I write this article doing something a ‘writer’ never should- I write full of assumption, because I really do thrive on being improper.
I write, assuming that if you’ve not seen it, you’ve at the very least, been exposed to the controversy that is Struggle Street. The ‘warts and all’ documentary aired on SBS, of Mt Druitt residents as they navigate life in an suburb of atmospheric hopelessness.
If there’s one thing I hope Sydney-siders have learned this week, through the discussion, debate, and vitriol of not just the documentary itself, but the people themselves- and let’s not get lost in the word ‘people’ as just a verb, let’s instead embrace its essence, real, living people who showed immense trust and courage by allowing themselves and their vulnerabilities to be beamed around the nation for this documentary, it’s that the divide between ‘Us and Them’, confronting and ugly as it may be to admit, is still a gaping chasm that must be closed.
Closed, at least, if we value community. Closed if we value people. People as individuals. People, not numbers. People, not statistics, not postcodes, not stereotypes, just people. People worthy of dignity, of respect. Respect, not based on behaviour, but recognition and unconditional positive regard simply because they live, they breathe, they carry within themselves a living story, they make up a part of this collective thing we call humanity.
If there’s another thing we should learn, it’s that the struggles Mt Druitt residents face, are not unique just to Mt Druitt.
For over 50 years, The Wayside Chapel in Sydney’s infamous Kings Cross, via it’s staff and crusade of selfless volunteers, has been actively seeking to close the gap between Us and Them, building bridges between the affluent and those doing it tougher than tough.
What’s more, they’re succeeding!
The gap is closing, and the results are beautiful.
In this environment of equality, where common ground is recognised, embraced and celebrated, change is inspired. Living stories begin to have new chapters written in.
Rob Holt is one of these evolving stories.
I met Rob on a Friday night in December last year (2014).
I had received a call from a good High School friend, Mandy, who also happens to be the daughter of Wayside’s current Reverend and CEO, Graham Long
, inviting me on a tour of Wayside Chapel and Kings Cross, a tour led by Rob Holt.
Confession… small lie: In High School Mandy and I were not good friends, in fact we were the exact opposite. But that’s the beautiful thing about people, we change, we grow, our story develops. We just have to ensure our self-righteousness is tucked away long enough for us to not just recognise, but assume the growth that has occurred not just in our lives, but in others also.
Rob Holt is a tall, loud, enthusiastic South African guy. His eyes blaze with intensity and passion, but they belie the fact that they’ve seen too much, know too much of the very real darkness in this world.
As Rob introduces himself, and begins to build rapport with his group, he tells us what to expect on the tour, and then expertly guides us through the Wayside facilities, explaining the various programs Wayside has on offer.
Then it’s time to hit the streets.
As we walk, Rob shares his story.
I really don’t want to take from you the opportunity to experience everything this tour has to offer, so I will not expand too much on Rob’s story, except to say you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried! Nor could you do it any justice by trying to recount it in your own words, it simply must be heard straight from the horse’s mouth.
Rob shares his struggle with addiction, homelessness, despair, and the journey that led him not just there, but back again from
the brink, all as he points out the labyrinth, creviced secrets of Kings Cross and the precious people that call them ‘home’.
For me, this tour was a walk back in time to a place I had spent many a weekend. As I navigated the wet, puddled pavement, memories flooded back. I walked where sixteen years earlier, I had emerged from a nightclub with my then best friend, high and tripping on ecstasy as we flagged down a cop car to hand over a discarded hand bag. Genius idea that one, of course it wouldn’t arouse suspicion!
And as I walked past the car park in which, again fuelled by drugs, I’d made out with a club bouncer who was more than twice my age, simply so I could score more drugs, I realised; Sometimes we need to go back, just so we can see how far we’ve come forward.
I suspect that is what Rob, with a heart that matches his big stature, though still visibly haunted by the demons of his past, is doing as he walks the pavement of Kings Cross and it’s surrounding areas. He is fearlessly sharing his story and symbolically reclaiming his life from those oft harsh streets, adding new chapters to his rich story with every purposeful step he takes, leading others as he goes. Because that’s what change does; it inspires. It leads.
I’m not one to tell people what to do, well at least those I’ve not spawned, but I’m telling you: You Need To Take This Tour!
If you’re in need of empathy, if you want to see first hand, be immersed in the atmosphere of life on just a few of Sydney’s many struggle streets, if you want to help bridge the gap between Us and Them, the Haves and the Have-Nots, Rob’s Tours
is a great place to start.
I urge you to come with an open mind, open ears, and more importantly an open heart, and maybe your story will have a chapter or two added in the process.
You can read more about The Wayside and it’s programs, here
(Photo credits: Cynthia Sciberras)