Words & Photos || Hans Lee
In Melbourne on vacation, I pick up my camera to do some grunge shooting – I’m here for the art and the fun of travelling solo. I ask a Flinders Station employee if he knows any good photography spots outside of the regular, and he recommends me to the alley leading just outside of Chinatown.
In doing so, he explains the highlights of alleyways like Hosier Lane, Centre Place and Croft Alley in Melbourne – little nooks and crannies where young people meet to eat, dance and express themselves in ways which do not require self-pleasure or unnecessarily loud media exposure. However, what he didn’t tell me is the importance of some of these locations -and it’s not just for the sake of underground art and expression.
I venture on my own to Croft Alley. True to his word, the alley can be found in the heart of Chinatown off Little Bourke Street.
At first I genuinely thought that the excursion might be a waste of time – another average alley filled with generalised art. This thought almost broke me to the point of not bothering to turn the corner.
But what I end up finding in this little alley is not just enthralling – it’s potentially life changing:
The expression of this little area is remarkable. Just in that above picture alone, there’s a cartoon whale, ‘3M5’ scrawled next to the top left window and a whole lot of other mysterious acronyms that are somewhat jargon-like to the local community.
As I further turn in this alley, I find that the rest of the street art is pretty darn spectacular, from murals of Indigenous men to ghosts with spiked hair. One piece represents a young man pointing at something which is indeterminable.
That is until you look to what he is pointing to on the side: a monster with pearl white teeth. How the hell that set of teeth did not succumb to oxidisation I will never know. However, the point is that he is somewhat confused and frightened. His eyes swirl in a terrified daze. By his innocence and his facial expressions, you couldn’t tell what he has been through exactly.
The monster could represent anything; it’s the black devil that resides in all of us, the fear of not knowing what will turn up next, as represented by the grey insanity that the boy is pointing at. He’s scared of it. We’re scared of it. But all we can do is point at it. When I first saw it, no lie, I thought I was going to crack.
The world can be a decrepit place. It’s not pretty sometimes to admit to ourselves that there are whole alleyways of pain and torturous expression we can write our history and perspectives into. But sometimes art is a grateful expression for which we can all stare at and think of.
On my way out of this lane and back into the city, I meet a young, homeless gentleman. And here I had my first experience of crying in public since a very young age.
He’s homeless. He’s tired. He’s giving up – on everything. He is the boy in Croft Alley. He’s the one that’s confused and pointing at a monster he cannot get rid of – except he knows this monster. Yet, all he can do is look to the side and think of what will happen next. Outside of the flashy bars, like the one at the end of Croft Alley (The Croft Distillery) and even the glitz of the Yarra River, there are over 23,000 homeless people just in Victoria.
I never asked how old the man was. But if he is as old as he looked, he also would have fit into the national demographic most likely to end up homeless on the street: males between 25 and 34 years of age. He ended up like this because he told his family that he’s gay. Now he has to sit on the side of the most famous bridge in Melbourne and ponder about what little of a future he might have. It is here I am reminded of the boy I saw earlier, pointing at the grey monster.
When I asked him why he was giving up, he replied to me very simply:
‘What is there? Nothing mate. Nothing.’
In between ‘nothing mate’ and ‘nothing’, he gives me a hug while he cries. You might think it’s weird that a stranger gave me a hug, but he tells me I am the first person he has talked to for days. How distressing it must be for him to sit with a cup and no hope – this is considering I was born and grew up the Philippines, a country where we are told NOT to open car doors or donate anything to anyone. How un-Christian this is, I say to myself. I give this man a great sigh of compassion and give him five bucks. Yes Dad, I did do that. Why? Because in the words of Nelson Mandela, we must ‘be the change we wish to see in the world’. Positivity is not just spread by words – it’s by action too.
There is a world outside our window; and it’s not just the issues of mainstream media’s interest. The problems in our society are not just in the economy, the policy in Canberra or even wide-world terrorism. Yes, these are worldly problems and yes they require solutions of ingenuity to fix them. But the first problem is to start with the people at home who we don’t know, but don’t even have a home.