Photography: Noel McLaughlin
Words: Dan Goldberg
It doesn’t feel like our society has much mercy for Dean Frier and Chloe Burke – a couple who ‘live’ in a unique share-house that the rest of us know as Central Station. Platform One, to be exact.
Dean and Chloe are among the 10-15 people who, on any given night, call this cold, desolate, windswept corridor alongside a train track home.
They’ve been labelled vagrants, vagabonds, petty thieves, dole bludgers and worse.
They are homeless, young, and not alone. According to Homelessness Australia, 42 percent of our homeless population is under 25.
"The general wait list for this area is up to 20 years."
For Dean and Chloe, Platform One can be a b----, and not just because it’s brutally cold in the dead of winter 2015.
“If the young currymuncher is on he’s a prick,” says Dean, a 22-year-old born in Wollongong, deriding one of the rail inspectors. “He moves us on.”
Dean is a run-of-the-mill kid; but he’s unlike most of the other kids who are homeless in downtown Sydney.
First, he’s in a wheelchair, a victim of scoliosis of the spine which he’s suffered since birth. Second, he’s sober: he doesn’t do drugs and doesn’t smoke or drink. What he does do is look after his partner, Chloe Burke, 20, who he met – where else? – at Central Station over two years ago.
On a mid-July night, they’re escaping the cold snap and riding the 00:18 train to Kiama. And they’re not alone. Every carriage has a clutch of homeless people staying warm by riding the train south, and they’ll return home to Martin Place, arriving at 5am.
Dean and Chloe are on the list for public housing. “They said it’ll take between two and seven years – it’s a load of B-S,” says Dean, whose daily diet includes two painkillers for breakfast and two more before ‘bed’.
“That’s priority wait list; the general wait list for this area is up to 20 years.”
He concedes life is normally "very boring” but tonight he’s got his 15 seconds of fame, with a photographer and camera crew riding the last train with him and Chloe. He’s not dazzled by the attention.
Chloe, on the other hand, is lapping it up. “I love photos; I’m a camera hog. I’m a selfie-fanatic,” she beams.
Chloe left home at 16. “I’ve stayed at Ashfield, I’ve been down to Melbourne, Bathurst, a backpackers' - even spent a night in a paddywagon.”
Her crime? “I smashed a police car.”
Dean has also witnessed the long arm of the law: “Two coppers woke me up because I didn’t have a train ticket; I told them to go f--- themselves, so they arrested me.”
And yet, despite it all, notwithstanding the dud hand life has dealt them, they have each other. “We don’t piss each other off; we’ve had one fight,” says Dean.
But the innocence etched into their relationship is about to be tested – Chloe is pregnant. Dean is praying his kid doesn’t have to experience what he has endured.
“I want my son or daughter to grow up living a healthy normal family life, not one of these lives being out here.”
Watch 'The Last Train: Dean and Chloe' multimedia essay above.