. We did! We made hundreds of flags and I think some of them are still around, which is really nice to see. So that was our community spirit that you don't get in a nightclub. A commercial enterprise says they're a voice of the community or whatever, but in the end it is still a for-profit, commercial enterprise and it's not community driven. So anyway we had fun. We did crazy, wild, wonderful stuff. We had picnics at East Point. It was nice to be able to use the AIDS Council as that driver – and a lot of the stuff we did, did not cost the AIDS Council any money, but it was good to have them as the backup or whatever you want to call it.

    There was always safe sex packs. There was always one or two or three people from the AIDS Council that were there that helped to drive it. All of our dance parties, it would usually be the staff of the AIDS Council that would sit at the door and take the money and be accountable, so to speak. Then the community drove the music and the entertainment.

    It was at a point actually, an interesting point in Darwin, where kids, youth, were having trouble coming out. So just remember it's 20 years ago, it wasn't as easy for people to come out as it perhaps is today. So my place ended up where if a kid was bashed or bruised or the brother beat him up or the father kicked him out or the mother didn't like poofters, they would invariably end up at Aunty Daisy's house. Sometimes there might be up to 10 or 12 kids on mattresses on the floor, just knowing that they've got a safe space that they can catch their breath before they go and attack the world again. So we ended up as the unofficial safe house if you like – that's what you did. But we couldn't say anything. I might be jailed now for this, I don't know, but I know that every single one of those young people love and respect me today and that's okay. Someone says, “Oh, have you got any children?” “Yes, about 120 or 130, yes. I do.” So yes, so this place on the weekends would be full. .

    Once Barry Horwood had resigned and was heading off to greener pastures, the position of ED was advertised and a gentleman called Chris Day got the job. So in comes Chris Day.

    I'm going to be very, very clear and concise about this because if Chris Day does see this I want him to really hear it and he will know that it is the truth as I saw it. I found him to be a nasty, horrid, bully. He was considered a brilliant financier. I stayed on the board despite him. This man would turn up in tiny little hotpants and a black fishnet top and try to be the manager, the CEO of a not for profit organisation and expect people to respect him? I really don't know what he was thinking. The man didn't have anything nice to say about anybody. He certainly didn't seem to give a rat's arse about the people that were suffering with the illness.

    From the start there was a beautiful, beautiful, wonderful man who I still talk to today, he's long retired, named Bill McMahon. Bill was the care and support worker. Bill is a staunch Roman Catholic, heterosexual, father and grandfather, but the most caring, beautiful man I know. He was adored by his clients.

    He was involved in the board of St Vincent De Paul and so part of that Care and Support, he would also have his connections to make sure that someone had furniture, a new bed, clean sheets, all those practical things. Bill never used his religious beliefs, but he certainly used the teachings of Christ to work with people, and he was a forgiving, kind, open man and I remember him saying “you wouldn't believe some of the stories I've heard, they would curl your toenails, they were just - what people tell me, and this is because I'm not gay”. Yeah, well that’s obvious Bill, you're not. But Bill had a thing and it was so good because at that stage we're talking about drugs that are not quite working. So we've still got people in and out of hospital…

    The side-effects of AZT and others and trial drugs that were going on, sometimes the side-effects were even worse. So there were people sick from the drugs that are trying to make you better, and it was Bill's job to pick up those shattered pieces and assist where could. Well, Bill had this great thing of using the car, and he called it his “cone of silence”. So he would transport people to and from appointments and he would try never to have two clients in the car at the same time. He said, “that's where I did my counselling”. Two people in the car, that's it, there was no place really private at the tiny little place in Manton Street, even if you had a private office, you can hear what's going on through the paper-thin walls because it was just an old Darwin prefab. So Bill used the car and I thought that was the cleverest thing. One of the first things that Chris Day did when he came in is he took Bill's car away from him, and didn't replace it, and made him use a pooled car. Now to me that's like saying - well you can't have an office any more.

    He just took a dislike to Bill. I reckon he wanted a gay person in that role. He didn't obviously want an older straight guy, an older straight guy that was as compassionate as I've ever seen anyone, but he didn't want that. Chris Day was working on the next lot of recurrent funding and that's great. I was giving assistance where I could as the Treasurer. So it was in 2001, I can't remember, probably mid-year some time, Chris Day had been there for about six [months]. It was a board meeting, and I got the letter to say that we'd got the $156,000 that was going to get the AIDS Council out of the poo. It was just before the meeting and Chris Day comes out with a tray of grapes and looks me in the eye and says, “Would you like a grape? They're a bit sour, you might like them”. I knew then I had to go. So I read out that we'd received the money and I felt I'd left the Council in financially good hands. He managed to destroy that place. He destroyed and broke the soul and the spirit of the place. Now we’ve got a very beautifully functioning, wonderful, lovely AIDS Council, which I'm slowly but surely getting more involved with again. But I had to leave for my own sanity, I had to leave.

    Well what he did was, he sold Bill's car, he sold Barry's old car, he got himself a nice fancy one, that was the first thing he did. He then got a grant and he built this magnificent bar underneath the house at Manton Street and within months convinced the board that they had to move. So Chris Day really divided that place I believe, in that some people didn't want to move from Manton Street, believed that the extra money could be used in services rather than a fancy new building. Now the fancy new building is actually where the AIDS Council is today. So I do understand that you need to look at progress and that sort of thing, but at that time I didn't think that the Council was stable enough to warrant that move. In fact, there were protests, the police were called.

    There were groups of people within the community, and within the positive community, that did not want – and especially the needle and syringe using population – didn't want to go out onto Woods Street because it's a lot more open and it's a busier area, whereas Manton Street was a nice tucked away off-street. You wouldn't know that the AIDS Council was there because there were no signs out the front.

    What probably for me was the most enjoyable little bit of working alongside the AIDS Council was when I did a series of cooking classes over a few years for people living with HIV. That was very important back then because people didn't like to come out as being positive. But it was about me researching what good, healthy, clean food is about and being able to translate that into something that's easy to do and delicious. I really enjoyed those nights where we'd have six to 10 people in the back room, I'd cook up, we'd eat, we'd talk - about food, but then it became about life -and everything else - and I think that was really good in that there was this beautiful level of trust.

    I'm now slowly getting involved with the council again, now that my dear friend Daniel Alderman and other caring people are now working there, and there seems to be a soul returning to the organisation. I’m happy to see this happen.