That Cairns Pub Story

When i went dancing in that hotel in Cairns, i really didn't think too much about the consequences. But i did think about how people might perceive me - a fortyish male caucasian on my own. So i tried to be discreet, non-threatening .. not stare at anyone.

i moved about on the dancefloor for four or five songs.

(Including Dexy's Midnight Runners, and Billie Jean. Okay, i was desperate for nightlife. i was on my own in a strange city. i was feeling a bit lonely and uncomfortable. But trying to look cool and relaxed about it.)

Then i stood to the side of the dancefloor watching the action for maybe three songs. Again, trying to be unobtrusive.

Whoops! It didn't work. Somehow i came across to some people as potentially threatening, and the bouncer asked me to leave, saying that several patrons had complained about the book i was carrying. When story hit the front page those patrons wanted their say too.

Now i find out it wasn't just the book.

Different Perspectives

Some of the patrons from that night are now upset at being labelled paranoid. They say that they saw a man "behaving strangely", and that they felt intimidated. These people saw

  • wires coming out of a man's pocket (my mp3 player and headphones),
  • a waist pouch (with my sunglasses),
  • and a book with "the T word" on its cover (novel by Richard Flanagan).
They saw a man standing motionless on the dancefloor for twenty minutes ..
(that really baffles me. i'm sure i was dancing vigorously, and i meant to be friendly, but in my own space - intending fully to respect other people, not intrude on anyone else's fun.

(Anyone who's seen me on a dancefloor would be puzzled by that one. The reason i hit the dancefloor was because it was active. Usually i'm the one who gets up first, and starts other people going.)

Other people were also asked to leave
At the moment that the bouncer (#181) came up and moved me to the pavement, i was wondering whether to leave or to have another dance ..

.. because i'd just seen an Indigenous woman escorted out the door. She'd been dancing too. A very funky dancer, she was striking in appearance. Recalling the moment, I realise now that i did stare pointedly around me at that moment. i was stunned. This woman had also been dancing on her own, very well. She was well dressed and good looking. She looked to me like a good and interesting person.

i somehow leapt to the conclusion that she was asked to leave because she was "too black". If that were true, then this was not the kind of hotel i wanted to dance in.

At that moment i stared around me in shock, trying to fathom why this had happened. i was outraged at the possibility that my conclusion could be right. i did stare at people then, wondering why everyone had let this black woman be kicked out for no reason.

Perhaps other people saw this "staring" behaviour as strange and confronting. Perhaps this cemented the suspicions that had been growing in their mind.
  • A man who looks different,
  • who has wires coming out his pocket,
  • who has a pouch around his waist and
  • a book with the T word on the cover,
  • as well as long frizzy black hair,
  • who stares, indignantly.
Clear signals, to someone on the lookout. Someone who feels threatened by the world of difference. Someone who perhaps doesn't notice an Indigenous woman being kicked out of the pub.

Atmosphere of fear
i've got to say that i think labelling people paranoid could be a mistake. i always thought Keating's biggest mistake was to abuse his opponents, rather than lead them to a better place. People do get afraid, and their minds can leap to unfair conclusions. Abusing or making fun of people who feel threatened, or are in the grip of fear, is perhaps not the best approach.

This culture we live in has been brought to the point of hysterical frenzy, and individuals are not immune from these emotional currents. Most people don't have much protection against the pressure-cooker emotions of the mass media, or from politicians who seek to embed their power by preying on those fears. i too have looked at strangers in bars and found myself wondering.

We urgently need leaders who can empathise and allay people's fears, while at the same time evolving our understanding and our behaviour, sensibly and responsibly.

Personally i feel vulnerable and disturbed. Now i know how easy it is for people to get the wrong idea.

Just what the book is all about.

(image: thanks for "is that an iPod in your pocket by thespacesuitcatalyst at flickr)

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Jo Murray said...

Hmmm Michael! Where to start?

Seems that mass media is the only winner...continuing to make stories (and money) out of a fear campaign, and lacking the critical ability to own up to being party to its creation.

Australia is bound to becoming even more of an international pariah, if your experience is anything to go by.

And how many unknown others are being alienated daily on the basis of FEAR (Fictitious Events Appearing Real)?

Keep dancing!

Rhi said...

Hey Michael,
We're very proud of the way you have dealt with this whole ridiculous situation. You've been gracious and articulate in your responses. And very fair to those people whose fears put you in this spotlight in the first place. Fairer that I may have been...

And yes, I can't believe for a second that you would stand motionless on a dance-floor for 20 minutes! You can't stand motionless in a conversation for 20 mins let alone a loud dance-floor with 80's classics! (go Dexie's Midnight Runners!!)

But seriously this whole drama has really highlighted the sorry state of our collective paranoia, and I hope others learn from the media coverage this has received.

Good on you friend. Shame it had to all blow up on your birthday!
Rhi x

Howard said...

hi michael
glad to see u blogging - i hope the expression helps you feel better and that writing about it might lead to change. hope u keep dancing round Northcote too.


mic said...

Ha ha! Rhiannon you are a complete darling! And the greatest dancer.

The tension is pretty high all around the world, innit! People everywhere frightened about a whole lotta stuff. Can they pay the bills, will they survive the year?

Mental fears can plague all manner of people, and when the nightly news pounds you with bad stuff .. followed by commercials filled with psychotic voices telling to to reach for your fridge magnet ..

well, is it any wonder that guy in the corner looks like he might just be .. suspicious. (Deep Breath)

Some have said that governments use this terror to reinforce their own power and control. I don't know about that, but i know that a certain federal government has spent a lot on advertising recently.

" ------------
These people round here wear beaten down eyes,
Sunk in smoke dried faces they're so resigned to what their fate is,
But not us, no not us we are far too young and clever.
Remember Toora Loora Toora Loo-Rye-Aye
Eileen I'll hum this tune forever.
------------- "

see you at the disco :)

Jo Murray said...

These Tasmanian Times comments are also interesting

mic said...

Jo, thanks so much for your supportive response, and the link to Tas Times.

i like your acronym, the way you connect fear with social delusion. Fear can really twist the mind, no? (Deep Breath)

Rhi said...

Hey I just read the Andrew Bolt blog. Seriously that man deserves none of his public exposure. Absolutely ludicrous and unintelligible arguments. Twat. I hope he's hurting after yesterday! Here here to a brighter future under a (hopefully) less racist and fear-mongering government!
Rhi x

mic said...

Hey Rhi ! yes here's to a more balanced future with much less fear-mongering. Fingers, legs and eyes crossed. x

BiddyB said...

As I read Michael's story, and am reminded of the gentle wisdom he embodies wherever he goes, my response is a Celtic blessing:

"May the blessing of light be on us,
Light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine upon us and warm our hearts
Till it glows like a great fire,
And strangers may warm themselves as well as friends.

And may the light shine out of the eyes of us
Like a candle set in the window of a house,
Bidding the wanderer to come in out of the storm.

May we ever have a kindly greeting for people
As we’re going along the roads."

Or inside discos!

miczl said...

Thank you Dear BiddyB for your delightful kindness and your generous blessing.

Your verse goes to the heart of our need to welcome strangers into our world; to overcome our fears of other people, and trust in the safety of our balanced lives.

You've inspired me to seek out other Celtic blessings:

"Deep peace of the running wave to you.
"Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
"Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
"Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
"Deep peace of the infinite peace to you."

in appreciation, michael