My memories of Alan Jordan (AKJ)

By Kaye Hargreaves, April 2012

I lived with Alan in his house at 74 Falconer St North Fitzroy, from the end of 1972, beginning of 1973, up until when he moved to Canberra, in mid-1975. We continued to see each other when I visited Canberra or when he came to Melbourne. I continued to live in his house, when it became clear that his initial 12 month secondment was turning into a period of many years in Canberra. Even though I was heartbroken when we broke up, we continued to be friends over the years.

Looking back, it seems that the time that we actually lived together was very short, only two and a half years, but they were hugely influential and formative years for me. I was only 21. I imagined that it was like turning into a pumpkin at midnight – on turning 21, I had become an adult. Now, 40 years later, I realise how immature I was, and how, now, at the age of 60, I have only just matured. Alan was older than me, 38, turning 39. Despite the difference in our ages, he said we had somehow arrived at a similar place.

Alan Lomax playing guitar on stage at the Moun...

Alan Lomax playing guitar on stage at the Mountain Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina, United States.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a new graduate, towards the end of 1972, I was given a job at the Fitzroy Ecumenical Centre (later the Centre for Urban Research and Action) by Brian Howe. Brian must have liked me and seen some potential in me, even though I had no idea what I wanted to do, apart from being a social researcher. Brian became my professional mentor as I began my career. It was Brian who told me to go and see Alan Jordan, as part of my education. Little did I know how great that education would be.  Without being in least bit patronising, Alan looked after me and mentored me in a personal sense. He introduced me to his work on homelessness, his interest in photography, film, bushwalking, the songs collected by Alan Lomax in the US (see opposite), his love of writing and language, the joys of wine and cheese, riding motor bikes and much more.

I regret that in my immaturity I sometimes gave him a hard time. He commented rather diffidently, that if I could be said to have any faults, they would be that I was a bad housekeeper, that I was sometimes bad-tempered and that I sometimes took myself too seriously. I plead guilty to all three. I hope I have changed.

I once asked him whether we should get married. He said that “if the government made marriage compulsory, there is no-one that I would rather marry, but I don’t think it’s a good idea, because you don’t believe in it.”

In 1981 I spent a year in Japan, and he came to visit me for a holiday in August, during Japan’s summer. I was speaking good Japanese at the time, and knew my way around, so I showed him the sights. He was surprised to see a kangaroo lounging around outside Ueno Station in Tokyo. He mentions the trip in his book Going Bad: homeless men in an Australian city (Council to Homeless Persons, 1994). He quotes in his book from an article he wrote, about observing a couple of drunken, apparently homeless men in the park opposite Ueno Station.

I took him to the small neighborhood where wood block prints were sold, and he bought a Kuniyoshi print. He framed it when he got home, and I think he had it in his room at the nursing home. Someone should look after that print, as it is an original, and probably quite valuable.

Left – a typical Kuniyoshi, similar to one of mine.

We travelled to Kyoto, a beautiful place, and he particularly liked the Kiyomizu (which means clear water) temple (see opposite). It is on the top of a hill, and the lane winding its way up the hill, which we walked along, was lined with small shops selling wonderful hand-made ceramics. I think he bought some. He used to love blue and white Chinese pottery.

One night we were walking along in Kyoto looking for a restaurant to have dinner. I chose an empty place that looked OK. We sat down and two middle-aged women in traditional kimono came to speak to us, looking a bit puzzled. I chatted to them in Japanese and we ordered some food. It gradually dawned on me that this wasn’t actually a restaurant, but an establishment where Japanese men go to be pampered. Not a brothel, but a place where the women wait on the men hand and foot and soothe their sweated brows after work. Women don’t usually go in as customers. The “waitresses” took a maternal interest in us both, realising that we, as ignorant foreigners, had made a mistake. It didn’t really matter because there were no other clients that evening.

I remember introducing Alan to my Japanese landlord and landlady and saying that Alan had worked with homeless men. My landlord, a Professor of Geography, refused to believe that there were any homeless people in Australia. “Hippies” he said.

