I’ve just watched the Mick Fleetwood story on ABC TV. The story of a man who grew up with a dream and held on to it through the good times and the bad. From the dizziness of fame and musical success to the despair of drink and drug addiction. And boy, now in his fifties he looks great. Why ? He had and has an innate sense of his own self worth and an unwavering belief in the power of family and love.
His previous pain was of the universal type. A frustrated search for identity, the longing for lasting love, a submersion into surrender and depression. Quicksand, which for regular folk there’s no escape. No respite nor hope of survival. I see these folk all night long, scurrying to score, wandering without intent, spiralling hopelessly down a sinkhole called life...
I’m camped on Flinders outside Arc nightclub in the early morning, a favourite hang for the G crowd. There’s a hobo slumped on a bus seat, legs across the footpath, halfway along the gay clubbers queue. It’s an striking juxtaposition as the anxious queue edges slowly forward. With a mixture of aversion and pity they carefully sidestep around him.
Finally, he stirs as if disturbed by the constant activity, turns and staggers towards my cab. As he reaches for the door I audibly groan. My instinct is to hit the locks but I hesitate and allow him to climb in. ‘Get me to the Salvos’, he slurs with the whisky tone of a life drunk. ‘ Mate they’re closed’, I tell him. ‘Matthew Talbot then..’, he gruffly spits out. ‘They’re closed too’, I reply. ‘Doesn’t matter, take me there - they know me’, he demands with some authority. ‘You got any money ?’, I ask. ‘They’ll pay the fare’, he responds dismissively with a wave of the hand.
Automatically dropping the window I don’t allow myself the chance to detect an odour. Nothing personal mate - simply an occupation health and safety precaution. In fact, Transport Department regulations allow me to reject any passenger I deem to be of offensive behaviour or appearance. And there’s every chance this street bloke has not only soiled his pants but is the carrier of diseases such as tuberculous.
We travel around to Bourke Street, past my birthplace of St Margaret's Hospital, each alone with our thoughts on a quiet Monday morning. ‘I’m a brother’, he states without warning. ‘What?’, I say. ‘A brother....’, he repeats. ‘Yeah mate, we’re all just brothers in the end. Don’t worry, I’ll get you to the Talbot - I know ‘em too’, I reassure him. ‘I’m a Catholic brother’. ‘You’re a Catholic brother ?!’ I looked at him hard and something told me he was telling the truth. ‘What mob were you with?’ I asked. ‘Ehh ?’, he grunts and looks across at me, squinting his eyes into focus. He needs to see the retired optometrist, practising once a week as a volunteer at the Talbot.
‘What order of brothers were you in ?’, I ask slowly. ‘Oh, De La Salle’, he says automatically. I’m dumbfounded, looking across at him intently for signs of his past. Immediately I trawl back through the years when as an 8 yo I arrived at De La Salle Ashfield. Then full of fear and trepidation of the brothers who were about to educate me for the next 10 years. Especially after the stories told to me by my older brothers.
Though I couldn’t see him there, for this man was now just another bloke, frail and broken. ‘ Thirty two years....’, he mutters, voice trailing off. ‘Where were you ?’ I ask but thinking, hey what’s your story mate ? ‘ I was in Victoria most of my time....’ he says weakly to himself.
He’s not drunk but somewhat disorientated. ‘You ever get back there?’ I press him. ‘Where, Victoria?’. ‘ Yeah’ ‘No fear..’, he barks, then catches himself before quietly stating, ‘besides too bloody cold’. I check his attire which seems in reasonable condition, at least not grubby, torn or worn as with the average grifter. He must be in his sixties, maybe seventy, his dreams long gone. Dreams never fulfilled, waylaid at an early age maybe. Did he ever shine I wonder or have a chance at true happiness.
We arrive at the Talbot and he waits in the cab while I access the night buzzer. He knows the routine, seemingly reluctant to get out. A staff member arrives with $10 for me and a kindly hand for their long-term resident. He winks at me in thanks as he patiently helps the old brother into the safety of the Shelter. A dedicated saint guiding a fallen angel into their Proscribed Place, used for detoxing, medicals and bathing. I slowly depart feeling real lucky.