When Eugene Goossens was invited to Australia to take up the position as the first permanent conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Director of the NSW Conservatorium in 1946, he was already a well known international conductor and composer. Having worked constantly in London since 1912 by the early 1920s he was being referred to as a music wizard, before moving to America to conduct in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco and Cincinnati. So when in March 1956 he was charged with importing prohibited material into Australia in the form of pornography, to say Sydney society was shocked was an understatement.
While Goossens star was rising overseas, back in Sydney a recently arrived New Zealander was getting herself into trouble. Rosaleen Norton had arrived in Sydney with her family in 1925 aged 8. By 14 she had been expelled from school for her art; lewd and depraved drawings of vampires, ghouls and werewolves. Shocking in an all-girl’s school on Sydney’s north shore. From school Norton worked in a variety of jobs, with her art always in the background. She came to prominence in 1949 with a sensational trial after her first major exhibition (in Melbourne) was raided and she was charged with obscenity. Paintings of Lucifer, witches and the occult were all too much for those in charge. This was followed by the publication of her book The Art of Rosaleen Norton in 1952, which saw the publisher charged with producing an obscene publication.
In 1952 Goossens and Norton’s paths crossed.
As it turns out Goossens, as well as being a gifted musician and highly energised conductor (he spent his first few years shaping the SSO and the Conservatorium into formidable musical enterprises from which they continue to benefit) and a vocal and passionate supporter for the building of an Opera House in Sydney, was also keen on the mystical possibilities and sensual pleasures offered by the occult.
Norton was just the girl for him.
Norton and Goossens engaged in a strange and illicit affair in her flat at Kings Cross through the early 1950s. Sadly, Norton’s notoriety had induced a reporter from the Sun to infiltrate her coven, and in his snooping he had discovered a bundle of rather indiscrete letters from Goossens to Norton, with some graphic details to say the least. Police set up a sting but Goossens was out of the country touring in England and being Knighted by the Queen. On his return, he was stopped and his luggage searched at Sydney airport. In his bags were found over 1000 pornographic photos, prints, books and rubber masks.
His downfall was swift; he resigned his posts the same day and prepared to leave Australia. But his humiliation was at least tempered by the suppression of his involvement with Norton.
Goossens never recovered. His sudden departure was reported around the world and the rumours of his secret life ruined his career. He died six years after leaving Australia a broken man. Norton lived on until 1979, continuing to produce macabre and occultist paintings.
Of course in today’s society this may not have even raised an eyebrow.