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Hectic Adsy and the closed friggin gate



The caste system in Australia: First there were the convicts and the bunyip aristocracy. Now there are the white and black 'trash' and the moneyed people.

Anna Thompson, Adam, and Stephen SinnAdam is 47 and last Christmas was the first he has spent out of jail since the 90s. He hasn't done anything seriously wrong: stealing, possession of drugs, verbal abuse of  police, driving without a licence ... it's a long list of predictable offences. I lived with Adam for most of this year and got to see that he belongs to a caste that is as entrenched in Australia as any of the untouchables in India.

Adam is couch surfing now and his belongings are in a storage shed in Kelso. I had a phone message: 'Steve, g'day mate, how are ya, I can't get out of the storage shed, I'm stuck in the friggin storage complex, I came in when the gate was open now I'm ringing the number, I can't get out mate, can you call me please?'

When I turned up he said: 'The coppers come here yesterday. They come because I was going through the stuff. Someone come and thought I was breaking into the shed. I don't know why the coppers come. Maybe the shorts, tattoos.

'He goes — how are you going mate, do you own this shed? I says — no I don't own it. So he says — well what are you doing here then? I says — I am renting it. They said — what do you mean you are renting it? I said — well I used to live with Fr Steve Sinn in Bant St. He says — Oh, you lived with a priest right? I go — yeah, but I'm not living there anymore, my stuff's in storage here.

'They said — we had a complaint that someone was breaking into the storage shed. I go — here I've got some ID, oh mate. He goes — whose name is it in? I said — I'm pretty sure it's in this priest's name but I'm not sure. He goes — do you own the property? Yeah, I go, look here's some ID for you. That's all I've got chief, it's me jail ID. He says — what are you doing? I says — I'm staying out of trouble. He's alright, he's alright about it.'

There is much in this exchange that is revealing. Firstly, the phone. You need to dial a mobile number to open the gate to the storage complex. I don't know why Adam's phone couldn't open it. His phones are always cracked, damaged, have no credit, cheap, borrowed or stolen. Mine opened the gate. Maybe the gate is a symbol that for Adam the gate is and will always be closed. Things just don't work for him.


"He's bipolar, he medicates on drugs, he can be reasonable Adam or hectic Adsy. Hectic Adsy chases action and doesn't turn up for appointments. Hectic Adsy comes to life on payday and plays till the money runs out."


Why did the coppers come? If it was me going through the stuff in the shed they wouldn't have been called. Adam belongs to a caste, a tribe, he's an outcast. He's aware of that, people treat him with suspicion, they keep their distance, they judge him. The tattoos, t-shirt, shorts, cap, runners, shaved sides and mullet hair style. A look and they were onto the police.

It is not just his appearance and dress, it's also his language: the banter with the police, rocking back on his feet like a boxer, no danger this time, the hierarchy and power imbalance unspoken: 'chief'. He's comfortable, he's staying out of trouble, he's got an ally, a priest, someone from the privileged class.

He's not comfortable at TAFE, even at AA meetings. He belongs with the addicts, unemployed, the lame, the sick, the mentally ill. He knows their language, understands their culture. It's the prison yard culture, it's having a protector and knowing the code.

He has to get out of the place he is in and rings me about a reference. There is no way he is going to get a place or even a hotel room: 'We are booked out at the moment. I'll ring you when there is a vacancy,' said the manager. He doesn't realise that this is the manager's way of saying he wants nothing to do with him. To be put on the list for social housing he has to turn up to 12 inspections in the private market and be rejected for all of them. Then he can go to housing and say he has been looking for a place and is homeless.

He's bipolar, he medicates on drugs, he can be reasonable Adam or hectic Adsy. Hectic Adsy has music pinging off the walls at 3am, chases action and doesn't turn up for appointments. Hectic Adsy comes to life on payday and plays till the money runs out. He's spent so much of his adult life pacing up and down a cell, five paces one way, five paces back, he's not going to live like the boring squarehead I am. Nor has he got a chance for another life. The friggin gate's closed.



Stephen SinnStephen Sinn is a Jesuit Priest who for 18 years was parish priest at St Canice's in Kings Cross. He moved to Bathurst in 2014 to found, with Anna Thompson, a community centred around vulnerable, marginalised men and women.

Pictured: Anna Thompson, Adam, and Stephen Sinn

Topic tags: Stephen Sinn



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Existing comments

I reckon you and Anna might have opened a gate for Adam/Adsy, Steve.

