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.


Nosey in Newtown said...

Other Newtown residents have shared some beautiful memories of Theo in a discussion thread on the I Heart Newtown Facebook Group.

Ross said...

That is so incredibly sad.

nailpolishblues said...

Shit. I used to live next door to him. I always wondered what his accent was, I just couldn't place it. I think he must have a brother or family member here because some people came to clean out his flat once and one of them had the same accent.
It is sad. I always looked for him and was relieved that for the past few years someone was obviously looking after him. Not a whole lot, but keeping him trimmed and decently clothed.

Michael said...

A very moving post.

fox drink water said...

I'm sitting here weeping, which seems a tad pathetic, but it feels like a lot of Newtown icons are slowly dying out. Theo has been whistling to my kids since 2000 when the first one was born. They called him "the birdman" and would always have a giggle after their initial fear had worn off. Thank you for your very sensitive post.

Steven said...

Thanks for the post - i had been following the thread on the
I ♥ Newtown facebook page.. I lived on Linthorpe Street (behind Wilson St) for many years and always loved hearing the bird whistles as I was coming and going. He never made people feel uncomfortable or threatened and I am sad to hear that he has passed. I hope he has found peace..

Nicholas said...

Oh, man. That really sucks. I had so many bookshop conversations with him, he was just the most beautiful person.

Miss Helen said...

I'm here cus Nicholas sent me a link.
He WAS a beautiful person! He certainly made the most out of his lot in life, which is really inspiring. I once gave him a little knitted canary that I made and we had sitting on the monitor because he liked it, and he was so happy.
I liked how he would pick up things left on the street outside as though they were important to the bookshop and I'd play along. And how he would like to point out how easily people could steal things.
He brought beauty to the world in his own little way and I think he will be remembered, and that's lovely.

Anonymous said...

Oh no...last time i saw him was at the bottom of enmore road, going through ashtrays.

I loved seeing him too, but he made so many other noises other than just, dog, train and a car beeping...and all done was amazing!! He always asked us the time and day too, even on new years day he asked us.

he will be missed..


mark finger said...

this is terrible news. I stopped and talked to him a few times because he said he liked my bicycle and we just talked about dutch bikes and things. He really loved the cheap old bell I had on my old bike.

I couldn't remember his name, but he told me he was from Arnheim in the Netherlands and he came here when he was a younger man. I didn't know he had family, but it is great to hear that someone was helping him.

He was a really nice guy, always friendly and inquisitive. I always remember walking about and seeing the laughter and smiles he brought to the faces of children and adults alike.

see ya theo

Justyna said...

It was tops that he was so tall too, because he could whistle to kids who were being piggy-backed by their dads.

It's very sad that in a seemingly community orientated Newtown, it took a whole week to discover his body.

suzysiu said...

Thank you for the news on the whistling man.

I used to work at another food co-op at UNSW, Thoughtful Foods, and we would always have packs of licorice or tamari almonds ready for sale. We would use printed paper folded inside out, so it wasn't being wasted :)

Anonymous said...

Rest in peace Bird Man, may your music fill the heavens

Tatsy said...

Well, I'm sitting at my computer and bawling my eyes out, and you have just bought a few others to tears.

Firstly, I'm so touched to find someone has been keeping their eyes so wistfully on newtown. There is so much history in this area, and I was talking just today to someone outside of the area about the different characters in newtown, and how I would have loved to know so much more about them. The birdman was definitely one. I walk down the streets so often, and see nothing. Birdman saw everything.

He was dutch, and the reason he was so amazing at imitating animals was that he grew up on a farm. He was truly the animal whisperer, I think.

Nosey in Newtown, I will definitely be back to your blog, and I am so pleased to find you. You have filled a hole so desperately in need of it, and I have a feeling that reading some of your posts is likely to bring up so much more for me. Thankyou for solving a very sad mystery. I'm so glad to hear at least that he had a home.


Anonymous said...

that is SO sad- he was the happiest hobo I have ever met. I'm so gald you are blogging about all this stuff that has been a part of my life for so long. Will you ever write about the punk in the motorised wheelchair who always rides around with his death metal playing really loud?

Emma Stacey said...

