An everyday tale of vandalism and civil unrest…
In October 1993 I boarded a plane and embarked on what was supposed to be a two year round-the-world-and-finding-myself trip, but ended up as four months busking in Australia. One incident bookends this journey; beginning a couple of weeks after I arrived, and ending on my final night. It needs to be recorded, mostly because it happened almost exactly twenty years ago, but also because I’m getting on and don’t want to forget things.
Me. That is Ian Kendall, a magician from Scotland on the other side of the world.
JP. One of my oldest friends in the street performing world, and my first point of support when I landed in Sydney.
Sam and Mez. Two girls who were labelled unfairly as ‘busker groupies’ – in reality, friends who hung out and were part of the small group we had on the Quay.
Andy. A superb mime artist; I guarantee you’ve seen him in an advert at some point.
Kiwi Rob. Rob was a traveller who paid his way as a street seller. He started off selling jewellery, and later progressed to the paper dancing dolls (the construction of which is a story for another day).
Sally. A Sydney busker; she always said that there weren’t many Sally’s around, but they did have their own army.
Lyndal. Someone who should be accurately labelled as a busker groupie.
We begin in late October in Sydney, on a warm Spring evening. The group is walking through Hyde Park in Sydney after a day working on the Quay and a meal. The atmosphere is good, there is much laughing and joking (pretty much par for the course with a group of performers) and I’m settling into the idea of being warm most of the time. I am walking with Lyndal, JP, Sally and Rob are walking ahead of us. At some point I look up, and I’m faced with this sight
I paused for a moment and then said, in a moment of extreme clarity ‘That guy needs a yo-yo’.
After a short moment where everyone pretty much agreed with me, we continued our trek to where ever it was that we were going.
The next day, that niggling thought wouldn’t leave me. I needed to get a yo-yo, and Rob and I embarked on an expedition to buy one. What we didn’t realise, though, is that it would be almost impossible to find such a toy in Sydney in 1993. For those that don’t know, Sydney is flip-sockingly massive, and we went to every toy store wiht no luck. Finally, in the Darling Harbour shopping mall, in the far back corner of the mall, in the far back corner of the shop (and no, I’m not making that up) I found a yo-yo. It was a Batman yo-yo, which essentially meant it it was the Bat Signal in yellow on a black disc. Triumphantly, I stuffed said yo-yo in my pocket and then forgot about it.
The next part of the story happens on a Monday night, the 24th of January 1994. I was ready to go home, and an airline was offering standby flights to London for 250 AUD, which was nothing. The plan was to head to the airport just before midnight, and wait all night until the ticket office opened at 8am. My bags were packed in my room at the Jolly Swagman hostel (where Rob and I stayed) and the crew all retired to a bar called Jackson’s in the Rocks for a last supper. The talk was a bit more subdued this time, as is often the case when a member of a group is about to leave for ever, but the food was good, and people were still smiling.
Around 10pm Rob arrived at the bar. He walked up to the table, and with what passes for a flourish from a Kiwi, pulled the Batman Yo-Yo from his jacket pocket (he later confessed that he had rifled through my bags to find it). A look, or more like several looks passed between everyone at the table, and one of those silent conversations took place in which we all though ‘we have to do this’. Food was finished, drinks drained and the bill paid, and our rag tag band headed off, at speed, for Hyde Park.
When we got there, two things became apparent, from opposite ends of the ‘this is going to work’ spectrum. Firstly, the fountain was turned off, which was a good thing, and secondly, that thing is huge, and there was a small debate as to how we were going to achieve this. After a short conference, the boys stripped off to their boxer shorts while the girls watched in a mixture of amusement and horror. Wading through the water surrounding the statue, it was slowly noticed that one person was not yet wet. My excuse was that I was about to get on a plane for 27 hours, and didn’t want wet clothes. Wonderfully, this was accepted, and Rob and JP continued the assault on the North face of the structure.
Rob managed to get the string, larks headed into a large loop, over the wrist of the figure, and everyone descended, and dried off. We took some moments to take a few photos (I believe Mez has these, and will post as soon as they reappear), and then went off for another walk.
About an hour later we were walking back through the park, and noticed two men standing at the fountain, looking up. As we passed them I heard one of them say ‘It looks like a yo-yo, mate’. I suppressed a grin, but inside I was jumping somersaults. A quick trip to the Swagman to gather my bags, say goodbye to the staff and we all piled into a taxi to the airport.
A couple of weeks after I got home, Mez and Sam sent me a postcard filling me in on the aftermath of our little game. Apparently we made the local news, and started a short lived craze for adorning statues with various items around the city.
It’s now exactly twenty years since that night, and so much has changed all of our lives. But now the story has been told, and I’ll probably never be allowed into Australia again…