Alan was interested to see the day labourers in Tokyo, with their distinctive footwear, usually men from rural areas who come to the city in search of work. I told him that there was a neighbourhood in Osaka where day labourers gather at 5 or 6 in the morning. Big buses line up, with a sign in the front window – so many yen for a day’s work. The men line up and the lucky ones are chosen to work. The bus drives them out to some outer suburban construction site, and then brings them back at the end of the day. Having been paid, they rent a small “one tatami” room for the night, about the size of a single bed mattress, on a single night hire. If they don’t get work, they sleep in the street. In winter it snows, and about three to four hundred men sleeping in the streets die from exposure. This is also referred to in his book.

Some of my Japanese friends took us on a mountain climbing trip. “Aran-san”, as they called him, couldn’t get over how crowded the mountain in Japan was. As we did the steep climb up the steps in the wooded foothills, there was a continuous stream of early birds coming down. These being polite Japanese, there was an unending refrain of “konnichi-wa, konnichi-wa”, which amused him no end, and he muttered to himself  “konnichi-wa, konnichi-wa” all the way up.

What appealed to me most about Alan when I first got to know him was that he was good to his children. Their relationship was totally different from the relationship I had had with my father. I remember thinking “he is their father and yet they are not afraid of him. They would burst into the room without saying ‘excuse me’ and interrupt the adult conversation.” I would find myself flinching and waiting for the explosion, but it never came. He would smile fondly in his amused-observer-of-humanity way as Caroline crawled into his lap. He was a genuinely libertarian parent, actually putting it into practice, while other parents I knew only talked about it.

Caroline came home from school one day saying “oh, father, this is so embarrassing! We were talking in school today about the rules our parents made for us, and I couldn’t say anything because we don’t have any rules. It was so embarrassing. Couldn’t you make just one teensy little rule?” to which he replied “Yes, my sweet. What would you suggest?”

I know all girls find their parents embarrassing but Alan was an eccentric, which few kids can tolerate. Once Louisa ironed his shirt, and burned a hole in the back. He insisted on wearing it. He wore his leather jacket over the shirt, but took his jacket off in the office at work. Another public embarrassment.

At the time I knew him he was working in the Social Policy Section of the Commonwealth Department of Labour (Melbourne office). Having worked as an unofficial social worker at the Hanover Centre, he was now doing his Masters in Sociology at La Trobe University, writing up his research on homeless men. I remember him tapping away at his beloved old Imperial typewriter, when Caroline came into the room. “What’s the difference between a social worker and a sociologist?” Before he could answer, she said “a social worker helps people – a sociologist just talks about them.”

At the time, Helen Garner had just been suspended from Fitzroy High School, which was down the road from us in Falconer St. When teaching ancient history, she noticed that the text books with ancient Greek statues of naked men had been defaced by the kids. She realised that they had a lot of unanswered questions about sex, so she invited them to write down their questions on a piece of paper and put the papers into a box. She then took out the questions and answered them one by one. Complaints followed and she was suspended. She wrote up her experience in the alternative newspaper, The Digger. Alan was the only parent who supported her. Helen lived in Falconer Street, down the road, across the street from the school, in a “share” household which included the great photographer, Ponch Hawkes. We sometimes went down to visit Helen. She later published her first book, Monkey Grip, about a relationship with a drug addict, presumably set in that house. I remember the “mental map” of the character: North Fitzroy, the Fitzroy Pool, Lygon St, Sydney, Bali. Alan’s mental map was somewhat similar: North Fitzroy; Fitzroy, including the Fitzroy Ecumenical Centre (later CURA) set up by his friend Brian Howe, in Napier St, the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Brunswick St, Gertrude St Fitzroy, with its disreputable old pubs, the Rob Roy and the Champion, where different groups of his homeless men used to hang out; Lygon St Carlton where we used to shop every Saturday morning; the Little Desert, near Dimboola, where he came from, which he knew “like the back of his hand” and the various mountains where he walked.

It was either this house, after Helen and her household moved out, or one nearby, where Race Matthews, a member of the Whitlam government, lived. Some locals graffittied “Fuck off trendy” on his Jag, parked out the front.