I'm terribly sad to hear about Theo's death. He was a beautiful man who communicated with me in whistled conversations whenever I saw him. One day he surprised me as I saw him in a different place, and I said "Hello! How are you?" we spoke for a few mintues, and I walked away smiling as I realised that he could speak, just didn't choose to!
Just before I left Newtown to live in Holland I spoke to him about me leaving. He told me he was Dutch. I was going to show him photos when I came home. I'll miss him.

Tatsy said...

I have always been really curious about the guy in the wheelchair too! And Dave and chicko. So many characters! You've given life to the people I wondered about. Thankyou!

rosalie said...

Thank you for remembering Theo "the Birdman" as he deserves to be.
Years ago he used to drink quietly at The Queens Hotel in Enmore, always friendly but always by himself. Then he disappeared for a period and the next time I saw him was as everyone remembers him...The Birdman.
He once stood up to someone who was hassling a girl on the street, no fear, no expectation of anything in return, just a genuine human being. He didn't deserve to die alone.
I hope in years to come he is also remembered by all the children of Newtown.

AndrewD said...

I remember so clearly when he first whistled to my daughter in her pram - she is now 12 and going to high school. Newtown has lost a great character and after 20 years of living here it also feels right to leave

cratylus said...

That is very sad.
People can be so cruel - I walked by him once as two young adolescent men walked by at the same time- he whistled at them and they replied to him by oinking like pigs. :( :( :(
A revelation of character on both sides. I never forgot that and always smiled at hom afterwards when I saw him on the street.

May he rest in peace.

stickytape said...

He was tops!! I liked to whistle back at him. We had whistle conversations. I was always quite intrigued by him and i practically cornered him in a park one day just so that i could talk to him. He told me his name and where he had come from. He also told me that he had a brother who ran a carpet store in alexandria. On his walks he would stop by and visit his brother.

ace a spades said...

Birdman, how abstractly glorious, a conversation at 20 paces with no words, just emotions, how many people were too scared, selfconscious, to engage? i feel not sorry for Theo, he lived his life on his own terms,more sorry for those who missed out. What about the bloke who douses himself with talc powder, sometimes you can see where he has been by the white trail. The man who is forever dirty and seems like a shadow, hangs around the japanese shop, up from corelli"s, talk to him, he"s lucid and very polite. Towards san pedro station theres a man who mostly sits cross legged yoga style, always dirty, with a collection of talisman, ive tried to converse but he seems so preoccupied, and consumed with his illness. In alice street there must be some group home, i made contact with a few of these guys, truely something else and definately worth a conversation or ten.
I see all of these people as my responsibility. The previouse gov has stripped our mental health system down to nothing,there are people on the streets of newtown with no contact at all, your responsibility is to make them connected in our/their community, all that means is a simple hello, or go one step further have a conversation and empty out your pockets, if you can, a hello costs nothing.

Anonymous said...

It is very sad to hear 'the bird whistler' as we called him has left us. I don't think many people will have as many people as he has had comment when their time comes to pass. He did give a lot of happiness in his travels.
He too whistled for many years to my children and always put a smile on our faces. We love Newtown and every character there. Though we are grateful 'Dr Meth' in Australia Street has moved and taken that bad vibe with him.

Thank you Nosey In Newtown, I am too a Nosey Parker!


Recently Returned said...

I miss him! I'm so glad he is being remembered in this way.

sarah said...

oh no, how sad. He was always the "tuesday man" in my mind because he asked me one day what day it was and I replied "Monday", to which he replied "well, that must make tomorrow Tuesday then". He was a lovely sweet man and will be missed.

Anonymous said...

What a sad day to have the rumour of the untimely death of Birdman confirmed. I was at a party in Newtown last week and asked if anyone had seen him and I was told that it was on Facebook that Birdman had died. Imagine Birdman on the WWW!!!!! We drank a toast to a true Newtown legend. I truly am very sorry for our loss. My friends and I were always happy to see him and he was happy to see us. He appeared a happy soul.

shane said...

I'm a parent who had our kids entertained by this wonderful human being. At first I thought what the bloody hell, but in time I came to accept his bloke as another of our awesome Newtown family. My family have lived in Newtown for 6 generations and people like him are what make this such a fantastic area to live in . Good bye Sir you were a bright spot on our day. we will miss your sweet bird songs, rest in peace.

shane said...

