Creek Man

I first met Creek Man about 3 years ago.  He was the cheery guy with the balding, slightly out-of-control hair and a sly smile who was building a shack.  He’d go to the Bunnings up the line and bring small piles of building materials back down on the train.  Being a nice orderly mainstream person I assumed he was building a shack on his own land.

Why build otherwise?

It only slowly dawned on me that he was actually a rough sleeper, squatting down there behind one of the hospitals, apparently with a nudge and wink from security?!! He always spent the winter on a farm in the country and lived in a tent down at the creek in the summer. He’d been there for 14 years.  Hence, I guess, the urge to build four walls and a floor.  But he kept faith with the idea of a tent by only roofing his shack with a tarpaulin. 

To be honest I was not a big fan of Creek man, mostly because he was so boring.  He’d repeat himself, telling me about how he’d once be a carpenter and how he was making the walls out of one kind of board and the floor out of another, about how he had a little camp stove to cook with and how he had a family of ringtail possums living in the trees above his shack who were company for him.  The camp by the creek sounded wonderfully idyllic but not again and again.  And sometimes he’d stay to chat for a WHOLE hour, missing several trains, telling me the same things again and again. 

“He’s just a lonely old guy,” said one of my regulars who got collared by him once.  Easy for her to say.  She could leave.

Compassion set in at last, especially after last year when he started to look so ill, hobbling along at a snail’s pace on painful knees, all his industry gone.  His topics had switched to what the doctors had said and which knee was more swollen.  (And they were swollen, he showed the whole waiting room one day.) I became more patient at listening.  You had to admire the way he still kept pushing on; still with smiling his sly smile, keeping himself and his clothes clean, hobbling onto the train to go down to the supermarket to have a sit in the warm and buy something for tea. 

It took me about two months to realize he was missing.  Around Christmas one of the hospital people told me his shack had burned down and his gas bottles had exploded.  Apparently he wasn’t there when it happened but it was tenth hand information so I couldn’t be certain of that.  No one knew where he was. 

I was forced to file Creek Man away among the many, many station stories that finish with a sad, I-don’t-know-how-it-ended-I-hope-they’re-all-right. 

Good News! Yesterday he popped up at the station, looking fresh and new, moving as he did of old, with that sly smile just that bit broader.  He’d been in hospital having his knees done when his shack had burned down.  He was sad about it but Human Services had him in a motel with the promise of an apartment somewhere down the line.  (During Covid Human Services seem to have suddenly got a whole lot better at housing people.)

Of course he went on in lots of detail about his other aching joints, but I was just glad to see him safe and well.

“I should be good for another 66 years now,” he said chirpily as he waved good-bye.    

2 thoughts on “”

  1. So glad it has a happy ending – I often encounter similar encampments while walking the dog at the back of Lilydale Lake. Embarrassingly one time the dog very persistently tried to beg piece of toast off a poor guy eating his breakfast. While another time he scored cooked chicken bones! off a guy near the rail trail. The camps seem to only be in use for a few weeks, but the ruins can remain for years!

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