Last week it was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall;at the same time the barricades started going up in Brisbane. The friendly capital of the northern state of Australia,usually a laid back and tolerant town, started to change a gear, a backward gear at that. It is G20 week and although the populace has been encouraged to enjoy the cultural festivities laid on by the local council, an invitation laced with an added sweetener of free parking, many Brisbanites started leaving town in motorcades or fly pasts of their own.
On the Monday of the week which would end in a public holiday, security personnel were involved in the task of striping whole floors of hotels to ensure no security breach, I visited the city and noticed the number of police around the place. As I am directionally challenged, yes I have Google maps on my phone and tablet but still I get lost, I did ask a couple for help in pointing out the way. Pleasant and polite, they obliged.And the following day when indigenous protesters marched through the city streets-why I have to ask myself are Indigenous peoples the first to receive funding cuts and the last to be recognised for their amazing custodianship of the last for over 40,000 years ?-the police managed the transport delays and changes efficiently. So I wish to state that I am not anti police by any means.
Yet by the next day when I went into town to meet a friend for lunch, the build up of the blue uniformed presence was palpable and loud.
“You are not safe” was the message it screamed to me as at one stage I walked down Elizabeth Street and was accompanied by police walking alongside, in front and behind me. I wondered who I was being inveigled to be fearful of
“What if I do the wrong thing? Pull my tablet out and take a picture? Will I end up in the calaboose, as the Americans so charmingly call gaol?” There had earlier been a report of a person taking a photo in the red zone and being taken in for questioning.
This was not the Brisbane I know and love and many Brisbanites seemed to share the same view , questioning the purpose of the expensive event as their laid back lives were disrupted. A friend reported that a policeman in full security gear entered her gym while it was packed with people working out. Nothing was said, no reaction was made and the next day the place was deserted.
“Bullshit its all bullshit!” muttered an outspoken veteran on the bus which was being diverted and delayed to meet the needs of this massive change. And there were murmurs of assent from other passengers on the bus, ladies of a certain age meetings friends in the city, young mums and their bubs, part time workers, all started to join in the topic of the moment. Brisbanites are not stupid and although very welcoming to strangers and tolerant of change, are rightly cynical of spin.
By the weekend with so many restrictions, mixed messages delays and security saturation, the city was a ghost own. Brisbanites were invited to see the light show and join in other “celebrations” (think bread and circuses of the Roman emperors) , but were warned to leave their reptiles, surfboards and fresh eggs at home.
This bizarre list of prohibited items no doubt was based on a rational plan but the juxtaposition of unnaturally related items was cause for laughter and somehow deflated the seriousness of the situation.
After the first day of the three day event, pictures emerged of a deserted city, reminding me of that seventies hit “Everyone’s gone to the Moon” .
Now into the following week when authorities have congratulated themselves on a violence free event, people and life in Brissie are getting back to normal. You would have to ask, at a time when Australians are persistently being asked to do “heavy lifting” I.e. cutback expenditure particularly on things such as health, education and welfare, whether the expense and disruption was worth it. Will we ever know?
I did enjoy President Obama’s speech to the students at University of Queensland in which he encouraged the pursuit of caring for the environment and in particular mentioned that Queensland treasure now endangered, the Great Barrier Reef. He seemed to be enjoying himself when surrounded by the fresh and enthusiastic crowd. Given the level of Roman legion-like security which surrounds him and other leaders today, he seemed to have kept his humanity and certainly had a vision for the future, its quite an achievement when you compare him with others in the public arena, yes, particularly in our part of the world.
I, on the other hand am content to live outside the red zone where no outer security surrounds me and I can move freely and anonymously through the world.
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