Gary grabs second chance at life
THE love of a good woman and the Lismore Soup Kitchen helped Gary Castles, 53, of Ballina, get back on his feet.
Mr Castles had a rough start in life. He and his five siblings were abandoned by their mother when he was just two years old, leaving him disconnected from his Aboriginal community and his siblings.
“The Department of Family Services split us all up,” he said.
Mr Castles and one other sibling were raised by a foster family. However, he was unhappy in their care and ran away four times.
He succeeded in getting away for good when he was 14 years old.
Mr Castles then managed to find his mother, only to be rejected by her again.
Despite his background of disadvantage and heartache, Mr Castles' future started to look bright. He secured an apprenticeship under the renowned chef Keith Floyd at The Menzies, an upmarket hotel in Sydney.
Mr Castles loved being a chef and his career led him to Brisbane.
However, a back injury at work abruptly ended his dream job.
He found himself living on a disability pension and spiralling into alcoholism.
“It didn't take very long,” Mr Castles said.
After a short time he was living on the streets of Brisbane.
“I would sleep out behind a library,” he said.
Mr Castles was homeless for about five years.
Then, in 1989, a former partner convinced him to move to Lismore and get involved with the soup kitchen.
There he found help.
“They got me into Montrose,” Mr Castles said.
It was while living at Montrose House, a boarding house in South Lismore, that he managed to find his feet.
Mr Castles worked as a volunteer at the Lismore Soup Kitchen for eight years.
In 2003, he met his future wife, Sue, when she volunteered to waitress for the soup kitchen's Christmas lunch.
With Sue's help, on October 8, 2004, Mr Castles put down the bottle and has remained sober ever since.
Mrs Castles said it was his sense of humour which she found irresistible.
“I could just see through him to the real person,” Mrs Castles said.
Mr Castles said it was the love of his wife and the help given to him by the soup kitchen that enabled him to turn his life around. “When you are on the streets everyone shuns you,” he said.
Mr Castles said there was a sense of family at the soup kitchen.
“Everyone there looks out for you,” he said.
In 2006, Mr Castles completed a counsellor training course and is currently studying IT at TAFE.
“I am a worthwhile member of the community,” he said.