The news hit me in the gut, hard, and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. They’re ditching me. Ditching me in a strange city with no job, no house, no money in my pocket, a heavy suitcase, and nothing else.
‘The landlord was real clear.’
‘It’s the only place available.’
‘If he catches more than two people in the joint he’ll kick us all out.’
‘You don’t even have any bond money.’
‘But we’ll see ya round.’
And that was it. Suddenly I was homeless in Adelaide. It was 1997, I was nineteen years old.
Twelve months of playing together professionally on the local metal scene, making a name for ourselves state-wide, and a red-hot attempt to branch out and make it big, took us down to Adelaide where the scene was hottest. Power metal was firing hard in the 1990s and our band was a regular on the pub circuit up and down the Central Queensland coast. We were mixing more and more originals into the set lists and people were starting to sing along to our hooks. For a musical act that’s a clear signal that you’re onto a good thing. It wasn’t difficult to convince ourselves that we could be real-life rock stars.
Six of us left from Mackay in convoy: Buck’s tragic yellow van and Azza’s purple Valiant, both almost bursting with equipment. We lost two in Brisbane to cold feet — our bass player and our guitar tech — and that left four of us to continue on in the cramped van.
Darren passed away in the van overnight in West Wyalong. We were all asleep when it happened, and it wasn’t until daylight that we noticed something wrong. Classic OD: pick still hanging out of his arm, dry vomit crusting on his lips and chin and chest, piss soaked through his shorts and into the fabric of the car seat. Dead man’s piss. It was going to be with us for the rest of the trip, but it was not mentioned even once between us. Buck just covered it up with a bunch of ragged tee shirts and shifted some of the gear over it.
Darren didn’t have any brothers or sisters and his mum was the only parent still alive, but she was three years into a murder conviction at Brisbane Women’s. There was no one to come for him, to bury him. Darren was buried in a pauper’s grave at the taxpayers’ cost, no headstone, in a town and a state to which he had no connection.
We were all users, but of all of us it was Darren who skated closest to the edge. He would take whatever was going, but his first love was heroin. He declared that his habit kept his alcoholism in check. Whenever he couldn’t score he’d hit the bourbon, and that’s when life became extra colourful. Everything he did seemed somehow amplified, always set to 11. That obviously describes most drummers, but Darren transcended.
That was how I explained him to myself. Transcendent.
Normally, a ‘Darren’ would be too much to handle, but our Darren was such a prodigy that nothing he could do, short of murdering us all, would threaten his position in the band. A good drummer is easy to find, but a god is near-impossible.
His roots were in American death metal and I remember hearing about him long before I ever met him. He was rumoured to be an active member of the Church of Satan (he wasn’t), a murderer (he wasn’t … that was his mum), and an all-round psycho (mmm … sorta). The reality of Darren was that he lived with his mum until she sliced up her abusive partner. She took him apart like a side of beef while he slept in an alcoholic stupor. When she went inside, Darren was shuffled around the foster circuit for a year until he turned 16. Then he got a job out at the works at Port Alma, shovelling salt. I met him after the ’96 Triple J Unearthed tour. My group, Malefactor, made the finals and got a set allowance of four songs on the main (and only) stage. We did a couple of originals in our bizarrely imprecise Hair/Death style, a Green Day cover, and a Danzig cover. It was a weird and thoroughly disjointed set, and little wonder that we didn’t place in the comp.
Darren liked my growls and approached me after the gig. We started hanging out and laying basic stuff down with no guitars, just his drums and my pipes. It was a match made in hell. As Malefactor didn’t get anywhere in the Unearthed comp, I auditioned for Prophecy, a local thrash cover band that had started writing originals. They were desperate to be able to do ‘growly’ metal, and to add Refuse, Resist by Sepultura to their sets. Sepultura was one of my top five bands at the time, and I had developed a strong Cavalera sound in practice, so that’s what I auditioned. They loved it and I was in. A few weeks later Darren became our drummer and suddenly Prophecy became a force.
That was then, the halcyon days of crappy riders, free drugs, parties, fucking, and best of all: earning coin through our art. But now Darren was dead, our band was split apart, our plans had rapidly unravelled into something unrecognisable and undefinable. What the hell were we even doing any more?
The cops tore the interior of the van to pieces and checked everything top to bottom and back again. The whole ordeal took a full day. We’d obviously had enough time to stash what we were carrying before we called it in, but the officers on the scene were certain that we were some kind of mule operation and did not want to let us go. After they’d pulled everything apart and run the dogs over it all they had no choice but to release us back onto the road. The trip had well and truly lost most of its sheen. We were three members down and now had Darren’s ghost hanging over us.
