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Memories locked in for the forgotten

A brass padlock hung on a King's Cross garden fence is very likely the only tangible sign that Alan Claremont's friend of more than 30 years lived.

Toni, 48, a heroin addict who died recently in Kings Cross, is one of nearly 190 indigent people who receive a pauper's or destitute burial or cremation every year in NSW. Their ashes or remains are usually interred in a mass grave without a headstone.

Mr Claremont, 69, last week hung the padlock with Toni's name written in black pen on the fence at the Wayside Chapel's new memorial garden for those who would otherwise be buried or cremated without ceremony.

It is not the first he has hung for people at the Cross or the Wayside.

''Most were for people you knew, you didn't know their names,'' said Mr Claremont of the locks he had added. ''But you nodded to them, you smiled at them, you waved your hands at them. One morning they are not there, you find out they passed the other night in the cold.''

The Wayside's chief executive and pastor the Reverend Graham Long called the garden a ''home for broken hearts''.


The locks seemed like a good idea because ''anyone who lived in Kings Cross loses peers in big numbers'', he said.

Mr Long said he used to run All Saints Day services to remember the dead where he would encourage participants to pick a sprig of rosemary for those who had died.

''And people would come and say, 'mum, dad, Fred, Bill, Mary …' all these names.''

Only recently, a very young woman showed him an exercise book full of names of people close to her who had died that she wanted to remember with a lock. She could only afford one at a time.

Since it was opened late last month, about 40 padlocks had been attached to the fence, but it would take some time before it started to crumble from the weight of the locks as Paris' Pont des Arts did this week. There is a lock engraved with the name Radio John. There's another for Priscilla and one for Kim-Angel.

It also contains the unclaimed ashes of four people that sat on Mr Long's office shelves for years.

Mr Claremont, who has suffered from mental illnesses, has lived in the Cross and the inner city for years.

At one time, he worked at a local sex shop and lived above in a boarding house called Jake's Monastery. He regarded Toni, whom he met as a teenager, as a sister.

''I miss her very much. She was nice, she was soft, she was understanding. She went through hell but kept her sense of humour,'' he said.