Victor

Victor sat amongst the bustling people, under the concourses of Sydney central station, giving out directions to lost people even though they never asked and was mostly being ignored. I bought him a coffee and a sandwich which he gratefully accepted.

      “What you doing today” he asked. Not batting an eyelid as I asked to sit down, placing his coffee and a sandwich next to as I explained what I was doing that day. I explained that I walk the city streets chatting to people and hopefully they allow me to make their portraits.

     “Why would you want a picture of me?” he asked confusion blossoming on his features. This question gets asked many times, as many street people get ignored and in turn I think they start disengaging from us. Maybe through fear or just being ignored daily even though they maybe just trying to help, by only giving people directions

     “Many reasons” I said. “I love the character of people’s faces that alone can tell stories that I could never write down. Decades of living a life that I capture in seconds” if the photograph comes out that is.

     “Do you sleep around here?” I asked indicating the park nextdoor or the areas close by that many of the homeless tend to sleep.

    
     “I sometimes sleep upstairs, but you have to sleep on the chairs and you have to sleep as if you are waiting for a train. Because the security will just come, boot you awake and kick you out. I had a house” he said without prompting “They put you in an apartment and you become a recluse, you don’t know your neighbours and they don’t talk to you when you walk past them in the corridors. You try and do right, you get your money, you squirrel some away to help pay some bills the next month. And that’s all good, but it's never enough. Bills accumulate but I still have to eat, but there is no money for that.  So you just watch T.V until you get bored. And there is only so much shit you can watch. So then you start to drink to elevate the boredom maybe some drugs and then you are back out here it's a spiralling cycle. So yeah I lived in unit with a roof above my head but I was also living like a dog, why would anyone live like a fucking dog.” He said with an angry smile on his face.

     “I don’t think just giving housing is the end and be all, there needs to be other things factored in surely” not having much experience with the way homeless people get treated I don’t really embellish on many of my answers.

     “I have friends we talk, they are almost family. But I give back, I am not a beggar. You won’t catch me begging. I am a buskater I play my recorder for money that how I pay my way. He said with finality.

Elephant Boy

We will get the nickname later. These stories are unscripted and not prompted in any way. I enjoy the freedom, of any subject that people feel happy to talk about. I wish that I could record these dealings as much of what we talk about is completely lost in the hustle and bustle of the everyday city life. From cars driving past to a herd of Japanese students wearing orange backpacks walking through where we sat, waving their flags and chatting in the language that I cannot understand. I would like to emphasize that I am not writing these stories to point out any illnesses, I do not know what has happened in anybody’s life except my own. Many of you would have stories that are close to unbelievable but are true with minimum embellishment...come on I know we all do it. So please as you read, keep an open mind.

This gentleman sat quietly on a bench in Martin Place next to a building that is under construction. The awning of the building has been swallowed by the destitute for shelter. Bed’s packed tightly together with even a street library, where they could bring and swap books. A loose leg draped across the other casually rolling a cigarette, beaming as I asked him to take a photograph.

Elephant boy: how do you want me? Changing from one pose to the next with a smile on his face. You are the second person to ask me today for a photo.

Me: as you are mate.

Elephant Boy: do you know that I have only just started to smoke. He said waving a badly rolled smoke at me. Do you know why I started to smoke? Once again, brandishing the cigarette. It makes you look sophisticated. He said with a laugh. Shaking his bedecked ringed hand, he introduced himself as Brandon. He explained that he came to the city most weekends to hand out money and have a chat to the homeless.

Elephant Boy: I had a hundred bucks when I came this morning but now I only have my bus pass. He said with a laugh. Without missing a heartbeat he went on to explain, I have been given many medals but I have been given two by the Queen herself. Mumbling something I didn’t catch about the recent Brexit in the UK. His speech picking up the pace as his movements becoming more animated as I listened.

Me: You were in the forces? I asked

Elephant Boy: Nah, was given them for outstanding excellence by the queen when I was a young lad. She even took me in her arms and hugged me. He said the last with a wistful look. As if he was looking back across the decades. After my dad had found out I got the medal my dad called me a royalist. “Boy you’re a royalist now” Brandon voice taking on a scornful tone when chatting about his dad, but a revered tone when talking about his mother.

 Elephant Boy: But mum just said. Good on you, son. The third time was when we crashed at the North Pole, but I didn’t deserve it the captain did. He was this hard Englishman, and he told me that if people didn’t want to get off the plane then just throw them off. It was forty-five below freezing, man that was cold.

Me: I bet.

Elephant boy: Yeh, after that I was taken back to America. Man...New York. Have you been?

Me: Nah not yet but it is on the list.

