into the trenches

The Devonshire St tunnel has its own climate, warm and humid from the daily mass of breathing bodies.

Pushing against the morning crowd of students and office workers, you get an overwhelming urge to bleat. The faces, the fashion, and the endless tramping feet blur into each other like a colour wheel spinning into white.

By afternoon the pace slows, the colours return, and buskers begin to fill the empty space with music. The song of a woman dressed in black echoes in the air, accompanied by the occasional tinkle of coins tossed into a bronze bowl.

Behind her, the walls are haunted by the ghosts of bad high-school murals, covered in graffiti and grime. It seems unlikely they will ever be replaced. The unfortunate artists, now in their thirties, probably walk the long way to the bus stop just to avoid looking at their handiwork.

People avoid looking at everything here. The walk from Broadway to Chalmers St is full of gazes to avert, offers to refuse, advertising to ignore. By the time you emerge into natural light its a miracle if you can see beyond your own fingertips.

Pete Fitsimmons has the hands of a construction worker, the beard of a Sadhu, and a spot selling the Big Issue at the top of the tunnel.

As the sun dips low over Central Station, he rolls a cigarette and tells adventure stories. “I took the boat to sea in a hurricane, and once I tried to climb a mountain without any equipment in the middle of the night.”

Pete wanted to sail to Athens to watch the Olympics. Instead his boat was impounded, leaving him without a home. After a month on the streets, the housing commission helped him into a place on Pitt St. “I’m really glad that I’ve stabilised, and that I’m not carrying a sleeping bag and dirty clothes around”.

“It’s like the front in Gallipoli – the enemy’s out there and they’re just going to keep firing at you so you never stick your head up over the top. You just try and live however you can on the stuff that comes into the trenches.”

“As long as I’ve got a packet of cigarettes I’m okay, ’cos all I’m going to do is sit down, deconstruct everything, have a smoke, and it’ll be alright.”

originally published on Nomadology

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