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.