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“Scum” at the Dickson shops… really?

By Steven Bailey - 17 February 2015 27

Musician and local icon Sydney

In recent weeks there has been lots of community discussion about people busking, begging and generally loitering at the Dickson shops. Last week I was listening to a local radio station, and during this particular segment listeners called in to complain about being pestered by the local ‘riff-raff’.

Listeners complained of being harassed and even assaulted on their way to the local shops. Of course this behaviour is to be condemned, and I must admit that sometimes I get a bit shirty with the young tourists who relentlessly nag people to sign up to a charity. I respect them for the job that they are doing however, as it must be a hard gig.

I have never had a problem with any of these people at Dickson, and over the years I have gotten to know many of them as friends.

So last week, I decided to take some time out of my morning and have a chat with a few of the Dickson locals. I was struck by the generosity and humanity with which they shared their stories and struggles; their hardships and their sorrows.

Well-known 88-year-old busker, Sydney (pictured above), told me how his mother gave him up to an orphanage when he was a child, and how he searched for his father after fighting in World War II. He told me how he contemplated committing suicide one day but was talked out of it by his neighbour.

“I didn’t do it because I loved my kids too much, but I would have if they weren’t around,” he said.

Sydney plays the harmonica most days of the week outside of the Dickson Woolworths, and I was humbled when he told me that he gives all of the proceeds to charity.

“You’ve got to do something with your life, otherwise you’ll just rot I suppose,” he said.

Sydney is getting married in September this year.

One of the men who spoke to me I know quite well. Recently his mother died, he has a brain tumour, and has suffered learning difficulties all of his life. He told me that he can’t wait to leave Canberra.

“Some people are really nasty for no reason”, he said.

“All I do is sing for a few coins. I don’t know why the police told me to go away.”

When I asked charity worker Day Mattar how he copes with the constant rejection, he burst out laughing, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Mate, I’m used to rejection – I’m a gay man for god’s sake!”

Many of the callers on the local radio station were calling for tougher laws and regulations to remove people who pestered them. I do understand their frustration, but the ACT already has many laws in place to deal with people who are making a nuisance of themselves. If you feel threatened, call the police. In the meantime, maybe you could get to know some of these people – they’re not all that bad.

What’s Your opinion?


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27 Responses to
“Scum” at the Dickson shops… really?
sj20 2:47 pm 18 Feb 15

Lovely story and Sydney sounds lovely, unfortunately I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing him.

I can see where people are coming from with their annoyances though; personally I work, live and ‘play’ in the city, and if I need a big grocery shop then I will head to Dickson Woolies. It is just getting old being harrassed day in day out.. Going to work, coming home, walking to lunch, going for an afternoon stroll, grocery shopping…etc. I can’t seem to be left alone. If I were to give everyone money who asked, I’d end up there with them! :-/ Especially those charity workers – I have to give them more than a nod, I have some quite literally JUMP in front of me, and when I apologise and say I’m in a hurry, they keep trying to stop me, shake my hand, engage me in conversation…

I enjoy having buskers – especially when they are actually talented. It’s the beggers that practically sit in the door frame of the supermarket, perhaps even just a legal distance they need to stay at from businesses? Especially on a busy evening; there is one at the entrance, one at the exit and one sitting on the bench by the tree.

And yes Paul Costigan – I’ve come across that gentleman a few times when I’m trying to have a quiet Sunday breakfast at an outdoor cafe. Too far.

chewy14 7:25 pm 17 Feb 15

No problem with people busking as long as they aren’t too loud or annoying other people.

Big problem with the chuggers or people actively begging (ie. Harassing passers by).

Madski1 5:01 pm 17 Feb 15

I want to see Sydney’s fiancée!

VYBerlinaV8_is_back 4:40 pm 17 Feb 15

I love listening to buskers, even if they aren’t very good. They liven the place up and should be encouraged.

The chuggers, on the other hand, should be, um, removed.

