It has been a long journey for author Gregory P. Smith.
It includes being raised in an orphanage to living homeless on the streets and battling drug addiction, going off the grid in the jungle for ten years and finally attending to university, first as student and now as a lecturer.
Next week he comes to Hurstville to share his story with this launch of his memoir, Out of the Forest.
Gregory’s father was a violent alcoholic, his mother hardly the maternal type. As children, Gregory and his four sisters were told they were going to visit ‘Aunty Muriel’.
Instead they were taken to an orphanage in Armidale, where they remained for the next two years until reclaimed by their parents. While there, like others in care, Gregory was the victim of physical, psychological and sexual abuse - now known as Forgotten Australians.
On his return to Tamworth, he had problems fitting in at school. Gregory would get in to fights, struggled to learn and was regularly in trouble with the law. When he turned fifteen he was sent to a juvenile detention centre, detained not for the last time.
Gregory spent years wandering the east coast of Australia, fluctuating between employment and homelessness.
Somehow he managed to stop long enough to father a daughter, and to marry, twice. That wasn’t enough to pull him out of his drug addiction, alcoholism and battle with mental health.
He struggled to make human connection: his childhood had scarred him for life, and made meaningful relationships a frightening prospect. His impulse was always to flee.
Around 1990, Gregory decided to give it all up and retreated into the forest outside of Mullumbimby, just north of Byron Bay.
He lived on the fringes of society in the dense, green wilderness, foraging for food, always mindful of his impact on the environment. People in neighbouring towns knew of this mystery man, yet knew nothing about him.
When he emerged from the forest ten years later, emaciated and close to death, Gregory decided it was time to turn his life around.
The boy who left school at the age of fourteen became a man who worked to get a university admission, and ultimately earned a PhD in Sociology - Forgotten Australians was the subject of it - and today teaches at Southern Cross University.
Out of the Forest is the uplifting and touching memoir of a man who demonstrates in the most profound way that while our lives can go way off track, we can still find our way back.
Gregory P. Smith will be coming to Hurstville Library on Monday, May 28, for an author’s talk to mark the release of his memoir, Out of the Forest.