PJ: Welfare Support Worker at Mission Australia Centre

I’ve been in this job for 20 years. I like seeing all the different walks of life here. You see the wealthy, the homeless, the gays. I always get a hello when I’m walking on the streets. People always say “Hello PJ” and I think to myself that I’ve seen them somewhere before, but can’t remember their name and just say, “How are you?”

I love everything that goes on here. I like seeing people be active and doing their groups. Sometimes I don’t see people for a while and I think have they gone off the rails, many have, but many are fighting to come back.

I’m an easy-going person, so people come to talk with me. Last year we had an art show and there were 70 to 80 people who came and I was on top of the world. That’s what I love. I have great bosses and fellow staff. They have been here for years, so we must be doing something right.

Surry Hills has changed, but I love it. In the old days I used to love watching bands. They were all great but that died away. All the young ones have come in and it’s stayed a young area. I loved the buskers, but today everyone carries cards, so they have no change to give them.

A lot of flats are going up now. I don’t like the light rail business. No one likes the light rail, it’s just going through the heart of Surry Hills. We get people who are homeless who live that way and they pop in here and tell us how much they hate it. But all in all, it’s still a lovely area. I just like the streets and strolling through the area.

Down the bottom of Cleveland Street it’s another community. The middle part is full of young people where the cafes are, but it gets too crowded there. If you go there on Friday, The Clock Hotel is packed and you think “I can’t go in here it’s too crowded.” But that’s what people like about it I guess.

I used to live on Cleveland Street. When I was living there, I had punk rockers living on one side of me, and skinheads on the other. They hated each other. But I was cool. One day the punk rockers just painted their house black. Black! They said to me, “Come in for a drink PJ” and I just said, “What have you done?” They replied “We just like black”. I moved out of Cleveland Street because my landlord became bankrupt. He couldn’t keep up with payments, so I had to move. I didn’t want to move though, but I moved to Coogee.

What I find difficult is when people come in here and they want accommodation, but crisis centres have closed down. When you can’t find anything for them that’s what disappoints me. People ask me, “Mate, have you got a blanket?” And I try my best to give them one. I say to them “As long as you hang onto this, because they are hard to come by.”

When the guys leave here they are all thankful. Some people get a place in Surry Hills and I tell them “Don’t knock it back, you won’t find anything better.” It’s so handy for them.

Moving is hard when you are adapted to one area. You just want to go back to where you know. It was hard to have to move out of Coogee, but it was impossible to pay the rent there on my own. I couldn’t move out West. Surry Hills is as far as I would go.

I hope to work for another ten years, as long as I’m feeling good. I want to carry myself through as far as I can go and be happy with everything.

I read one of the articles in Surry Hills and Valleys that talked about ‘Champagne Charlie’. I thought, “I know Champagne Charlie”. He’d walk from Woolloomooloo to Cleveland Street and then he’d walk back. The shop owners would help him out and give him something to eat. Those characters are missing now.

I’d say to young people today, “Follow your goals and keep happy. Keep your feet on the ground and look ahead.”

21st December 2017

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