Paddy O’Dowd: Facilities Manager at Mission Australia Centre

I’ve worked in Surry Hills for 22 years. Oxford Street has changed a lot. It had all these little shops, then the gay community moved in and it changed again, then the clubs moved in and it changed again. It looks a little scruffy now. Gilligan’s Island doesn’t look very nice anymore. I liked Oxford Street the old way. It was friendlier. There was a time back then when people were bashing the gay community, it was terrible. Then they started taking lessons in judo and they could stick up for themselves a bit more. Frog’s Hollow in 1995 was really dangerous and there were numerous stabbings. They would hide the grog there in the walls, but someone would pinch the grog so there would often be a blue. That’s all changed and there are units up now. I suppose it’s part of any city changing, take any of the big cities, they all change.

I love the old buildings in Surry Hills and I love being in the city and I love working at the Mission Australia Centre. I’m a funny creature. I like being in the city and right out in the bush. I used to live on Riley Street. I don’t know if it’s true, but all of the detectives from Kings Cross used to drink at the pub down the bottom of Stanley Street and they did their deals there. I don’t know if that’s an urban myth. There used to be a lot of brothels down there too.

Our neighbourhood here used to be a bit hostile towards us because our people would sit outside on milk crates and drink. They would also drink outside of Gilligan’s Island. The funny thing is that they would not mix. The ones here thought the ones on Gilligan’s Island were bums and the ones on Gilligan’s Island thought the ones that drank here were bums. They just had their two areas and that was it. Neither of them would come over and sit with the other group. But then we renovated and changed the way we deliver services and now we don’t get complaints. We have become more acceptable in the local community because of the changes to Mission Australia Centre. The way the centre is run now we don’t have people making noises and carrying on. We hardly have any trouble here now actually.

I came to this place from being in hospital. In twelve months I had four members of my family die and that included a good friend. My wife was the last one. So I ended up drinking. I was drinking about 3 bottles of scotch a day. I went from 130 kilos to 40. But I haven’t had a drink since late 1994. I was never a big drinker but it was a lot to go through in twelve months. I was given a purpose and that was to make the tea and coffee for the staff and clients and help with breakfast at 7am.

I love to see the success stories in this place. When I meet someone in the street that has been through Mission Australia Centre and they tell me they have a house and a job and they have become clean or sober, that makes it all worthwhile. You might have done a little bit to help.

I can be in the city and someone will shout out “Paddy” and I talk with them because they have been through here and I can see how far they have come along. I like that. You need to have a certain something to work here. Not everyone can work in a place like this.

In one way we are lucky because we get to see a side of life that the majority of people don’t see. I’ve seen everything here, from kicking doors in, to transporting dead bodies out, to going to funeral parlours to collect the ashes of people.

We held a funeral service here for one of our workers, you don’t see something like that happen in any other workplace. He loved the centre and was so proud of his job. His workmates carried his coffin into the centre.

I was telling someone in another part of town about how some people around here like to drink methylated spirits and “Oxford Street Champagne”; that’s Coke and methylated spirits. When I told her this, she could not believe me. They don’t have anything like that were she is from. We had one guy here who used to go down to the shops and buy a six-pack of meth and that was his drink for the day. That’s all he would drink. They could not believe it.

There are challenges here now because it’s changed from alcohol to drugs. With alcohol you’d know someone would drink a lot and then just go off to sleep. But with drugs, you are not sure which way they are going to flip. You knew the regulars before, but now with drugs it’s more unpredictable.

I love architecture. I love seeing the old buildings and imagining what they were like when they were built, when there were horses and carts on the streets. I love art too. I’m a good art critic. I always say there are only two options. I can say “Oh that’s good”, or “Gee that’s rubbish.”

If I could talk to my younger self, I would say not to get involved with alcohol the way I did. Other than that, I have enjoyed myself. I have travelled, done stupid things, raced cars, jumped out of planes. I have enjoyed myself, but regretted having that slip up with the alcohol. But my doctor said it was like a safety valve, eventually I was going to blow whether it was that, or a mental problem. But I have come through ok it seems. If it hadn’t been for Mission Australia I probably would have still been on the streets or dead.

December 21st 2017

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