Once upon a time, in her tender teenage years, Gretel Pinniger was convinced her life’s calling was to become a nun. Thank goodness she had second thoughts. This unauthorised biography sheds some light on what Gretel did next (even though the subject has since attacked the book and its author, claiming it’s full of lies. Some say it’s another publicity stunt; Everingham is philosophical: “She’s a handful and unpredictable. Like all the best artists, she’s amazingly creative but you’ve got to treat her with care. She’s sensitive,” he said after the book’s launch).
So, where to start? Beyond the tales of her childhood, including sad stints in boarding schools and longings for her absent father, the story swings to Gretel’s rise as one of Sydney’s most bizarre, eccentric and colourful figures. Love affairs overlap; drugs are prevalant. Stripping makes way for Madame Lash, and exotic, bondage-sex-act-performance-art shows, slave auctions and more. Gretel becomes a dominatrix with her own custom-built dungeon; she plays courtesan to the rich and famous. She channels her passion for fetish fashion into a business and dresses the likes of Cher and Elton John. She marries and becomes a mother. She tries her hand at politics; enjoys liaisons with high-powered men including restaurateur Tony Bilson and former NSW Liberal MLC Clyde Packer (Kerry’s brother). And, through it all, she remains a die-hard party girl with a reputation for throwing soirees others would still be talking about 20 years later.
That just scratches the surface of Gretel’s unbelievable life, and in some ways, it’s just the beginning. Also a gifted artist, the book details Gretel’s foray into the art world as an Archibald finalist – and her secretive relationship with the Patron, a mysterious benefactor who kept Gretel financially afloat for much of her adult life.
RC’s Verdict Engrossing from whoa to go, it’s a crazy, madcap ride through the 60-something’s colourful life, and a fantastic insight into Sydney’s past history, too.