Brian is one of those people whose life story gets ever-longer and more interesting the more you stand around talking to him. A soft and happy presence, he radiates good will wherever he goes.

Wednesday Night Lights at Addi Road in Marrickville has drawn a solid crowd ready to enjoy the free hot meals, with plenty of human warmth and good conversation thrown in as wraparound services like Street Side Medics, The Feel Good Project and Orange Sky set up their vans.

Brian mingles freely. Stands back and lets others get their meals first. Watches over everyone, waiting to have a friendly chat to whoever might cross paths with him.

Most everyone is from the Inner West or the City of Sydney LGA, thanks to a community bus that Addi Road provides helping people get across to Marrickville from arranged pick-ups in Camperdown and Glebe.

It’s a surprise to hear Brian comes all the way from Rockdale. He makes it to Addi Road on his own, catching two buses, or a train and bus. “It’s quicker than most people think. I do it because I enjoy coming here.” He seems to delight in the entire place and sings its praises as “a true oasis in the urban sprawl. I’m so glad it survives.”

Brian starts talking about the terrible housing and rental problems in Sydney with another fellow. He reflects back to when he was young man, joking about the way things have changed. “It used to be like you might earn $600 and maybe $300 of that was rent. But you could still live and pursue your art and your dreams in the city. There was a community of people like that. Now it’s like you earn $600 and your rent is $700!”

He raises his eyes to indicate how crazy things have gotten. The past may not have been as ideal as some like to make out, but it was not as brutal as it has gotten these days. His point about this affecting not only individuals, but what it means to have a community that shares in one another’s creativity and dreams, is a powerful one.

Brian says he started his own working life as a lad by being roadie. “They were the good old days,” he says, naming obscure pubs and venues, impressive underground bands he worked with and went to see like Radio Birdman and The Hitmen.

“I drove trucks mostly. I had a Class 3 license, you needed that. Sometimes I’d do lights or sound for people too. I’d say I was not good at it, but sometimes you were the only one around who had even half-an-idea, just from watching what other people did. I come from the era when there’d be just you and friend in a garage with a bunch of other friends who had formed a band. I couldn’t play an instrument. So you just joined in other ways and made yourself useful. You kept rolling along like that.”

He’d get pretty good at the driving – and being an all-purpose roadie. “Roadies did not call themselves arts workers back then. If you had called a roadie and ‘arts worker’ they probably would have punched you in the head,” he laughs.



Dinner is still being served as the line thins out and people sit down to enjoy a freshly baked vegetable frittata. Brian joins the line now to take his turn.

The meal is still warm, even a tad hot, fresh out of the oven at Addi Road where a team of volunteers has been cooking up a storm all afternoon. Fortunately, the rainy weather above has blown away to make it a crisp and beautiful evening.  “I’m a regular,” Brian says, taking hold of his meal. He congratulates the volunteer cooks and chats for a moment to the two young people serving up dinner. “Every week is good here. And it just keeps getting better and better.”

Almost as soon as dinner is done, the volunteers re-start the cycle by serving up apple crumble for dessert. Brian is back in line in the same slow and steady way he has, but giving his approval more volubly. That catch phrase of his ringing through the air once again: “It just keeps getting better and better!”

Nearby, people are sorting through a rack of clothes donated by Reunion in Newtown. Others are getting free advice from the Marrickville Legal Centre table. The mobile vans are set up and plenty busy: Orange Sky are washing clothes and drying them again for people who are homeless or finding it hard to cope, especially in this poor weather; Street Side Medics are taking people’s pulses, doing free medical check-ups, treating them on the spot, sorting referrals; Feel Good Project are only here once on a month, on the second Wednesday of each month – they wash and cut hair, give people a salon-quality look with style – a special treat and a highlight when they turn up.

Brian lifts his hat up as evidence of a Feel Good visit. Looking sharp! “I got my haircut the last time they were here. They did a great job.” Street Side Medics have been helping him out with a few health issues. “They’ve been just great too.”

You begin to sense an air of rejuvenation to Brian that might explain some of his innate brightness. Beside him sits a trendy shopping trolley that he tows around with him. It’s looking mighty full with whatever he has just got from the Addi Road Food Pantry, a low-cost grocery store that operates with a mix of rescued, donated and purchased stock. Brian says he likes “the low prices” and “the $5 deal” that means he can get free fruit and vegetables and free bread with every shop he does.

“It’s really good value,” he says. “If I was going to a normal supermarket I’d never get near that amount of food. And because of the fruit and vegetables you get for free, I end up eating a lot healthier than I might otherwise if I just bought the basics at the big chain stores. If was just left up to me I would not really afford the fruit and vegetables, you see. It’s better for me coming here.”

When Brian gets home he cuts up all the vegetables and puts them in his pressure cooker. “I only need one whistle,” he says, to tell him it’s all cooked. Out it comes again, ready to eat. Enough for quite a few meals. “One whistle,” he repeats. 




Brian describes himself as “a nomad, a gypsy” when asked about his living situation and who he shares his accomodation with. But by the sounds of things he is settled into Rockdale and maybe a sense of a home is taking shape there. He’s not a roadie anymore. “That’s a young man’s game,” he says. “Plus I started seeing all these young people turning up to work with briefcases and certificates.”

More power to them and all their qualifications and training; he was feeling like it was time to move on anyway. He’d done his world tours, had many adventures. Spent time in New York and London. Knew the Sydney scene inside out. Brian says he used to enjoy a coffee at the Piccolo Bar in Kings Cross after a show. “I used to like Sydney when it’s dark,” he says. “There were less lights back then, the streets were empty. It was lot quieter when it was late, but there were more places worth walking to.”

A bit of a joke ensues about the Piccolo Bar’s owner Vittorio and his brusque manner serving customers. “Some people would say he was rude,” Brian says. “But he was the right kind of rude. People loved it. Everyone went there. All the artists, musicians and actors, everyone. He was great, the place was great. It was the same in London at a place called Coach & Horses in Soho. A guy called Norman ran it. Rude as. Famous for being rude. People kept coming back. You’d see Francis Bacon drunk as anything there. And Jeffrey Barnard from The Spectator. I loved it.” Brian laughs at the memories. The people you meet in those places. “There’s a real art to being rude, you know.”

After those experiences in London, he felt the pull of the theatre and decided it might fit in better with his life when he got back to Sydney. Besides, he was finding the negative impacts on his body too much to deal with when it came to working on the road as a roadie. He went down to the Theatre Royal where The Phantom of the Opera was starting its rehearsals. Told his prospective employers, “I work for noisy rock bands.” Figured he had no chance; but that was exactly what got him the job. Brian’s experience was dead right for the team behind what would become a very long-running musical: a good spirit who knew what he was doing and a bit more about life besides.

You get the feeling Brian has at least another dozen stories tp tell – and much more detail behind them as well. But he has to get going back to Rockdale. Don’t worry, he reassures, he will be back next week for Wednesday Night Lights and is happy to talk.

He pushes his hat down to keep it ight on his head against the freshening wind and the smell of coming rain in the air. He pulls his trolley along beside him, a week’s worth of “one whistle” meals stashed inside.

It’s a bit like a famous line from The Phantom of the Opera: “No one ever sees the Angel; but he is heard by those who are meant to hear him.” On funny old evening in Marrickville, Brian is likewise singing about life – and the good things in it – to those who notice him. Not so much a haunted figure like in that rock ”n roll opera story, but most certainly a kind and happy soul for those who have a moment to share with him.