Image: Heath Campbell Photography
Thanks to Mark for being my first H.O.H. These are long-form profiles so you may want to settle down with a cup of tea or wine.
I first knew Mark way back in high school. I hadn’t seen Mark for about 25+ years. Next thing you know we connect on Facebook (of course!) and he’s living in Hampton.
Here’s Mark’s story…
My parents did the 10 pound tour and came out in ‘67. I was born just up the road in Seaford in what is now a KFC. When I was one and a half we went to live in what’s now Zimbabwe, it was Rhodesia at the time, til I was 7. We left because there was a civil war and I remember very clearly those early memories of tanks and soldiers and curfews when the Zimbabwean Freedom Fighters took their country back. We fled to Cape Town and caught the ship back to Australia.
I’ve only got one older brother but that’s it, everyone else was born in the north of England bar me and Felix. So we settled in a flat in Elwood where we were babysat by prostitutes who lived upstairs who thought it was easier money than working the streets. Mum and dad paid them to look after us because they were both working full time. We left Elwood because the guy upstairs was shot as part of the Painters and Dockers fracas that was going on at the time. Dad worked on the wharves as a fitter and turner fixing the ships so he knew everybody around and he bailed us out of there and took us off to live in East Bentleigh where it was safe and I went to Coatesville Primary School.
I had two attempts at Year 11 at McKinnon High because my parents, in their wisdom, decided to go live in the United Kingdom for the year when I was in year 11. They left me in the house by myself with a huge sum of money to pay all the bills for the year and buy groceries. Within 48 hours everyone had moved in to my house and we pretty much spent all the money they’d left us within the first month or two. I had to get a job to pay all the bills so I used to ride to the Red Bluff Hotel from my house in East Bentleigh to wash dishes in the kitchen and finish at one o’clock in the morning, ride back at night, get home about 2.30am and go to school just to get enough money to pay the bills.
One day I came home and someone had stolen a couple of industrial boxes of glad wrap from Woollies and sealed the entire house in glad wrap, including the trees.
So I had to do year 11 twice because the first time I think I passed only one subject. I remember sitting at the beach the day before exams thinking I really, really need to study but failed everything but one exam so I had to go back and do it all again. I got the best marks going and then did HSC. From there I went to Deakin Uni in Geelong to do a BA in International Relations. I had no idea what to do. None. I didn’t apply for anything and at the last minute it was what’s available that I can get in with the marks I have? I met a whole bunch of other people who lived in our area that had the same fate as me and had to drive to Geelong every day.
Paul (Mark’s mate) was driving at the time. I don’t know if he had a licence but he definitely had a car. He had a mini that was his grandfather’s and I remember him driving it on the footpath all the way from his house to my house. This thing would just go around a corner like there was no tomorrow and I remember thinking someone’s just going to step out of a driveway any minute. It was always parked on our footpath right up against our house so that people had to walk over it or around it.
I finished my last exam at Deakin Uni and took off on an around the world trip with a mate, Richard. That was supposed to be 6 months and we would come back and get jobs and start our life but it was 5 years by the time I came back to Australia. I drove forklifts, worked in a bar or two, picked cabbages. I was even a sheep herder in the north of England which was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Sheep don’t trust me, I don’t know why but they just don’t trust me and they wouldn’t follow me anywhere.
I ended up working in banking in the end trading exotic currencies on the foreign exchange in England. I was able to literally bullshit my way into it from being a sheep herder to working for one of the world’s biggest banks trading currencies for them and making huge sums of money with no qualification at all to do it. It dawned on me after a while that no-one’s going to ring and find out if these references are real because they’re all back in Australia. You can actually say anything you like. I got one job that was working for a government department called the European Social Fund where we were trying to retrain miners that had survived the Miner’s Strike but they closed the mines down and we had this 500 million pound budget to set up training packages and courses for people who had to be retrained from being miners.
When I came back to Australia my brother was married and my parents had moved to Queensland so I had nowhere to come back to. I ended up sleeping in a mate’s garage for a year while I got money together for bond and bought a car. So I came back with nothing, absolutely nothing.
I worked in Greasy Joes Bar and Grill in St Kilda for ages until it got closed down because the police were filming us from across the road dancing naked on tables, pouring laybacks into people’s mouths. They were one of the first venues to lose their liquor licence and when they showed the footage, the owner’s sitting there watching myself and a few others wearing nothing more than just an apron standing and dancing where food is being served pouring tequila shots into people’s mouths.
Then I went to film school at Footscray Secondary College for two years and made numerous short films and won several awards. We won the Melbourne Comedy Film Festival People’s Choice Award for a short film about a wedding that takes place on Grand Final Day. Collingwood wins the grand final and everyone’s listening to it.
And then I studied advertising. I went to RMIT and did an Advanced Diploma of Business Advertising. Worked in advertising for several years writing ads and art directing. One agency was really, really disgusting in regards to the old school mentality of the owners – they were still hanging in there from the 80s but at big agencies like Clemenger there was a lot of women in director levels but that’s because it was an international, but the Melbourne based ones were pretty misogynistic.
