"There was a three-year gap between Robert and I, which made it hard for us to connect in the early years of our childhood. To be honest I regarded a cute, chubby baby/toddler as an annoying creature who enjoyed far too much family attention. It was probably not until we were sent away to school (he 6, me 9) that we bonded in adversity. I remember him as a stoic little fellow, a giggler with a serious side who seemed to charm everyone he encountered.
"In his teenage years Robert developed a passion for swimming and general fitness, which would be lifelong, and he became a serious student. In adolescence he could be moody a fact which the family was aware of as his face resembled a thundercloud. However he had a great sense of humour. One of my vivid memories involved his being overcome by mirth in the back of the car as he had spotted a police car following Dad who was, as per usual, speeding but couldn’t warn him because he was laughing too much. Dad was not impressed.
"Robert’s results in the Leaving Certificate were impressive and he decided on a teaching career, a decision that he doggedly stuck too despite having most unhappy practice teaching experiences. His first school, Captain’s Flat, proved to him that teaching was not the best career for him and with the backing of the family he resigned.
"Once Robert gave up teaching, settled into his job in the Public Service and worked out his sexual orientation, he seemed far happier and we saw far fewer “thundercloud’ moments. We met infrequently due to distance as we were in the north west of the state and Robert was the quintessential city boy. He was an indulgent uncle, once carting a huge pink teddy bear up to Quirindi on the train and the kids loved visiting him in Sydney where I suspect they were spoiled rotten. As siblings we shared a love of opera, books and film and enjoyed debating politics and religion, although Robert bemoaned the fact that I didn’t take either seriously enough. Some of our best bonding moments were lying on the beach admiring the bodies of the young men parading around.
"Robert enjoyed a very full gay life, partying, dancing and, as was the fashion then, enjoying many sexual adventures. I was always worried about the possibility of STDs (something Robert seemed not to be concerned about) and was extremely fearful when I first heard of AIDS in America.
"When Robert came to Dad’s place for Christmas in 1983 his physical appearance was a shock and we realised that he was very ill. The next six months were very difficult for all who knew Robert due to the dire effects of AIDS and the hysteria surrounding it, but the love and care shown him by his partner and friends was truly inspirational and the one bright spot in a very dark time.
"Robert died on 18 June 1984, one of the first of many young men whose lives were tragically cut short by that pernicious disease.
“Bobby Goldsmith was an otherworldly being who swooped in and out of our lives leaving a flurry of presents in his wake. To my sister and me, he was Uncle Robert - we thought Bobby was probably a friend of his. Our Uncle Robert had many friends.
“For an adult, Uncle Robert was pretty cool. He knew about music and Space Invaders and the best movies to watch. He could wear anything, from leather pants to a top hat and tails. He was handsome and charming and our friends were in love with him. He was a very kind man with an infectious laugh.
“On a visit in 1982, Uncle Robert radiated happiness when he introduced us to his new partner, Ken Bryan. Athletic, energetic and bronzed from the sun, he was dazzling.
“Next Christmas though, we saw a startling change in him. Gaunt and grey, he barely spoke. Ken was visiting his family in England so we knew Uncle Robert was missing him badly. We did not know that he was ill.
“In 1983 and 1984, AIDS was a curse. Rumour and misinformation swirled around like pond scum. Puerile jokes and paranoia reigned supreme. We had to keep Uncle Robert’s diagnosis a secret. A little girl called Eve Van Grafhorst lived not far from us. The treatment she and her family received from their so-called community still haunts me.
“Luckily, Uncle Robert was part of a very different community. Showing the love that many Christians are unable to, Ken, my Mum and Uncle Robert’s friends supported and cared for him until he died. As a 14-year-old Catholic schoolgirl, I was only a witness, rather than a participant to this. However, the selflessness and the love that I saw in action has sustained me all my life.
“As my sons grow into young men, I can see echoes and shadows of my Uncle Robert in them. That makes me very happy.