For 52-year-old Dave, it’s just a matter of faith.
It was a fight over a gumball with another kid that changed the course of Dave’s young life.
At the age of 9, dressed up as a girl, he ran away from his promiscuous mother in Townsville and stowed away on a Greyhound bus heading for Darwin.
A woman who found him under her bus seat delivered him to an uncle in Darwin – another alcoholic who never put him in school so he stole coke bottles and cashed them in to feed himself.
“I had 2 cent pieces and I was putting them in the gumball machine when one fell and this little Chinese boy came out of nowhere and stole it, so we started fighting. I was going to take it out of his mouth and eat it myself,” Dave said.
“This old Chinese man broke up the fight. He took us home and put us in a boxing ring to fight it out.”
He fed him, showered him and gave him clean clothes before taking him back to his uncle – but seeing the squalor that he was living in – took him back home where Dave lived for 10 years.
That man was “Uncle Tom”, a Kung Fu master who taught the kids the martial art and introduced him to Confucianism.
He left Darwin at 20 and returned to Townsville where he opened his own Martial Arts School.
He’s trained as a paramedic, loves philosophy, has a degree in sound engineering, traveled the country as the drummer in an Iron Maiden cover band and spent time at a mine in the Northern Territory where an explosion burst both his eardrums, making him virtually deaf for the next four years.
“I was depressed and suicidal after that,” Dave said.
By 2004, Dave was living alone in Cairns and it was finding a silver cross on the ground that he says changed his life.
“It was a sign,” Dave said. “I went to church and talked to two pastors the next day.”
For Dave, that meeting was transformative – and healing. It was his own miracle.
“The next day, I could hear the caravans backing up in the park. I could hear the birds.”
Dave is now a regular member of his church congregation and the fellowship he experiences has a powerful effect.
“I’m not homeless,” Dave said. “I come here to help.”
And help he does: everybody knows him and greets him with love. His friends know him as “Steve Irwin” because of his blond locks.
He still suffers tinnitus – his ears still ring constantly following the explosion.
But because tinnitus is a phantom and is hard to pin down, Dave has struggled to obtain National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) payments, but he hasn’t given up.
His laughter is infectious and it’s clear he has a positive effect on those around him.
When it comes to staying healthy, laughter is up there: it’s priceless and free and for Dave, easy to use.
Next time we see him; he’s promised to show us his best dance moves.
“There’s always a new pathway to follow,” he said. “Sometimes you just need to pray.”
- The Stratford Medical Centre’s Wheels of Wellness program provides medical care to our community’s homeless and vulnerable.