Ben Hills

You haven’t had such a bad innings,” I tell the wasted figure lying among the electronic monitors ticking his life away, with the plastic tube of a feeding drip up his nose, “13 years would have to be close to the record for someone with AIDS.”

“Seventeen,” corrects Peter Blazey, his dark sunken eyes suddenly alert, “I wasn’t diagnosed until 1984, but I got it four years earlier in New York. I remember the night well.

“I met this gorgeous black man and we went back to my hotel. I can’t tell you how good the love-making was.” He waves his hand to shush a protest from his current partner, Tim Herbert, who is sitting on the bedside dabbing the sweat from his face. “It was worth it … yes, it was worth it!”

Even in his final hours, Peter Bradford Blazey was determined to die as he had lived, defying convention, appalling the sensitive, exasperating his friends, deriding his foes. Yesterday, at the age of 57, his past finally caught up with him.

Leaving a dilemma for the obituarists – how to describe this complex, contradictory character. The bare bones of his own last dust-jacket-note, “author, journalist, gay rights campaigner, AIDS activist”, convey none of the comedy, the colour and the chaos that being around Peter Blazey meant – his life was his work, and he will be remembered more for who he was than for what he did.

Like everything else about his life, whether it was prolonged, or shortened by his iconoclastic views on AIDS therapy, is highly controversial. Blazey was convinced that AZT and other front-line drugs were toxic – he accused the drug companies of “causing the death by poisoning of thousands of healthy gay men” and branded one of the consultants at the hospital in which he died the “Dr Mengele of Darlinghurst”.

Even on his deathbed, Blazey continued to preach his mantra of shiatsu massage, herbs and naturopathic remedies. The bathrooms of his apartment at Potts Point and the holiday house among the sand-dunes at Portsea where he spent his last summer, were crammed with bottles of mega vitamins, spirulina, colloidal silver, minor bupleurum combination, Oralmat drops and cold-pressed flax-seed oil, to name just a few of the nostrums.

But in the end, nothing could have saved him – his body was overwhelmed by lymphatic cancer and a plague of opportunistic infections that breached the defences of his devastated immune system. Another sheet was pulled over another face in Ward 17 of St Vincent’s Hospital, which Blazey described in an uncharacteristically charitable farewell piece as a “27-bed gay resort (with) fabulous views over Paddington … po mo decor … (where) staff lovingly attend your most pressing needs … that costs absolutely nothing”.

He even wrote that the food “can sometimes be eaten”, though friends wondered by what criteria he made that judgment. David Wilson, a journalist and long-time drinking buddy from Melbourne, remembers with a shudder a typical Blazey supper of “steamed fish with chocolate ice-cream garnished with cigar ash”.

To Ward 17 over the past few months came a procession of visitors. Some welcome, like his friends in the media, Anne Summers, David Marr, Andrew Clarke and Paddy McGuinness, the artist Jeffery Smart, the ex-politician Rosemary Foot who has long forgiven him for helping to destroy her career in State Parliament.

Blazey being Blazey he even managed, in his wheelchair, to ambush Princess Di. “How are you?” she asked as he pressed a posy of roses on her. “Well, thank you, ma’am,” lied Blazey, dying for a pee.

Other callers have been less welcome. Blazey rails against “insufferable AIDS ghouls, pseudo-Christians keen on a deathbed conversion”. A prominent priest, whom Blazey publicly accused of pedophilia, called seeking reconciliation. “We forgave each other,” said Blazey enigmatically.

His last days were spent in a race against the clock, huddled with Tim Herbert over the manuscript of his last book, a sprawling autobiography which Blazey, with a flash of drunken self-hatred, told the Herald’s Susan Chenery two years ago he hoped “… will make me a writer, not a dirty old fifth-rate talentless suckhole political journalist”.

Appropriately enough, it is called Screwloose, although in recent years Blazey has shown less appetite for the random promiscuity, the drugs, the debauchery and the whole bathhouse scene for which he was notorious. He had been with Herbert, a writer some 20 years his junior whom he archly called “the wife”, for six years and declared he had finally found true love.

The book’s planned publication (by Picador, in July) is anticipated apprehensively by many in the world of Australian politics, books and the media – and eagerly by the Sydney defamation bar. Those who have seen the early drafts (which recount sexual encounters involving various prominent figures, an eyewitness description of a death by heroin, and “new evidence” on the drowning of Harold Holt) believe Blazey could have made more money agreeing to leave certain names out than his estate will ever receive from royalties.

