4 May 2012
When Michael was 21 he fled the angry shouts of his parents’ crumbling marriage, stuck his thumb out on the Brisbane highway and jumped into a car with a crucifix hanging from the rear-vision mirror. Two days later, when the driver dropped him off in Townsville, he was a Christian – and has been one ever since.
But his arrival in Townsville represented the start of five lonely years for Michael. He lived on the streets, spoke to no one and slept in parks. “I was very alone,” he recalls. Once again it was Christians who helped Michael out by finding him a place in their travelling ministry. He enjoyed helping them convert an old meatworks into a warehouse. His only work prior to this had been a stint as a trolley collector in Brisbane.
They also helped him to find dormitory accommodation – but, unfortunately, this wasn’t a good experience. “All my things got nicked,” he recalls, “and I had to go back out on the streets for one week every three months. In Townsville I was like Daniel in the lion’s den. There were fights every night, but I never got touched.”
One thing Michael did find to love in Townsville was beach volleyball. He wandered into a game one night when he was homeless, and ended up playing four nights a week. It became a passion that led him to umpiring, and a move to Mackay. “I heard there was a job going as an umpire, so I hitchhiked down and ended up living with the boss of the sports complex and getting paid $10 a game. Beach volleyball gave me confidence. I was very shy before I got involved with the sport. It’s great – it gets you moving and talking with people. I’d like to try to get qualified as an umpire one day.”
Michael moved back to Brisbane about two years ago and soon started selling The Big Issue. “I don’t like selling The Big Issue,” he says. “I love it! My customers are so friendly, they stop for a chat and ask me how my day is going. Sales have been a bit up and down since the floods, but I think it’s because people are still rebuilding.”
Michael now enjoys the “peace and quiet” of his own one-bedroom unit. “The streets can be very noisy at night,” he says. He has a big TV for watching the Australian championship beach volleyball, the world wrestling, the netball, world darts and the football. He stays in touch with his Christian friends by going to church every Sunday night. “I like the music and the Bible stories on the big screen.”
One day, Michael hopes to get his driver’s licence and a car, and head back north for a holiday. He’s also hoping to find a place to play beach volleyball again. In a state brimming with beautiful beaches, there must be a team out there somewhere that would welcome a talented umpire and all-round nice guy like Michael.
Interview by Judy Johnson / Photograph by Paul Giggle
Michael F sells The Big Issue outside the Tribal Theatre, George Street, Brisbane