The sequel to The Key Master blog that I posted at the start of the year, in which I speculate on the future prospects of the eight-year-old kid who stole my backpack.

It was published in the Review supplement of The Weekend Australian on August 4, 2012.


There’s nothing quite like seeing the eight-year-old kid who stole your backpack and his Mum, carrying what is most likely everything they own through the very same park said backpack was stolen from, to serve up a hefty dose of perspective on just how tough you’re really doing it.

The tale of the backpack theft and subsequent retrieval of the irreplaceable keys it contained is a sweeping saga of loss and the redemptive powers of the Universe too epic to recall in great detail here. Set against the backdrop of the spiritual home of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, it spanned four days, involved a cast of three would be thieves too young to know any better, and a mild-mannered, slightly naïve hero – who’s since had yet another hoodie racked from its hiding pace during a subsequent daytime jog – determined to prove that compassion and respect are a more powerful force for change than suspicion and anger can ever be.

The hero saved the day, sacrificing the rest of the bag’s expendable contents but reclaiming the keys while constantly reassuring the young antagonist that “You’re not in trouble – I just want my keys back”, but did he actually change anything? His life was a struggle in the ensuing two-and-a-half months, but what trials and tribulations befell the story’s other main cast member before the protagonist sighted him again? Were the mother and son heading towards the train station as a family unit, or was he being sent off to some other location on his lonesome?

For some reason I feel connected to this kid, perhaps because we’re both of Aboriginal descent – he quite obviously, myself much less so. I’ve never wanted for anything in life – the ‘here we go again’ look in his mum’s eyes on that fateful day I got my keys back spoke of a life where every day dished out a fresh new drama to overcome. For the next couple of weeks the paths of my little mate and I just kept crossing. Every time he’d look up at me with fear and distrust in his eyes; every time I’d look back, smile, and ask him how he was going; every time I’d get the same mute response and continue on my way. Then two months passed before I saw he and his mum walking off into the sunset, destination unknown.

There’s a story like this at every turn in rapidly gentrifying Redfern; where a blood-stained street corner windscreen washer can lie semi-conscious in a park while a post-work boot camp goes about its business nearby; where a carful of shirtless white thugs waving a plastic Australian flag out the window abuse innocent Asian civilians as they drive by; where a gourmet crêperie can open next door to a pub shouting its new 8am opening hours with signage remarkably similar in colour scheme and design to the Aboriginal flag; where a lone twenty-something girl can sit ‘on the nod’ beside a busy arterial road as day gives way to night, seemingly not caring what happens to the carry bag full of whatever she considers essential sitting beside her.

Yet still I’ll lie in bed at night pondering stuff that doesn’t matter; wondering why she didn’t call; wondering why Colleague X hasn’t responded to my Very Important Email about Ultimately Inconsequential Thing Y; wondering when the Universe is going to acknowledge my outflow with a long overdue gust of inflow because I’ve been shortchanged for far too long.

And even in the deepest dark of night, when I’ve got no idea where I’m going, chances are it’s a far brighter place than any sunset my little bag snatching mate will ever walk off into.