ANDREW Peacock is there, though not in any derogatory context. Blazey went to school with him at Melbourne’s Establishment Scotch College, and later worked as his press secretary when our new Ambassador in Washington was Minister for the Army. He was sacked (as he was from almost every job he held) when word came from the office of then-Prime Minister William McMahon that “you can’t have someone so dissolute and indiscreet working for you”.

So is Moss Cass, Environment Minister in Gough Whitlam’s Government, for whom he also worked. Although he described himself as “politically bisexual”, Blazey had in fact been a member of the Labor Party until (inevitably) he was expelled.

And Malcolm Fraser … or, at least, a dashing young bodyguard whom Blazey (at the time living in a Trotskyite squat in East London) seduced under a temporary Cabinet table in the Savoy Hotel one morning – narrowly beating one of the Government’s most senior public servants to the punch, or so Blazey writes. He believed that most “breeders” (Paddington slang for straight men) are closet homosexuals who are unable to make it in the gay world.

Henry Bolte is there, the curmudgeonly Premier of Victoria for more than a decade when Blazey was a student at Melbourne University, then a political journalist on The Australian newspaper. Blazey was so intrigued by this boiler-plated autocrat that he wrote his first, some would say his best, book about him. Bolte subsequently called him “a snake in the grass”, not least because he had lent him some irreplaceable Liberal Party records which Blazey had typically mislaid.

His subsequent books were not so well received. The Political Dicemen, a work of “political sociology” about the 1974 election, baffled the reviewers; The Secret Diary of Jeffrey Kennett Aged 45 and a Quarter was dismissed as a frivolity. And only Blazey would have relished Gail Cork’s review of his last book, Love Cries, an anthology of erotica, which was headlined “A Vile Book for Mean and Pitiful People” and in which she dismissed the work as “a farrago of perversion to turn the hardiest stomach”.

Blazey’s relatively short time in every “regular” job he held – as well as The Australian, he worked for The National Times, The Australian Financial Review, The Bulletin, the ABC, the Australian National University – was due to his low boredom threshold and facilitated by his independent means. His father, Alan, founded the Hortico agricultural empire – Peter and his brothers Clive and Antony each inherited $1.3 million when he died, a sizable fortune in the early 1980s.

So careless about money did he become that some suspected it was an affectation. On one occasion he bought two paintings by George Peacock at a Sotheby’s auction for $6,000 each, then drove off with them on the roof of his van. One was later found in a gutter in Glenmore Road after having been run over by a truck and the other disappeared forever. Shortly thereafter, Blazey booked himself into both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

While Clive invested his inheritance productively (he runs the heritage seed company, Diggers Seeds), Peter took off for Los Angeles to fulfil a passing passion to get involved in the film industry. He bought the million-dollar hilltop mansion once owned by Barbara Stanwyck (complete with ballroom, orchestra pit and servants’ lodge) and passed several pleasant years partying, with “cocaine falling out of the trees”.

He gambled compulsively on the stock market, on one occasion making a killing on a dodgy goldmine in the Torres Strait – he once guessed he was worth $3 million. But mostly he found business boring – the artist Michael Fitzjames, who once stayed in a house Blazey owned on the clifftop at Dover Heights, found a garbage bag full of share scrip, company reports, pornography, bills and dividend cheques stuffed under a bed.

His record as a gay activist is also somewhat suspect – Blazey usually preferred to party than to preach and many in the Gay Liberation movement regarded him as suspiciously heterosexual. He was in fact engaged to be married several times, most famously to a woman he identifies as “Cassandra”.

NEVERTHELESS, Blazey – in spite of the grief that it caused his family – was never backward about coming forward once he learned to live with his sexuality. In 1978 (six years before homosexuality was legalised in NSW) he ran as the Gay Solidarity candidate for the seat of Earlwood with the slogan “put a poofter in Parliament”. Sydney’s staid south-west, unfortunately, was not quite ready for him – Blazey received only 108 votes and lost his deposit.

But he was always a colourful figure in the gay community, whether parading with his partner as “Bob and Blanche” in the Gay Mardi Gras or writing scathingly witty pieces for the gay media, particularly one publication called, appropriately enough, Outrage. With those who thought he was not “political” enough, who objected to his scandalous indiscretion in such matters as “outing” undercover gays, or who chided him for squandering his talent as a writer, Blazey was too busy living life to bother.

He could well have chosen his epitaph from Don Marquis’s classic parable, Archy and Mehitabel: “Toujours gai, Archy, toujours gai. There’s always a dance in the old dame yet.”

Publishing Info

Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Pub date: Saturday 8 February 1997
Edition: Late
Section: News And Features
Sub section: News Review
Page: 40
Word count: 1523
Photography: Mayu Kanamori
Caption: The late Peter Blazey … defied convention to the last.