Up until his death two months ago, Brian Rudd — a homeless man in Sydney — lived a destitute life. The 58-year-old shoe-shiner, better known as Shoeshine Brian, would ply his trade at his regular pitches at the city’s Central Station, Martin Place and on the Pitt Street Mall. There was, however, one life-long wish; to visit India. When that began to look increasingly improbable, Brian instead asked for his ashes to be scattered in the Ganges in Varanasi, adhering to the Hindu belief that the ritual frees one from the cycle of life and death.
That wish came true on Tuesday, when former Australia captain Steve Waugh performed the last rites for Brian at the Dashashwamedh Ghat. Waugh, in India in connection with the ongoing Test series, had said he was proud that he, along with his foundation, could “play a small role in making the final wishes of a much-loved Sydney character come true”. According to the organisers, the ritual — which was meticulously planned for a month — was conducted according to proper Hindu custom.
Brian’s popularity can be gauged from the fact that Waugh had to fend off many to shoulder the responsibility. Among those volunteering was an Australian living in India, who was ready to return to pick up the ashes, and a felon-turned-businessman. Over the 18 years spent in the streets of Sydney, Brian — with a signature skull cap over long grey hair — became well-known thanks to his wit and kindness.
His reported ‘death’ four years ago led to a rush of grieving tributes on social media. He re-appeared shortly, equal parts tickled and moved by the reaction, while well-wishers raised over $3,000 owing to his deteriorating health. While he only got about eight customers a day, it was the interaction that Brian craved most, and a chance to tell his life story.
Separated from his family when three months old, Brian grew up in various boys’ homes where he was treated cruelly. He attempted suicide at 12 and took to the streets before meeting Father Bob Maguire, who set up a foundation for the homeless after seeing the 17-year-old’s plight. Father Bob — to whom Brian disclosed his final wish — also organised a funeral in Melbourne on Tuesday. There are also plans to celebrate a ‘Shine for Brian Day’ where Australian cricketers and CEOs will shine shoes to raise funds for the homeless.