The ‘Cooyar’ Tragedy –  Murder, Masculinity and the ‘unspeakable’ in a 1920 South East Queensland Timber Cutter’s encampment

Dr  Mark Briskey1

11, Perth, Australia

Workers in early twentieth century remote bush camps involved in Timber cutting and similar occupations involving hard physical labour were male dominated spaces where ideas on mateship drew upon the accepted boundaries of masculinity prevalent at the time. Those that infringed these boundaries could expect isolation and sanction by their workmates or much worse including violent assaults causing injury and death. This paper examines one case in which an alleged homosexual advance led to a killing and attempt to conceal the crime in a small timber cutters camp near the settlement of Cooyar in South East Queensland in 1920.   By examining the history and circumstances surrounding this crime including the investigation and subsequent trial the paper provides a view into the prevailing social mores of the time.  Importantly it examines how justifications for the protection of masculinity from homosexual advances informally referred to as the ‘unspeakable’ crime was accommodated in the criminal justice system.  Additionally the paper considers the culture of those involved in this industry in South East Queensland and the social life of these near exclusively male dominated encampments.  The paper draws upon the evidence and observations of witnesses and media on this crime and how this matter inexorably moved from being one of murder to manslaughter.  The paper provides valuable insights into the life and society of remote Timber camps of the early twentieth century as well as historic comparisons of masculinity with the current day.  The paper also provides valuable historical context to consider the ‘Homosexual Advance Defence’ (HAD) only recently amended in Queensland.


Biography:

Mark Briskey holds a PhD from the University of New South Wales as well as a Master of Criminology and other qualifications. Mark is currently Lecturer in Criminology and Coordinator of the  Criminology Internship program at Murdoch University. Mark has previously lectured at Curtin and Charles Sturt Universities.

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