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.
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.
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.
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.
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)