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Fighter who found community on the streets


Susan Gaye Bloomfield
7th February, 1967 – December 2014

Elizabeth told me Sue had died. She had been dead in her Ashfield flat for 18 days before she was found. The heater was on. I don’t want to think about how she was when she was found. I don’t know how she died. There is talk of ice. 

Sue had been just below the surface of my consciousness for weeks, just this unease. She had rung and asked me to ring her. She didn’t think to give me her number. Street people change their mobile numbers all the time and the one I had had the familiar: 'Optus advises that the number you have rung has been disconnected.' I rang Elma at the Wayside and they hadn’t seen her or knew her number. I thought of going to her flat.

Sue was a giver and it used to bring her undone, especially with men. They would take and take and finally they would turn on her, violently, because no one likes to receive all the time. They would bash her, stab her and the cycle went on with someone else. She gave because she had no capacity to affirm herself, she had no sense of her own value or worth. 

On 19th January, 1969, in the Saleyards Camping Area, Griffith, Margaret Bloomfield was shot by her husband, Hector Bloomfield. Margaret was 26, they had 8 children. Susan was the youngest, 11 months. She was found under a couch. She had hid there when she heard the bangs. As an adult, a loud bang would send her ducking for cover. A total of three people were killed by Hector that day, two other relatives. Her adult family was wiped out. Sue and another sibling were separated from her other siblings and brought up in institutions in Waitara and Goulburn. She was on the streets at 12 and I met her at St Canice’s. 

I remember her saying to me she once went to the library in Griffith to look up reports of that day in the papers. She found plenty of photos of her father but none of her mother. She was looking for one, she never found one photo of her mother.

'I wanted a family,' she once said to me. She did have one, she had six children. But she didn’t know how to be a parent, she had never been parented herself. She didn’t know how to make a home. 'I find community on the streets,' she told me. When her children visited her they would live on the steps of the church with her. You could tell she had lived in an institution. Her bed was always the neatest and most well made on the steps. She liked the corner spot. 

I can’t remember if she could read. She had that directness and eye contact that people who can’t read have, who need to take their cues on what to do from others. Her mail came to the church. Mostly it was warrants for not turning up in court. She asked me to safe-keep her records. That’s how I know the details about her mother, she gave me her mother’s death certificate: 'Shock and severed spinal cord in the neck as a result of bullet wounds.' 

Sue had a mouth she could use when needed. I was shocked and amused at the same time when I first heard her on the steps late one night having a piece of someone. They were going hammer and tongs at one another, then it would die down, and then Sue would have the last word, and it would begin again. She had to have the last insult.

There was a lot of fight in her. I suppose she didn’t know any other way. But she had the most direct, warm, generous nature you could imagine. I used to think that God took a direct hand in her life, seeing that we had failed her. How else could she have had such a beautiful nature? She never sought pity, she never complained about her lot. She never thought that others had a better life than she had. She worried about her children, about others, about me: 'You used to smile a lot,' she said to me once. I knew then that I had been at St Canice’s for too long and it was time to go.

Sue lived in the present, with a cheeky grin and laugh. She was embarrassed she had no teeth. That’s why her mouth is closed in the photo. She had her jaw broken by surgeons so they could fit her with new teeth. She felt better about herself with teeth. I preferred her no teeth smile but I loved how proud she was of her new look.

Her father spent a long time in Long Bay. He turned to painting the walls of the exercise yard there. When he came out in 1987 he asked to see Sue. 'There is only one thing I regret,' he said to her, 'and that is that I didn’t kill all of you.' He then went and shot himself in the pavilion of a Rockhampton oval.

The late Greg Dening once wrote that his task as an historian was to rescue from anonymity just some of the vast numbers of people who have gone before us and are now names on war memorials, in death records and the like. Sue will always be for me flesh and blood, her trust I will forever cherish. Hers was a wretched life from the beginning to the end. But for some reason I feel impelled to lift her name out of that narrative. It is not one she would recognise. She once told me that she was 'one of the lucky ones'. For me she is a bright star shining in our darkness.

