There is a magnificent tree at the heart of Kings Cross sheltering the Fitzroy Gardens like a giant umbrella under which I've taken refuge many times over the years. A vast entanglement of outreaching branches, chunky fluted trunk and serpentine roots, it stands proud, strong, silent, non-judgemental, all-welcoming like the quintessential nature spirit, guardian angel of my soul's travail.
I'm one of the restless multitudes of the disenfranchised who have quested to Sydney in the hope of making a new start in the pursuit of a happy life. Much of the time I lived on the streets and couldn't help but gravitate to Kings Cross, that sleepless mecca for colourful misfits and anonymous deviants. And it was always that tree that gave me succour, consolation, companionship, when I was alienated, distraught, lost, inebriated out of my senses, I took shelter under it's branches, I slept it off, I found new friends and lovers, I contemplated the twisted pathways that brought me to it's sanctuary and I schemed my way into a possible, brighter future. In summer I rested from the glare in the tree's shade and on stormy days I hugged it close, trying not to get wet while it shook and swayed and writhed like some chained leviathan trying to break free with the help of the wind.
Under it's hypnotic influence I often daydreamed, reminisced, fantasised about what had gone before and what could fantastically be. I dreamed about my great, great, great grandmother, an indigenous Australian, eyes as big as the night, who possibly leaned against a tree like this high on the ridge above Sydney Cove where one day Kings Cross would be built, from where she observed the pillars of smoke from the campfires down below of the strange new invaders, ghosts from the Dreamtime, white colonisers landed from huge-winged sea creatures, who scared her but also made her dangerously curious.
And when a foraging white bushwhacker stumbled upon her in that wilderness he might have seduced her with intrigueing sign language, damper-bread and shiny glass baubles till eventually she would give birth to a mongrel child, a caramel-skinned daughter who in turn would be ravished by more hungry white-skinned ravagers of the land, and so on down the ages, each child of each generation getting paler and more blue-eyed, till I, the deep-future progeny, after wandering the furthest reaches of the Australian landscape, should return, no tribe or country to call my own, washed up at the base of the all-forgiving tree, blanched and drained by dispossession, to haunt the Cross like a Dreamtime ghost of old.
There came the day I was sitting under that tree wishing I was Buddha, desperate for Enlightenment, with the world swirling around me in all its diversity and diversions, the eager-eyed prostitutes and demonic druggies, the existentially challenged and the fulfilled old aged, the cops and tourists, the businessmen and council-workers, the leisure geeks and pleasure seekers, the hoi polloi and the demi-monde, the bustle of it all weighing upon me, me trying not to feel crushed, the wannabe artist pushed asunder into the Underworld.
Next thing I knew, an unremarkable little man in shirt, tie and baggy gray trousers was sitting beside me, eyeballing me dolefully and licking his lips incongruously. Lost in reverie, I took no notice of him till he coughed nervously and spoke up,
"Excuse me, excuse me, you wouldn't be waiting for anyone , would ya?"
I focused upon his pallid, wimpish form, "What?"
"I'm wondering if you want to meet someone?" His eyes widened, hopeful.
"What are you talking about? I'm just trying to get some peace here."
"You look a bit lost, maybe you need a friend. Do you want to come back to my place for a drink?" He licked his lips again and smiled weakly and I flashed what he was after.
"What do you want exactly?"
"Just a bit of company. I'm as lonely as you are. I'll pay you for your time, fifty dollars, just for an hour, easy money, you'll enjoy it."
I was somewhat bemused, even chuffed by his offer, someone actually wanted me. Though a long-time desperado, at that moment I didn't give a damn about money or sex. I was depressed and staring into the void of no-hope, Sydney can be a cruel city, class-ridden for all the myths of egalitarianism, and I felt like I was nailed to the cross and dying by inches. I wondered what it would be like to coldly hand myself over to a stranger with no love, lust, liking or familiarity to provide the comfort zone. Maybe it would take me out of myself, shake up the banality of my existence? Hankering for something new and wildly different I agreed to go with the gnome-like chap, as if for a ride on a ghost train, to see what thrills and chills might be on offer.
He led me to a bedsit off Macleay Street not far from the park, unkempt and drab with no art or style, the pad of an estranged, boring office drone. Without further ado he jumped me and groped me all over like the proverbial blindman trying to ascertain the shape of an elephant. I shrugged him off, "Whoa, easy there fella, what happened to that drink you promised me?"
The little wimp gave me a pained grimace and fumbled about at a side-table. "I don't really have anything to drink but I've got this stuff, this'll relax you, take a whiff."
He held a small brown bottle under my nose, and I grouched, "What the Hell is this shit?" Against my better judgement, without thinking too much about it, I snorted and breathed in it's noxious fumes.
"It's Amyl Nitrate, it'll blow all your inhibitions away, you'll really get off."
My mind's eye exploded into a whirling kaleidoscope as my brain felt like it got shrink-wrapped in poly-urethane plastic, my air-ways clogged up with molten acetate and DDT fly-spray seemed to flood down my gullet till nausea rushed up and launched me into a delirium like a rocket-ship crashing into a grinning deaths-head moon. All the while my would-be paramour clutched at the fly of my jeans, yanking at the belt, trying to tear my pants from me as if they were on fire.
The room spun, I shuddered to the core of my being, the lonesome maniac tore at my guts like a starving cannibal till I had to shove him roughly from me and stumble away from the bed upon which he'd steered me, pulling my jeans up, gathering the denim around my crotch protectively and, tripping over the loosened pants, I staggered to the door.
"Don't go!" he yelled plaintively, "here's the fifty dollars, just lie back, let go, enjoy!"
"What the fuck are you on about? That's the worst shit I've ever had! Forget it, I'm out of here!" I struggled out into the tear-stained streets, a soft rain falling, and breathed in gollups of luscious fresh air, his wail echoing behind me, "Please don't go! I need you! I love you..."
I made it back to the calm, enigmatic presence of the tree in the Fitzroy Gardens and sucked in the glorious oxygen it shed so generously. Its branches, like cool arms, seemed to embrace and soothe me, my heaving respirations quietened, my head cleared, my sight sharpened. The peace of the tree elated me in a way that drugs and sex never would, and I felt courageous, enough to take on the trammels of an unjust world once again, and for a few gorgeous moments tranquility hushed my tempestuous soul, right there in the midst of the hurly-burl of Kings Cross. I'd just been granted a glimpse of hell and, like hitting rock-bottom, the only way for me now was up.