The beggars are a pain, but in the big picture are a minor annoyance at most.

pink little birdie 3:40 pm 17 Feb 15

I usually purposely avoid Dickson shops because of the beggars (not buskers) outside the woolworths entry. It’s about as close to me as anywhere else so I don’t bother. It’s usually after hours when this is an issue.

pajs 2:42 pm 17 Feb 15

Good stuff, Steven.

MBird 1:23 pm 17 Feb 15

Well said Steven. I’m often guilty of trying to get past the buskers and charity workers with minimal contact, but this story really resonated with me. Sydney’s story is astounding. 88 years old and still out there playing music, and what’s more, donating the proceeds to charity. Pretty impressive.

Grrrr 12:30 pm 17 Feb 15

Some of the buskers at Dickson shops are OK, some are great. Some – not so much. In other parts of the country busking requires a license, which is given after the busker demonstrates that they have some talent. Enforcing that here would be good.

With regards to the unnamed man who said “All I do is sing for a few coins. I don’t know why the police told me to go away.” .. If he’s the bloke I’m thinking of, singing along to whatever’s playing on his earphones, it’s probably because (last I heard) he wasn’t a very good singer. And that’s putting it politely.

Mysteryman 12:06 pm 17 Feb 15

rigseismic67 said :

Yes yes yes, difficult childhood leads me to what I am now. Same old story , have these people ever heard of breaking the mold.
Oh that’s right these people are all saints and we should never say bad things about those ‘battlers’

What’s so bad about a retiree busking, enjoying himself, and donating the money to a charity? Would you rather he was cooped up at home alone?

FHW 11:39 am 17 Feb 15

Well that is an inflammatory comment, rigseismic67! Built in assumptions that you are better than they?

I personally love hearing buskers at the shops, and will contribute a bit with the deliberate intention of encouraging them to come back. It makes a place much more lively.

The frequent appearance of collectors for charities is a little annoying. For some people it is a challenge to say ‘no’, and I suspect the collectors’ audacity in approaching people means that many donate out of awkwardness.

The appearance of the occasional apparently really broke person is possibly related to the fact that it gets harder and harder to access government services and jobs – unless you have the internet at your fingertips and literacy of at least average level (which mathematically you would expect roughly half of the people NOT to have). I do worry that the number of have-nots is increasing while I am comfortable with my job and my computer.

rigseismic67 10:51 am 17 Feb 15

Yes yes yes, difficult childhood leads me to what I am now. Same old story , have these people ever heard of breaking the mold.
Oh that’s right these people are all saints and we should never say bad things about those ‘battlers’

Paul Costigan 10:47 am 17 Feb 15

Being a long time Dickson resident, I agree with most of your comments.

The fly in tourists charity workers have dominated the place for a while now – but they remain friendly and you can walk pass them and simply offer a polite nod (knowing they are just doing a job).

most of the buskers are polite and all you have to do is nod (and the occasional coin if they are good).

While most of the buskers are good fun – there’s one or two who are just a little too loud as they are annoying for the cafes and others workers nearby who have to listen to it all day. There used to be one who would set up very close to a coffee shop and was so loud that made he made conversation almost impossible – but he seemed to have moved on.

There is one annoying person who begs by walking around who makes a real nuisance of himself as he walks up to people walking and sitting anywhere, including those sitting in the outside coffee tables, and asks for money. To make matters worse, he does not remember who has asked, so if you stay there for a reasonable time, he returns!

But these nuisances are far in the minority. Buskers generally add to the atmosphere and should be encouraged. Definitely no need for police actions 99 percent of the time. More good music welcomed anytime!

Mysteryman 10:33 am 17 Feb 15

Thanks for sharing, Steven. It’s good for all of us to be reminded just how similar we all are, and we all deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Alexandra Craig 10:22 am 17 Feb 15

What a cool guy Sydney is! I haven’t seen him before either. But then again I only really drop into Dickson of an evening so he’s probably gone home.

Holden Caulfield 9:41 am 17 Feb 15

Bravo Steven!

I don’t always agree with what you say or the way you act, but this is a great yarn, thank you for sharing.

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