Just a few nights ago I was beginning my hitch-hiking adventure through the south west of Australia and I decided to take the night train to Mandurah on the outskirts of town so I could wake up first thing in the morning to leave along the Old Coast highway further south.
I knew I had my best chances asking for a ride from the petrol station about 7 km’s down the road so I started to walk. After a few km’s of walking I quickly started to realize how drastically different the suburbs of Mandurah at night felt in comparison to the inner suburbs of Perth. The people I passed all had their guard slightly up, as if ready to respond or run if the situation called for it. The safety shield of heightened consciousness was activated, adrenaline started to pump and I kept my eyes and ears open.
I continued to walk through the shadows of the un-lit street for a few km’s only to hear a strong aussie accent call out to me at the traffic lights. “Oi! Buddy, where ya headin!?” The thought to keep walking away from potential trouble swept across my mind but I knew that that would be a sign of submissive weakness. I decided to turn 180 degrees face directly at the man calling out to me and respond with a clear and confident Aussie bogan modulated voice. “I’m headin up to the Petrol Station a few more km’s down the road. What are you guys up to tonight?” Responding with another question is a way of showing them that we consider them equal, that we’re not afraid or intimidated by their presence.
They asked where I was from and I did my best to create a story of interest. I said I had just come back from living in Spain for 2 and a half years. Now was my time to rediscover the South West. “Spain!?” Paul interjects, “Oi Amy, this fellas come from Spain!” (funnily enough they kept saying I was from Spain the whole night). I introduced myself with a friendly yet firm handshake whilst maintaining level eye contact at all times. Physically looking down on people, keeping distance, squinting the eyes are all signs of doubt or lack of trust. I kept a neutral yet solid posture giving all the respect and dignity I would any other individual.
“Well if you wanted a safe place to crash we live just up around the corner and we’ve got a spot out the back of our garden you could put your things if you like?” said Paul.
Now I’m not sure if his intentions were to invite me into his house from the very beginning or if they had originally come up to mug me of my belongings. That we will never know, but I continued to dive ever deeper down the rabbit hole of trust and agreed to come back with them.
We started to walk and talk and I quickly came to realise that these people were not the ‘normal’ types of people you might find down at the local library. These people lived life on the edge and they were heavily involved in daily crime and drug abuse. That being said, they had also setup an improvised safe house for local children to come to sleep if they needed to be away from their abusive or non-existent parents. Paul retold a story of helping a local aboriginal boy out for a few years when he was younger. He would treat the local boy as one of his own sons, splitting what ever money he had to share with the kids evenly.
After being introduced to the rest of the crew in the house, dinner was served and we all enjoyed the homemade lasagna in the tv room. As the night went on, the conversation continued to escalate with Paul and Amy exposing deeper and deeper secrets behind the dangerous ways in which they really live.
One of the scariest moments was when Paul was explaining how they had robbed a dealer and the dealer had caught up to them and slashed one of his mates calf muscles so they dropped their things and started fighting. He retold the story in the kitchen as if re-living the exact same moment yelling to me in passion “I was that close to ripping his fucking throat out!”. He did all this whilst starring at me directly and squeezing an imaginary neck with all his force to the point his veins in his neck were bulging out. “But I didn’t, cuz you can’t do that” he relaxed slightly. Then, one of the children of around 14 years who was listening in on the explicit story dropped a cheeky “you should’ve” comment under his breathe at which point I was left internally gasping for air.
You can tell how these families try their best to do good and deep down they want to give their children a chance but they have difficulties managing their own lives let alone setting an example for anyone else. They didn’t receive the love, attention and guidance we can so often take for granted. I could already tell that the boy living in the house was going to grow up in a similar way to Paul. He looked up to Paul as the male figure in the house with all of his outlandish life stories and experiences.
All of that being said, as humans they certainly gave me a warm and friendly welcome into their home. They didn’t hide things from me, they shared everything they had with me, they told me stories, they fed me, allowed me to shower and offered me a bed in the only air-conditioned room. I went deep into the dragons lair of danger yet it was through the constant process of giving trust, showing authentic interest and replacing judgment with acceptance that these people ended up protecting me as one of them.
If you give respect, you get respect.