Minds Went Walking

Sunday Blog 84 – 14th May 2023

This is the chapter I would have written for the Minds Went Walking- Paul Kelly’s Songs Re-imagined book if only I had been asked to contribute. Australian singer songwriter Paul Kelly is our Bob Dylan. Our Billy Bragg. Perhaps they sent me an invitation via email and I missed it. Certainly the song I wanted to cover isn’t in it, so perhaps I might squeeze into a second edition? In anticipation of this unlikelihood, here goes with my entry.

Please note that this post deals with sexual assault and a respectful trigger alert applies. If this is not a topic you want to engage with just now, scroll on by.

God’s Hotel

Early June 1990 I was leaving Perth for London. On a one-way ticket. By then I had a degree and professional working experience under my belt. Also, I had nurtured my unbreakable vow to myself made in 1979 that I Would Be Back to London, Europe. I had been so very bloody lucky to go to Europe with my parents in 1979 as a 14-year-old. It was like going to the moon and looking at the earth, everything in its realistic proportions. I just didn’t think it would take me eleven years to fulfil this vow. But here I was at 25 years of age and all those career and travel dreams were ahead of me.

Being the 1990s, Paul Kelly happened to be playing in Perth. Back then, I was able to nip in to see him at the Herdsman Hotel, no queue. Just a final listen to this wondrous song maker in my home town before my heroine’s journey began.

Even though I was never one to have much of a record collection, I made sure I packed my Paul Kelly CDs. Post. Gossip. Under the Sun. I set off to London to make my fortune, bobbed around precariously from house share to house share and snagged myself a job that kept me just above the poverty line.

About 1991 I got to see Paul Kelly in London, this time there was a queue, a cover charge. I stood up above and noted his bald patch. How could the ever sexy, youthful Paul Kelly be ageing?

By then I had been settled into my new London life, and was even blessed with a colleague who became a flat mate for the next few years. She is the kind of friend you can see after years and the time and distance disappears. While she and I were aligned in many ways, I could not get her to see the wondrous beauty of Paul Kelly’s ballads. To be fair, my CD collection was limited so he did get a bit of a flogging.

I’d continued to follow his new releases, add them into my Paul Kelly discography. Wanted Man in 1994 was a particular favourite. Paul followed me back to Perth via a three year detour in Greece. I returned home for good a decade after my departure, in 2001. By then I was the mother of a delightful half-Greek toddler.

And then came 10th May 2002.

When you’re lucky, privileged, like I’ve been, you can go about your life right into your 30’s, thinking life is fair. That bad things can’t happen when you live your life well and do good works. And bloody hell, Perth is a small country town. Ten years in Europe and no mishap, I was convinced the whole Perth crime scene was a media beat-up.

Until 10th May 2002. I heard a noise in the night, got up to investigate. In the early hours of that day, a faceless man broke into my home I shared with my beautiful toddler daughter, sexually assaulted me and left.

10th May 2002 taught me that life is random, brutal shit happens and we need to find our way back to positivity and belief in the general (if not absolute) goodness of most people. Somehow.

I’d bought into a social housing suburb, on the leading edge of its gentrification. I’ll never know for sure, but I think he attended parties in the house I’d bought, back in the day, with my university education, European work experience and independent financial means. Apparently there were a few car bodies in and amongst the rubbish she’d left behind before it was chi-chi’d up for the likes of me to move in.

My beautiful little home, my new start for me and my daughter was blown apart. We moved out so I could learn to sleep alone.

I wanted to understand why someone would do something like that. Completely unprovoked. I wanted to forgive, avoid the poison chalice of resentment. But there was no-one to forgive. This anonymous assailant had disappeared into the night.

By the time he was caught fourteen months later through DNA I’d almost become used to the unknown perpetrator story. I’d even survived a few more little crimes – a purse taken from a shopping trolley. Kids smashing the back door of the house just a few weeks after I had tentatively moved back in again after eight months away.

The same policeman who had helped out about the smashed back door incident was on my doorstop again a few weeks later. But he wasn’t there with any news of the young kids who’d broken in as I had expected.

He was “here about the 10th May 2002.”

It’s like his words were a blow to the back of my knees which nearly buckled. Shakily I let him and his colleagues in. The assailant was now identified. I asked if there had been other rapes in the year he’d been at large. There hadn’t and I cried with exquisite relief.

But in order to complete the arrest, they just needed me to go back down to the station… So back to the police station I went, more than a year after I had done the statement and forensic examination. The table in their office was gritty from the previous interview, and horrid memories washed at me as I completed the confusing piece of evidence gathering they needed so they could finalise the arrest warrant. I just had to look at a mug shot of 16 faces and say on the record I didn’t know any of the men. I knew he was one of them, but not which one. It was all done and dusted before I had to pick my girl up from kindy.

All weekend I knew he was going to be arrested. He didn’t.

Friday. Saturday. Sunday.

Yes I wanted the streets safe. But prison.

Prison is the place where we send people away, exile them. I couldn’t put it into words this piercing, tortuous sorrow. I wept alone. No-one except my Buddhist friend could contemplate why I would feel sad.

I couldn’t find the words, but Paul Kelly had them for me. I knew what to do. I got out God’s Hotel (co-written with Nick Cave) and played it on repeat. And over again.

And somehow there was a place for everyone, inclusion and empathy.

Everybody’s got a room in God’s Hotel.

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