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Thursday 09 October 2008

Fraser Moreton: A Kiwi bloke's gay life

Posted in: True Stories
By Jay Bennie - 25th January 2008

Fraser Moreton in 2007
At Auckland's St Matthew's in the City Church yesterday the several hundred people gathered to mourn the passing of Fraser Moreton last weekend heard the short version of a life that was far from stereotypical and yet exemplified many of the experiences which colour LGBT lives.

Like most us, coming to terms with his sexuality was an incremental process for Fraser with a bit of experimentation and the odd dead end along the way. This is not really a eulogy; it's more an illustration of a life that is bound to strike a chord with many LGBT folk.

He may have ended up in NZ's biggest and gayest city, but Fraser Moreton was a country kid, born to parents Bill and Madeline on August 10, 1950, in the tiny Southland town of Nightcaps. His early years were spent in this farming and coal mining community tucked into the foothills of the Takitimu Range northwest of Invercargill. Scholastically he was considered a bit of a laggard - no one knew he was struggling against dyslexia. But whilst academically challenged, it was soon obvious that young Fraser was good with his hands, adept with tools and happiest doing practical things around the farm. If Fraser could visualise something he could build it. If it already existed he could make it better. He was soon to put himself through technical college and learn the skills that would underpin his careers and hobbies for the rest of his life.

In his early teens Fraser started to experiment sexually. With another boy.

It wasn't long before his parents found out and, as was the custom in those days, Fraser was bundled off to a psychiatrist by his concerned parents.

Luckily for this randy farm boy the shrink was understanding and announced that there was nothing wrong with him. As a consequence and to broaden his interests Fraser was enrolled in the local Young Farmers Club so he could establish connections with "like minded young men." Ahem.

Throughout his teens his interest in tractors and machinery blossomed and at age 20 he did the expected thing and got married. Within months he knew he had made a mistake and the union was short-lived. Explaining the end of his marriage Fraser came out to his family and friends. The reaction was chilly enough that he lost contact with them all and headed for the wide open spaces of Australia to make a new start.

Travelling the length and breadth of that huge country he explored and worked in its rural hinterlands. But something of the big city beckoned him and he eventually washed up, as so many gay men in this part of the world do for a part of our lives, in Sydney. This was 1970s Sydney, before Mardi Gras and Oxford Street and Newtown and all that. Gay life was centred around the seedy enclave of Kings Cross, with venues like the tatty Bottoms Up bar. Always with an eye for a cute man, Fraser worked on Sydney construction projects though his twenties, and must have been in seventh heaven. Yet, New Zealand was in his blood.

In his late seventies he crossed back over the Tasman sporting wild red hair and flamboyant clothes. He washed up in Nelson and it wasn't long before he formed the successful demolition business of Hill and Moreton. He formed enduring friendships, including one with a local architect who, it transpired, was also gay.

As he progressed through the 1980s into the 90s, three events - two formative and the other life-threatening - intruded on Fraser's provincial life.

He became politically and socially aware, speaking out publicly about the need to end the legalised persecution of gays which since time immemorial had destroyed so many lives. He fell in love. And he discovered that he had, sometime in the mid 80s, contracted HIV. With his then partner John he moved to Napier where he was counselled by New Zealand's first specialist HIV counsellor, Dick Johnston, who had left Auckland's Burnett Clinic and was living in Hawkes Bay.

His relationship with John didn't last, but his determination to face his HIV infection squarely evolved into an attitude that would see him through the rest of his life. Time and time again he was given notice that his life expectancy was measured in months, but somehow he pulled through, again and again conquering the deadly virus that killed so many of his contemporaries.

Glen & Fraser
Then the bit of magic that would colour the rest of his days happened.

Whilst staying with friend David Sealy Wood in the midst of the Auckland urban gay ghetto, at one of Sealy Wood's famed parties he was spotted across the room by Glen Wilkin Holland. Glen was instantly smitten by this macho and charismatic stranger, with his welding-scarred hands and perhaps a hint of diesel about him. Fraser was cooler. But Glen persevered and pursued, with the pair travelling backwards and forwards between Auckland and Napier, and love blossomed.

Fraser moved to Auckland, moved in with Glen and his already growing collection of machinery and tractors moved into Glen's meticulous back yard. Soon they were in complementary businesses, Fraser as a builder, Glen as a gardener. In 1998 they changes tack and purchased the ailing Purfex mannequin and retail display business. With hard work and long hours they turned it around, gaining the respect and admiration of their staff in the process. Fraser, never interested in the intellectual side of life, brought his practical, creative and building skills to bear on the business.

Over the years he reconnected with his family and helped them through crises and tough times.

Then, in 2004, they sought a new challenge and purchased farmland near Helensville. At last there was room for the eleven tractors and other equipment that so fascinated Fraser. A businessman by day, he was a farmer by night and weekend, never happier than when he was in the seat of some large piece of earth moving machinery.

After fifteen years together as urban gays, Glen and Fraser planned to move to the farm in the new future. But it was not to be. Last weekend, after several years of battling a heart condition as well as HIV, Fraser succumbed to a heart attack in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

As someone joked at his funeral, he is probably already advising St Peter on how to improve the Pearly gates and working on the design for a heavenly home, to be ready for that time in the future when he and Glen are reunited.

Jay Bennie - 25th January 2008