Drug addicts are not a nice bunch. We’ve all had to deal with them in some way, and it’s very rarely pleasant. In Perth, meth seems to be the hard-core drug of choice. In Melbourne however, it is heroin. Heroin was everywhere here in the 80’s. You can hear it in the music from that period. It was a big part of youth (goth) culture- I’ve seen many a haggard old goth in Collingwood and Fitzroy, and it’s lingered on 20 years later. The difference between the two types of addicts I have come into contact with is very noticeable. Addicts in Perth are most often aggressive and scary. They get off on intimidating everyone; making their presence known on public transport and around shopping centers. As is the nature of the drug. Born and bred in Perth, somewhat naïve in respect to drug usage, I assumed that junkies everywhere were over the top, loud mouth bogans with no teeth. But after living here for three months, I’ve come to realize that’s not true.
My first experience with Melbourne junkies was on Brunswick Street. These guys were amazing. One looked like a burnt out hippy, dressed all in brown, with long matted hair sticking out from under a woolen beanie. The other looked like he had come back in time from that period after the apocalypse where people make clothing out of anything they can find in the wreckage: wet suit material over tight jeans, a leather vest, more wet suit material arm guards, silver cyclist’s sunglass, industrial jewelry and severe bleach-blonde crew cut. I first saw them in the middle of the road, tip toeing over the tram tracks. They continued across to my side of the street, walking like they were trying their hardest to be stealth, stalking something unseen. They both had their hands held tightly in front of their belly buttons, wringing them over and over as the time traveler entered the café, and the hippy kept watch.
It was obvious they were furious drug fiends, and had been for some time, but they kept to themselves. They took turns going into the café for free water as the other stood outside, neither of them imposing on anyone. I have never seen anything like it in my life.
I’ve had some less pleasant encounters with heroin addicts though. One guy in his twenties haunts the town centre near my house, pleading in a high pitched whining voice if you can “sssspare some chaaange?” The first time he asked me, I gave him the 50 cents I had in my pocket after buying a roll, and he was not impressed. He started to yell, calling me terrible names and describing unmentionable acts he has apparently performed with my mother. I ran down the street, expecting him to chase and stab me with a needle full of air. I got home, nearly in tears, and told my housemates.
It was pointed out that there is no way he would have had the energy to chase me after yelling so loudly. A fair point. Heroin addicts find it hard enough to move at the best of times. Needless to say though, I haven’t helped him out again. Three months in a city isn’t very long. Maybe it’s only a matter of time before I’m accosted by a junkie on the train over here, loudly proclaiming he’s just got out of prison as he leers at me, while the rest of the carriage stares hard in a different direction. But I highly doubt it. In that respect, I am enjoying Melbourne a lot more than my birth city.