Sometimes life in the raw rolls up to your feet, sits down and listens. Australia is a Lucky Country…but not for everyone, all the time. Keith McEwan reflects on people enjoying the liberty of free music in the sunshine…and of freedom dying before an ASIO assessment.
In the Lucky Country……
It was around midday on a Thursday in late October and the sun was shining when my neighbour tapped on my door for me to join him at the Castlemaine Town Centre, where he was to play his organ. John is a retired man, an ex-music teacher who just loves to play the organ. As I enjoy his music, I volunteered to go with him on his weekly busking events.
After taking considerable time setting up the organ, John commenced playing under a palm tree, alongside the old market building adjoining the supermarket. It was indeed a quiet, peaceful setting amidst the shoppers passing by.
However, as soon as he started playing – an old time favourite – John was approached by a man whose physical movements and facial expression indicated that he was intoxicated. This stranger promptly settled himself down at John`s feet, under the palm tree. As John played, the newcomer swayed to the music and waved his hands about. He was smiling and friendly. As people passed by, many came to greet our new acquaintance: they were young and old, some men who could have been mates and some women with children. As they came in sight, this man would jump to his feet and walk across to the pathway to talk to them. He seemed to get on well with the young children accompanying their mothers. It was a pleasant, happy scene.
John`s choice of music attracted considerable attention as some mothers would bring their children in close to show them how nimble he was with his hands and feet as he played the organ.
It was about midway through John`s performance when I noticed a man slip some money into the hand of our new, uninvited companion. This money was then promptly given to one of his friends sitting in a nearby seat, who then left the scene, returning in a few minutes with two stubbies of alcohol. One was handed to “our” man, the other going to a quiet man who sat on one of the seats close by. “Our” man remained sitting as he sipped his drink, placing the bottle close to the palm tree, almost under John`s feet…much to John`s annoyance.
However, all was still very peaceful. It was like a picnic atmosphere. During some conversation between “our” man and his friend – the quiet man who was drinking from his stubby wrapped in a sock – both agreed that Australia was a wonderful country in which to live.
When I heard this, I thought of the 27-year-old Tamil detainee who took his life at the Villawood detention centre a couple of night earlier after being detained for two years and despite being found to be a refugee in August, and who was still indefinitely imprisoned, due to an ASIO assessment. I sadly realised how this tragic event is so remote from most people`s lives.
Meanwhile the music rolled on and the people seemed to be enjoying themselves.
After some time had lapsed another acquaintance of “our” man handed him some money which, again, was passed over to someone else, who left and soon returned with two more stubbies. Again the two drinkers drank openly in front of us.
It was then that the police arrived. Very quietly, without any fanfare. They approached “our” man who was still sitting next to John and keeping in time with the music with a gentle smile on his face. When the police surrounded him, one said that they told him two hours ago to go home .
These words did not seem to trouble the man as he remained seated, attempting to continue drinking. Then a policeman promptly removed the bottle while two of his colleagues took “our” man by his arms, brought him to his feet and commenced to walk him to the police van parked in the street.
As he was being taken way, I heard him say that all he was doing was sitting quietly under the palm tree listening to the music. This was true. All the time he was with us his behaviour was cheerful and friendly.
This unexpected development spoilt the day for me, and, no doubt, will do so for his friends who had greeted him when they passed by, when they find out. Here was obviously a case of a man addicted to alcohol who simply joined in with others, sitting in the sunshine listening to organ music played by an accomplished musician.
I left the scene wondering what will become of this popular, quiet, apparently well-liked man who obviously has many friends in the community.
After being placed in a police cell and eventually taken to court for drinking alcohol in a public place, will he be provided with counselling and timely, appropriate treatment to help him overcome his addiction? I can only hope so.
– Keith McEwan, CLA member, Castlemaine, Victoria