Elephant Boy: The place was amazing, the Americans in those times were great, not so much now. I had a hotel, driver the lot. All paid for by the FBI. We used to drive down this street and I could hear jazz playing every time I went passed this building, man it sounded great. The flutter of trumpet floating through the air, Man... The driver wouldn’t stop for me but I jumped out anyway, I had to try a few door but once I found one the right one bam I got hit in the face by this music. I then realized I was the only blue eyed, blond, white man in the whole club.  All the other were black. He said the word black with no racism at all, almost a reverence to these people.

Elephant boy: the singer came down shook my hand and tried to pull me towards the stage, but I didn’t want to go. So we had this awkward standoff thing going on. The other pulled me whilst I was pulled back...Haha. He took me back to his mother’s house after that, in Harlem. I was the first white guy to walk over her threshold. Because in those days the black were scared of us whites, they killed a whole lot of them.

We sat and talked for about an hour Brendon nursing a cooling cup of coffee, but still very happy to chat and burn some minutes of the day. It turned out that we were heading in the same direction and he was happy to have company as we walked to another location together. He started to point out individual trees and plants naming each one unerringly.

Elephant Boy: Trees are my love...now that I am alone. Scotty my dog died last year. See that guy, he said pointing to a large jacaranda tree. Lost everything for the winter but he will still be listening to you and me... I bet you.  We walked and talked but as I said before most of it is lost in the moment, forgotten and never to return. Turning a corner and we came across a square, an ailing corner store doing mediocre business in a corner and plastic tables all in line, with women and men cutting up chocolate cake. The line of men just starting to form, without missing a beat he asked if I wanted a sandwich or a piece of cake. A woman sat at a tool box working and checking the men’s feet and quickly offered Elephant Boy a check up.  

Elephant Boy: They used to call me Elephant Boy. He said laughing at his own words. Do you know why? Rolling into the story seamlessly, well we were all in Thailand with my dad, mother, and I. And then there was this elephant and I so badly wanted to touch it, and I did. Its skin was rough and smooth at the same time, this massive creature took my breath away. But then this policeman tried to shoo me away and this elephant lashed out hitting this copper with its trunk, and me at the same time knocking us both to the ground. The whole crowd gasped at what this elephant did, they were scared that it would hurt us more. But it didn’t, it looked at me on the ground and realised what it did, its eyes radiated intelligence...I knew what it wanted in the deep down of me.  I stood and it wrapped its trunk around me and lifted me onto its back and I felt amazing. I was the tallest around I could see for blocks, and I stayed there what seemed for ages this living creature trumpeting its pleasure of having me on its back...that how I got the name.

Me: Wow that amazing, impressed by the love and passion in his voice as he told the story. The sun had started to dip bellow skyscrapers at this point, their corners glinting at the last rays of sun hit them. I made my good bye’s touched by the openness of this man and the generosity that he showed weekly to the homeless, by bringing them money, food and time just sitting down and talking to these guys and wanting nothing back in return. My only question that I had but didn’t want to ask...is there a thing as too much generosity? If you are making yourself poor, taking food out of your own mouth so others can eat and make yourself ill to help others, is this too much?

Elephant Boy: I never told you about the time I lived in South Africa.

Me: We need something to talk about next time. I said genuinely hoping that we meet again for another chat. I will be keeping my eyes open for him again.

To be continued I hope...

Reaper

Sydney is a sprawling city, with many alleys and parks dotted throughout the city, many of these parks and alleys, house the homeless. I tried to start conversations up throughout the day, but many were suspicious of me. Which I think is understandable as living on the street would breed suspicion and weariness to people “that just want to talk, ” or as my wife says, a rich white man that wants to talk is usually trying to exploit because many would see a guy with a roof above his head, as rich. Which may and could be the case.

 A quote I came across a few times that day was “We have criminal pasts, so we don’t want to get found.”

Belmore Park is a small park situated next to Central railway station. This is where you can find the old bandstand, now standing abandoned and in desperate need of repair. A chain link fence surrounds the stand an addition maybe to dissuade the homeless from sleeping under it pinnacle roof. Tents with tarpaulin add on’s line the fences, some tents small but many have extra rooms. Maybe to give them a feeling of normalcy, or the semblance of a house. Each tent stood away from the center, an imaginary line drawn between the homeless and the every dayers. They use the natural cover of the trees to shelter themselves from the elements.

Two police officers stood by the side of a sheet of tarpaulin tied to the boundary fence making a makeshift lean-to. A head stuck from between the sheets, listening quietly to what the officers had to say, nodding in all the right places to be quickly left alone. Trains rumbled past and a peace rally, which was just getting started in the centre of the park, drowned most of the conversation out.