Alan, of course, rode a motor bike. At first, the little Vespa scooter, then a 250cc Suzuki, followed by a 900cc (I think) big “boomer” (BMW). With his encouragement, I got a bike, a 200cc Honda four-stroke. We used to go on rides into the countryside, sometimes camping overnight.

Alan was a film buff, and he introduced me to a lot of classics of the cinema. He combined his interest in film with his interest in Fitzroy history when he introduced me to the Brotherhood of St Laurence documentaries, made by the Realist Film Unit, “These Are Our Children” (1948) “Beautiful Melbourne” (1947), an expose of the conditions in the inner city slums, and “Gaol does not Cure  – the case for the chronic alcoholic”, which showed two men in “Alan’s population” being led away to the Fitzroy police station by two burly policemen. It was filmed in Fitzroy, and argued for the metho drinkers to be treated as sick rather than criminal.

Above, a still from Beautiful Melbourne.

“These Are Our Children” shows barefoot urchins in the back lanes of Fitzroy, who get into trouble and end up in the Children’s Court. It makes a plea for them to be removed from the unhealthy miasma of the inner city and relocated in the more salubrious environment of the outer suburbs. Thus will all our social problems be solved.

Above, a still from These Are Our Children.

One of Alan’s regrets, he told me, as he looked out the window over his beloved Fitzroy from his room in Sumner House, the Brotherhood of St Laurence nursing home, was that the staff of the organisation had virtually no knowledge of their history.

(Sumner House hostel in Fitzroy for the frail aged – named after Miss Jessica Sumner a Brotherhood employee for 23 years before retiring in 1972 – was opened on 21 March 1978 by the Mayor of Fitzroy)

Above, Fitzroy site of Sumner House.

When we met, he was the projectionist at the Fitzroy Film Society in the early 1970s. Yes, in those days a film was actually a reel of celluloid which was run through a projector, operated manually by an accredited projectionist.

We also used to go to “The Bughouse” in Carlton, next door to Genevieve’s, the first Italian café where students went for a cappuccino and lasagna. Sitting in the cinema, which had a live projectionist up in the bio-box, Alan would mutter “focus, you fool” if the projectionist wasn’t getting it right.

At the Fitzroy Film Society, we would get French films for free from the French Consulate. Classic directors included Jean Renoir (Crime of Monsieur Lange, La Grande Illusion, La Bête Humaine, starring his favourite French actor, Jean Gabin, whom he called “old stone-face”, and La Règle du Jeu), Claude Chabrol (La Marie en Noire and other bizarre murder mysteries), Francois Truffaut (Les Quatre Cent Coups), Marcel Carne (Le Jour se Leve and Les Enfants du Paradis) and others. He loved Humphrey Bogart. Who could forget Casablanca or the Maltese Falcon? He also loved Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre (“Reek, Reek, you must help me Reek!”), and he introduced me to one of the best film-makers ever, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. He loved The Seven Samurai and the two comic samurai movies, starring Toshiro Mifune, Yojimbo and Sanjuro. But he really appreciated Kurosawa’s Ikiru, translated as Living, in which Takeshi Shimura plays an aging bureaucrat, shifting files from one pile to another, with no intention of acting on anything, as local residents queue up to try to get various planning proposals approved. The man is diagnosed with stomach cancer and decides to spend his remaining time doing one useful thing: pushing through a proposal by local residents to drain a swamp in their neighbourhood and build a children’s playground.

Of course Alan had a fine appreciation of bureaucracy. He told the story that when he started in the Social Policy Section, he was made a “diary officer”. He didn’t know what this meant, but one day a woman came around and gave him a diary. He thanked her politely and thought that he could put his appointments in it. He officially started work a few minutes before nine and finished at 6 minutes past five. Being a “self-starter”, he tended to arrive a little late, but work late or bring work home. The bureaucracy did not like this, and he was required to sign “the Late Book”. The first time I had dinner with him, we discovered a mutual love of the cartoon strip, Bristow (“will I, won’t I, will I, won’t I, sign the Late Book?”).

