Inside the Collection

The Trolley man immortalised

Joseph Cindric pushing a trolley
Photography by Raymond de Berquelle. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

Do you remember Joseph Cindric? Probably not, unless I tell you that Joseph (or Josef or Joso or Joe) Cindric was the man who for decades pushed a hand-made trolley around the Sydney CBD. From the 1960s to the 1980s he was as much a part of the city scene as the Town Hall or Hyde Park where he often rambled or slept during the day.

Until Cindric’s death, almost no one knew his name. Even Richard Goodwin, the artist whose sculptural career was part inspired by the trolley man, who filmed and photographed him for years, did not know until one day in 1994 when a nursing home rang him with the news of Cindric’s passing. ‘Who is Joseph Cindric?’ Goodwin replied, before agreeing to be one of the few mourners at Cindric’s funeral.

Joseph Cindric pushing a trolley
Image courtesy Richard Goodwin. © all rights resevered

The Powerhouse curatorial department had a similar experience when staff of the Bennelong Nursing Home, Ashfield, rang to enquire if we were interested in acquiring Cindric’s trolley, resting unused in their garage. They could have discarded it, but fortunately were aware of its place in Sydney’s memories and imagination.

Joseph Cindric's trolley
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The trolley has been in the PHM collection since then, but like most of our best treasures has barely been seen in public. However my interest was rekindled by Christopher Snelling’s plan for a Castle Hill open day using this year’s History Week theme ‘Faces of the street’.

According to immigration records held by the National Archives, Josef Cindric was born in June 1906, and left Bremerhaven, Germany on the Charlton Sovereign in 1948, arriving in Sydney on 29 October that year. His nationality was given as Yugoslavia, and he was classified as a ‘displaced person’ or refugee. He was a qualified ships’ engineer, but by the 1960s had begun his life on the streets. For much of the time on the streets he received the aged pension. Like most homeless people he slept mainly during the day because it was safer; he wore construction helmets after being mugged.

According to Father James Ware of St Patrick’s Church, who officiated at Cindric’s funeral and was one of the few people to converse at length with him, the trolley man had been a member of the Hitler Youth (or perhaps the Ustashe equivalent in Croatia) and his vagrancy was partly a response to the defeat of his political faith. [Eureka Street, Vol.4, n.10, 1994, p.23] This story sits oddly with the fact that Cindric was already aged 27 when Hitler came to power. More credible is the tale that Cindric was haunted by the loss of contact with his son after the War. Generally, Cindric was uncommunicative to the journalists and others who tried to learn his story; he made appointments to talk to a few, but these dates were not kept.

However Cindric’s anonymity was part of his mystique. A silent, persistent presence, he became almost a public sculpture or performance artist, with the difference that observers were free to create their own allegories and meanings for him. Richard Goodwin was one of those fascinated by Cindric:

‘He was like a centaur – a sort of man-machine. The two were indivisible. I became interested in his presence and attachment to a machine….He was and remains seminal to my work’.

[Richard Goodwin: Performance to porosity, Paul McGillick, editor, Craftsman House, 2006, p.210.]

Goodwin began creating ‘exoskeleletons’; some were prosthetic extensions to the human body inspired by Cindric’s trolley, others were exploded frameworks or mechanisms. The exoskeleton concept became central to Goodwin’s work. In 1978 Goodwin secured funding from the Australian Film Commission to film Cindric on his rambles; the result, ‘The Inhabitant’ appeared in 1980. In 1979 he produced a sculptural replica of the trolley. Purchased by the arts impresario Kym Bonython, this work was destroyed with Bonython’s home during the Adelaide Hills bushfires in 1983.

After Cindric’s death, Goodwin produced another homage/replica of the trolley. Around this time he also produced a shop sign of Cindric for the trendy retailer Remo Guiffre; the Powerhouse acquired this sign and a sketch in 1995. We are now hoping to acquire Richard Goodwin’s trolley sculpture as well.

Richard Goodwin work based on Joseph Cindric's trolley
Image courtesy Richard Goodwin. © all rights reserved

This work is based on Cindric’ trolley during the mid-1970s, when the vehicle was an impressive structure, rolling on motorcycle wheels and tyres. However the trolley was always a work in progress and shrank in size during the 1980s as Cindric’s health declined. Its main contents were tools and various scavenged and donated parts, collected to keep the trolley repaired and rolling.

