It is pretty easy to identify young country and interstate visitors to town – they wear last years fashion and overdress. Whether it be sassy, gothic or plain old top bloke gear, lots do it, God love 'em.
That's why I stopped for a fella in the rain, laden with bags and running across the road for the cab. He presented as an out-of-town visitor, rather than some grifter likely to waste my time with a hard luck story: ”They pinched me fuckin' keycard, eh!”
He was full of thanks for 'the rescue' as no one would stop, loaded the bags then sat up front. We headed for a cheap hotel, off Oxford St, via Kings Cross.
Around 30 years old he wore new clobber - an almost retro, inner-city, black ensemble with a hint of cowboy – and had just arrived from Cairns, escaping a broken dream. Via Kings Cross...
“Why Sydney, I asked, you got work here or something?” His response was to laugh and lift a trouser leg, “Almost cut my leg off with a chainsaw”. The extended scar was gruesome and the accident triggered a regular quadrella: lost job, lost home, lost wife and lost children. Oh, plus an addiction to pain relief.
“Back home every street corner and every park reminds me of my kids. I had to get away from that,” he said. "And all the shit with the missus. I used to hate those men that walked away from their kids. Thought they were scum. But I know now they had no other choice.”
It was easy to guess that he'd also driven the family crazy, as his world fell apart from an escalating drug habit. Plus he was escaping a court appearance next week defending an AVO and the right to see his kids.
However this world of woe could only get worse as he had plenty of money from a compensation payout, even after 'losing half to the missus'. This spelt trouble.
In Kings Cross he collected syringes from a dispensing machine on a wall outside the fire station. “They're for someone else,” he lied. I asked if he was using ice, he was skinny enough from something. He confessed to using Oxycodone, or hillbilly heroin, a drought-proofer.
This was alarming. “Mate,” I told him, “You wanna be really careful. Heroin has made a comeback here, big time.” You can easily die, I should have added. But he would have been well aware of that. His recent life trajectory suggested nothing else.
At the hotel I told him to just be there for the kids, they will always remember that. Not that he overdosed in a Sydney hotel. We shook hands. It felt hopeless.