Pubdate: Thu, 01 Jun 2000
Source: Age, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2000 David Syme & Co Ltd
Contact:  250 Spencer Street, Melbourne, 3000, Australia
Author: Christopher Bantick,  Shane is not the real name of the subject of this article. 
Christopher Bantick is a Melbourne writer.


It was a moment of recognition that haunts me. On a seat outside the 
University of Melbourne, at the top of Swanston Street by the tram stop, an 
unkempt man reclined. He recited the common street mantra: "Any spare 
change?" He wasn't aggressive, but almost gently inquiring. He glanced at 
me, made eye contact, and added: "Hello, Mr Bantick."

Surprised that he knew my name, I looked at him again. With a feeling of 
sick shock, I saw that here, from another life, was one of my past 
students. The formality and clarity of his greeting was unexpected, so too 
was that same familiar smile.

I recalled, more than 15 years before, the little boy in grey shorts, 
enthusiastic about his plastic model aeroplanes and the Hawthorn Football 
Club. He had wanted to be a pilot; now he had chosen to fly in other ways.

Shane was from the eastern suburbs. He was a typical kid, a good kid. He 
tried hard at school, kicked a football at lunchtime and was forever being 
told to tuck in his shirt-tail. He was a straight kid, a popular kid.

Yet here he was in Carlton, outside the place that had educated me in 
history, enabled me to teach Shane about the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians.

As a boy, he had made a decorated sarcophagus. Success and approval were 
his then. Now, outside Melbourne Uni, he was failing.

There was nothing rakishly appealing about the new Shane. Heroin chic had 
bypassed him. He was a glazed-eyed junkie caught up in a smack habit.

In the few minutes of our meeting, Shane asked me for money several times. 
Driven on by the hunger of the drug dominating him, any means to get the 
next fix was fair. It was not my place to educate him against the evils of 
heroin. The classroom door was shut long ago.

He said he wanted food. I gave him money. He said "Thanks Sir", in a 
schoolboy habit kind of way. We said goodbye and I walked into the 
university. I knew he'd eat no hamburger but go on to score.

I now ask myself: would a supervised injecting room have helped Shane? It 
may have taken him off the street to shoot up. It may have taken him off a 
seat in Carlton where he begged for money for the next hit.

Shane was a street user. He was dying. Sleeping rough and doped on the 
street, his chances of rehabilitation were slim.

Supervised injecting rooms for people like Shane will offer, at the very 
least, clean needles. But through such injecting rooms, there is also the 
opportunity to begin treatment to get off heroin.

Shane was beyond helping himself, he was beyond me now. Long shot as it 
was, a supervised injecting room might be his only chance for self-redemption.

The statistic of 359 mainly young people who died from overdoses last year 
says, apart from anything else, that street use is unsafe.

I knew what Shane as an enthusiastic, rosy and round-cheeked little boy was 
capable of achieving. He was bright-eyed and bursting with busy energy. He 
had in him the wonder of learning. Life sang once.

Supervised injecting rooms may save lives. If it's not too late, they may 
save Shane.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D