PATRICK Winter’s life has lately had its share of fortuitous coincidences.
Thanks to the Catalyst-Clemente program run by the Australian Catholic University in conjunction with Mission Australia, he is now settling down to study after battling alcoholism for most of his adult life.
Mr Winter hopes this course he started in 2011, which focuses on humanities subjects such as history and literature, will lead him to his true passion – the study of architecture, particularly that associated with heritage buildings.
Recent research has shown the Catalyst-Clemente program is not only highly cost effective – with a potential saving of $14,624 per year per student to the community – but also helps students in such areas as time management and communication skills.
Mr Winter is living proof of this, although as always the timing had to be right.
“The opportunity arrived soon after I’d embraced sobriety,” he said.
“Not so long before this, I’d been living on the streets around New Farm.
“I’d been in and out of rehabs 15 times in five years.”
Mr Winter, 47, lives in a unit which happens to be next to his “campus” – Mission Australia’s Roma House, formerly the Lady Bowen Hospital.
“My dad was born there in September 1922,” he said.
“So it’s quite amazing how things are working out.”
A heavy drinker who initially refused to acknowledge his problem during many years in the hospitality industry, Mr Winter’s drinking escalated with the death of his father in December 2003.
“In 2005, my grandmother died, also in December,” Mr Winter said.
“That triggered even heavier drinking and by the start of 2006 I was drinking daily, starting early in the morning.”
Mr Winter, by then about 40, quickly found his life slipping even further out of control.
“I started on a five-year slide, all the while in complete denial about the extent of my problem,” he said.
“At first I was living in shelters for the homeless or ‘couch surfing’ at friends’ places.
“Finally, I got so bad nobody wanted me and I was sleeping in parks at New Farm, sometimes on the kids’ swings.
“I’d been in and out of rehab 15 times and the last place I went to, a clinic for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, ejected me for drinking on the premises.”
A Brisbane City Council liaison officer who found Mr Winter in a park on one occasion, directed him to the New Farm Neighbour-hood Centre.
From there, he was referred to Mission Australia’s Roma House.
“I was still drinking every day though,” he said.
“Their philosophy was harm minimisation, of providing a safe environment, giving the individual control while he or she could figure out what they needed to do.”
Then he hit rock bottom.
“I was trying to detox myself, coughing up blood, living in an abandoned building in New Farm,” he said.
“I was starting to develop what they call ‘the alcoholic’s shuffle’ and could feel my mind starting to go as well.
“Permanent brain damage, even death, would have been next.”
Life took a turn for the better when Mr Winter’s name came up in Micah Project’s 50 Lives 50 Homes campaign and he secured a unit in Wickham Terrace.
Having a base was a big part of getting back on track.
“I was now in an environment without temptations,” he said.
Mr Winter was encouraged to do his final year of school full-time at TAFE at the start of 2011.
“But I crashed and burnt,” he said.
“(It was) too much pressure, so I resorted to my old favourite.”
The path to permanent control over his addiction had started, however.
“The date of my sobriety is the first of May 2011 – that’s when I became clean and sober,” he said.
Mr Winter was approached by a woman co-ordinating the Catalyst-Clemente program in Brisbane.
“Sally (the teacher) asked whether I would be interested in becoming a participant,” Mr Winter said.
“I think they heard I’d tried the TAFE studies and failed.
“The pace was easier – one subject a semester.
“A Brisbane law firm, Minter Ellison, also provide me with a study partner – she’s doing an MA in Marketing at Griffith University.
“The topics were interesting and challenging, including Australian history from Federation and Australian literature.
“I got a credit for my studies in 2012 and now I’m really looking forward to studying Australian politics.”
A slight stumbling block was that ACU was one of the program sponsors.
A lapsed Catholic, though he “goes quite often to pray in front of the Mary MacKillop sculpture in the old St Stephen’s Church”, Mr Winter’s first thought was “what would Catholics know about education?”
“Quite a lot (it seems) … turns out they’ve been doing education for a very long time,” he said.
“Anyway, I had come from a very strong Catholic background – my childhood parish was St Columba’s at Wilston and my mother had been a student at the old school which now forms part of the St Stephen’s Cathedral precinct.
“Quickly I became proud to be linked to the ACU campus.”
At the end of last year, Mr Winter joined other students to visit the campus to receive a certificate in recognition of completing his first year of studies in the Catalyst-Clemente program.
He is already looking ahead to university studies once he completes the program.
“The archaeology of architecture is something which fascinates me,” he said.
“Among other things, this looks at our heritage buildings and their history.
“For example, beams, window lintels and other sections of Brisbane’s original Anglican Church, once located in Queen’s Park, are now part of the diocese’s first school building, located next to St John’s Cathedral.
“It’s all a bit like a jigsaw puzzle.”
Mr Winter is following up leads to get him to this next stage.
“They seem to be presenting themselves and include a cadetship in architectural studies I recently was told about,” he said.
“The big thing I’m learning to do is to look on life in a positive way which I’ve never done up till now.
“And the study program is helping me to do this.”