Keith Neville derived his nickname of Evil from Evil Knievel, being a play on ‘Evil’ K. Neville. He was a long-haul truck driver whose invariable appearance consisted of baggy khaki shorts, sleeveless shirt exposing a myriad of tattoos on his arms, and once-white socks arising from Blundstone workers boots.
One day he arrived home to a note from his wife saying she was leaving him and the faces of their three daughters looking at him, with ‘what happens now?’ written on their faces.
What happened was that Evil quit his job and did his best to raise his children. He picked up labouring work with local farmers and foresters when he could get it. His pride stopped him from signing up for welfare payments.
He still enjoyed a beer but he paid for it by taking bets with tourists at the local pub that he could eat a beer glass, which he did with no apparent effect on his health.
I was a wet-behind-the-ears social worker from the city posted to this rural area for a quiet introduction to the craft of saving the world one family at a time. Evil and his children came with my caseload when I arrived.
When I visited his home, I noted the horse in the suburban sized back yard. Evil welcomed me effusively and made me an instant coffee. After the formal palaver, I expressed curiosity about the horse. He said his eldest daughter had had her heart set on having a horse for Christmas so he’d done a deal with a local farmer for an in-kind payment for his labour in return for the horse.
Coming from a rural background myself, I gently pointed out that it would be difficult for a horse to get sufficient exercise in such a confined space and that it would rapidly consume the threadbare lawn that he had. Ignoring the first point, Evil proudly pointed out the abundance of hay that had come with his purchase. The clincher was ‘You should have seen the smile on her face.’
Courtesy of the local baker and butcher, he had a freezer full of bead and chops. When I mentioned vegetables, he outlined his plans for growing potatoes and cabbages in the front garden.
To round out my visit to the small town I visited the school, where the principal told me that the children had a perfect attendance record, completed all their homework assignments, and were always neatly dressed and polite to their fellow students and staff. What concerned them a little was that the eldest girl would soon hit puberty and whether Evil could handle that appropriately.
Other more pressing cases soon piled on and Evil’s family fell down my priority list, until one day he arrived unannounced and asked if I could help with the cost of a second-hand fuel pump for his ancient Toyota 4WD. He needed his vehicle for work to support his children so I readily agreed but I asked how he was getting around now. He told me he had recycled an orange juice container to feed petrol into the carburettor directly and that was sufficient to get him into town.
Admiring his ingenuity but worrying for his and the children’s safety, I asked how much he needed and he said $37.50. I offered to write him a cheque for $50, with the remainder to be used for whatever other needs the family might have. Evil’s eyes turned to steel and he said ‘I didn’t want to come here. People can help me with most things but not this. I need $37.50 now and I’ll pay you back. You need to help the poor people.’ I wrote the cheque for what he requested.
A few weeks later, I received a call from Mavis McCaskill, wife of one of the local Councillors. She and her small but intrepid band of volunteers quietly did what they could to support families in need. Usually this occurred after bushfires or tragic accidents but there were always a few families constantly on the edge of welfare intervention that survived courtesy of their discreet work.
She said, ‘I know you mean well and that Evil is doing what he can for those girls but you’re being naïve. As the girls get older, he’s not going to cope. We’ve found a local family who’ll take the girls in and give them what they need. Evil can see them whenever he wants and he can go back to doing what he’s always done and provide for them financially. You need to know that the eldest is already starting to shoplift to help out and we both know how that’s going to end up when your bureaucracy gets involved.’
I knew enough to know that if the Department intervened this would not end well. I said, ‘Provided Evil is comfortable with this arrangement, I will happily close the case.’
‘Good, I’ll put him on.’
Evil’s voice came booming down the line, saying ‘I reckon this’ll be terrific. And I’ll send you that money for the carburettor as soon as I get paid.’