Over the decades Cameron Daddo has been an instantly recognisable face in entertainment, but fast-forward to April 2018 and he found himself all but invisible.
Immersed in SBS series Filthy, Rich & Homeless, Daddo spend 10 days living on the streets and crisis care to experience, first-hand, the struggle of the homeless.
In his first 2 nights he was sleeping out at Bondi Beach, stripped of money, phone and ID. Camera crews kept their distance, offering no assistance, as Daddo had to find food, shelter and inner strength.
Suddenly ignored by most of the public, Daddo says he learned about the cruel invisibility of being homeless.
“People don’t want to look at homeless people,” he explains.
“They don’t look at the individual, they just get out of the way and move on. And there was a lot of preoccupation with phones. People busy themselves very quickly.
“I was asking for money but people don’t want to look at you.
“I couldn’t raise a cent…… I wasn’t very dedicated to that cause, but when I did I was just shunned.”
Daddo learned to become resourceful, sleeping on cardboard under park tables, finding where perishables were dumped and offering to do physical labour to earn a few dollars. His only preparation for the series was a psychological evaluation and a request to bring no more clothes than required for a weekend away.
“I was gobsmacked by how many homeless people there were in the CBD.”
He agreed to join the SBS series after witnessing a rise in homelessness whilst performing theatre in Sydney & Melbourne.
“I didn’t hesitate. I said ‘Yes’ straight away. I thought it was too good an opportunity not to experience,” he recalls.
“I was gobsmacked by how many homeless people there were in the CBD. It wasn’t the case 2 years before when I was doing Legally Blonde.
“It was just so prevalent, so I was curious about what was going on. I just felt that I wanted to understand homeless people better.”
Also immersed in the series are charity fundraiser and Sydney socialite Skye Leckie, author and journalist Benjamin Law, politician and activist Alex Greenwich and singer Alli Simpson.
But there were occasions when Daddo’s celebrity proved to be fortuitous, such as when he was recognised on his very first morning in Bondi.
“I’d woken up and had a swim, and I was having a freshwater shower when a gentleman came up to me and asked me if I wouldn’t mind having a photograph with his wife?” he continues.
“So I said ‘It’s going to cost you a coffee. I’m doing a documentary for SBS on homelessness and I slept last night rough.’
“I felt like all my Christmases had come at once.”
“They took me to a coffee shop, bought me a coffee and dropped a little brown bag in my lap which had a croissant in it. So I felt like all my Christmases had come at once.”
Yet he also knew that falling back on his fame would defeat the purpose of the documentary and his own sacrifice.
“I went in with a very clear intention to find out for myself what was going on. I thought ‘If I go in there and try to be Bondi Survivor’ that’s not the purpose,” he admits.
“I kept in the back of my mind it was about living as close to homeless as I possibly can, to learn about it, so that later on I could do something about it.”
“There was a threat made and security said, ‘You have to get out.’”
The three night series also sees the father of 3 paired up with another homeless man in Western Sydney and a planned attempt to stay in a boarding house -until security ordered him out due to a threat made. Daddo still has no idea about why he, or potentially the SBS crew, were the subject of a threat.
“I was quickly moved out, given $20 bucks and left at a bus stop at 2:00 in the morning. There was a threat made and security said, ‘You have to get out,'” he recalls.
“But the boarding house was so disgusting. It was filthy and it had every roach you could imagine. Brown ones, black ones, Spanish ones.
“And the fridge …. I’ve never smelt anything like it.
“I felt safer on the street.”
With filming concluded Daddo is focussed on doing his bit for prevention, planning to help out at the Wayside Chapel, and continuing his work for the men’s health group he founded Men’s Team.
“They have a place to speak in confidence with other men, who are listening to them and their shared experiences,” he explains.
“If men create happy families and happy friends then our women, children and parents will benefit.”
“You can’t put a broad brush on it.”
The three night SBS series, produced by Blackfella Films, will be followed by a live studio forum following its final episode.
Daddo is hopeful it gives added understanding to the lesson that the problem is not one-size-fits-all solution.
“Homelessness is an individual place. Everyone has their own reasons for being out there, whether it’s violence in the home, alcohol, drugs, mental health. You can’t put a broad brush on it.
“If we care for each other as much as we say we do, there are ways to (address) it. You can be part of the prevention of homelessness.
“I didn’t meet anyone who came from good families so if we help men and women to become better parents, to listen to their children and have someone listen to them, it will make a big difference.”
Filthy, Rich & Homeless airs 8:30pm Tuesday – Thursday on SBS
Filthy, Rich & Homeless Live follows at 9:30pm Thursday.