Artwork by Jourdan Hickey


THE MOTHER SIZES me up. She looks about 18. Her hair is red and her small face is freckled, her wrinkles hidden by makeup. Her voice is shrill, ringing out in the cave.

‘Eshay fam claims the porn. What else ya got?’

Before I can move, the family surrounds me. Stealth Fam moves on quiet shoes. I remember the pipe in the sock hidden in my jocks. We can bond over shard. Lads are shard fiends. This is a well-known, undocumented fact. The family’s diet would be 95% meth no doubt. If I get it out carefully while pushing the small bags of cash under my balls, they might not find the money. I move quickly and get out the sock and hand it to the mother. There’s light coming from somewhere above. I look up. There’s a grill on top of the roof. A fluorescent light from far away stabs down at all of us catching faces in half-light. Their skin is lit like moon craters in shadows. The mother gets out the pipe and I feel the vibe change.

Lad Fam crowd around the pipe like frozen cave dwellers around fire. Papa Lad puts out his hand. I shake it cautiously. The young sons pat me on the back and the mother sort of smirks. Papa Lad says some words.

‘Welcome to the eepday crackspot.’

I thank Papa Lad and the rest of the Fam. They invite me to come and have a smoke with them. I’m surprised at their hospitality, but as Papa Lad explains.

‘Young eshay ucked the pipe, so we got okesmay without uteflay.’

I shrug my shoulders. I understand about everyone second word. Mama Lad sees my confusion and tells me in regular English.

‘My young eshay son broke the pipe, so we got smoke but no flute; you’ve just saved us a trip outside.’

Then I realise that the way they talk is kind of like pigeon English, a variety of criminal slang. It’s kinda lame and crude and only works for certain words but interesting to see it’s still alive and operational. I feel a little more at ease.

We all go into one of the tents and its larger than I thought. Sections have been added to the regular size. There are three rooms, if you could call them that. We’re sitting in the lounge, which is just big enough so that all six of can sit in a circle with a centimetre between our knees. It’s actually pretty cosy. There are cushions to sit on. In the middle of the tent, hanging down from the roof on a chain, as a kind of centrepiece, is a gold Nike TN Air Max trainer.

I never understood how that particular model of shoe became synonymous with Lads. And how they found such a highly specific dress code that is entirely their own. There are two brands that are the key focus for all Lads. Ralf Lauren and Nautica. I also wear and rack these clothes, but I’m no Lad

It’s also got to do with some jail shit. I’ve noticed a lot of young men who come out of youth detention, or adult jails, wear really short shorts, a Nautica or Ralf Lauren polo shirt (collar up), tucked into their shorts, with a brand new pair of TN’s. Also, a lot of the time they have shaved legs and a bum bag. I would’ve thought that men who shaved their legs in jail would be ridiculed? Maybe it’s like hyper-reverse masculinity, like the more streamlined you are the more you are respected? But how did bum bags become part of the mix?

Lads are tucked away into pockets of society that are easily hidden and forgotten. Mostly outer suburban pockets of Melbourne where the employment is low and the accessibility to community-based services and shit-for-kids-to-do is almost non-existent. Tightly packed shopping strips, empty bus shelters and concrete parks surrounded by freeways. Little ghettos, where you’re shit outta luck from the get go. Domestic abuse, and drug abuse, and crime and jail. It’s like a path has been laid out for these kids that they had no real say in creating. Maybe that’s why they’re down here, to escape from all that shit up there?