Age Gays

Articles: Member Tributes

This article about Eric Turton, one of our stalwart members of MAG (occasionally seen at Christmas parties wearing a leather cap with red ostrich feathers!) is reprinted from a July 1997 edition of the local Darlinghurst newspaper.

Eric Turton looks nowhere near seventy-two! This Darlinghurst resident has a fine physique, unflinching blue eyes and a winning smile, testimony no doubt to his many years as a performer with JC Williamson in Annie Get Your Gun. But Eric’s star turn is only part of a long and intriguing career. “I get bored,” he giggles, “That’s why I keep on moving. I don’t know what it is, but I have to get on the road every few years or so. It’s exhausting but I need it like I need oxygen.” Eric started his career at David Jones where he worked his way up to Display Manager and then, when World War II broke out, he enlisted. Eric realised that he liked performing while he was posted to Borneo. “Like most blokes, we were starved for entertainment, and I found out pretty quickly that I could sing and dance, so I became the entertainment.” Managing to survive the war (and much ribbing by his wartime mates) Eric returned to Sydney and met a man who taught him the drapery trade. Then one of his regular itches arrived, and before he even realised it, he was auditioning for Annie Get Your Gun with which he toured around Australia for the next three years.

“Went back to DJs and sold yardage to madams” is the way Eric describes his next career move. That soon paled and he was off to Perth where he was once again pursued by the spectre of ‘The Most Beautiful Store In The World.’ “DJs bought a couple of stores in Perth and got in touch with me to run the furnishing and drapery departments”. He stayed with DJs in Perth for five years and ended up winning many international display awards, but once again he got the itch to move on. Paying 72 pounds, he boarded an ancient vessel called the Toskana and ended up in Europe. Three months later, he learned that the Toskana had sunk, so he counted himself a lucky man. He hitched around Europe and then in London he met a priest who whisked him to the US. “He was a lovely man, but after a while I realised that I needed to do some work – that’s how I ended up in a cassock singing for my supper in the church. Actually, it wasn’t such a bad job and I was making $75 a week so I was happy.” Eric then went to an American university where he did an interior design course leading to his first major job in the States at Lord and Taylor, the elegant 5th Avenue store in New York.

Eric then received a visit from David Lloyd Jones who invited him to come back to the Sydney store as Head Overseas Buyer for furnishings and antiques. Eric returned and designed the furniture floor, which is still there today. Eric became a DJs executive and, while he liked what he was doing, that pesky itch started playing up, and before he knew it he was on the road again, this time as a freelance decorator and lecturer. In Perth, Eric found a small shop, which he turned into one of the city’s leading decorator stores using all the skills he’d learned over the years. Then one day, while visiting the small town of York in WA, he discovered a building, which had been damaged in a recent earthquake. In his words, the house said to him “I want you. I want you.” Over the next seven years, Eric toiled to turn the twenty-one room structure into what is now known as Settler’s House – which has become a major tourist attraction in WA. “It was the first of the renovations of historical houses which are now fairly commonplace” remembers Eric, “We ended up in magazines and TV shows like Peach’s Australia.” Eric turned his energies to setting up a tourist office in York, which grew to become a tourist bureau. Exhausted, and at age sixty, Eric decided it was time to retire and he went to the Cook Islands. He found the pace of island life a bit frustrating when trying to get a few projects going during his seven-year stay. “The islanders couldn’t comprehend that they could be part of a project which would help them. They were so used to being ordered around, that they could only respond to orders, and that wasn’t my style at all.” Eric returned to Sydney and was amazed to see how much it had changed. “I thought, this place has really grown up, I’ll stay,” and with that, he moved into his unit in Darlinghurst.

Since he’s been back, Eric has played host to visiting friends from overseas and he makes sure that he gets away as often as possible. “I’ve got friends scattered around and they’re always quite happy to put you up for a night or two, so my only real costs are the travel.” Eric smiles when he thinks about cooking for his guests. “I have this reputation as a gourmet chef but if you stay with me longer than four days, you find that I only know four meals.” Eric’s health is pretty good although he has had an eye problem, which has just about righted itself, thanks to treatment from an holistic healer in North Sydney. “I couldn’t believe it. Two treatments and I had 60% of my sight back. It’ll be 100% before I know it.” Eric takes a swig of his beer and settles back to relax in his beloved Sydney. And why not, I think to myself. After all, he is seventy two. Then I notice that his leg seems to be itching. I wonder how long before he will be moving on.

(Shortly after this article appeared in the Darlinghurst newspaper, Eric was on a plane heading for Honolulu and San Diego to visit more friends – Ed.)