John | 26 November 2017  

So many people would be tempted to regard Adam as a reject. Society feels threatened when Adam refuses to hide his feelings. However, there is a community where he is accepted and loved, a tenacious community where even boring squareheads thrive. Wonderful article, Stephen, thanks.

Pam | 27 November 2017  

Powerfully written, thank you. Drives home the systemic nature of 'underclass.' Thank you for underlining that 'tattoos, t-shirt, shorts, cap, runners, shaved sides' is not yet a criminal offence, and that these characteristics are not of themselves a matter for police intervention. All too easy I feel (and this is not 'holier-than-thou' - I am ashamed to admit this guilt clings very much to me too) to notice the splinter of Indian Dalit class of untouchables in the eye of the other, while remaining blind to the log of those for whom 'the friggin gate's closed' in my own.

Richard Jupp | 27 November 2017  

Different languages, different worlds. Thanks for interpreting on Adam's behalf. Would love to hear more from Hectic Adsy. We need to understand more of their worlds for our own salvation. Thanks Steve

Denis Quinn | 27 November 2017  

What a terrible human tragedy and what an uplifting human effort in compassion to give Adam/Adsy (genuinely mentally ill with bipolar disorder) someone to trust in a world that rejects him through misunderstanding and intolerance. The friggin' gate was closed 40 years ago for people like Adam in the wake of that great modern day socialist, Saint Gough and his disciples, who shut down the facilities that once cared for the Adsy's of the world in the wake of the flawed Richmond report. Saved a vast amount of money that was squandered on all manner of other "reforms".

john frawley | 27 November 2017  

Thank you, Steve, for the work you are doing, and thank you for tapping the rest of us on the shoulder.

Glen | 27 November 2017  

As the widow of someone with bipolar I can assure you he does not need institutionalization. He needs to be stabilised on his meds, have ongoing medical and social supports. I suspect that like most bipolar people he has much to offer. We are the losers.

Marion Brauer | 27 November 2017  

OK, maybe the gate is closed. But you are giving him what the Maori call ' a place to stand' his own marae, the place where he has a right to speak and people who can hear and must listen. You encourage us all, thank you.

Joan Seymour | 27 November 2017  

John, as the widow of a man with bipolar disorder, I can assure Adam does not need institutionalisation. He needs proper medical and social assessment and ongoing support. We are the losers,

Marion Brauer | 27 November 2017  

You capture the innocence and optimism beautifully, as also the ever present surprise of unexpected chaos that can be violent and threatening to themselves and to those around them.

Luke | 27 November 2017  

Great piece, Steve: pithy, colloquial, captures the pathos and injustice of it all. Thanks for reminding us of the manger.

Michael Furtado | 28 November 2017  

How can people be so certain that the medical model is the best way to help someone with bipolar disorder? At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I have an inkling that throwing stifling, zombiefying pills at people is like a broad spectrum antibiotic that's given by medical professionals as their personal insurance policy - but it doesn't treat the underlying causes or allow the person to thrive rather than just survive. Meds might work as a short-term option when someone's in a crisis. but I can't see how they can ever being a life-giving, ethical solution.

AURELIUS | 28 November 2017  

In a way, Father Steve, you have it easy. Most of the decision about what to do has been taken out of your hands because circumstances have made ‘Adsy’ the larger, and apparently permanently inextricable, part of Adam. The Christ of the least of the brethren in Adsy is the excitable foal who can’t be tamed but for whom you can only try to create a safe space in which to gallop where the whim takes. Perhaps in fleeting quiet moments between rambunctiousness, it might be possible to see what the spiritual journey (a journey that everybody goes through if we are to believe the parable of the talents) of the Christ of the least of the brethren in Adam is doing. Adsys can only be subsidised by society because the damage is done. But most of the debates concerning what to do about those who through various behaviours propel themselves into ‘disadvantage’ is about the Adams (and Eves) where the damage is not complete, and whether it is processes caricatured or summarised (according to one’s inclination) as ‘tough love’ rather than a seemingly nonjudgemental sympathy that challenge an Adam to be accountable for an Adsy that is extricable.

Roy Chen Yee | 29 November 2017  

The only label you should ever be given is your name.

Game Theory | 30 November 2017  

thanks John Frawley for the insight. spot on. tends to be 'forgotten'.

Jill | 01 December 2017  

Roy, Adam/Hectic Adsy is but one person among many Christ's obviously wounded brethren Fr Steve has spent most of his priestly ministry among as a direct servant and companion. With respect, I don't see how this commitment can in any sense be described as "easy".

John | 01 December 2017  

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