In keeping with his exoskeleton theory, Goodwin presents the trolley stripped of its load of bags and boxes, emphasising its combination of skeletal structure and vehicular presence. The sculpture highlights Cindric’s ingenuity, rendering the trolley as a creation rather than a necessity. The silk flowers were collected at Rookwood following Cindric’s funeral.

The acquisition of Cindric’s trolley in 1995 was opposed by several curators on the grounds that it was ‘ugly’ and ‘dirty’; while the trolley’s homeless provenance provoked claims of social inappropriateness or insensitivity.

Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Cindric’s unconscious role as muse of one of Australia’s most celebrated sculptors was not recognised, although the acquisition hardly needed this justification; Cindric’s presence made its mark on artist and non-artist. He invited people to question their life and its relationship to those lacking the comforts of home and loved ones. Like Arthur Stace aka Mr Eternity, Cindric confirmed that statements could be made and questions posed in many ways. Goodwin’s sculpture is a powerful tribute to a man who wanted to be unknown and invisible, yet became one of Sydney’s most recognisable people.

Do you remember the trolley man?

(Editors note: part two of this post can be found here)

36 responses to “The Trolley man immortalised

  • Yes I do remember “The Trolley Man”, especially from the time I studied and worked in Sydney city in 1977 – 1978. I remember the trolley as shown in the photos, rather than the version the museum now has. I studied at the NSW Instite of Technology’s (now UTS) “Brickfield Hill” campus – the old Anthony Hordern’s Building which was demolished for the “World Square” development in George St. I caught the train to and from Town Hall and also walked to a job at the ABC in William St from there, so it would have been in these areas I would have seen him. Thanks for the memory of those times!

  • Hello, My grandmother also arrived on the Charlton Sovereign in 1948, Having endured many years of torture under the nazi’s she came to settle in Sydney, Australia. And similarly to Joseph Cindric, never actually settled, lacked the family and comforts of home. Drinking water from the gutters when she was thirsty, and never having a true friend to call on. It’s so sad that someone can fade away into a life unnoticed. Thank you for honouring Joseph Cindric and giving his life recognition. Kind regards Patricia Griffiths

  • Ian, Patricia,

    Thanks for these replies. Sydney is a different city now in many ways. But we still have homeless people among us.

    I’m glad Joseph continues to mean something.

    Best regards


  • I remember The Trolley Man, you could say with a fondness as you could practically tell the time of day by his passage through the City. I would see him cross Wynyard Park in the early morning when in Winter the mist was rising from the grass. He would then stroll down to George Street and by about 10:00 a.m. would enjoy the sunshine in Pitt Street Mall where he would park his trolley, sit on one of the wooden bench seats and have his morning nap. I took a photograph of him one morning whilst he was sleeping. Although I never spoke to him, I regarded him as one of Sydney’s wonderful identities. Little did he know that he would after his death be written about and become a treasure of Australia’s history.

    Wonderful memories.

    Elizabeth Barton

  • This is all fascinating – thanks Charles. I’ve been haunted/spooked/bedazzled by Cindric since being a child on Sydney’s streets in the 70s and 80s. My school mates (from Marist College in North Sydney) and I dubbed him ‘Red Helmet’ because he predominately wore that coloured helmet, not the white, when I saw him most. I think the white helmet turned up closer to his death. I once asked him for directions at Lang Park (Wynyard area) and he gave them to me in a slurred, dismissive manner. I remember he looked like a misplaced cosmonaut or firefighter. He had prominent ears and his tongue was often out slightly when he was asleep. I miss his ambiguous soul on Sydney’s streets. If any of you are interested, I’ve written a poem, ‘Trolley Man’ over at online Sydney-based journal called Mascara Literary Review – look for my name in an edition from 2008 and you’ll find the piece. I’ve thrown in a bit of poetic fabrication so as to immortalise Cendric. Peace and light all, Mr. Lorne Johnson, the Southern Highlands, NSW.

