July 15, 2018 16:29:58
When Kel Wilkinson first saw her adult son six months after he disappeared, he was eating food scraps from the ground outside a fast-food restaurant in the heart of Sydney.
“It was just horrific. I just could have died on the spot — I didn’t know what he’d been through since he had been there,” Ms Wilkinson said.
Ms Wilkinson had just driven across Australia from her home in WA’s south west to find her 33-year-old son Nelson after he descended into drug use, drifting between methamphetamines, or ice, and a synthetic substance dubbed flakka.
She had not seen or spoken to him since December last year.
Nelson, known as Nels, had been living in Perth when the pair had a falling out over her bid to make him stop using illicit drugs.
“He disappeared,” Ms Wilkinson said.
“He wasn’t answering his phone anymore, he wasn’t sending me messages.
“I just figured he was in Perth somewhere just not replying; I was thinking, ‘Oh he’ll turn up, he always does’.”
After a while Ms Wilkinson started looking around men’s shelters in Perth and pressing people for information in her hometown of Margaret River.
It wasn’t until June that an acquaintance of Nels told her he had left WA for Sydney months ago and had been living on the city’s streets.
“I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I was absolutely bloody spinning out on the inside because I knew I needed to get there really quickly,” she said.
Ms Wilkinson immediately checked in with local police and homeless shelters in Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo, sending daily emails and making phone calls asking them about her son.
Once she got confirmation from Kings Cross Police that he had been spotted she put a plan together, reaching out to the Margaret River community for support.
“I knew I couldn’t fly, because if I flew, I’d never get him on the plane, so I had to drive,” Ms Wilkinson said.
The town rallied around her as it has done for residents several times this year, setting up a fundraising campaign for the woman who runs the town’s designated-driver service so other people’s children can get home safely.
‘I just drove until I had to stop’
“It took me three-and-a-half days to get there from Margaret River, I just drove and drove until I had to stop,” Ms Wilkinson said.
“Lucky for Google Maps getting into Sydney, that was horrendous. We don’t even have traffic lights in Margaret River,” she said over the phone from Goulburn in NSW, where Nels is recovering in hospital before they start the long drive home.
As soon as Ms Wilkinson arrived in Sydney she started handing out homemade fliers at shelters and soup vans.
She was told Nels was known to hang around the McDonalds restaurant at Kings Cross, so she gave up plans of bunking in her car overnight and kept looking.
“I saw a man in the shadows on the other side of the road,” she said.
“I knew immediately it was Nels — I know my son’s walk anywhere.”
Ms Wilkinson approached her son and after some convincing, he agreed to come home with her.
“He wouldn’t look at me, I just touched him on the arm and said, ‘Nels look at me it’s mum,’ and he did. I pulled him into my arms and just said, let’s go home.
“He got in the car and we left, and it was pretty frightening because he was right off his head.”
Being afraid of your own child is devastating, she said.
Ms Wilkinson said it was like watching someone you don’t know, waiting for them to snap.
Regional WA’s frontline battle
The mother-of-three said she did not want her story to just highlight issues of drug abuse, homelessness and mental health.
She wanted people, especially in regional WA, to confront head-on what she called an epidemic.
WA Police Minister Michelle Roberts said that process had already started with the establishment of a meth taskforce.
“We’ve had record drug hauls — over 1.4 tonnes of meth seized just in the last financial year,” Ms Roberts said.
“We’ve also got legislation in pace that enables us to target traffic and to randomly stop traffic on those major regional roads where we suspect drugs are being transported.”
But Ms Wilkinson said that was not enough.
According to the latest National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program report, WA has the highest regional consumption of ice in the country.
While Ms Wilkinson acknowledged that individual choice played an obvious role in drug use, she said police needed to do more to target low-level drug dealers, because those were the community members “filtering it into our schools, to the people next door, our friends and families”.
When she gets home, Ms Wilkinson said she planned on being “relentless” in the frontline battle against ice use.
For now, she said she was helping her son get clean enough for the long drive back home together.
“It’s going to be quite a long journey, but we’ll enjoy it and it will be reconnecting,” she said.
“I’m going to drive from NSW to WA with my son — across the Nullarbor with him — and that’s a journey in itself.”
July 15, 2018 10:36:41