He marvelled at the universal nature of bureaucracy, commenting that in Bristow’s workplace, a private company, many people were employed and yet nothing seemed to be produced. Just like the Public Service…

(For an exhaustive history of Bristow and his manuscript Living Death in the Buying Department, see

At first he refused to sign the Late Book, believing that he put in more than the required hours. Then he was subjected to more pressure from the department. He consented to sign the Late Book, which required employees not only to record their time of arrival, but also to give the reason for their lateness. He took his inspiration from the comment on the previous line. If someone said “train delay” he would write “train derailment”. If someone said “lift out of order”, he would say “lift cable broke”. There was another comment in the Late Book, maybe “tram hijacked” or “tram driven into Port Philip Bay”. There was also an incident in which Alan objected to the actions of a certain person in the Department and a (possibly) obscene comment about this was found by Alan’s boss in the Late Book. He summoned Alan and said “this looks like your handwriting”. Alan looked at it carefully and said “a clumsy forgery”.

Other comments were followed by “outbreak of plague” and “civil disorder”. This clearly irked his superiors. The last straw came when he wrote as his excuse “sudden attack of nausea at the prospect of another day of bickering with petty-minded bureaucrats”. They finally cracked it, and he was brought up on a disciplinary charge. It was quite a dilemma as to what to do with him. Eventually, it being the era of the Whitlam Government, he was brought before the Minister, Clyde Cameron, who recognised that he was dealing with a fellow member of the Labor Party. He agreed to drop the charges, but said “don’t think you can get away with insubordination in future”. Apparently, Gough Whitlam had released a Freedom of Information policy. A policy paper written by Alan and a colleague had been suppressed, so he took a copy of the FOI policy in with him went he saw Clyde Cameron, to argue for the publication of their paper.

At one stage Cameron asked the typically “Canberra” question “what Class were you when you started?” Alan replied “Class seven.”  “What Class are you now?” “Class seven.” “And what Class do you expect to be when you leave?” “Class seven.”

When he wrote up his account of the incident, he called it (after Bristow’s great unpublished manuscript, “Living Death in the Buying Department”) “Living Death in the Social Policy Section”. He had souvenired the actual Late Book, and I had the privilege of reading it. I wonder what happened to it. The article that was published in an anthology of Australian politics, edited by Henry Mayer, had a more academic analysis of bureaucracy and left out most of the funny bits.

The Social Policy Section contained a small band of researchers and policy developers. They included Rob Jolley, Michael Jones and others. Once a group of us went around to Rob Jolley’s townhouse. He wasn’t home, so Alan jumped over the high front wall, and broke in. When Jolley arrived home he found us all sitting around in his living room. He wasn’t best pleased. Jones was an economist, a witty young man with very definite ideas about income distribution and the operation of the market. He described Frank Crean’s budget as being like putting out a note to the milkman: “two pints, please”. Alan reacted with a fond amusement that was typical of him.

Another member of the Social Policy Section was, if I recall correctly, Doug Smith, twin brother of Bram Smith, sons of a couple of Salvation Army officers. (Note:  I have since been told by friends that Doug Smith was not in the Social Policy Section).

We went along with Doug and Bram to the Dallas Brooks Hall for a screening of the historic Salvation Army film, “Soldiers of the Cross” (1900), depicting horrific scenes of Christian martyrdom.

We were invited back after the film to Doug and Bram’s parents’ place for a cup of tea. The Smiths, a lovely, gentle couple, were some time later, shockingly, found murdered, having stopped their car on a country road, presumably to help someone.

Alan told me that he thought the Salvation Army was “a dreadful organisation” because of their paternalistic treatment of homeless people, and their moralistic attitude towards alcohol. However, he was very fond of the Smiths.

He was strongly committed to bringing about better treatment of “his” population of homeless men. He wanted them to be treated as human beings, no better or worse than the rest of us, rather than as outcasts and aliens. He communicated this to me. I recommend his book, partly because of the information it contains, but mainly because it is so beautifully written and thoughtful. Vintage Jordan. It is also a remarkable social history of the way welfare organisations and governments worked in those days.

In the book he mentions that in the old days, medical and psychiatric services used to be provided to homeless men on site, at places like the Hanover Centre and other services. Maybe they were being treated, but didn’t this also reflect the “inexcusable failure” of mainstream health services? He told me an anecdote, repeated in the book, about attending a professional function, and being bailed up by a senior psychiatrist working in the public system in Victoria, whom I will not name, described by Alan as being “as drunk as I have ever seen a man, and still be on his feet”. In his verbal attack, he suggested what he would do with Alan and his homeless men – and opened fire with an imaginary machine gun.

