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Remembering a homeless man named Patrick

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Remembering a homeless man named PatrickA bloke I sit near at work has an aversion to catching public transport.

It simply does not meet his standards, or so he says. Recently, every journey he undertakes has become a mythologised office tale of "grotty" homeless people or "slutty" prostitutes that he has had to sit near. In some moments the language and the attitude make my blood boil. In others I try to reflect on what insecurities might be behind this judgemental attitude (and further, on the hypocrisy of my own judgements levelled at this public transport defeatist.)

Then one day he tells me he is buying a brand new Volvo and I get my back up again.

Maybe all this has made my blood boil a bit more vigorously than usual because I’ve been reading about a gentleman named Bryan Lipmann.

Bryan is the boss at Wintringham Aged Care in Melbourne. It is his organisation in every sense of the word. Wintringham only exists because of Bryan. He founded it with the idea that homeless people deserve the same level of care and support in their old age as the rest of the community. Indeed, Bryan wants them to have it even better. I have read him telling critics that he wants the people his organisation supports to have Rolls Royce service. Given the lives they have had it is the least they deserve.

I have become obsessed with this former economics student who left town to become a jackaroo, only to eventually return and work in homeless shelters. It was there the idea for Wintringham was born. I wonder who he spoke to there, fellow travellers on the margins of the 1980s 'greed is good' society. What he was thinking as he worked with and for these men and women?

I have to ask him. However, I still haven’t met Bryan. Meeting him is now one of my goals.

I’ve read about his life, rifled through his resumé and read letters from referees who support his nomination for a national aged care services award. I reckon Bryan should win. I’m biased though. Not because I helped write the application, but because Bryan made me remember someone and something I’d forgotten. Something I promised myself I wouldn’t forget.

When you have kids, move to the country and start to build a house you forget things. A decade is a long time. Time enough for economics students to ride the cattle rough across northern Australia and return home to work with the homeless. Time enough for me to forget promises once made. 

When I was all of twenty-one I met Patrick Little.

Remembering a homeless man named PatrickPatrick was sitting outside one of those tired buildings at the top of Spring Street. One of those buildings where the doors never open. He had his head in his hands. It was two in the morning. I was walking because I’d missed the last train home and I asked him if he was ok. He asked for a smoke and said he was waiting for the door to open.

I spent the rest of the night with Patrick. We went into places that I didn’t know existed and haven’t seen since. For a night, I fed Patrick no more than nicotine and left him with the ten bucks I had in my wallet. I felt inadequate and unfulfilled.

Then, in the usual way of the writer-as-scavenger, I wrote a story about Patrick and myself almost a decade ago. I wrote of meeting him and took that tale to my poetry readings and spoken word events. I told it with a choke in my throat and friend Simon playing his electric guitar. The twang was softly alt-country. It felt right.

Bryan Lipmann reminded me of Patrick Little. He reminded me of the story I had written and the way it made me feel. The first thing I had thought when I read about Wintringham was "I wonder if that is where Patrick ended up." The more I read about that place, the more I really hoped he did.

But if he didn’t, I hope he sits next to that bloke I work with when he next catches a tram and asks him for a cigarette. It would only be right.

To listen to the music that accompanies this article, click - Patrick Little.



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Existing comments

Hi Daniel
Mine are called Andrew and Glenda.A young white man who is an alcoholic and an older aboriginal woman.The baby they had together died in foster care at Easter.
God knows where they will end up.But I am trusting that they have gone ahead into the Kingdom to welcome us with the cigarettes, the coffee and the prayers.
Grace and Peace to you. And Grace and Peace to them in Christ.

Matthew 25 31-46

margaret | 14 August 2007  

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