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Byron Shire
April 24, 2021

The Love of the Irish Helps the SHIFT

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You’ve got to love the down-to-earth tell-it-how-it-is spirit of the Irish. It’s present in their culture and very much in their traditional culture. Local Irish musos are coming together this Sunday to raise money for the homeless in our Shire. Now that’s worth singing about.

Why did you decide to do a gig for homeless women in Byron?

My friend Paddy Twoney has been involved with S.H.I.F.T.  (shiftproject.org.au/about). S.H.I.F.T is a not-for-profit organisation that provides help for women who  are homeless or at risk of being homeless in the northern rivers. Paddy had the idea of putting on a show featuring Irish musicians and poets to raise some much-needed funds. If ya can’t get to the show (LIMITED TICKETS) ya can still donate.

Do you think people stop seeing people because it’s too hard or you don’t want to get involved?

I think the lack of help for people with mental Illness – who end up homeless and living on the street – creates an environment of fear for the public. Everyone who is homeless and lives on the street

is then viewed as dangerous. I think this is one reason that stops people from getting involved and self-preservation keeps us separate. The truth from what I see on the streets as a window-cleaner is that the homeless are lot more scared of the settled people. This fear on both sides has caused us to put homelessness in the too-hard basket. I think the government/council should be much more involved.

The S.H.I.F.T. project is important because of its educational focus.

What is it about the S.H.I.F.T. project that drew you to raise money for them?

Homeless women and  children are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. I’ve been cleaning shopfronts in Byron for 25 years and have met heaps of homeless people. I wanna do more than buy coffee or a meal for them. I myself live week to week. The distance between me and them is not that far. I reckon lots of people who live here feel the same.

With this government closing down shelters (especially women’s shelters) all over the country, the problem is getting worse. I’ve never seen so many people sleeping in doorway before in Byron.

Do you think the Irish have an affinity culturally with hardship?

I think the Irish are connected to the plight of humanity for sure. The Famine of 1845, the occupation of our country by the English for 800 years, the number of times we’ve not even qualified for

the world cup… the list is endless. I think life has a glorious side to it but the harsh reality is always in the shadows, lurking like a bad Swedish Eurovision song contest entry. I think homelessness is something we can do something about.

It’s not as dire as famine or pestilence but we have to act if we want a solution. Ireland has been a republic since 1922 and it took nearly a 1,000 years. Hopefully a country as rich as Australia can solve this homelessness problem a bit sooner than that.

As a musician who plays at night and a man who washes windows by morning, how much have you seen things change here? Do you think the increase in tourism etc has made it harder for people and made more homeless?

Oh Jaysus YES! the mad thing is that Byron’s success has been at the expense of lots of the people who made it that way. I mean Greg Sheehan doesn’t live here no more! Lots of people, especially women, in the northern rivers are living in their cars. People are paying $300 a week to live in leaking garages with 11 others paying big money for single rooms on the same property. They don’t call Council because they are afraid. When someone looses a house they rent, the panic is so strong because nowadays homelessness is a real possibility for all of us. Luckily for me I have wonderful landlords but a lot of friends are in precarious positions with people they rent from. The almighty tourist dollar has blood on the back.

What should we expect at the gig?

There’ll be a pile of Irish musicians at the Golf Club 3–6pm on 19 November. Mark Butler, Mary McEvilly-Butley, Joe Lynch and meself are going to combine as many tunes poems songs and crack to provide a great afternoon of Irish revelry. For a good cause! There’ll be a prayer group afterwards for the emancipation of souls with a special emphasis on the upcoming qualification games for the world cup.

Irish musicians, Mark Butler, Mary McEvilly-Butler, Joe Lynch, Willie McElroy and friends on Sunday at the Byron Golf Club 3–6pm. Tickets on facebook.com/theSHIFTproject.

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