I remember coming out of the North Melbourne cinema one night. There was a homeless man slumped in the arcade. I stopped: “Are you all right, mate? Do you need any help?” He let me help him into the street. I was driving a Hiace van at the time, and offered to take him to Ozanam House because I was worried about him spending the night on the street. He declined. Then the police pulled up, and asked me if I was all right. I said I was, and said that I had offered to take him to Ozanam House but he didn’t want to go. At the time, Ozanam House workers drove Hiace vans, and would do the midnight run around parks and building sites to pick up men for the night. The cops assumed I was one of them, and were happy to leave the old bloke in my care. They asked if I needed anything else, and I indicated that the man had asked me for a cigarette (people smoked in those days). One of the cops gave him a cigarette and lit it, before driving off. When I left him, the old bloke was still cackling away about how I had conned the copper out of a smoke.

Ozanam House was run by a priest whose name I don’t remember, who was a tall, well-built, good-looking guy, dressed in civvies and looking like the lumberjack in the folk song that Alan had taught me, “who stirred coffee with his thumb”. I saw the priest take a scruffy, smelly man, stand behind him, draw a knife, and slit the man’s clothes up the back, so that they fell off. They would be thrown away, and the man would be given replacement clothes. I thought it was pretty highhanded treatment. He was later dismissed for handling the men too violently.

Alan wanted to ensure that “his people” had advocates. When the Homeless Persons Assistance Program was started, Alan and his colleague Jack Lucas tried to keep it targeted at the chronic homeless population, rather than the broader groups who were all jostling for funding. This rather contradicted the Minister Bill Hayden’s aim of making the funding for “temporary accommodation”. Alan addressed a meeting of community workers in Melbourne. Colleagues of mine from women’s refuges hated him because he said that women’s refuges wouldn’t be eligible for funding. He told me privately that the women from “my” population would always have advocates, but “his” population wouldn’t. I think this is true. Homelessness has been on the map for many years now. But who is covered? Homeless youth, street kids and homeless families. What about the old skid row population? Is anyone advocating for them these days?

Alan was a beautiful writer, with a profound feeling for and knowledge of language. When I first met him, he was studying Chinese, and would spend his time copying out Chinese characters. He was able to read many languages, and said that he thought that if he studied every language he would eventually come to some fundamental understanding of humanity. He had some familiarity with Italian, Spanish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian and Latin, amongst others, but as he commented to me once “my classical Greek is better than my modern Greek”.

After he retired, he embarked upon his dictionary project. It was a scholarly work of a high standard, documenting the history of the importation of words of Greek and Latin origin into English. He had great fun researching not only the words and their roots, but also the stories surrounding their historical path into English. The project was never completed, because he got diverted onto his coin collection, which included coins from the time of Alexander the Great. He investigated and wrote about not only the coins but also the circumstances and stories surrounding their use. However, I wonder what has become of all the work he did on the dictionary project. It was on his computer, which I don’t think he took into the nursing home. I would like to see it published or put on line, because it was a fascinating document, involving hours of work, although unfinished.

Alan not only had a distinct style of writing, but he was also known for his handwriting, his careful and elegant script, written with a special type of fountain pen. He kept three pens in his shirt pocket and they sometimes leaked. He claimed that no-one could write properly with a biro. Some people knew him by his habitual penned signature: AKJ.

He always referred to his male friends by their surnames. It was ages before I realised that “Henger” had a first name (Ralph), and Henger’s wife at that time, Ruth, told me that she hadn’t realised that “Jordan”, as Henger called him, wasn’t his first name.

We would often go around to McKean St to visit “Pullen”. Barry and Margaret said they knew that whenever there was a knock on the door at 10-30 at night, it would be Alan and Kaye.

