Andrew Howard: Homebody

We’ve been in this house since 1983, two years before that I was in the UK. My sister suggested I go to Australia and I applied for a few jobs, like the army. I told my dad about that and he told me that only wankers were officers so that turned me off it. I bought a one-way ticket to Australia and I ended up living in a house in Alexandria with my partner.

Surry Hills is the place we decided to buy a house. When we first came here there were more ethnic families. There were Greeks, Italians and Lebanese. There weren’t so many children. There were not many renovated houses. It was a poorer area. There were more gay people. I was 25 and interested. Beneath The Clock Hotel, there was a gay bar called the Stronghold, where you could buy drugs.

I don’t fear the changes happening now in Surry Hills. The drugs have changed. In the 80s you tended to see a lot of people on heroin, more smackies falling all over the place. Now there seems to be more amphetamines. Everyone is very frantic. We used to have overdoses in the street. That doesn’t happen any more. It was an area where you got robbed a lot too. We put bars on the windows. Our car got stolen.

Now it’s more cafes and fancy restaurants. I see fancy people with their coffees rushing about all day, all the time.

I love the way I can just walk into town, or you are there in ten minutes on a bus. I’ve never felt unsafe here. Though I have been mugged once. Surry Hills is more well off now and I feel like my neighbours are all rich. It’s very quiet around here though. Occasionally you get the drugged up groans when people have those drugged up conversations with each other at 3 am in the morning. They are annoying. I also hear skateboards going down the street. There was a drug run from here. People on skateboards would deliver drugs to the brothel near by. If you go down this street and around the corner, you can access the brothel from there. Someone once told me that there are thirty-seven registered brothels in Surry Hills. Do you think that’s true? They are always very quiet though, because this is a residential area.

I know all my neighbours. At Christmas we have drinks. We have drinks by The Kirk once a year. Once a few years ago, someone got bashed to death in that area. His name was ‘Champagne Charlie’. He was an Asian man, an alcoholic, totally harmless. He used to carry a bottle of champagne all the time. He was a very friendly guy. So sad.

One challenge for me was coming out as a gay person. I know that sounds ridiculous now, but that was a big deal in my day when I was twenty. I could not tell my parents and that’s one of the reasons why I came to Australia. It still affects and upsets me. I don’t know why. Everyone is so nice about it now, sort of. My father was a very macho man and he would not accept it. It’s still very close.

Coming to Australia was another challenge. I thought, “Fuck what have I done?” This was a big deal coming here. I had no support network and could not go back to mum and dad if it all went bad.

I would say to my younger self, don’t waste money on shoes and clothes, buy real estate! When I came to Australia you could buy a bachelor unit for $17,000 in Elizabeth Bay.

Age brings you confidence and wisdom. When you rock over 50 you think, “If I don’t like it, I can move on”. You don’t have to try so hard. When you’ve gone beyond having a career, life is easier. You have to work out what makes you happy. I now enjoy staying in and watching telly. Twenty years ago I used to enjoy taking drugs.

When my father died, I made a pact with myself, rather than thinking about stuff, I would actually do it. I had an inkling that I would love to paint, so when he died I started painting.

24th November 2017

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