All the great cities of the world have a neighborhood that in the past knew how to be bohemian, dangerous, malandra, a refuge for marginals and that today continues to have its sharp edges but is visited by tourists and more or less safe, apart from the occasional drunkard, the fights and outbursts. El Abasto in Buenos Aires, El Raval in Barcelona, Kabukicho in Tokyo, Pigalle in Paris… In Sydney, Australiathat neighborhood is kings cross. 20 minutes from the Opera, in the first decades of the 20th century Kings Cross had gang members, journalists, prostitutes, poets, cartoonists, painters and activists such as Juanita Nielsen who was apparently murdered for writing in the local newspaper to denounce real estate speculation (the business never changes much). In 1964 “Les Girls” opened in Kings Cross, a drag bar whose queen for a long time was the great carlotta. but she was never cross dresser: in the early 70s it became one of the first people in Australia to have sex reassignment surgery. This trans woman and her drag friends were the inspiration for the famous movie Priscilla, the queen of the desert that perhaps today it would be done with a different casting, but it is still a beautiful tribute appropriate to its time.
Among the most important and most forgotten characters in Kings Cross is Rosaleen Nortonnicknamed The witch with your consent, a artist outsiderpagan and pansexual who awaits his vindication beyond unavailable books of his art, a recent but rather bad documentary, and the enormous effort made by Spanish publishers to recover his figure and his work.
Rosaleen was born in New Zealand (It is full of Australians who were born in another country: Nicole Kidman in Hawaii, Mel Gibson in the United States, Guy Pearce in Great Britain, Russell Crowe in New Zealand; like Mexicans, Aussies are born where they want – let’s remember that Luis Miguel was born in Puerto Rico and Chavela Vargas in Costa Rica–). They say that his birth was marked by a terrible storm. It was terrible since she was a girl: she didn’t want to be with her family and even less with other children and she slept in the garden of the house, in a tent, with a spider as a pet (we assume that there aren’t that many non-poisonous ones in Australia).
The real little Merlina was expelled from school for drawing demons and vampires –It was the 20s– so he decided to study art and publish horror stories in a magazine directed by another strange friend, one of those that never fails. In the late 1940s Rosaleen had her first exhibition at the very liberal university in Melbourne, but the police found out and seized many of her works: the show lasted two days. Like many other occult mystics, Norton’s works, magnificent by the way, are not strictly artistic objects but rituals, or portraits of some of his magical practices and altered states of consciousness, trances, contacts.
With her lover Gavin, Rosaleen moved to Kings Cross, because she knew that the community of eccentrics in the neighborhood would welcome her. That’s how it went. His house – of which nothing remains today – was a center of parties and orgies, on the door an altarpiece said: “Welcome ghosts, fairies, werewolves, vampires, witches, warlocks and poltergeists “His works were murals in cafes like the Arabian, the Apollyon and the Kashmir – they don’t exist either and if the buildings are there, the paintings no longer exist–.
In 1952, publisher Walter Glover decided publish a book of Rosaleen’s paintings combined with the poetry of her boyfriend, Gavin Greenlees. The titles of the works give an idea of the content: Black magic, Rites of Baron Samedi either Fohat, a demon with a snake-shaped phallus. There were only 500 copies in very high quality but it was banned for obscene in New South Wales and later banned from importation into the United States. Glover was arrested and Rosaleen had to go to court to explain her work. It was a drama, but it was also publicity.
Not all advertising is good despite the saying. The police called the cafe owners who had asked her for murals to testify, a girl accused her of animal sacrifices and black masses (Rosaleen was not a satanist and abhorred animal sacrifices: the girl later backed down) and they even stole photos taken in unconventional sexual practices with her boyfriend to sell them to the newspapers. Tourists even came to the neighborhood trying to meet the Witch.
While she accidentally got herself into major trouble. The very famous English composer and conductor Sir Eugene Goossens he was in Australia, he was very interested in the occult, he got a copy of Rosaleen’s book and wrote to her. They met and the three of them, with Gavin, became lovers. In March 1956 Goossens was arrested, accused of bringing 800 erotic photos into the country, in addition to ritual masks. He was put on trial, pleaded guilty, and had to resign his position at both the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the New South Wales Conservatory of Music. He returned to England humiliated: his brilliant career was gone. Neither was his relationship with Rosaleen and Gavin. Soon Gavin also collapsed: in 1955 he was admitted to Callan Park Hospital, diagnosed with schizophrenia. Rosaleen visited him and supported him emotionally and financially until he was discharged ten years later, but he could not sustain life outside of the hospital and in an outbreak attacked his girlfriend with a knife.
In New south Walesthe state where Sydney is located, “witchcraft” was still illegal, according to a British act of 1735!, which had been shelved in Britain in 1951 but remained in force in Australia until 1971. Rosaleen never backed down: she could have said she was a painter, an author, even a polyamorous bisexual – illegal perhaps, but tolerable–but they would never stop persecuting her as a witch and she was convinced of her beliefs. She worshiped the god Pan, gave interviews explaining her beliefs, explained Aleister Crowley’s magical system, showed her powerful art. She survived by selling her paintings and also offering talismans and clairvoyance, something she did not want, but she had no other choice.
After living with her sister for a while, she moved into a dilapidated house on Bourke St., and then wandered around with her pets, trying to avoid people. He died of colon cancer in 1979.. At the hospital she said: “I came into this world bravely and I will leave the same way.”
Some years ago, some plaques remember her on Darlinghurst street, the main one in Kings Cross: the entire history of the neighborhood is reconstructed with the plaques on the sidewalks. There isn’t much else. At the end of the 80s, his biography, La hija de Pan, was published, very difficult to find except, curiously, in Spanish thanks to the publishing house Aurora Dorada (the author is Nevill Drury). The beautiful book Mágicas de La Felguera also dedicates an entire chapter to it. Only in 2017 was there an exhibition of his work in New Zealand, the country of his birth. His story, his sexual freedom, his talent, and his rebellion and non-conformity, everything is reduced to a plaque that, beyond its name, reminds us that those who choose a different life are on the brink of oblivion or ridicule if nobody rescues them from the cliff. she shakes their hand and tells them: “it was not easy to be so brave, but here we remember you”.