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It’s rare that I can’t think of a suitable title for a blog post, but Sunday in the City (of Melbourne) left me speechless and with more than a tear in my eye.

I’d been looking forward to my first visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens in about 18 months to do some bird photography.

After getting off the bus in the city centre, I walked down the main north/south street to the tram stop to find notice that there were tram disruptions and delays, so after waiting about 20 minutes, I decided to called the whole photography nature walk off and do a quick walk around the block in search of some street photography.

I had been through the new up-market shopping arcade linking Collins street to Little Collins street before and been quite amazed by the mirrored columns, ceilings and undersides of the escalators.  The whole experience is like walking through some distorted hall of mirrors at a fun fair – quite surreal and definitely a unique experience.  Many of the high-end ground floor shops are still untenanted.

The main escalator at the Collins Street entrance to the new shopping arcade
The main escalator at the Collins Street entrance to the new shopping arcade

You need real money to shop here.

The central atrium is filled with a modern ‘chandelier’ of hanging green/aqua light tubes.  Both a work of art as well as lighting.

The previous arcade was very beautiful in itself and for the life of me, I can’t think why the current mind-blowing multi-million dollar display of vulgarity, which took 2 years to create, was ever passed by Melbourne City Council (or the town planning department).

I find it offensive.  It’s a slap in the face of the homeless.  It represents the extreme waste of money that really turns my stomach.

It’s one of modern western societies contradictions……….

(note: the slide show below was mostly made by looking straight up above me, except for one photo which shows a shopper riding an escalator).

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When you leave this arcade and walk up to the main north/south thoroughfare linking the northern suburbs to the southern outbound highway (which runs along the west side of the Royal Botanic Gardens), you are confronted by the Bedrooms of the Homeless.  Obviously during the winter, when night temperatures can drop to the low single digits, its warmer for the homeless to shift from their summer shelters along the river to the warmer inner streets of Melbourne.

After seeing the 5th makeshift shelter, where the occupant(s) was/were still fast asleep, I saw the 6th Bedroom looming up on the footpath and decided to make a photo.

I didn’t want to invade the occupant’s privacy so made the image from some distance away.  An open umbrella was creating a wind break.  Possessions and used food containers created a fence surrounding the homeless person and at this stage I was moved to tears.

This was the Home……… of a Homeless person.

I really don’t understand the wave of new multi-million dollar high-rise apartment blocks.  Many are for the wave of Asian students who now attend our highly regarded universities at the northern end of the city) and are justified.  But there are others which are not.

With some 8,000 homeless in the inner suburbs (32,000 in the whole state) and over 88,000 empty houses, the figures just don’t add up.

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Some of the homeless have mental disorders like Schizophrenia.  I see many on my bus running along my route to the city centre.  Some have addictions – drugs, alcohol, over-the-counter medications – you name it.

There are those who prefer to live in the open without the normal links to jobs, debt and modern trappings and they are homeless by choice.

Then there are the teenage runaways with the pallor of despair etched upon their gaunt young faces.  I wonder what drove them from home?  Abuse, violence or drugs?  Or just plain dysfunctional family relationships which made their home life unbearable?  Perhaps even bullying from peers?

Most are just plain……… homeless………with no jobs to pay for  affordable rental accommodation and utilities (let alone food and clothing).

……and then there are the travellers busking to make some money to advance their travel adventures.  This Buddhist traveller was playing a variety of Nepalese singing bowls and from time to time, meditated or gave blessings to the passing shoppers. (the image below was made back in February 2013).

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How does society justify multi-million dollar expenditure when a few hundred dollars would make all the difference to those living in poverty and homelessness.

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HOMELESS

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I’ve often seen this young homeless man making cards on the pavement outside the department store and felt deeply about his plight.  He has a backpack and a few drawing pencils to use to make a few dollars.  I know he doesn’t like his photo being taken, hence the back view in this image.

I see his tattered old backpack holding his meagre possessions.

I see his take-away drink containers lined up like bored sentries on guard duty.

I see a few coins scattered in his shoebox.

His pencils are few (and his paper sheets even fewer).

But he is proud and likes to make cards to sell, instead of plain sitting in motionless despair (begging for a few coins).

I don’t know where he sleeps at night…whether he is warm in winter, or hot on steamy summer days, but I do care about his well-being.

I DO think about him.

I wonder if the passers-by see his plight OR walk around him intent on their shopping spree?

Who knows.

Not me.

STORIES BEHIND THE IMAGES

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Many of my street photography images made in the inner city lane ways of Melbourne have stories behind them.  They may be my stories of an afternoon walk, or those of the people I photograph.  I rarely tell them.

The image above is of the bluestone cobbled lane way behind some university buildings at the northern end of the city.  I’ve never walked this way before yesterday, as it’s little used and probably just a lane way used as a shortcut to the back of some lecture halls or warehouse area.  I can’t help but wonder about its history?  Did horses and carts travel down its rough surface delivering goods in the early settlement of Melbourne in the 1830s (because it’s certainly very old, as is the bluestone cobbled lane behind my apartment building where I live in an inner city suburb).

Melbourne’s early buildings are mainly built of Bluestone quarried in nearby areas of the first settlement.  Sydney’s early buildings are mainly of Sandstone (so are those in Hobart, the capital of the island state of Tasmania off the southern coast of Victoria).

I walked through this area yesterday in search of some new Street Art and I certainly found lots to admire.

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But about 5 feet to the right of the first street art image (above) I spied a couple of chain wire gates some 2 1/2 to 3 foot high.  I initially assumed they were the entrance to a cellar or underground access to utility pipes.  The two shirts hanging over the gates gave me more food for thought.  And then…….my senses were shocked to see what looked like food, a drink bottle(?) and an old transistor radio in the darker area below the white shirt (not visible in the photo below, but I can assure you they were faintly visible to my eyes).  Behind the right hand gate was what looked like rough bedding.

Was this a night-time shelter for a homeless person?  Were the shirts draped over the gates to block out the street lights at night?

Was this someone’s home?  I have often seen homeless people begging in the inner streets of Melbourne (or quietly drinking with mates in dark corners of city lanes).  Although I often wondered, I’d only actually seen bedding a couple of times before.

Did a homeless person live in this dark hole? Somehow, this thought seemed all the more shocking than seeing a beggar on the streets.  The thought of someone crawling into this dark, dank, dusty, freezing  hole in winter sent shivers down my spine and brought tears to my eyes.  Melbourne is ablaze with enormous cranes and construction of new high-rise inner city offices and apartment blocks at the moment, but who spares a thought for these hungry souls who have no shelter in the worst winter storms and early morning freezing temperatures.  Who gives a thought for some of these homeless forced to live like scavenging rats in Melbourne’s back lanes.  How can the Developers and Governments of our current times spend millions of dollars on modern skyscrapers and refurbishing luxurious office accommodation?

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Who helps the Helpless.

I really don’t understand modern society.  There are certainly many philanthropists among Australia’s Rich & Famous.  There are certainly many charities and volunteers who give freely of their time to the needy.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics gives some figures from 2011 here

 

……and some more images from my archives (these images have been posted before on my old PhotoBlog).

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