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The man who inspired Rake: What we've always chosen to ignore about Charles Waterstreet.

When 21-year-old Tina Huang, a third-year law student at the University of Sydney, saw a job advertisement seeking a junior paralegal, she was quick to apply.

The one-hour job interview was with Charles Waterstreet, a notoriously eccentric criminal barrister, and the inspiration behind the ABC television series Rake. 

What do we know for certain about Charles Waterstreet?

We know he has been painted by Jim Van Geet for the Archibald Prize, standing in his court robes, adorned with a barrister’s wig and his signature glasses. He looks up – an air of ‘you can’t touch me’ inherent in his gaze, with two naked women prostrating at his feet.

We know he is almost always described as “colourful”. Whatever that means.

We know – because he told us – that while at college at the University of Sydney, he ran into the bedrooms of dozens of women, “flinging the bedclothes off and lifting their nightdresses up and plastering a wet one,” on their bottoms.

We know that in a 2012 interview with Honi Soit he said, “I made a pledge with myself not to sleep with any students until the graduate course. Then I took them two at a time.”

We know he thinks obtaining consent can be a bit of a “wet blanket”.

We know he has written a number of books, including Precious Bodily Fluids: A Larrikin’s Memoir, and is currently writing his third autobiography.

LISTEN: Allegations, allegations, allegations. Listen to Mia Freedman, Holly Wainwright and I discuss Kevin Spacey on the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below. 

We know he very firmly claims he is behind the creation of Rake’s protagonist Cleaver Greene; the womanising, witty and dishevelled barrister, with a sharp legal mind.

And we know that in the last week, three separate women, who have never met each other, accused him of sexual harassment.

Huang alleges in a sworn statement obtained by New Matilda that throughout the course of her interview, Waterstreet played a video on his phone of a man receiving a hand job, showed her images of naked women, talked openly about sex parties and remarked that he only hired “pretty young things” – women under the age of 25 – to work alongside him.

But, Huang reasoned; “He is famous and powerful and a cheeky, but genius man.”

So she went back.

On her first day, Huang replied to emails about late payments for sex toys, and was required to organise Waterstreet’s dates with other women. He confided in her that he was “upset because he had been overlooked for an invitation to a recent ‘sex party'”.

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Charles Waterstreet. Image via Getty.

This time, Huang did not go back.

She informed the 'flamboyant' barrister that her "circumstances had changed", and received an email from Waterstreet in response, published by New Matilda.

“Tina, my apologies for acting like a dork at first day, i was excited to work on matters that outside the box (sic), you might be surprised that my stupid exterior is contrary to my internal landscape..."

The email went on.

Waterstreet has developed a cult of personality - a man too smart for his own good, a misfit, quirky, a square peg in a round hole, highly unconventional, a sort of 'mad scientist', a tortured creative.

And his response to Huang, penned in The Sydney Morning Herald at the end of last week, did much to contribute to that carefully constructed persona.

He begins by characterising himself as flawed (his shtick) and remarking that he makes a joke out of "everything if I can". It's his primary defence mechanism.

The allegations against him are, of course, not a joke, although he does a fine job of treating them as if they are. He could not even complete his first paragraph without poking fun at the name of the publication that exposed the allegations,  New Matilda. 

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Is that witty? Or is that petty?

"The Editor's online website refers to the fact that he sold his house in Canberra in order to fund his dream," Waterstreet jabs - finally making the point that the editor was simply "born without the funny bone or a sense of irony (or may have sold it with his house)."

And that - right there - is the crux of his argument, if you can call it that.

Waterstreet is simply a very funny man, and it's on you if you don't get it. 

Poor Huang (and by extension, New Matilda) just didn't get the joke.

"For reasons that a host of psychiatrists have attempted to analyse," Waterstreet writes, presenting himself as just the right amount of unhinged,"I use humour as my stock in trade: in court and in real and unreal life. These are the facts."

But they are not the facts.

Because while joking (?) about sex parties and hiring exclusively young, beautiful women might be funny to Waterstreet - it clearly was not funny to Huang.

Or to Genevieve Wilks. Or to a woman going by the pseudonym Anita.

Wilks claims that on her first day of work with Waterstreet, he gifted her an autographed book of nude photos, which featured Waterstreet himself alongside much younger naked women.

It is then alleged he showed Wilks a drawing of his penis.

Wilks has shared emails with New Matilda sent from Waterstreet, that depict a penis in a mankini, and ongoing jokes about how he must find her on Tinder. He also sent content regarding Viagra and pornography, writing that he is, "not in any relationship except with Redtube," a pornography site.

But alas, these humourless women must have just misunderstood.

The allegations do not stop there. New Matilda lists a number of claims, including that Waterstreet would watch pornography within view of his female colleagues, he would send Wilks to pick up his Viagra, and she was required to organise payments for sex workers on his behalf.

Anita alleges that Waterstreet held a sex-toy during her job interview and asked her if she knew what it was. She also claims that he made her watch pornography, and discussed openly how much stronger the female orgasm is than the male orgasm.

You can read the full list of allegations on New Matilda, here.

Of particular note, is Wilks' claim that she was never included in 'Charlie's Angels' as she was considered less attractive.

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This is what you need to know about 'Charlie's Angels'.

In April, 2014, an article was published by The Daily Telegraphtitled 'Charles Waterstreet's recruitment process isn't as complicated as you might think; he prefers photos of candidates over CVs.'

Waterstreet is quoted as saying: "Many barristers insist on a CV. I just insist on photos."

"I'm looking for a new angel," he added, "Though, I don't mind devils, or fallen angels." Hence, Charlie's Angels.

The two women featured corroborate his story, with one retelling how she walked into his office, he looked her up and down and said, "My God, you start on Monday".

At the time, it was laughed at. No one seemed to bat an eyelid. Waterstreet was a bit 'naughty'. A bit 'cheeky'. Never mind that he was openly discriminating against job candidates based on both gender and appearance. He was irreverent, and The Daily Telegraph's Brenden Hills had no perceivable problem with it.

But we ought to have looked a little closer.

Because sexual harassment - if that's what this is - exists on a continuum. It begins with a boss viewing women only as sexual objects, ornaments to place around his office as pieces of art.

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Is that, in and of itself, an act of sexual harassment?

A man who hires women based on their appearance and not their CV is hardly going to treat women well.

Wilks says it became a "running joke" in the office that she was not very good looking.

In an email to Wilks, Waterstreet wrote, "this sounds corny but I adore you, your (sic) plain but sincere."

On top of passing off inappropriate behaviour as "a joke", according to the three women, Waterstreet had another weapon in his arsenal.

The ability to make women feel sorry for him.

"At the end of the day," Wilks told New Matilda, "he’s just a really sad, lonely man."

And that is one of the reasons so many women feel uncomfortable reporting sexual harassment; because perhaps it was just a joke they didn't get, made by a sad man who is just a bit lonely.

What we might learn - if these allegations are true - is that sexual harassment is not a single act that clearly crosses the line, but a firmly entrenched culture, perpetuated by a series of acts, in which the line is not visible.

"The truth is, sexual harassment is never something that a man does once; it is not a single story,"  Tina Huang said. It is many stories, happening all at once. It is behaviour that comes so naturally to the perpetrator, that you think you might have imagined it.

Or maybe, you just didn't get the joke. And no one wants to be that woman.

But perhaps - when no woman finds it funny - it was never really intended as a joke in the first place.

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