He walked the streets of Newtown
collecting treasure as he went
for the people he passed daily
some considered as a friend.

Well known for his whistle
a bird song sweet and true
I'm ashamed I never asked him
for his name I never knew.

And he entertained our children
with the sound there from his lips
and his payment was a smile
which the kiddies soon would give.

Now he's walked his way to heaven
his earthly body now in peace
his spirit as strong as ever
in the birds around our streets.

Kerro said...

His dog barking sound was also incredible. Just spot on.

I first met him on Wilson st one night. He asked for the time. About 20 minutes later I saw him going the other way, he asked for the time again, and the date.

Anonymous said...

This is horrible, I feel terrible. I have been wondering where he was for ages and looking out for him but too "busy/lazy" to go to the police station to find out where he was or if he was okay. I wish I had taken the time to talk to him more. He was always happy and it was lovely seeing him whistling to the kids. Thank you Nosey In Newtown for letting everyone know.

Brian said...

He was a lovely man - he never failed to lift my spirits with his gentle impish ways.

Tatsy said...

I've moved from Newtown to NT, and love that a piece of that life, in such heartfelt memories, has followed me all the way here. The poem is fantastic, and that should be immortalised somewhere. He deserves at least that - talk to Newtown Neighbourhood Centre.


Annabel said...

I have only just happened upon this sad piece of news. My friends and I have often marvelled at his gifted trilling and were always heartened to see him loping down Erskineville Road or up King Street.

As many of you have expressed I too feel a pang of unease and sadness that he died alone. However, perhaps only through his death has the community's collective esteem for this individual been fully expressed. He may have died without company but certainly not without love and recognition. Thank you for your poignant post; there is much value in noseyness.

Chooksta of 2042 said...

King St Pubs a poem by the Chooksta

On King Street there's a pub or two
we'll try to name them here
a place for nearly everyone
Heterosexual, Goth and Queer

There's the Marley and the Townie
Coopers Arms, St Peters Inn
The Botany View and Union
and the Sando to begin.

Play the pokies score a win or two
and place yourself some bets
Just a great place for a coldie
after working up a sweat

Lets not forget the Zanzibar
its full on just the same
In a previous life the Oxford
till some loser changed her name.

There be no excuse on King street
so just grab yourself a beer
and buy me one for later
cause I'm almost finished here.

Yesterday, there was the Newtown
and it was the place for pinks
but the owners reneged on the lease
then the lease-ee chucked a stink.

Finally there's the Bank Hotel
With its place above the tracks
a cockroach ridden hellhole
where the bouncers dress in black

So the ambers flowing plenty
and the vino's cold and pure
Bourbon, Scotch and Vodka
with Panadol the cure.

Allison said...

Years ago when I worked in the crusty old Oxford Hotel (now the Zanzibar), Theo the birdman popped in every day for a quiet middy of light. I stopped for a staffy one day and he entertained me for an hour with stories of his time in the Dutch army. He also claimed to have met the Beatles in a bar in Dusseldorf - but then he apparently also met Elvis! I was never sure where the anecdotes ended and the fantasy began, but he was always smiling and entertaining us. An unusual skill of his we discovered - whenever ever the phone in the bar rang, with it feeble little digital "bllllrr bllllrr" he would reply to it tone perfect. His favourite song was "Blackbird" by the Beatles - we would put it on the jukebox for him so that he could warble along with the birds. His dog impressions were pretty spot on too. He always preferred to speak to people in 'bird' - a defense mechanism we always assumed - but if you could get him to open up he would talk for hours. A sad day for Newtown when we lost him - I hope he knew how many friends he'd made...

Corey Middleton said...

venleds shrubflritio EastI knew Theo well. I was his property manager when at Kelly & Sons. I learnt his story from his brother Herman about how he came to wander the street. He had such affection for kids and would often whistle to them. Will never forget the day the call came through from his brother that he had passed and being asked to meet him at Theo's Wilson Street flat. What I saw that day in his flat was truly remarkable. Clean and tidy with almost every surface covered in Kinder Surprise toys and trinkets. Even his bed. I still wonder where and when he slept.

jez za said...

Love that lil titbit of info bout Theo n his kinder surprises Corey.thanks! Jez