Sunday, September 23, 2007

And no birds sing

It was such a beautiful day today. Feastability was at its best this year, I think. Or maybe the sugar from the Union Hotel's pavlova just went to my head.

I helped out for a couple of hours at the Alfalfa House stall, where we worked out that cutting things up and putting them in paper bags boosted sales enormously.


Quite sad, really, give that Alfalfa House is all about unpackaged foods.

I sat in the sun at Camperdown Rest Memorial Park afterwards, admiring the dogs (including a pitifully lovable hairless Chinese Crested thing persistently and bravely humping a Staffordshire Terrier), and then wandered down Australia Street, smiling, as I always do, at this imaginary door bell:


And there was such a satisfying Summertime buzz coming out of the The Courthouse as I passed by, I had one of those moments where you consciously note how much you love your city, and being in it on a Sunday afternoon.

Then I walked past the police station and I remembered that I had been meaning to go there for weeks. For weeks, I have known that I couldn't write anything else in the blog until I had been to the police station, and found out for certain that the Bird Whistle Man had died.

You know him, or rather, knew him. He whistled the most beautiful bird calls - all the time! and always so cheerfully! - and carried a bag, which he filled with bits and pieces he collected from the bins and gutters. He always asked me the time. And then what day it was. Once, he asked me twice in the same day. His particularly favourite pastime was to whistle to mesmerised children in strollers, and then innocently offer them something which he had picked up from somewhere - a bottle top, a surgical glove - which would horrify their mothers. He never once failed to make me smile.

He lived on Wilson Street, so I would see him loping by almost daily, and we would have the same little polite exchange about the beautiful day, and about the time. I never once strayed from the routine and asked him his name, or how he learned to whistle. I am too often stricken with politeness, despite my inner noseyness, plus he was always around. I wanted to ask for a photo and write about him on the blog, but I could do it the next time I saw him.

The last time I saw him was in June. He was standing on the corner of Station Street and Enmore Road, whistling. I thought to myself again that I should stop and talk to him, but it was cold, I was carrying too many bags, I was running late for something or other, it was dark so a photo wouldn't work, and I didn't quite yet know what I wanted to ask. And so I excused myself all the way home.

And I have been looking for him ever since.

In July, Dave wrote to me asking why I hadn't yet featured the Bird Man. I replied, "the funny thing is that I haven't seen him in ages". I asked a few people in the neighbourhood, and some told me they were sure they had heard him whistling just the other day.

But he died in his flat, and the police told me that his body wasn't discovered for a week. It wasn't suspicious circumstances. His name was Theo, he was Dutch, and may have had a brother in Australia, but the police didn't know whether there ended up being a funeral. It may have been a destitute death, they said.

That someone who made so many people smile, who lit up children's faces and made us all delight in the place where we live for producing such characters, that he should end up a "destitute death"...

The birds will forever sing his requiem.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Australian Gothic

There were many sights worth photographing at last weekend's Under The Blue Moon festival, but I was hesitant to get out the camera after my experience last year, when I was abused by a hoard of angry teenage goths when they mistakenly believed I was taking pictures of them with my mobile, when in fact I was just holding it in the air to get psychologically closer to better reception. I muttered to myself that I was unlikely to be interested in photographing them anyway, given goths are a dime a dozen round these parts.

But I couldn't resist taking a photo of Nell, the nineteen-year-old bat, all wrapped up in her wings:


The Ku-ring-gai Bat Protection Society had set up their stall not far from the Enmore Cat Protection Society, which was pleasingly poetic.

I was impressed by the number of local businesses that had managed to buy into the Gothic theme. I particularly liked that one of the funeral parlours (is it just me, or do there seem to be a lot of funeral parlours in Newtown?) unabashedly catered to the festival-goers' death fetish:


On the subject of festivals, the Sydney Underground Film Festival is on at The Factory this weekend, next Saturday is the Shirty T-Shirt Market at the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre, and the following Sunday is Feastability. Put them in your diary!