When I was a teenager in the early sixties, I worked in the city and it seemed to have a mystique about it for me. There was, even then, the mad push to get onto a train at Town Hall station, and young people would congregate in the last carriage, swapping stories of the day, planning our future and just having good clean fun.
Life was a lot simpler then, I worked in an office at the bottom of William Street – well known for its prostitutes and collections of odd characters. My workmates and I would wander up to Kings Cross in our lunch break hoping to catch a glimpse of the unusual and brazen people who lived and worked there.
Kings Cross was always alive. A veritable hive of activity but, in those days, you didn't see tragic sights of the poor and desperate which are more prominent these days. It was safe to walk around the streets without fear of being mugged and robbed, and we would often sit in some obscure café in 'The Cross' sipping coffee and watching the magic that attracted us, like magnetic voyeurs, to those wandering by.
City life now, in some areas, is like a battlefield where only the strongest survive and I wouldn't feel safe, even in a group to go window shopping at night, as we did then fantasizing of being rich enough to buy some of the fabulous goods on display in shop windows.
Night life in certain parts of the city now belongs to the down and out and the caring institutions such as the Sydney City Mission and the Salvation Army. These and all the other 'angels of mercy' are stretched to breaking point trying to help those who need shelter and comfort.
Troubled teenagers gravitate towards the Cross in increasingly alarming numbers. They come from all stratas of society. Some are running away from home, while some are simply hell bent on gaining autonomy and rebelling against the school system and their parents, who are often left bewildered and traumatized by guilt.
How can we help these children in crisis? These so-called street kids – these babes of the night – from slipping further into degradation?
Teenage suicide is on the increase – more so amongst the street kids. Their lifestyle alone is a form of slow suicide. Statistics show that one third of Australian teenagers have attempted suicide and two thirds have thought about it. Suicide attempts by girls outnumber the boys six to one, but males usually attempt a more violent type of death and are, therefore, more successful.
Sometimes we underestimate the pressures that occur during adolescence and there are even cases of children as young as nine years of age, who have made attempts at self-destruction and end up living in teenage city gangs.
According to Sigmund Freud's theories, adolescence is a time when all the unresolved conflicts of childhood emerge from the unconscious to the sub-conscious mind, bringing with it a whole range of feelings that the adolescent cannot deal with in a rational way.
These days therapists tend to disregard Freud's theories, but it is an interesting concept and does lend some credence to the erratic behaviour that manifests during this time in a young person's life. The average teenager rebels, in some way, against authority. Whether it be staying out later than allowed or, even something simple, like not wearing the correct uniform to school.
But it's the ones who prefer to live on the streets, experimenting with drugs and unsafe sex that must concern us the most. We cannot simply purge the city of these kids, like vermin. We have to find a way to help them regain their self-respect and begin to trust adults again.
When the lines of communication fail, some parents react by becoming more autocratic, while others give up in despair. It is usual for teenagers to discuss their problems within their peer groups and to dismiss any advice given by their parents.
If the parental rift is deep, teenagers are left alone, feeling guilty about upsetting their parents but ever defiant that they can solve their own problems. They see concern by their parents as interfering. But what a long, lonely climb it is up the ladder of life from childhood to adulthood.
Some of city life has changed for the worse by the invasion of these troubled kids. It has lost its colourful innocence. And yet its attraction still remains for them, at a cold stark haven in which the socially desperate struggle to meter out their existence.
I don't want to paint all of the city with a black brush. It is not all doom and gloom. However society tends to turn a blind eye to the plight of these kids. It's simply put into the 'too hard' basket. But we must try never to push the needy out of our hearts or ever forget the seemingly forgotten ones.