The post below offers a unique insight into the lives of street people in Darwin, where ‘long grassers’ are often regarded as a blight on the community, denied access to toilets, showers and other facilities.
The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, wants to encourage better responses to street people and particularly urge academics to advocate more on their behalf.
The article was first published in the November edition of intouch, the monthly newsletter of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA). We thank the author and PHAA for permission to republish here.
I’m a Health Worker and Charles Darwin University (CDU) student and have been homeless for the past four years, by choice. My life revolves around work, CDU and hanging out with my family of Aboriginal long grassers and homeless. I have brothers, uncles, sons, daughters and dads; a sister and many nieces – and sometimes they camp with me, a place where they can have a feed, a clean-up and a good night’s rest.
My camp is at the back of an office block whose staff know I live there. In exchange, I water the garden, clean and generally act as caretaker overnight – including preventing other itinerants getting in and drinking there. I have an outdoor tap anda veranda, the rest is bush. I get in late and get out before the staff arrive. I know the combination to open and lock their main gate. I invite family to camp there but people desperate for a place can sing out from the back fence to be let in.
People in the office know I don’t drink or smoke but will bring in drunken people for rest and recovery and I warn them about overnight noise levels and keeping clean. There used to be all-night drinking sessions with screaming matches and domestic-related minor floggings, but not anymore.
My routine is to drive around Casuarina and Rapid Creek shops on the way home after work. Relations can usually spot the car and sing out to be picked up. The simple condition is no more drinking for the night (i.e. pack away the bladders) and agreeing to clean themselves up, even clothes. I try to bring bread, orange juice, corn beef, anything on special at the supermarket. Sometimes I get leftovers from a few shops that are willing to give it away, including pizza.
Many street friends and relatives are alcoholic and their week revolves around pay day – theirs and their family’s too. There’s always someone who’s paid, every weekday. My obligation sometimes extends to buying cheap chardonnay and cigarettes, which I hate, and most know not to ask anyway. My sister Janet is the exception: she is queen and being my sister, what she says goes – to a point. She is often too far gone and knows I won’t pick her up if she is too adamant.
The bonding with this family is not like any other. What takes months in the mainstream, takes hours: streetsters can read 70% of what you are and have to offer, in minutes – and if you drink and get loose-lipped that goes up to 95%. But if you are family, there is nothing to work out: you are in, whatever you’re up to. They can be cutting in expressing their likes and dislikes and only see a spade as a spade, at best. With a memory like an elephant, no information or misinformation is safe – it will come back to haunt you if it’s not true or water-tight.
I keep clean and fit around my camp and they can all see it: exercise, showers, brushing teeth, hosing down the place, all simple things. ‘We can have this lifestyle without the grog and smokes’ is the message. Regular cleaning, healthy eating and a good sound sleep is all the body needs to recover. I put this out in discreet ways– and it registers. I’ve always felt healthy, living this way and haven’t had a flu or fever in years partly from the active/fit lifestyleand partly from immunity acquired from co-habiting. We are all creations of nature in need of a guiding spirit: this open/outdoor ‘street’ lifestyle makes iteasier to be with nature and receive her guidance.