David McMahon is on a crusade for justice. But not for himself.
In 1989, the openly gay 23-year-old survived an attack by a 20-strong gang of men and women who tried to throw him from a Sydney cliff-top.
“They surrounded me, they started hitting me,” McMahon, now 50, tells WHO, recalling how they then pulled him towards the edge of the cliff. “When they started dragging me, I knew I was going to die.”
His survival has given voice to the many who were likely murdered during a spate of horrific gay hate attacks in Sydney during the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s.
“I realise my police statement has meant so much for this whole process,” says McMahon, whose harrowing story features in the SBS documentary Deep Water: The Real Story (Sun., Oct. 16, 8.30 PM). “I want answers for the people who lost those they loved.”
NSW Police are now reviewing 88 deaths that are possible gay hate murders, many of which were ruled suicides or misadventure because the bodies were found at the base of cliffs.
On the night of the attack, McMahon, who then worked in a Bondi Beach café, jogged to Marks Park, then a popular cliff-top gay beat.
Only a month earlier, 31-year-old John Russell had been found dead at the bottom of the cliffs, his death initially deemed an accidental fall. And four months earlier, WIN newsreader Ross Warren disappeared, his keys discovered at the bottom of the same drop.
With that in mind, McMahon was wary of the group of nearly 20 youths, aged 15–20, he passed on the stairs to the park. Worried about crossing paths with them again, he stayed in the park until finally making his way home along the cliff top.
“They were hiding in a little cave and came out when I went past,” he says. “They encroached on me. Then it all started.”
As blows rained on him, McMahon fell. “I felt them kicking me in the head,” he says. “The girls were talking to the guys and saying, ‘Stick a stick up his arse.’ They were calling me ‘poofter’ and ‘faggot.’ I thought I was going to die.”
He then heard one of the men say, “Throw him off the cliff like the other one.”
“They were exactly the words,” says McMahon, now a public servant. “That was the start of them dragging me to that point where they were going to throw me off. I knew the edge was loose gravel and I swung around and it knocked them off their balance and I ran like the wind.”
For more on David’s story, and the police investigation, pick up a copy of WHO on sale now.