Alan was of course a cat lover. In North Fitzroy he adopted two stray ginger tabby cats, a brother and sister. Being a responsible pet owner, he had the female spayed. Next day the woman from next door was on the doorstep, very upset because he had spayed her cat. He was amused when she flounced off saying “I’ll never speak to you again”, especially since, as he said, she had never spoken to him before, and what’s more, she was back on the doorstep half an hour later. She was upset because he had spayed a valuable breeding animal – female red tabbies being very rare. He looked it up in a reference book, and decided that “my little red friend” as he called her was not a rare red tabby, but, as the book said “the product of random breeding, not to be confused with the pure breed”.

Once, when he was living in Canberra, he went bushwalking by himself and was late getting back. He told me Louisa had been concerned and called the police. They politely inquired whether he might not have perhaps intended to walk off into the night. Louisa assured them that this was not possible. He might leave his children behind, but there was no way he would walk off and leave the cats unprovided for.

Speaking of walking off into the night, my sister-in-law still marvels at her memory of the time when Alan was in Canberra, and I visited him. We went to visit my brother and sister-in-law who were also living in Canberra at the time. Alan wanted to go bushwalking (or “walking” as he always called it) in the Snowy Mountains area not far from Canberra. So my brother offered to give him a lift. We all set off in the car, and eventually well after dark, we dropped him where he wanted to go, on the side of the road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and he disappeared into the night.

Fortunately, it was not to be the last time I saw him.

We were together for only a short time, but he was the love of my life. He was intelligent, compassionate, sardonic, endlessly curious, a deep thinker, scholarly, eccentric, wise, hospitable and generous. To quote his words about his friend Syd, in his book, “you’ll never pass this way again and I’ll never travel the way I went with you.”


Friday April 20, 2012, The Age


The Board and Staff of Hanover Welfare Services acknowledge the sad passing of Alan.

His vision of empowering people experiencing homelessness to change their circumstances lives on in Hanovers day to day work.

Alan rejected the paternalism of the past and demanded that people who were homeless were treated with dignity and afforded the rights of other citizens. Hanover also thanks Alan for his huge contribution to social policy in Australia

Saturday April 21, 2012, The Age


Alan Kenneth

Died peacefully at Fitzroy on April 18 2012, aged 78 years. Loved husband of

Connie (dec), father of Louisa

and Caroline, brother of Alison (dec) and Lauris and grandfather of Eleanor and William.

Friday April 20, 2012, The Age


In memory of Alan, a pioneering researcher into the causes and consequences of homelessness whose work provided the foundation for national policy reform. As a result many thousands of Australians have achieved a life of common dignity they would have otherwise been denied.

Colleagues and Friends at Sumner House and the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

Obituary, The Age, May 21, 2012

Understanding and hope for skid row

May 21, 2012

13-3-1934 — 18-4-2012

ALAN Jordan, a Melbourne-based sociologist and pioneer in understanding homelessness, has died at an aged care facility in Fitzroy, aged 78.

In the 1960s care of the homeless was Dickensian: at one church-based organisation, the mostly alcoholic men imbibed a sermon with their breakfast; at another, the men lined up for a leftover pie received from an anonymous hand thrust out of a barred window.

Alan began to make a difference to this impersonal charity by actually talking to the people on the receiving end. His exceptional skills as an interviewer, writer, photographer and analyst ultimately resulted in making ”skid row” a more civilised place than it used to be, most publicly through his role in establishing the Hanover Centre in Fitzroy. Hanover Welfare Services is now one of Australia’s leading housing organisations.

Alan grew up on the family farm at Kiata in the Wimmera with his parents Ken and Lena, two sisters, and a Victorian-era grandmother, a former schoolteacher. He attended a one-room school at Woraigworm, then Dimboola Memorial High School, and was the first in the family to go to university, studying zoology and boarding at Queens College at Melbourne.

There he met fellow science student Connie Venville, and they married 1960. Connie’s red Lambretta was Alan’s introduction to his trademark motorbikes. He never owned a car.

In about 1956, Alan suffered a mysterious episode of mental illness. He was wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia and given electroshock treatment. This profoundly frightening detour led him to his life’s work via the Reverend Alf Foote in Carlton, whose pastoral care included putting him to work solving the problem of ”derelict men”.