  • Here is Lorne Johnson’s poem, mentioned in the previous post:

    Trolley Man

    For over twenty years you pushed your trolley between Sydney’s glass and chrome with a red crash helmet protecting your imagination from having a head on with reality.
    Hunched like Atlas during his nursing home years, villagers who worship rice, you were this bitumen Bedouin who’d arrived from the far corners of abstraction,never the Central Business District’s central business, but always mine.

    Your ambiguity unhinged me; your tongue carried the weight of Bedlam’s flare; your ubiquitous presence provided this surrogate backbone through my edgy Marist testosterone years.
    Along with the Monorail’s click-clack glide-hum, Club 77’s pop arc,
    the hanging whale geometry in the Australian Museum foyer, neon-smacked vegetable boxes in Dixon Street and whispers within St. Mary’s Gothic skin, you were my Sydney.
    Your origins and the contents of your trolley were the stuff of Holt’s conclusion.

    The dove-hearted who fed the wandering bed cravers said you were a shipwright and a knife-sharpener.
    Homeless men with ashy cigar toes and Orc profiles said your trolley contained old letters and photos from a frozen bullet space you’d fled.
    To open truth, one would have to make a point of cross-questioning the pointers of The Southern Cross.

    The only certainty is that in nineteen ninety-four, you pushed your fading street-life into the gardens between The Domain and the cool jade lapping that defines us.
    Amidst weaves of lush multicultural foliage, under a sweaty scarlet sky cooled by the wing flap of fruit bats, you sat facing The Bridge’s inverted robot-smile, shut your eyes and waited for the long golden afternoon to cave in on you and your bright dancing secrecy.

    Lorne Johnson, 2008.

  • I remember ‘the trolley man’ well. He was an ambiguous and sometimes unsettling presence on Sydney streets to us as gawky teenagers, naive youths, wannabe writers etc.

    However, I am at best ambivalent about seeing artists and writers using his world, and our memories, for their own ends.

    There is a fine line between tribute and self-promotion. Also when one is dealing with those who may, or may not be, in possession of their full faculties, how are you to be sure if you have their consent or not to even feature them in your stories.

    Homelessness, depression, mental illness and displacement are real issues which affect real people and can cause real pain, both to them and to their families. They are not just raw material for wannabe poets and artists to appropriate without consent.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying, and I don’t think, that any topic or subject matter should be off-limits for an artist or writer, particularly if it sheds new light on the world as we experience it, and remember it.

    However, when dealing with the lives of real people I think they are required to justify, at least to themselves, why they are really into it. Are they shedding a light, or are they just trivializing a human being and dealing with them as if they were some lab experiment or special exhibit. They must, as always, closely question their motives.

  • The etymology of the word ‘orc’ is definitely on the wrong side of insulting – ‘demons’, ‘ogres’, ‘hell-devils’, ‘monsters’, ‘evil-spirit’ or ‘bogey’. As Tolkien explains “Orc I derived from Anglo-Saxon, a word meaning demon, usually supposed to be derived from the Latin Orcus – Hell. But I doubt this, though the matter is too involved to set out here”.[7]

    Therefore, I do think it is a little insensitive or dehumanizing to use such a word in close association with ‘homeless’ people.

    ^ Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, #144, ISBN 0-395-31555-7
    ^ Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings. – quoted on Wikipedia

  • Steve, Thanks for your thoughts, most of which I agree with. There is indeed a danger in exploiting vulnerable and possibly disturbed people in the cause of art and history. However I can also say that that my blog was sincerely intended as a homage to Josef Cindric, his ingenuity and stoicism.

    I share your dissatisfaction with the myth-making that grew up around Cindric and since writing the above blog piece I have been researching his life as revealed in immigration and police records, trying to find if you like, the ‘real’ story of Cindric’s life in Australia.

    I plan to write another blog piece on the basis of this research but surfice to say that Cindric’s life in Australia was indeed lonely and fearful. Perhaps the most disturbing thing to emerge is that he was imprisoned three times for vagrancy, the last time in 1964. Its simply appalling that only a few decades ago people were being gaoled for six months with hard labour for the ‘crime’ of being destitute and homeless. Fortunately these barbaric laws were finally repealed by the Wran government during the 1970s.

    I think we owe it to Josef Cindric to tell this story and that of the untold other people who were treated this way.

