EUGENIA, A MAN
…Woodrow asked me how so, but the whiskey was at work and I felt too deaf to tell him; but what I would have said was: as truth is non-existent, it can never be anything but illusion—but illusion, the by-product of revealing artifice, can reach the summits nearer the unobtainable peak of Perfect Truth. For example, female impersonators. The impersonator is in fact a man (truth), he recreates himself as a woman (illusion)—and of the two, the illusion is the truer.
—TRUMAN CAPOTE Answered Prayers
Born in Italy in 1875, EUGENIA FALLENI migrated to New Zealand with her family at the age of two. Settling in Wellington, in the south of the North Island, the family were hardworking, law-abiding and respectable-except for Eugenia, who grew up restless, wilful and undisciplined. She wore boys’ clothes when she could and repeatedly ran away from home. Dressed as boy, on one occasion she got a job in a brickyard, at another time in a laundry. Small, wiry, strong, and unable or unwilling to learn to read and write, she was considered ‘simple’, but her tomboyish eccentricities were initially regarded as harmless enough. In her teens, and again dressed as a boy, she ran away to sea.
Some years later when she turned up in Newcastle, a seaport on the south eastern coast of Australia, having apparently worked in the intervening time as a cabin boy. Soon after she gave birth to a child. Although she herself would tell varying stories as to the identity of the father, the truth was that she probably had been raped on board ship and, once pregnant, put ashore when the ship docked in New South Wales.
Eugenia fostered the baby to an Italian family, and from then on, for nearly twenty years, she continued to live as a man. It was this same Eugenia, who as Harry Crawford, called by the newspapers ‘The Man-Woman Murderer’, was later tried for murdering the woman living with him as his wife.
What they said:
‘Lucidly written by a trenchant and conscientious writer, Eugenia, A Man is undoubtedly the fullest and fairest account of the curious and tragic life of a transsexual in Sydney at the turn of the century.’
—Mark Try Campaign
‘Suzanne Falkiner’s treatment of this story is impressive in several ways. It skilfully alleviates the monotony of old documents; it traces a complex life with reportorial skill, it makes this past sequence a matter of present concern and enlightenment….As the author of a good book, and, rarer still, a good book about crime, Falkiner deserves both praise and respect.’
—Stephen Knight The Age Monthly Review
‘Well-researched and clearly written’
—Peter Corris The Weekend Australian
10-11 December 1988
—Sydney Morning Herald
17 December 1988