Farewell to the concierge of Pitt Street


Yassin, the concierge of Pitt StreetYassin was quietly spoken and gentle. We saw him every day when we came to work. He was often outside the building, or more recently across the road outside the Uniting Church.

Yassin made sure the bins were out for the garbage collectors, and that people had parking tickets on their cars in case the rangers passed by. He looked after the area so well that we nicknamed him 'the concierge'. Yassin had been in the area for about ten years.

I occasionally tried to engage him in conversation but he did not seem to want to talk, though he was happy to say 'hello', 'thank you' and 'God bless'. Some of us would give him papers and magazines, as he seemed to enjoy having something to read. Yassin liked The Guardian, and the Herald. Someone said they saw him with a Qur'an, and occasionally he read El Telegraph (a Sydney Arabic newspaper).

Others ensured he had his cigarettes and food. I only recently learned his name was 'Yassin'. Others knew him as Matt, or Michael. Yassin had a shopping trolley with bags tied to it and all his worldly possessions inside.

Ian from the church tells me Yassin would help teach basic living skills to the 'new boys' in the area. On occasion we saw him speaking with others living in the streets nearby. Some of the other men in the area would visit him and chat. Sometimes we saw him with his washing hanging out — he was always tidy and looked after himself.

Last Tuesday I did not see him. I thought maybe he was elsewhere, and only later learned what had happened.

Apparently someone took his trolley and he became very upset. Then late on Monday evening one of the security guards from the Defence Department nearby found him lying unconscious and without a pulse.

Within days, there was a photo of him and some flowers outside the church where he would often sit and sleep.

Yassin died on Monday 30 July, in his home — Pitt Street. The spontaneity of the flowers, chalked comments, photos, and a painting from people who live and work around Pitt Street showed me Yassin had friends.

Ian held a memorial service on the front steps of the church, which he described as Yassin's 'lounge and bedroom'. More than 50 people who work nearby came and we were invited to contribute memories. One sang a 'spiritual' in Yassin's honour, others spoke fondly of his friendliness and dignity. One of his mates from the street spoke about him in a compassionate way and gave us some more insight into Yassin's life.

There will be no state funeral, but this memorial on the steps of the church where he lived was comforting.

It can be easy to look past those living on the streets, when you pass them regularly. But 'the concierge' drew our attention, in his own quiet and dignified way. We will miss him.

Allahyamuhu, rest in peace, Yassin 'the concierge'.

Kerry Murphy is a partner with the specialist immigration law firm D'Ambra Murphy Lawyers. He is a student of Arabic, former Jesuit Refugee Service coordinator, teaches at ANU and was recognised by AFR best lawyers survey as one of Australia's top immigration lawyers. 


Topic tags: Kerry Murphy, Yassin, Pitt Street, Uniting Church



submit a comment

Existing comments

What a beautiful tribute to a man who would seem 'invisible' to some. He obviously made an impact on those who had eyes to see and ears to hear. Yassin's qualities of friendliness and dignity are sometimes thin on the ground and remind us of a greater, broader call on every life.
Barry G | 08 August 2012

A touching and beautiful eulogy. Thank you Kerry
Vacy Vlazna | 08 August 2012

Thank you Kerry. Yes, we often avert our eyes from those living on the street, even after making our donations to the charities. In a city - and a street - busy making money it is wonderful to know that there is a place for the gentle folk. They enrich our lives.
Jo Mercer | 08 August 2012

Beautiful. Much to think about in this.
Frank | 08 August 2012

A touching tribute highlighting the value of a human life whose life was unheralded and unsung save for those keen and percetive observers.
Leonard Tuohy | 08 August 2012

Farewell Yassim, good man. Find sweet peace. We now have some 650,000 prime homeless in Australia...some 60,000 are believed to be seriously mentally ill. All manner of political, corporate and celebrity 'leaders' will now begin to plan and worry how we can win more Olympic medals in four years. Advance Australia, dark and unfair!
Caroline Storm | 08 August 2012