Things continued to worsen for us. Adelaide was a nightmare from day one. We hadn’t made any plans or reservations and we were so exhausted by the time we arrived that we just pulled up on the side of the road and passed out. We woke up to the sharp rapping of a police officer’s Maglight against the glass of the windows. We were each fined $150 for loitering and Buck copped a $240 fine for illegal parking. Then the junior officer who was running our ID came waddling back up to the van, informing his partner that Buck and myself both were ‘proscribed drug offenders’ and Buck had a prior weapons conviction. Off to the station we went. That was a tense and ugly few hours. We were separated and interviewed. The cops really just wanted to know what a pack of drug and weapons offenders from Queensland were doing in their great state. When they found out about Darren’s OD, the van was subjected to another search and this time they found our weed. Thankfully, South Australia had very lax cannabis laws and the cops eventually released us, but not before forcefully suggesting that we fuck off back to where we came from. We didn’t get the weed back.
I think that might have been the final straw for us, but we were determined to make something positive out of this trip, so we ignored the cops and stayed.
The pub we found offered twins and singles. Buck and Mal got a twin together, and I paid for the more expensive single for myself.
Days were spent at the pub. I hung out and watched our gear while Buck and Mal headed out to find a place to live. Accommodation was not readily available and by the third day the money was running short. Mine was, anyway. I had no idea how much money they had pooled. On day four they returned early, around 11am, excited. They had found a place and we could leave the pub and just settle for bit before getting back into the swing of things.
Their excitement spilled over onto me and I felt such a wave of relief. I really thought we were going to be stuck back in the van again.
If only that were the case.
Buck and Mal explained that I couldn’t come to the house with them. I had no money to contribute and the landlord was very specific about the allowable number of tenants. Something about past troubles and legal constraints. My relief flew from me and I swallowed bile back as it rose in my throat. I couldn’t sleep in the van on the street either because Buck didn’t want to get any more fines.
‘So, what do I do then?’
My question was met with pitying shrugs. They had nothing for me and were not going to even try to help. I might as well have been dead. Buck made it clear that he felt this situation was my fault anyway, and Mal did not jump to my defence. Buck and Mal had been roommates for years up in Mackay and were better friends than either of them was with me.
They packed quickly and left. They tried to shake my hand goodbye but I wouldn’t touch them. Instead I screamed at them, calling them cunts and dogs and threw a brick at the back window, smashing glass onto their gear and all over the sidewalk. The pub owner threatened to call the cops, so as the damaged van sped off down the road I dragged my heavy suitcase out of the smoky-sweet aroma of the pub, and onto the street with nowhere to go.
The first day was a fog of confusion, rage, depression and, eventually, hunger. Dole day was about a week away. I appealed to the DSS, which had just newly changed its name to Centrelink, but I didn’t fit the bill for an emergency payment so back out onto the street I went. In my naiveté I thought I had a clear understanding of my value as a human being, but as the reality of the situation sank in I realised I was way off base. I had precisely zero value as a homeless person. Actually, to be real about it, I had negative value because I required state assistance and yet had nothing to contribute. This realisation terrified me. My dad wasn’t an option, and I had squeezed my mother dry of resources – material and emotional – long ago. I was without hope or lifeline. Or value.
I managed to beg up about $15 in a couple of hours and got something to eat. As I sat at the bus interchange munching on my servo pie, I was approached by a charismatic scumbag who offered me a hit on his pipe. He was waiting for his brother who was ‘sorting some shit out’ and said that I could hang with them for a bit. The scumbag was from Perth and he’d just been released from Casuarina the week previous. His brother was moving hot gear and meth over in Adelaide and they had reunited a couple of days ago. He told me there was work for me if I wanted it, which included a place to stay.
The scumbag, Danny, was cool, but his brother Raf was fucking psychotic. Things were weird but okay for a couple of days. I had a bed and access to some pretty fucking awesome speed, which removed my desire for food and general comfort. I felt like things might be on the up again and that Adelaide wasn’t going to be so bad after all. But on day three in the squat I woke up to intense pressure. Raf was pressed down on top of my body, stark naked and desperately struggling to push a limp dick into me. Heroin may be a terrible drug, but there is nothing on this earth that can compare to the horrific drive to evil produced by meth use. Thankfully, it also often reduces a man’s sexual performance, and this was one of those times. He was much bigger and physically stronger than me, but eventually just gave up and stomped out of the room bitching like he’d been cheated out of something. It was the first time I’d experienced sexual assault, and I didn’t like it. Not one bit.
By the time I got accepted into Burlendi (a Salvos-run boys’ shelter) I had spent a week sleeping rough and begging. Life there was no picnic, but I was fed and clean and sheltered from the elements. The best part was that no one tried to rape me.
Three months, 2,300 kilometres, and several more shitty experiences later I arrived back on my mother’s doorstep in Rockhampton. She begrudgingly let me in, declaring that this was only for a week and not a second longer. Her unsympathetic greeting and cold offer of a week-long stay felt like the warmest hug I had ever received in my life.
I stepped inside, dropped my bag on the floor, and collapsed into the familiar.