    Re the word Orc: I’d note that Lorne Johnson’s poem uses the term solely to describe an aspect of his Cindric’s appearance, not his character.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

  • Thanks for your response Charles. I think your work is indeed valuable and thought-provoking and appreciate that you are trying to shed light on the human values and problems that lay beneath the myth-making.

    The English language is a tricky thing. Uses of individual words are always going to provoke thought, controversy and sometimes discomfort. Hence, a good reason for being fully aware of both their denotations, and connotations. This is particularly true of poetry which by its very nature invites careful and close scrutiny both as words are assembled and dissembled.

    Appearance and character are often quite hard to separate, particularly in creative writing which more often than not uses one to signify the other.

    I guess I find the sociological and historical questions easier to justify, and therefore less questionable, in the context of examining the life of an individual like Josef Cidric.

    I’m sure your work will have a positive impact.

  • Hi, I recently heard the author of a book called Sydney on Richard Fidlers conversation Hour on ABC 702 radio and she mentioned The Trolley Man.
    I had written a song about him about 10 yrs ago and would like to send the song to her(I have forgoten her name) or perhaps the museum or Richard Goodwin.If you think there would be any interest my ph. no. is 0409 658 058. The photo on your site is exactly as I remember him . Thanks Brian Stitt.

  • Hello Brian,

    The writer would have been Delia Falconer, whose book about Sydney has recently been published. You might be able to contact her via her publisher New South Books.

    I’ll give you a call this week re your song.

  • Hello Charles, Thanks for your reply. I have since sent a copy of the song to the museum and look foward to your call. Thanks Brian.

  • Hey Steve,

    I’m not promoting myself. I wrote a poem about a bloke on Sydney’s streets. I’m not trivializing JC, I’m celebrating him. The Orc profile thing is in reference to other homeless men and their looks. It was a bit hard to get JC’s permission re. the poem, as he died way before I penned it.

    Lorne Johnson
    (Who’s had poetry published with Island, Mascara Literary Review, Cordite, Wet Ink, Eclogues – The Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology 2007, The Broadway Poetry Prize collection 2004, Adore Animals, Vegan Voice etc.)

  • My dear neighbour and perhaps closest friend, Ana Stojsic has a sister who knew Joseph Cindric when he walked the streets of Sydney. Although Cindric was reluctant to talk to people, Ana’s sister would talk kindly to him in her native tongue (which was Croatian) on her way to and from work as a cleaner in the city. From conversations with her sister, Ana believes that Joseph Cindric came from the same town or region as her family which was Racovice near Plitvice (or Plitvicka) in Croatia. Ana also recalls her sister saying that Cindric had previously been a successful small business person (perhaps having had a lolly or sweet-making business in Queensland?). I hope to talk to Ana’s sister Maria to confirm and collect this and other stories for the Museum about Joe Cindric , but as she’s not well, it might be difficult to find an opportunity.
    In Croatia, Ana and her family (perhaps like Joseph Cindric?) saw and experienced horrendous things during and after WWII. Ana’s father for example disappeared during the war, leaving her mother to raise 5 girls alone on their small rural plot 7 kilometers from Plitvice. Just this morning Ana recalled another of her experiences: “One morning, my mother and sisters and I peeked out of the window to see a long troup of almost naked young boys being lead along the road by soldiers on a freezing cold morning. My mother threw scraps of food out onto the road for them when the soldiers weren’t watching.” Ana believes the boys were later taken to a house where they were burnt to death!
    Looking at Cindric’s trolley in the photographs, it looks like an ingeniously engineered transport solution for a vagabond … reminding me of the clever bicycle ambulances being developed for remote regions in Africa.

  • Thanks Anne-Marie. As I’ve said above I’ve been doing further research re Josef Cindric’s story and I’ve recently gained permission to view his first immigration file held by the National Archives. These documents fill in part of the story before Cindric’s arrival in Australia in 1948.

    The immigration file includes Josef Cindric’s application form for migration to Australia, filled out at Ansbach Displaced Persons Camp, Germany (US Zone) in May 1948. According to this form, Cindric was born at Sastavol, Yugoslavia and worked on his father’s farm from childhood. He did not attend school, could not read and could only sign his name.

