Douglas says hello out the blue. Quiet and friendly all at once, he has a way of making himself known almost by presence alone.

It’s maybe a country boy thing, his youth spent on a wheat farm outside of Lake King in WA. The town named after the lake has a population of 300 people or so. It’s a big landscape, Douglas growing up with his two brothers and his little sister with a lot to space to dream in.

I ask if he misses it and it feels like he does when he answers, “I haven’t been back in a long time.” He remembers a change coming quick, his mother packing them up to leave. “I don’t know what happened. One minute you’re there, the next you are gone.”

The rest of Douglas’ life sounds like a hazy travel story. A bit of boarding school in Perth. Then lots of “working… travelling… looking around”.

He’s lived in Adelaide, Brisbane, was in Melbourne a while then travelled up north and settled in Sydney just when COVID and the lockdowns were starting to set in.

Along the course of his life Douglas has written “a lot of songs”. He learnt piano when he was kid before picking up the guitar at age 14. “I guess I am a musician of some sort,” he says. Douglas loves art too, painting and drawing, anything. One of the most special things he enjoyed doing these last few years was being part of the Sydney Sketch Club. “That was fun.”

Douglas has spent a lot of time busking over the last two decades. “I call my guitar playing ‘neo-classical country blues’. That’s my style.”

Some days have been better than others when he has moving around. “Now and again I’ve got stuck in places. But I always made it home somehow.” Douglas has a memory of one his crossings from Perth to Sydney, “getting stranded. But even on the Nullarbor I was able to busk at a roadhouse. I made $2,” he says with a laugh. “So maybe it was not that successful.”

He reflects for a while then says “I’ve been a wanderer, a drifter. I’m still on my own but I’ve got to know a lot of people in a lot of places.”

His connections to so many people are a source of pride. Douglas works now at a boarding house in Fort Street, Petersham. “I’ve taken over a caretaker role there. I collect the money, I help out fixing things, repairing leaking toilets and taps, putting locks on doors, sweeping up, just keeping the place ticking over. Some people keep totally to themselves, some talk more. They tell me it has been better there since I started, just quieter, we get along.”

Douglas has also worked as a volunteer down at Addi Road. Helping out in the Food Pantry and also at the Christmas #HampersofHope events, packing gift boxes and stepping up to play his country-blues guitar for volunteers while they worked. He names a stack of staff, fellow volunteers, people who come to shop. “I know everybody.”

Then Douglas admits how tough it was during the lockdowns and other lingering feelings of aloneness that this time accentuated and made difficult. “I didn’t realise how much anxiety I had in me. Volunteering, it helped me. Just being here, having a safe place to help me out and keep me interested.”

Shopping at the Addi Road Food Pantry is a bit of a social occasion for him. Douglas says hello to everyone he meets; pitches in on Fridays “now and then” when he is able.

He likes how he can get “$50 worth of food almost for $5. I like the free fruit and vegetables you can get after a shop. All the veges I get, the spuds, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower… I boil it up then serve it into four or five plastic containers and put it in the fridge. When I need it I get out the fry pan, put in some butter and salt, brown it up. It’s really tasty. Cook it on a high heat, but don’t cook it to buggery.” Douglas shrugs, amused. “But even some charcoal broccoli can be nice if it’s only a bit of burning.”

He likes getting the biscuits too “for a snack”. Tins of spaghetti for something easy. “And the cereal here is cheap so I like a bit of that for breakfast.”

Douglas keeps fit and healthy generally. He’s a been a keen surfer, played football, still plays “golf and darts too”. “I’m pretty active. Some people know me by the name of ‘Champ’ because I’m good at all of that kind of thing.”

It’s a very hot day in Sydney as we stand beneath a shaded tree outside the Addi Road Food Pantry Marrickville. The little spot of cool gives him a yearning to be somewhere cold. “It’s been give years since I last saw snow,” he says, looking off into the middle distance. “I must go up to the Snowy Mountains again.”

He picks up his two bags of shopping. Time to return to the boarding house in Petersham and do some cooking as well as any cleaning and house repairs that might be needed. Douglas double-checks his bags and their contents, glances up. “I’ve actually been shopping here since I arrived in Sydney. It’s really helped me a lot. Anyway, better get moving. See you again some time.”



Douglas waiting outside the Addi Road Food Pantry Marrickville