An obsessive and meticulous researcher, Alan drew on his scientific training to compile a comprehensive dossier on the homeless who came through the door of the Fitzroy Methodist Mission. His 1963 report, based on the case histories of 622 men, helped crystallise an interest in homelessness among inner city welfare agencies and churches and led to the formation of the Hanover Centre in 1964. Alan was employed as the centre’s sole, albeit unqualified, social worker at a wage of £1400, ably assisted by one of his more colourful ”clients”, Syd Connelly, a retired Sydney crim and sometime consumer of methylated spirits.

In 1966, Alan and his family, now including daughters Louisa and Caroline, moved to Fitzroy North and he got involved in many other community issues. This was the era of the demolition of swaths of inner suburbs for housing commission high-rises and freeways, and of postwar immigration that had primary school classes bulging at the seams. He led campaigning on these issues through the new Fitzroy Residents’ Association and as president of the local branch of the ALP.

By the late 1960s, the significance of the great mass of material he had compiled on the homeless was obvious and sponsorship was found to write it up. The work of a decade went into his masters thesis in sociology at La Trobe University in 1973, and was eventually published in 1994 as Going Bad: Homeless Men in an Australian City.

A gifted photographer, Alan rarely ventured out without his trusty Pentax SLR slung around his neck; his thesis research included a photo essay on the homeless, a unique record now in the State Library of Victoria.

In 1970, Alan joined the public service in the Department of Labour and later Social Security. In 1972, he was invited by minister Bill Hayden to be a member of the working party on homeless men and women, and effectively wrote the Homeless Person’s Assistance Act of 1974.

Relocating to Canberra in 1975, he held senior positions in the development division and later, under Brian Howe as minister, the social policy division, where he had a significant impact on altering perceptions of homelessness and unemployment through the application of research to long-term policy development.

Idiosyncratic and frustratingly non-conformist, Alan was sceptical of power and made an unlikely public servant. Nonetheless, colleagues admired him as a man of principle, a superb writer, an unsparing critic and an original, independent thinker prepared to challenge the dominant view. He loved good wine and good company, bushwalking, film, music, history and languages, which he taught himself in order to read classics in the original.

Connie died suddenly in 1971, aged only 36. He returned to Melbourne in the 1980s and in his last years developed dementia. These years were spent at Sumner House, run by the Brotherhood of St Laurence, where his room looked out onto the Fitzroy housing commission flats, an irony he appreciated.

Alan is survived by his daughters, Louisa and Caroline, his sister Lauris, and grandchildren Will and Eleanor.

Caroline Jordan is Alan Jordan’s daughter; Renate Howe a long-time friend.

Leave a comment


  1. Max Cornwell

     /  January 26, 2014

    Alan was my unmet hero when in the 1960s I wrote the first thesis on homeless men in Brisbane. He was not only inspirational but truly supportive by letter. Later, I marvelled at his vivid account of the social policy section, which mirrored my experience of the incredible tensions between a conservative public service and the socio-political idealism which swept Whitlam into power. Later again, I’d occasionally hear of him through my old friend Brian Stagoll, a dedicated Fitzroy afficionado himself, whose own networks interlaced closely with Alan’s over the decades. He was a clear, far-thinking and principled man shining at a time when there were too few Australian guides. And he wrote it down beautifully.

  2. Andrew Burbidge

     /  July 16, 2012

    Thanks Kaye, that was great and quite moving.
    Andrew B

  3. John Browning

     /  June 29, 2012

    Hi Kaye.
    We used to live next door at 72 Falconer St and I renovated Alan’s house for him in the early 1980’s. Lyn Madden owned the house and Lyn and I moved to Queensland in 2005.
    I was driving past Falconer St today and something made me look up “Alan Jordan 74 Falconer St North Fitzroy”. Your article appeared. I feel very sad that I lost contact with Alan.
    Alan was a most unusual and kind person, both Lyn and I had a great respect of him. I still remember Alan attempting to remove the wallpaper from the front of his house with a steam cleaner, resulting in huge quantities of water flowing down the stairs and out into the street!
    The cats were also part of his life and used to drive my dog mad!
    GIve my regards to Caroline, whom I met whilst we were at 72 Falconer St.
    John Browning


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