    In June 1941, two months after the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia, Josef Cindric was sent to Germany as a ‘forced evacuee’. He worked as a coal miner there for four years. About twelve million people were sent to Germany from occupied nations to work during the war. Many were prisoners of war, others were abducted at random from the streets. By 1944 forced workers formed a quarter of the German workforce. Many of these people were literally worked to death, but as Cindric was not Jewish or from the USSR he would possibly have received a small wage and been granted a few liberties. However labour camps were built near many German coal mines and the miners’ working hours and conditions were extremely harsh.

    At the end of the war Cindric worked in a gas works in Germany and then for a year or so polishing lenses, presumably for cameras or other optical products. By this time Cindric was living privately at Fondheim away from the Ansbach refugee camp. The selection officer who filled out his application form commented: ‘a good worker working in German economy & not content to sit in DP camps doing nothing. Accepted’.

    This acceptance is interesting considering that, in addition to his illiteracy and lack of education Cindric had no English (although he had ‘fair’ German as well his native language) and no relatives or friends in Australia. Our post-war immigration policy was more accepting than its contemporary version, although with the significant difference of insisting on European ethnic heritage. In addition Cindric was in good health and had no criminal record.

    On top of the experience of Nazi forced labour, there is a dark shadow evident in the records. Cindric is described as ‘single (widowed)’ with two children. However his medical papers describe the children as ‘gestorben’ (dead) of unknown causes. Clearly a personal story remained untold in these records, one unlikely to be recovered.

    I’m planning a new post based on this research.

  • Absolutely fascinating, Charles. What a life he lead – a lot of it poignant. He was lucky the Nazis didn’t kill him. Thanks for your committed research. Looking forward to more insights, Lorne.

  • Its been fascinating to gain some further insight into Joseph Cindric’s extraordinary life. I first came across him when I moved to Sydney from NZ in 1987. Like many others I used to see him pushing his trolley purposefully up and down George Street and around other inner city streets and laneways. He always captivated me with his metal trolley and helmet – his stoop becaming more pronounced in the later years. Being such a familiar figure I was conscious of his absence when he finally moved on. A frind of mine who used to work for the Historic Houses Trust told me once that he used to sharpen knives on his rounds – has anyone else heard this? I often tell my Year 7 students at Fort Street High School about him when we’re studying Sydney’s social history and I shall now be able to add a few more details.

  • Yup, I certainly remember Joseph Cindric. We called him the trolley man as well and spoke to him often, when in the city (mainly around Wynyard). We knew his first name, but not last. Also, he told us about when he came to Australia. Was great to see him remembered this way. Congratulations Powerhouse

  • I remember the trolly man well. I was born in 48. he sat with me for years at various bus stops. We sat in silence I was quite frightened of him initially but he became part of my life and as I grew older and became an independent young woman I felt comfortable with him. he was with me in so many places around Sydney. I was just writing about him in a paper on compassion and was remembering all the sad men in Sydney as I grew up.
    A woman said to me once to remember ” that everyone was someone’ s little baby once” It changed my view of the world and helped me understand suffering.
    Thank you for your beautiful work its really good to know about him. His pain was palpable.

    • Thank you for your lovely comments Chrissie, they help to understand the man and also the history of Sydney.
      Anni Inside the collection. editor

  • I remember being astounded when one day I saw this familiar figure taking tools out of the metal box to do some minor repairs on the trolley. It seemed to be a classic existentialist scenario. Pushing a trolley containing tools to keep the trolley going. In hindsight, I assume that he had other items in there.

  • I recall The Trolley Man as being such an iconic part of Sydney. . He used to bank at the ANZ bank in George St on Fridays and had a passbook with quite a lot of money in i which he’d obviously saved from his pension over many years – he kept it hidden down deep inside the folds of his clothes. The staff there used to be really kind to him and look after his trolley which he parked outside. I remember always the bowed head and the thick knitted fingerless gloves in winter with the worn and aged hands. I always used to wonder what his story was. Thank you for telling this and for keeping safe the memory of someone who reminded me everyday that life is fragile and that you never know how your own story will end. Vale Joseph.

  • I don’t remember ever seeing Cindric personally but his story has touched me deeply . I’m a musician who has written a song in honour of Cindrics life . It’s called Cindrics Trolley. If anyone is interested it’s one my album called ‘Poplar Road’ and is available for purchase through .