Once the officers had left I introducing myself to the floating head and to the back of another person that was in the tent next door, I tried a different approach outlining what I was doing from the start and what I was trying to get out a conversation, “I was going all in.”  Reaper introduced himself and disentangled himself from his lean-to and stood, even to offer me a blanket to sit down on and said yes for me to be able to photograph him throughout our chat.

Me: what was that all about? I indicated the police now walking away.

Reaper: They always have it in for me, once they had me down to my jocks in the middle of the street just to search me. He said with a laugh.

Me: How do you get food, how many meals a day do you get? The question of food is always one that I want to know about, as eating every day would be my main concern.

Reaper: It depends on what you want to eat if you don’t mind what you’re eating. You can get at least three a day, If you are fussy then maybe one or none. We have people come around every day bringing food and people offering clothes.

Me: What about homeless shelters?  It’s hard to know what you can say and what not to say as many things can set people off as the tirade against a homeless shelter started.

Reaper: They threw me out, bastards. They said I wasn’t keeping my space clean and I was cracking one out in my swag, every five minutes. Irritation starting to show in his voice, hands getting more and more animated.

Next door: Yeh, they are making homeless people, homeless again. The person I had introduced myself to in the next tent over turned out to be a woman, if she walked past me in the street I wouldn’t have been able to tell that she was homeless, her clothes were clean, and she spent time fixing her makeup and painting her nails.

Next door: I was given twenty bucks by a woman and was told to keep it, and they blew up at me the next day and kicked me out. Again using the quote “they are making homeless people, homeless again.” She lived with her partner who untangled himself from his tent. The ex-plumber by trade, all he would answer on why he was homeless was something had happened, and it spiralled. They had only been homeless for a short period of time and met each at the shelter after she had been thrown out they decided to come here and live close enough to Reaper for protection and far enough away that they had their own space. The last question I could think of was.

 Me: Why do they call you Reaper? Reaper shoved his hand out, the underside of his wrist facing up and indicating for me to place my fingers were his veins lay, the wrist popped and ground as if dirt had been poured within the joint and that’s all he did as if that was more than enough of an explanation to the name.

The last words I was met by before I left was “don’t go over that side, that side is dangerous” all pointed at the other side of the park.

 I have been asked by a homeless gentleman and my wife, why do I want to do this. The homeless man asked if it was for recognition. And I can honestly say I don’t know, maybe it is a number of things, but I can’t just pinpoint the one. I find the homeless people have a substance as if living rough etches this quality into their souls. This is not to take away from the people going about their everyday lives. I find it scarier to talk to the everyday people than I do taking the chance on striking up a conversation with the homeless. By the end of this maybe I could have a more solid answer for you.

Terry

I came across a dishevelled gentleman on one of my first days of me deciding to try and do this. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, or what I would come across. Me and Terry, (the dishevelled gentleman’s name, I found this out from a passerby later on in the conversation). Terry and I started talking over coffee, our conversation started like this.

Terry: Are you an undercover cop, because you have to tell me if you are?

Me: Nah mate.

Terry: Are you CIA? Because they are after me.

Me: CIA? No mate you are alright.

Terry: Are you an ice dealer? Because if you are, I am not interested.

 I also answered this with a no. The conversation went through many changes. From the RPA (the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital) making nuclear explosives, because that’s how they get rid of gall stones, to even how BHP was making a special petroleum based explosives.  It also branched into squats and homeless shelters. Terry seemed apprehensive of homeless shelters that they would pass his information on to the authorities (the CIA) and then he would get picked up and placed in an unidentified cell some were in America, “because he knew secrets.” He went on to say that the last squat he had, that was somewhere in the back of new town had been changed into a thousand dollar a time root, gay brothel. He scoffed at the price and proceeded to tell me that the going rate for a blowjob was forty bucks on the street but many would go as low as five bucks dependent on if they needed money or not.

Terry also lets on that he had a son somewhere in New Zealand and that he was an electrician by trade. He talked about many of the jobs that he had visited and worked on but still touched on conspiracy theories throughout this conversation, touching on Russian submarines in the harbour and also American subs as well. How he would like to pierce the hulls of the ships or cut the propeller off with lasers. His ingrained distrust for the CIA and America in general, evident in most of the conversation. He refused a photo “just in case I passed it onto the authorities.” He said covering his face, shying away from the camera I carried. This would not be the last time I came across a conspiracy theorist if I carried on down this path.

 

 

 

The Forgotten

Many of these stories may be fantasy, but much of what is written will be fiction. Many of the homeless would rather live rough and deal with the everyday hardship of the streets, rather than abusive, alcoholism, drug addiction of their former homes. My goal is to talk, photograph and document as many of these individaulas that i can.