Tony Narracott, 29 August 2007. He died 16 September 2007.
On the Saturday night of the Byron Bay Writers Festival, the company had been stimulating and wine and conversation had flowed. Too drunk to drive I headed out of the Beach Resort, took the first right, a cul-de-sac that led to the gates of the West Byron Sewage works and kipped in my van.
At about 1.30 am I was woken by a private security patrol person. She was a young woman dressed like a War on Terror enforcer in navy fatigues, cap, black boots and utility belt. I suspected she was acting in the service of Becton, owner of the Beach Resort, though i didn't confirm this.
"You have got to move on, sir," she said. "This is a private road."
"To whom does it belong?" I asked blearily.
"The Council," she replied.
"Which makes it a public road," said I.
"Move or I will call the police," she replied.
"You do that," I told her and lay back in my bunk while she stood close by, speaking loudly into her phone and giving the cops my location and rego number: "Kilo, X-ray, November ..."
Byron Writers Festival meets Howard's militarization of Australian culture, and all happening at my van door!
The cops arrived about 30 minutes later and shone their spotlight on the van. I was waiting sitting yogi fashion cross legged inside and I rolled back the sliding door with a flourish to greet them. Two young constables stood before me in the full moon light, shivering in the cold night air of the river flats, pissed off at being called out .
Again the same routine of intimidation, but at least the cops were willing to concede that I was parking on a public road reserve with nary a parking sign in sight.
"Move or we will give you at ticket," the lead cop said.
"For what?" I asked.
"Don't worry, we'll find something," he said grittily and with that they drove off.
The quiet of the night returned and I thought about it for a while. I didn't want to waste a day in court and besides which i was sobered up; nothing like a bit of bullying to make one alert.
Happy Wheels was soon underway but she promptly got stuck in the roadside drain. I was obliged to spend the rest of the night on my bunk in a half twist with pike position.
The cops did not return but the Ranger was prompt when he came on duty the next morning, representing the third agency collaborating in the Byron War on Nomads.
"I suppose you are wondering why I have parked at such an odd angle," I said by way of greeting and sweetly for I was angling for a wee push or maybe a tow to get me back on the straight and narrow.
"I am not going to help you," he said before I could even raise the topic. "Serves you right."
With that gloat he drove off to the Sewage Works compound about 50 meters away, presumably to move along the shit that had parked there overnight.
The impasse, I am pleased to report, did not last long. Thirty seconds later an old hippy exercising on a bike came by. From afar he had seen the tilt of Happy Wheels and its Detach From Tyranny mural.
"Love your signage," he said. "Are you stuck? You want a push?" A friend indeed, we soon engineered the return of traction to Happy Wheels.
The Ranger returned and spoke from his 4WD, elbow out the window. "I will book you if you come back," he threatened. "No toilet facilities," he added by way of explanation.
"But hey?" said I. "I am right beside a sewage works."
"But you're not connected," he said with finality and drove off.
There's the rub. Not connected! In the sense of not landed, not rich.
Settlers have always put shit on nomads but the aggression shown by these three collaborating agencies is something new to me.
Years ago it was hippies in vans usually with surf boards on roof racks who pioneered the cultural transformation of Byron Bay, the former whale butchery and meat works. One of the fruits of which is the Writers Festival.
Now old hippies in vans are pariahs and treated as contemptuously as dogs on a beach and drummers at a market.
Is Byron better for this? Or safer?
I think not. Just more conformist, more arrogant in its conformity, and more mean. Police, rangers and private security collaborating in a relentless war against the poor, the powerless and the refugees from corporatism, militarism and mortgages.
Later in the day I related this story to my admirable and ailing friend Tony Narracott as he lay in the sun stretched out on to ease his pain.
"Surely there must be some where for you to park off the road?" he asked genuinely distressed by the inhospitable treatment.
For a moment there I thought Tony might swing one more fundraiser to establish the Graeme Dunstan Memorial Peacebus Dock in Byron.
Imagination took flight. it would have minimum shelter, a roof without walls, a composting loo, ready access to water, a broadband connection and an open fire place. Rangers would serve as welcomers, bring fire wood and call by for a morning cuppa and chat, genuinely interested in the passing parade, compassionate and helpful.
What a happier job that would be for them. What happier outcomes friendliness and kindness always bring.
Times change and friends go. For sure I know that Byron will be less without Tony and i say my grief like autumn rain.
Hear me, old friend. Hear my gratitude for your never failing kindness, for your ready smile and wit, for your lively engagement in community life and for the magnificent effort you made in your time to build a community of decency, creativity and kindness.
1 August 2007