I was in Sydney on Friday 27 July. I saw a person answering Kerry Murphy's description of Yassin, pushing a shopping trolley. "How like Christ, he is" I thought. There was a certain similarity with the Jesus so often depicted by Western artists of Jesus in the last days of his Passion. But it was not the physical appearance that struck me most. There seemed to be an aura of tranquillity around him as he pushed his trolley at a leisurely pace through the packed lunchtime crowd near Sydney's Chinatown. "All his worldly belongings are in that cart. And here I am looking for more "bargains" to squeeze into my already stuffed unit." I didn't buy anything that afternoon. I believe in angels - not the Raphael, Michael and Gabriel variety - but messengers from God who just flit into one's life, say nothing, just impact for a moment on one's imagination and are then gone. The grace is to recognise them at the time and heed their message. If not at the time, then later during quiet reflection. Thank you, Kerry, for bringing Yassin's message back to me. Allah-yamuhu, indeed!
Uncle Pat | 08 August 2012

A touching account, so sensitively reported, Kerry. In us all, though not to the extreme displayed in your man, lurks so much that spins us out of touch, Evidently Yassin never lost his graciousness under such pressure. Many thanks
mkelly@ucanews.com | 08 August 2012

This is a wonderful piece- full of heart and respect.It reminds us of the importance of relationship and to not look past. Thank you.
Susan Miller | 08 August 2012

Thank you, Kerry. It is humbling to be reminded of such kindness and human dignity.
Morag Fraser | 08 August 2012

A wonderful tribute to a gentle human being. Having lived, his lifestyle and presence is a lesson to us all: judge not, and respect the humanity of all people.
Bronte-kai Bushnell | 08 August 2012

I'm wondering if it was Yassin I saw as I peered across Pitt Street from a cafe last winter. I saw a man with long hair similar to the photo - he was crouched on his haunches under a blanket next to a busy pedestrian crossing, collecting coins from passers-by in a beanie in front of him. Young couples pushing prams tossed coins in. As I often do, I discretely took a quick snap shot with my mobile camera. The contrast struck me as something worth storing - a reason to stop and ponder the extremes of life on a mad city street.
AURELIUS | 08 August 2012

What a moving piece, Kerry. How inadequate words seem. Going to put it on the CathNews Facebook page so it goes wider...
Christine Hogan | 08 August 2012

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
William Shakespeare

Myra | 08 August 2012

Thank you Kerry. You have dignified Yassin's passing so eloquently. Lots of food for reflection in your words. Yasin has a message for us all!
Marie | 08 August 2012

I walked past the church at 3pm today and was shocked to find a shrine there instead of Matt's familiar face. I'll miss the way he looked directly into my eyes every time I walked by. It made me feel we had a connection, even though he rarely spoke. Rest in peace, buddy.
Karl | 08 August 2012

Thanks Kevin for your superb account of this living saint. Despite not knowing Yassin, your euology had a huge personal impact on me.
Helen Malley | 08 August 2012

Thanks Kerry for showing your compassion and understanding for Yassin and humanity and thanks for all the work you've done for forgotten people including refugees and asylum seekers. Love from your Mongrel mate!
Ariel | 09 August 2012

Kerry, Thanks for a great story about Yassin's life.Phil
Phil Crotty | 10 August 2012

Thanks Kerry for sharing your thoughts on Yassin, who had so little to give materially and yet gave so much of himself and showed us how to truly be human. It makes one stop and think.
Colleen | 11 August 2012

Requiem aeternam dona ei Domine et lux perpetua
luceat ei .Requiescat in pace .
Charles | 13 August 2012

Thank you Kerry, a worthy tribute.
Tony Earls | 14 August 2012

It is good to know this man had friends and was valued. People on the streets begging etc usually welome a chat, drink and something to eat. " No man is an island.....every man's death diminishes me"
Mary | 21 August 2012

I wonder who took his trolley? Street people are open to all sorts of abuse. My gut feeling is that they need as much protection as the rest of us. Their lives and deaths tell me as much about contemporary Australia as do the parades for Olympic "heroes". Perhaps we need to wake up to ourselves.
Edward F | 03 September 2012


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up