A life cut short, but not forgotten

Michael Collins’ girlfriend, Alysha McMillan, and sister Lisa Collins, hope lessons can be taken from his loss. Picture: KYLIE ESLER
Michael Collins’ girlfriend, Alysha McMillan, and sister Lisa Collins, hope lessons can be taken from his loss. Picture: KYLIE ESLER

IT’S possible you walked right past Michael Collins on an Albury street and didn’t give him a second thought.

You couldn’t have known that he was homeless, or guessed the struggles he faced to get his life on track.

And you probably would have continued on, never knowing he died of an accidental overdose last week, just as things were starting to look up.

But his sister Lisa Collins and girlfriend Alysha McMillan would not let his story slip through the cracks, like so many other parts of his life did.

“He was so loveable, everyone who spoke to him loved him,” Ms Collins, 34, said of her older brother.

“But he just ... he got to that way where he was institutionalised, he struggled to be around people.

“He didn’t get much help to get on the right track.”

Mr Collins, 35, and his sister grew up around Henty and Culcairn in their early years before family difficulties saw them sent to the Royal Far West Children’s Home in Sydney when they were about 10 and nine years old.

He spent most of his teen years as a state ward in and out of foster care; they spent much of that time split up, Ms Collins said, and there’s many gaps in her knowledge of his life in those years.

Petty crime followed, mostly thefts and burglaries, not “victimless” crimes, but ones driven out of necessity.

“He would be out a couple of months then go back in, but he was never ever violent,” Ms Collins said.

“It was always stupid stuff ... he’d go back in because he couldn’t handle life outside.”

Both women said Mr Collins received no support once outside the jail walls, beyond payment of a few hundred dollars. There was no assistance for finding housing or work.

It was in jail Mr Collins developed a drug habit — his sister said he never used before being inside, where drugs helped “pass the days”.

That was an addiction he fought and the prescription medications he overdosed on last week were for a back injury, as well as to help his anxiety at being “outside”.

He died in Lismore last Friday, July 11, while visiting the family of Ms McMillan, 21, who is four months pregnant with his child.

This new family and his excitement is partly why both women know his death was an accident.

“It was hard for him, he was still coming out of his shell ... but he had everything to live for,” Ms Collins said.

He and Ms McMillan met seven months ago while both were living on Albury’s streets; she was “good news”, and those who knew him believed he’d turned a corner.

They were struggling to find housing and were regulars at St Matthew’s Crisis Care, where Father Peter Macleod-Miller came to know the couple well.

“He wanted the same thing everyone else wants, which is happiness,” he said.

“The thing that was really outstanding is that he could have spent the whole time complaining about the situation but he didn’t ... I think he was actually full of gratitude.

“He obviously had a lot of hurt there and was trying to find a way forward when he’s had so many doors slammed in his face.”

A funeral will be held at St Matthew’s Church in Albury on Wednesday at 2pm.