Steve SinnSteve Sinn SJ is the long time former parish priest of St Canice's, King's Cross, and now works in retreat ministry in rural NSW.

Topic tags: Steve Sinn, obituary, indigenous, drug addiction, social inclusion



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Existing comments

"She never sought pity, she never complained about her lot." Words about courage and tenacity. Sue's story is heart-breaking but more than that, it's life-affirming in all that particular complexity. It is also clear that Steve was given a great gift by knowing Sue and being able to be her friend.

Pam | 09 December 2014  

One day Ignatius gave a novice a dead stick, telling him to plant the stick and water it and to bring him the flower. The novice though Ignatius crazy, but he obediently watered the stick for weeks. Eventually the novice plucked a flower off the dead stick and brought it to Ignatius.

two givers | 09 December 2014  

Thank you. I cried.

Dalma Dixon | 09 December 2014  

Thank you for a very poignant and reverent telling of how you travelled with Sue. I think the reason the story touches is because there is painted an image of universal aloneness that stalks some and accompanies others. It is also about how the early internal crippling causes a constant cringing of the psyche. Similar to the constant call to accompany, to sit with, to link with and to provide familiar eyes. Thanks again Steve.

Vic O'Callaghan | 09 December 2014  

She had a lot of fight in her, ,,,direct, warm, generous. Such apt description of many of the forgotten ones who in fact have a wisdom and compassion often unrecognised. Worrying and perceptive, 'you used to smile a lot.' Yes, it is important to 'rescue from anonymity' those who have quietly but importantly lived their lives as best they could. May I add Sam, Max, Kath, Hughie, Graham and Kerry. There are many others like Sue Bloomfield. Thank you Steve for rescuing her from anonymity.

Anne D | 09 December 2014  

I met Steve Sinn about 10 years ago at his church in Kings Cross. Homeless people lived on the steps of his church. I live in Seaford in Melbourne, our group is just becoming aware of the extent of homelessness surrounding us. The local bushland reserve has 3 sites where people sleep, they also sleep in the coaches boxes at the local football grounds. One chap I know sleeps in his car with his dog for protection.

Kevin Vaughan | 09 December 2014  

My Sue is called Glenda.She no longer has a flat.But one day I will receive the same message and today I thank you Steve for the reminder that she is and will always be a light and blessing in my life.

Margaret | 09 December 2014  

The Exodus Community of Heidelberg West have published a book of stories like Sue's to rescue from anonymity a number of local residents who live with disadvantage some of whom lived on the streets. One was a contemporary of Sue's at Kings Cross. They are indeed 'flesh and blood'. You'll find more details on the website.

AnneD | 09 December 2014  

Thank you Steve - after you left St. Canice I saw a fair bit of Sue - you are so right in your comments - she was a very special person - I will miss her.

Peter Benson | 09 December 2014  

Sue'story heightens the reality in my mind of the fear and loneliness of the young pregnant girl I met yesterday on the city street. Surrounded by her possessions in three small bags and the trinkets she hoped to sell, she sat grimacing in pain. A kind young stranger took the tram with her to hospital. Prayers that her child will enjoy better times ahead.

Anne | 09 December 2014  

Thanks for this great piece, Steve. An amazing giant of a person who deserved to be brought out of anonymity. And I hope you are smiling a bit more, too.

Joe Castley | 09 December 2014  

I also cried, for the beauty and the pain in the lives that this story holds. Thank you for bringing it into the light.

alex nelson | 09 December 2014  

Thank you for your responses. I am just so glad that Sue is now held in your hearts. She binds us together.

Steve sinn | 10 December 2014  

Thank you Steve for being there, for being part of her story and telling her story with such tenderness and understanding.

