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27 June, 2021

Water, lollipops, moral support

THE Mackay Street Chaplaincy is a Christian group whose aim is“to ensure people stay safe while enjoying a night out”. Inspired by the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan the Chaplaincy sets up a tent every weekend in the Mackay CBD to offer cups of water, lollipops (for energy) and kind words to partygoers who may have been partying just a little too hard. DAVID LORNIE tagged along with them last Saturday night.


IT’S A chilly night in the CBD and I’m accompaning the Mackay Street Chaplaincy as an observer on their early shift – early being a euphemism for 10pm til 1am.

I meet up with the team, which includes two new recruits – Tony and Alex, who are also designated observers for the night – just before the 10pm briefing.

SIGN IN Chaplaincy Roster and Training Co-ordinator Niki gives us a quick overview and signs us in.

Niki, regular volunteers Nathanea and Andrea, and paid Chap- lain Rex put on purple jackets.

We observers are given pink vests to wear – not my first choice in garment colour.

I make a lame protestation to that effect and am told that “it takes a real man to wear pink”.

On goes the vest. We then gather in a circle for prayer and it’s time to hit the streets.

The team set up the tent and trolley laden with supplies – water, lollipops, first aid gear, tissues and a container of thongs.

I discover the reason for the thongs later in the night.

It’s cold, really cold and although I’m wearing a fleecy hoodie, I can still feel the bite.

The pink vest is no help.

The temperature, however doesn’t appear to bother the folk on the street who are, for the most part, dressed in short sleeves and skimpy tops.

Within a few minutes of setting up, our first customers turn up – a couple of teenage guys who ask for lollypops, then cruise away smiling.

They, like the rest of the people around us, are in a good mood.

Groups of excited young girls and boys waltz past, letting out the occasional hoot.

When they en- counter someone they know it is with exaggerated hugs and overly sincere declarations of love.

YOUNG BOYS

Three very young boys on scooters drift past, cheeky grins on their faces as they check out the scene.

They should be at home in bed.

The two lollypop guys turn up again, lollies in their smiling mouths, for a chat...just passing time.

A group of cops troop by, nodding their head at the Chaplaincy crew as they pass.

An acoustic version of Cold Chisel’s Khe Sahn wafts from the top floor of the recently opened Palace Hotel where a local singer and his guitar are entertaining the crowd.

As the song finishes and an AC/DC song begins, a gothic girl with orange hair and a large tattoo on her barely-covered chest drops by.

She is accompanied by a boy who looks more sporty than goth.

He’s drunk and somewhat unsteady on his feet. “I promise, I’m not that drunk,” he says without being asked, then almost falls over.

It’s 10.15pm and time to go on patrol. Tony, Rex, Nathanea and I walk up the street, people greeting us with smiles as we go.

“LOVE THE PINK UNIFORM, FELLAS,” chuckles a well-dressed and clearly heterosexual bloke.

We smile at him and I remind myself that it takes a real man to wear pink.

We approach Mojo where Rex has a chat with the bouncers and asks if they’d like a lollipop.

“Nah, I’ve had enough sugar tonight,” comes the friendly reply and we move on.

Walking up River Street, we are quickly overtaken by a group of rough looking teen lads, one with the most magnificent mullet I have seen in a while. Moving forward, we walk past The Empire where the DJ is loudly pumping out a metal rap song and we encounter three bearded guys.

They’ve clearly been en- joying a drink and are quite chatty.

"Got any water?” they ask and Rex advises them they will find it at the tent.

“What have you got, then? Lollypops? How am I looking?”

We leave them to compare fashion notes and move forward.

ORIGINAL GANGSTER

“CHAPLAINS ARE O.G.,” comes a shout from up the road. Original Gangster – a declaration of respect from the street.

It’s 10.40pm and we walk past Moss on Wood where we can hear Mango Junction belting out covers of various rock hits.

“Pink men,” smiles a lady as we pass.

We smile back.

By 10.50pm we’re back at the tent, feeling a bit warmer for the walk.

I watch couple of punters drinking water from plastic cups and chatting with each other as an excited young lady races over from the slowly filling kebab shop.

“Got any duct tape?” she asks.

My mind is now imagining scenarios as Rex starts looking into his bag of tricks.

“My friend broke her heel,” she explains, prompting Rex to reach for the box of thongs.

Broken heels are not an unusual occurrence, it seems, and a pair of thongs will protect the soles of the feet.

But it means either an early end to the night or a taxi ride back home for a new pair of heels.

Rex hands over some safety pins which have been known to do the trick and the young lady races off to find her friend.

Three rather cold-looking girls are the next to approach and they’re after a sugar rush to help stave off the cold.

Warm clothes would work just as well, but I feel this probably misses the point. They are handed a lollipop each and walk away smiling.

