Lyndon Pike looks at the scandal that befell a once acclaimed conductor
In the annals of classical music history, the name Sir Eugene Goossens was once synonymous with genius and grandeur. An acclaimed conductor and composer, Goossens left an indelible mark on the world of music, particularly here in Australia. In 1946, Aynsley Eugene Goossens made his debut to the Australian audience when he embarked on a nationwide tour under the auspices of the ABC.
This tour proved to be an overwhelming success, leading the ABC’s general manager, Charles Moses, to extend two distinct opportunities to him. The first was to become the inaugural permanent conductor of the newly established Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and the second was to assume the role of director at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music. It is worth noting that the combination of these two roles reportedly yielded a higher income for Goossens than that of the prime minister at the time.
However, his legacy is marred by a scandal that unfolded in the early hours of March 9, 1956, at Sydney’s Mascot Airport. One that revealed an enigmatic chapter in Goossens’ life, uncovering a story of obsession, recklessness, and sexual indulgence that led to his shocking downfall.
Goossens, at the zenith of his career, disembarked from a Qantas Constellation jet, unaware that his life was about to take a startling turn. Customs officers and detectives were waiting for him, revealing that his luggage contained an astonishing array of sexually explicit material, masks, a film viewer, and incense sticks. Among the seized items were 837 photographs, eight books, a set of prints, and one film reel, marking the beginning of a stunning fall from grace.
For over four decades, speculation and theories have swirled around Goossens’ disgrace. Some speculated conspiracy and blackmail, while others even connected it to the Petrov spy scandal. However, evidence came to light that began to unravel the mystery, exposing a tale of the conductor’s reckless sexual obsessions and a connection to a mysterious paganist and witchcraft circle in Kings Cross, Sydney. Eugene Goossens’ fascination with the occult and pagan symbolism was not a recent development. Throughout his life, he had close associations with individuals like Cyril Scott and Philip Heseltine (known under the alias ‘Peter Warlock’), both deeply involved in black magic and paganism. His interest in the esoteric was a constant companion throughout his life.
In 1947, Goossens assumed his roles in Australia, accompanied by his American wife, Marjorie Fetter-Foulkrod. They settled in Wahroonga, Sydney, as Goossens transformed the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. However, his life took a curious turn during a visit to a local bookstore. Here, he stumbled upon a volume titled The Art of Rosaleen Norton, brimming with explicit pagan and occult imagery. This discovery rekindled Goossens’ long-standing interest in the occult, leading to an encounter that would ultimately define his legacy.
Unbeknownst to Goossens, Rosaleen Norton was the notorious ‘Witch of Kings Cross.’ She was well-known for her affiliations with the occult and her explicit, often scandalous, art. Goossens and Norton shared a fascination with the occult, particularly Thelemic magic, a spiritual system founded by Aleister Crowley. Their connection grew into into an intense, intimate relationship, meticulously documented in letters and notes. They both delved into rituals, ceremonies, and esoteric practices, reflecting their common fascination with the mystical and spiritual realms.
Goossens’ obsession with Norton’s art and her ‘mystical’ qualities fueled their connection, leading to a series of sexual rituals and intimate encounters. Their association garnered significant media attention, as their unorthodox relationship and interests stood in stark contrast to the conservative norms of 1950s Australia.
While the shocking discovery of explicit material in Goossens’ luggage at Mascot Airport marked the beginning of his downfall, it was just the tip of the iceberg. A thorough police investigation had already unearthed damning evidence against him. This evidence primarily focused on Goossens’ involvement in ‘Sex Magic’ rituals with Norton and her partner, Gavin Greenlees. The evidence, reinforced by Goossens’ own admissions, left little room for doubt.
In numerous letters and notes, Goossens explicitly described his participation in rituals involving sexual stimulation, revealing the depths of his involvement in a world of sexual experimentation. Once the Customs officers at Mascot Airport uncovered the explicit material, Goossens was plunged into legal proceedings, eventually pleading guilty to possessing obscene material, resulting in a fine of £100, the maximum penalty.
However, the more serious charge of ‘scandalous conduct’ was curiously never pursued, raising questions about potential interference from influential individuals in Sydney’s social and political circles. Goossens’ career in Australia crumbled as he resigned from both the ABC and the NSW State Conservatorium. As the scandal unfolded, Goossens’ wife, Marjorie, publicly stood by him, refuting rumors of a separation. Yet, the couple never lived together again. Goossens faced a rapid decline in his career and health, with his return to the United Kingdom marked by failing performances and diminishing opportunities. In June 1962, at the age of 69, Sir Eugene Goossens died in a Swiss hospital due to a ruptured ulcer.
The legacy of Rosaleen Norton, the Witch of Kings Cross, and her partner Gavin Greenlees, ended in tragedy as well. Norton faced cancer and died in 1979, remaining committed to her pantheistic beliefs. Greenlees, who grappled with mental health issues, died in a mental institution.
The explicit material seized from Goossens’ luggage was returned to the Customs Department and subsequently destroyed, erasing a significant piece of evidence and leaving historians with limited access to this extraordinary chapter in Australia’s cultural history.
The revelation of Eugene Goossens’ secret life and scandal is a testament to the complicated interplay between private desires and public personas. The recent discovery of police documents and letters brings new clarity to a story that has fascinated and perplexed the world for decades. Eugene Goossens’ fall from grace reminds us that even the most celebrated figures can harbor hidden secrets that challenge our perceptions of their legacy