Virginia Ryan | 10 December 2014  

Hi my name is Leanne (Elphick)
I was in the home with sue & she was my best friend in there. She looked after me & I her. I loved her. A few times I tried to find her with no luck. Would love to know how her kids are. Please if u know let me know. Congrats to you on a wonderful piece you have written. Sue always had a beautiful heart & knowing now where she is makes me sad. RIP my beautiful friend. Xxx

Leanne fyfe | 29 December 2014  

Thank you for the article. I went to school with Susan in Goulburn, and so many of the qualities that you mentioned in your article were evident - even back then, she always had to have the last say, and made me laugh many many times. So sad to her about the tragic way her life ended, but thank you for the article, she would have like it. Kind regards, Antoinette

Antoinette Adams | 29 December 2014  

Sue was a kind hearted person would do anything for you, As i know, Sue was a very good friend of mine we went to school together and were neighbours.My heart goes out to her children, rest in peace beautiful...

Janene Mcintyre | 06 January 2015  

I went to school with sue in goulburn through primary and some of high school, she was a great friend. We had a reunion recently in Goulburn and Sue was one of the girls we all asked about...then your article was posted from another school friend. Thank you for article. RIP our Sue

kim dawe | 07 January 2015  

Lovely, I knew her older sister Denise, I went to school with her and Susan was in the same school. I once knocked on her front door (community nun's home) and asked if Denise could play. To be told NO.
After that she would sneek out her window, we would run as fast as our legs could carry us to my home. I would open up my fridge and tell Susan to "go for It". She would have her choice, pack some more food up, then we would race back to the home where Denise would sneek back into her window. I have often thought about Denise and Susan. Rip Susan. Do you know where Denise is??

Sharon | 07 January 2015  

Yes, Suzy was the best sister I ever had. Ill miss her terribly, also probably be grieving for for awhile yet. As most know suzy was stubborn, but her heart, forgiving nature and unselfishness for others, was who suzy was. I always was protecting her in StJohns, but as we grew I had to let her go. Which was hard for me. Suzy I am glad to see, was special and unique, as she was to me. I'm going to miss you my little sis. Love always and forevermore xoxoxo.

denise | 08 January 2015  

I'm another of her former school friends. There are so many of us that have expressed (in equal measure) sadness at the news of her passing and the fond memories we have of her from those days. I had no idea of her earlier life and she certainly left a lasting impression on me for her smile. I was glad to call her my friend and it makes me so sad to know that, in the end, we were so geographically close but I had no idea. If only she knew how many of us asked about her at our recent reunion. RIP Susie x

Mandy | 08 January 2015  

Hi there. My name is Andy Collins. I'm one of the ministers at Newtown Mission. Just letting you know that Sue's funeral will be next Thursday 16 Jan at 1:30pm at Newtown Mission chapel. Please feel free to spread the word.

Andy Collins | 08 January 2015  

Thank you for your very kind and thoughtfull words about my baby sister Suzy.I always thought about her over the years ,wondering where she is and how she is doing, so thank you for some insight into my sisters life. All I remember my sister has always having a big smile on her face-my little blond hair sis. I can't get over it, arent the elders go first? Why Suzy???????? Love and Already missing youMy baby sister Suzanne Gaye Bloomfield xooxoxoxoxxo

Margaret (Bloomfield) Williams | 08 January 2015  

sadly I never got to meet you yet in your passing have got to get know your children on Facebook speak with your siblings an im sad we didn't meet but I know you are at peace now until I get to dance in dreamtime with you aunty Suzie my your beautiful soul rest in peace now love Nicole Bloomfield your family xxx????

Nicole Bloomfield | 09 January 2015  

Always remembered...from early school days...so sorry to hear...thinking of youx

kiri hallam | 10 January 2015  

To have just stumbled across this on a Google search for something else' To then sit there' completely gobsmacked as to what I was actually reading' it made the hairs on my arms stand up! The words that were used to recall the days tragic unfoldings were done magnificently and to such an amazing extent that it almost felt as if it took you back in time! Now as I sit here and write this in 2016' to make an example of the saying ' " it's a small world after all " could not be any truer then that' As it turns out that for the last 16 years' The man that I have called my best friend' my soul mate' who is the father of my children, this is his realations' the members of his family through marriage. Who would of thought that reading this story' would of touched home and my heart' in the way that it did!

Rebecca | 12 May 2016  

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