FIRST VOMITER

It’s not yet midnight and, across the road, we’ve sighted our first vomiter.

A young girl has her head lodged in a nearby flowerbed and she’s stoically emptying the contents of her stomach onto the flowers whilst her friends rub her back.

A Chaplaincy volunteer goes over and offers her a water which she declines, saying she’s perfectly ok.

But her attempts to stand are unsuccessful so she makes a deal with the volunteer.

“If I can’t walk in a straight line I’ll drink some water,” she says.

She stands up bravely, prepares to walk the straight line and fails to even put one foot in front of her. “OK, I made a deal,” she concedes.

“Water, please.”

Her friends help her to a sit- ting position and water is brought.

A few sips later, she’s ready to get amongst it again. It’s time now for another patrol and we walk up Victoria Street towards Night Owl which, by now has crowds gathering around.

“Outside Liquid, Rabbit Hole, Night Owl, this is Party Central,” Rex explains.

“When people get sick of shouting to be heard they come outside here so they can hear what each other is saying.”

He stops his explanation to greet an acquaintance, a lone teenager.

“Doing alright, my man?” he asks.

“Yep.” Rex smiles warmly and we keep moving.

DARK AND QUIET

Heading left at Night Owl we come to the bus stop which is dark and quiet.

Rex explains that this is a favoured chill-out spot for those seeking temporary respite from the noise and lights.

There are two big girls sitting there, one of whom tells us she has just arrived from Melbourne, but feels colder here than she did in the Victorian capital.

“Why am I cold?” she asks.

“Got a lollypop? Yeah? Great.”

I’ve worked out by now that lollypops have magical heating superpowers.

It’s 11.15pm and we’re back near Moss on Wood.

A few people fall out of a cab, one of them say- ing, “Good to see you guys, hey.”

We slowly make our way back to the tent and by 11.30pm I’m feeling tired.

I want to go home but I don’t want to be a quitter.

I contemplate a coffee but fear it could keep me up all night.

As I ponder this out loud, Niki tells me she no longer drinks coffee but says if I have one now it will get me across the line without keeping me up all night.

“You’ll use the energy getting out and about here, so you’ll be able to sleep,” she says.

It sounds like good advice so I make myself a coffee using the hot water thermos stashed in the tent for volunteer use.

I finish the hot drink and am enjoying the caffeine buzz when my missus rings.

She’s been drinking bourbon at home and wants to talk about something that could have waited till tomorrow.

I tell her we’ll discuss it in the morning and say good night.

A sober lady (I know this to be true because she tells us) rocks up with three drunk friends (I know this to be true because they are loud and wobbly).

The sober lady looks agitated.

Escorting drunkards all night whilst not drinking will do that to you. “I’m the designated driver,” she says.

“So I need a water and I am not paying for it.”

She produces her own bottle and gestures for it to be filled, then gathers up her merry band of drunks and heads off, scowling.

MIDNIGHT

Midnight strikes and, as if to mark the transition into Sunday, someone drops a full beer bottle on the pavement next to the tent.

It explodes, sending glass shards and foam across the pavement.

Niki springs into action, politely asking people to move back and telling them not to help her as she cleans up the shrapnel.

Across the road a long line is forming outside the kebab shop.

A sad-looking girl, whose voluptuous figure is struggling to remain inside her skimpy dress, tells us how wonderful the Street Chaplaincy is.

“You volunteers are so amazing,” she say, “I want to do it, too. I dont really drink much but I just broke up with my boyfriend. I drank three bottles of wine.”

She then proceeds to outline the events leading to the break-up and subsequent wine consumption.

The festivities are kicking up a gear and, though its been a while between sightings, another mullet strides purposefully past the tent – this one entering mohawk territo- ry with its shaved sides.

It’s time for another patrol and there are more people congregating on the streets, looking out for fresh air, food and conversation.

“When do you get a purple one?” asks a passerby, pointing at my pink vest as we walk into Moss on Wood for a toilet break.

We stay inside long enough to hear Mango Junction playing Bryan Adam’s Summer of 69 and a Powderfinger song.

We then head back out to the street and walk past the long line of people trying to get into Maguires.

It’s now 12.50pm and time for the first shift to head back to the office to sign off for the night.

For those flitting past us, chattering excitedly, it looks like the night is just beginning.

As we walk slowly down the road to the Street Chaplaincy office we see a rough-looking young guy in a flanno and heroic mullet engaged in what appears to be a heated exchange of words with a girl.

We slow down and Rex asks the guy if he is ok.

He looks up, offers a crooked smile and delivers, in a bold Shakespearean tone, the most eloquent words I’ve heard all night: “My Friend, I am SALUBRIOUS!”


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