"I punched me Mum so I had to bolt.
I 'id all day in a tree. I could 'ear 'em callin' me.
No way I wuz comin' down.
I wuz scared me step-dad 'ud bash me.
Then I got on a bus and come down 'ere,
to me Ma and Pa's.They're awright.
Better than 'ome anyway."
Probably his story was only half true
but he told it with such direct simple power
that momentarily the whole room went dead quiet
and through my mind washed
waves of sorrow and compassion,
a wish that over sad, complex, humanity
at least childhood could be simply joyous.
He'd come from North Queensland,
big for his age, raw-boned,
a guileless, strange kind of innocent
always in conflict with older boys.
He was only twelve.
Some years later I passed him in the street.
For a moment I didn't recognise him.
All that child's health had disappeared.
He was thin, very thin.
His head was studded and shaven.
His cheeks were drawn.
His eyes had that hollow, empty desolation
you sometimes see in those
who have seen too much or known too much of human misery
and who have sought momentary respite
in a powerfully destructive vortex.
He was, I would guess, fifteen.
Finally, I read about him in the local paper.
A tide passed over me,
anguish for loss and waste,
for the misery of some children's lives,
for the blight that perpetuates abuse,
for those trapped in their individual torment,
He'd killed a man, a paedophile, his dealer.
Late one night he knocked on the door of a house
in a quiet sleeping street.
When the door opened he pulled the trigger
and fled into the night
whilst those in nearby houses slept peacefully on.
He was only eighteen.
I thought then of that quiet street,
of separate lives, of sleeping comfortably
in our separate houses and our separate beds
whilst young lives in agony of abandonment
flee headlong into the dark
and I heard the tolling of bells,
deep, sad notes ringing out
for every young and damaged life,
for every abused, abandoned and neglected child,
ringing out loss, waste, heartache, sorrow and pain
all through this dark and too often