  • I remember Cindric very well. I was a pupil at St. Andrew’s Cathedral school between 1969 and 1971 and would often see him around the Town Hall Wynyard area. Incredible how our memories are stored.

  • I am on a speakers’ circuit & speak at various clubs & retirement villages about Sydney’s ‘lost’characters, such as Bea Miles, Arthur Stace, Beattie Bush etc. The ‘Trolley Man’ whom I often saw in the city in the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s,eluded me as I could not find out his name…until recently…and now I know his story. Many thanks to Charles Pickett &Richard Goodwin. Oddly enough, I had decided I was wrong to have thought he sharpened knives & scissors for the city providores ,but have just noted this same view ,as commented by John de Bres back in 2011. Can anyone throw any light on this possibility?

  • I saw the trolley man in the city from 1969 and also thought he was an itinerant knife grinder, don’t recall why I thought this.

  • I remember him as a ‘caller’ at the Department of Social Security Carrington st. office in Sydney. People who had no address called to the counter every second Thursday to collect their cheques, and cashed them at a bank next door, the Commonwealth. Now, I suppose, they’d charge him. There were a lot of people like him, although there are probably a lot more now

    He was, I recall, mugged/beaten up a few times, so, it was said, to check what was in the trolley. There were rumours that he had money stashed in there.

    I never saw what was inside the trolley. But I was informed, by those who did, that he kept mainly spare tires in there. This would’ve been in 1978.

    It was a difficult place to work.

  • I remember him as a somewhat tragic man, l never saw him smile or talk though the 60’s and 70’s. I only remember his trolley in the original photo.
    He was too proud to accept money, I saw him swipe money a lady placed on his trolley onto the ground and give her a mouthful in his native language.

  • I remember the Trollley Man in the 70s. I always thought it was a myth that he carried tools around to fix the trolley but apparently not! Kind of like an ironic perpetual motion machine. Like Arthur Stace who wrote ‘Eternity’ on the city’s streets, Josef Cindric is one of Sydney’s icons. I cannot believe anyone at the PhM would hesitate to acquire his trolley for the collection.

  • I remember seeing him around from 89-91 when I used to work in the city. The memory that sticks out the most was the time I saw him sharpening knives somewhere around Castlereagh St and Barrack St. It was fascinating to watch him at work.

  • I remember trolley man well. The hunched and focussed amble, and the idiosyncratic trolley. He was a staple, living fixture in a city that often seemed ephemeral and unreal. He was one of those eccentric inhabitants of Sydney who helped anchor some humanity amongst the rest of us. I also remember Arthur Stace (Mr Eternity), the last years of Bea Miles, the Pigeon Lady of Hyde Park (if you watched carefully, you could see her occasionally ‘bag’ one of the many pigeons she fed), and the the Wild One Legged tramp of Kings Cross, who would occasionally lash out with his home made crutch at anyone who bothered him enough. And let’s not forget the little bands of Hare Krishnas chanting and bongoing their way around the city. Where did they go?

  • When I was aged around 19-20 and homeless and living on the streets of Sydney for a few months in 1974 I ran into this man a number of times. Sometimes he was plodding along, others sitting, seemingly asleep on various seats around the Hyde Park area. Funny enough, I’m pretty certain when I saw him he had on an open fronted motor bike helmet, but I cannot remember what colour. He didn’t have on a hard hat then. About three different times in late evening I went and sat at the bus shelter in Elizabeth Street that backed onto Hyde Park, and he was there. In those days there was two rows of seats if I recall rightly and a couple of times I spent the whole night there sleeping sitting up, and funny enough his presence there was a reassurance in that I didn’t feel quite so alone or stand out. More than a few times, especially at the bus station at Belmore Park facing Central railway station, if I laid down on the seat and the police drove past, they would scream out at me to sit up. Funny, they never bothered the old folk, only the younger ones. And at Railway square, the bus station area there, half a dozen or more old homeless blokes would be sprawled out on seats there(though I never remember seeing the trolley man there) through the night, and all they would do all night was scratch away at themselves like they all had lice or something. So I never slept there. Great memories of my misspent youth.

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