And that’s around the time I met Anna. She was working as a senior management accountant and I saw her stand up in a movie theatre at one of their corporate dos and told myself I need to go and meet this girl. It took me about six months to finally get myself in the same place that she was going to be in. It was their Christmas party and accountants are a world unto themselves. Throw some Ouzo in there and it’s just chaos and mayhem. She ended up falling asleep with her head in my lap at her house so I left a note on her fridge explaining who I was and I just left her all tucked up.
We were engaged after one year and married after two. I knew as soon as I saw her stand up in that movie theatre. It was one of those really full on love at first sight things for me. Not so much for her, there was a lot of convincing that I’d be worth hanging on to. She’s seven years younger than me, so she was 23 and I was 30 so there was a bit of work to convince her.
We had a lot of trouble getting pregnant. We went through many, many IVF attempts and the first successful IVF ended as a stillborn and that changed everything about our lives at that point. We’d been through it seven times to get to that point and a one in 2 or 3 million chance of contracting a virus at a particular point in a pregnancy will cause this to happen. So that basically just stopped our world completely and we took off. We couldn’t deal with the sympathy and the knowing looks plus we had to keep each other alive. So we took off for months. We spent a lot of time in Spain and with people who didn’t know but when we needed to talk about we found people that we knew and were able to talk to people. When we came back everything was changed and I didn’t really feel like being creative anymore, couldn’t do it at all.
When we returned the job I got was cleaning houses for elderly people through Bayside Council. Ten years ago I was at rock bottom completely and was contemplating ending it all at the time… completely depressed. Didn’t want to go through the IVF again because of what it did to Anna and the thought of having to go through that whole process again where we may not make it through because it had failed six times previous to that one.
We had two embryos left. One survived and that was Felix. So the last one that we had worked.
I’ve got this whole thing with soul music. When I was in the real depths of this depression and thinking I can’t see this ever ending. I was listening to this crap on the radio and I just started punching the radio in the car as hard as I could. I was yelling and screaming and it was scanning around and the fourth button was PBS FM. It was a Wednesday afternoon and it was Vince Peaches Soul Time and he’s got this Liverpool accent, a gentle soft voice and I just heard the music he was playing and I pulled over to the side of the road and just sat there for an hour just listening to the show. Anna said that’s the day she saw that light come back in me. It became this passion that hasn’t left me.
I’ve stayed working with people who need help. I now work for Victoria University. I’m the Disability Manager. Any student that has a disability who wants to study at TAFE or University in the west we manage that process for them. We have about 2,000 students currently. We have quadriplegics doing building diplomas, blind lawyers and deaf architects.
Before I got to Vic Uni I spent a lot of time working hands on with people with catastrophic brain injuries through drug and alcohol abuse. Most were quadriplegic, very aggressive and violent who were secluded from society so that lead me to work in a very specialised field of behaviour management and training. I teach the behaviour management and advocacy units for disability at Holmesglen. I was working with Yoralla and was part of the group that blew the whistle with what was going on in terms of the abuse and the neglect and the corporate structure that allowed it to happen. Made several submissions to the Commissioner on what I’d seen and had to leave the organisation before it all became public because I knew I would be threatened. Within three weeks there was a huge Age and 4 Corners expose on what was going on in Yoralla that’s lead to a Royal Commission into systematic abuse within disability services throughout Australia, which is going on now.
They can’t get people to work in disability. Aged care is going through the roof in regards to employment because they’re offering higher wages so people from disability are moving straight across to aged care. The number of people living with a disability still need support but the money’s not there for them. And it’s a lot more aggressive; there’s a lot more faecal matter you’ve got to deal with. And people don’t really want to know about it. They’re hoping someone does it but they don’t really want to know what it is.
I used to ride my bike to Hampton when I lived in East Bentleigh because there was a Jag clothing seconds shop down on Hampton Street where Fazios is now. I remember getting a really funky black and red jacket from there. It had rubber and denim on it!
We moved to Hampton 18 years ago because my wife was clever enough to get into market with her family at the time – nothing to do with me whatsoever.
I loved living in Hampton. I like the closeness to the ocean, the smell. Knew everybody in my street. Used to get groceries for Gwen who lived across the road. She was a TAA air stewardess in the 50s and 60s. She’s always lived by herself. I always thought she was a spy because she always said well Gwen’s just one of my names…
Would you believe Mark moved to Highett 3 weeks ago but I think he qualifies as a Human of Hampton (and beyond) given he lived in Hampton for 18 years!
Go say hi to Mark at the Kingston Town Hall pop up bar on the last Friday of every month from 26th February. He plays the best soul music and might even buy you a beer (I made that up but you never know). Mark is also available for hire as a DJ and loves playing Taylor Swift…
Niki Totton says
Loved this story. Blessed that I know the incredible writer and the amazing story teller. Lookng forward to this journey and being able to talk to you about the experiences. Xxx