Newport, 2017

It ended with a rooster pie, in Newport.

It started with a butterfly cake at TropFest, a short film festival, in Byron Bay, 2001. We were both living there, escapees from our humdrum capital city lives, reinventing ourselves as yogini (you) and artist (me).  It was a hot night, the moon was full, the air was heavy with the sweat of warm hippies in the close community hall, and the short films made me cry. The whipped cream on the butterfly cake you bought me melted on my tongue as I wept and fell in love.

In between the butterfly cake and the rooster pie there were fifteen years of fierce arguments, passionate make ups, camping trips in the mountains, health emergencies, dinner parties, family dramas, two children, two successive mortgages, and a serious health scare for one of our parents that returned us to Melbourne.

It aint no use to sit and wonder why babe
If you don’t know by now
It aint no use to sit and wonder why babe
It don’t matter anyhow

Over fifteen years, brick by determined brick, we built a life out of thin air and intentions. When I first met you, my mother could not tell her friends her eldest daughter was a lesbian. Talking to her friends, she would shorten my girlfriends’ names to androgynous mysteries.  Jo. Nic. Lou.  When I gave birth to our twins, you weren’t recognised on the birth certificate. We spent two years on the hustings to change this, hounding politicians, talking on radio, posing for The Courier Mail; the four of us the poster children for the perfect two-mummy family. I still count changing that legislation as one of my most significant achievements.  As the kids got older, we pointed out that some families have two mummies, some only  a mum or a dad, some live with grandparents…we are all different. They asked why we weren’t married, and we told them we didn’t see the point. We pointed out other, straight friends who weren’t married. We didn’t tell them that their parents were seen as a second class sort of relationship.

I brought my family back to Newport a quarter of a century after I’d moved out to Clifton Hill into the share house where I first seduced a woman and found freedom. Then, I vowed never to return to the dreary west with its looming catalytic crackers and acres of unloved grasslands. This time around, I was surprised to discover I was home. I heard others whingeing about how much it had changed, that it just wasn’t the same as the good old days, but I loved it. I loved the goat’s cheese on the shelves in the local shops. I loved the gourmet cafes serving smashed avocado. I loved the cool edgy industrial arts vibe, The Substation, the permaculture groups, the wildlife reserves, the conversations. I loved the increase in value in my parents’ houses. I loved not fearing I was going to get my head pummelled if someone realised I was gay.

Newport Substation. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

We bought a huge beautiful federation house, built when the railway was going through Newport. I planted mandarins, lemons, pears, mulberries, got chooks. You landed an impressive job. I had a less impressive job, ran the house, hosted the dinner parties, looked after the kids. They did tennis, violin, dance classes. I thought we had made it.

Sometimes I sat on the back step and looked out at the garden. I thought how I had tried so desperately to avoid my mother’s life, and now here I was, recreating it. Except for the small added detail of being a lesbian, I was the perfect fifties housewife, living about 500 metres from my childhood home.  In my younger days I’d shaved my head, run political campaigns, slept out in order to close nuclear test sites, done S&M performances in nightclubs, busted women out of violent relationships with a posse of other radical feminists.  Now I worried that being a lesbian was the only interesting thing left about me.  But I was happy – or at least, definitely content.

About now I started playing double bass with a couple of friends and calling ourselves a band. Now I could cling to two things I had that made it impossible for me to be a suburban housewife – I was a lesbian, and I played double bass.  We played covers of the music that reminded us of our time as young wild dykes about town  –  Deborah Conway, indigo Girls, KD Lang, Topp Twins, Melissa Etheridge. We discussed which Indigo Girl we’d had a crush on, which lesbian share household we’d been in when each single was released.  If I’m honest, we probably got crushes on each other.

So, yes, most of the time I was content. But bringing up kids – perfectly, as demonstration models for the virtues of queer parenting  – is hard work. Most of our communication was handover about the kids. The fierce fights were hissed like tomcats as we arched our backs and retreated from each other; the makeups and apologies increasingly perfunctory.

I’m not saying you treated me unkind
You coulda done better, but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s alright

Then came the rooster pie. The rooster was a result of a clutch of chicks the children had wanted to raise from eggs. I’d warned the children, saw it as a lesson about life, farming, sustainability, and accountability for what we eat. Any roosters will have to go, I said, as the fluffy cheeping chicks broke free from the confines of their eggshells.

But I think the rooster pie was the last straw. It’s always something, isn’t it? Something ridiculous and bewildering that we can point to and say, ‘Can you believe it? We broke up over a rooster pie.’ You thought it was inhumane and cruel to eat something we’d raised. I thought it was entitled and hypocritical to turn your nose up at a genuinely free range hand reared chicken in favour of the poor lifetime prisoners served up on polystyrene at Woolworths. In the end, we couldn’t find the middle. And so, a rooster pie brought the whole edifice crashing down.   As it turned out, our solid middle class para-straight life was all built on sand.

When the rooster crows at the break of dawn,
Look out the window, and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m travelling on
But don’t think twice it’s alright

I’m standing here in the wreckage while the dust is still settling. I feel like I’ve got ash in my hair, in my mouth; that I can see the occasional recognisable object that hasn’t been smashed to smithereens. A chair with only one leg missing. A picture intact, the glass shattered.

My father cried when I told him we were separating. My mother brought around lemon cake, bolognaise sauce, her cleaning bucket. The school mums clustered around,  chittering, organised wine nights, movie visits, playdates. I can’t see any difference to how any of these lovely folk would respond to a straight divorce. Initially, I was embarrassed – the lesbian poster family implodes! I felt I’d let down the entire queer community. I thought we were radical but it turns out we are normal – normal enough to fuck up a nuclear family, as well as to create a good one.

Now, the dust is clearing a little. The band continues to meet and I’ve got the Indigo Girls on high rotation. I think we all preferred Emily. I hear she too is single again.

I’m a thinkin and a wonderin all the way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I’m told
I’d give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don’t think twice it’s alright


Molly plays bass, and is a member of the Newport Fiddle and Folk Club.