Plans are underway for an open air service in Woolloomooloo Square. Julie Smith, who runs the health clinic at the Matthew Talbot Hostel, where he would regularly turn up for medical treatment, is currently arranging a service and funeral for next week.
She said: “A piece of Woolloomooloo has died. The funeral is likely to be big, probably open air, in Tom Uren Place, here in Woolloomooloo.”
He’d been introduced to Quentin Bryce, then governor-general. As she sipped a cup of tea at the reception he urged her away to sit on the floor and see his CD collection. She is said to have grimaced as he offered her an AC/DC album. He’d also met singer Seal and Australian rugby league coach Brad Fittler.
There were, perhaps predictably, some mental health problems. He would express himself with lists of words (passion, cross, birth, choice…) written on the walls of buildings. Some have survived.
Carole Ann had been his friend and carer since she met him when he was aged 44 some 21 years ago. “Thirty-nine years he was homeless out on the street,” she said. “He was the heart and soul of Woolloomooloo.
“Two weeks ago I visited him in hospital. He said: “You were a rich bitch once, weren’t you? What did you do with all your money?” I said [it went] looking after people like you and I started a charity.”
His story personifies how easily, and quickly, can be the descent to homelessness. Details are scant. There’s a younger brother, also homeless, “in a very bad way in Melbourne” she said.
Born in Pennant Hills, he was working as an apprentice butcher. He woke up on one occasion after Friday night drinks after work in hospital with two police officers at his bedside. He was under arrest for assault. That’s when they diagnosed the mental health issues, Carole Ann said.
“He then got a job as a caretaker at a shop where he was allowed to sleep on the premises and was paid in cigarettes. Then in the 1970s they built the freeway through and the shop had to go and he had to go. That’s how he ended up on the streets of Woolloomooloo.”
Mark Morel lived alongside Vincent on the streets for three years. He said: “Vince lived for cigarettes, rock music and Marvel comics.
“I used to look after his swag because he was too sick to carry it around himself and bring it out for him at night. When he was lucid he was incredibly funny. There aren’t many people in this sector who don’t know Vince.”
A cousin, Alwyn Parry, aged 84, from Queensland, said he had been in touch with Vincent the day before he died. “He had a chest infection and was having trouble breathing,” he said. “I had to track him and his brother down after another cousin died and I was a signatory on the estate. “There are funds for him to be buried, which was his wish.”
The expectation is that it will be a plain birch coffin and that mourners will, emulating Vincent’s style, write on it with textas. Others, tradition suggests, may just leave a single cigarette.
Tim Barlass is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald