I kept bumping into Occupy Melbourne last Friday. I was in town for the day, working in an office in Collins Street, fifty metres from the mess of tents in the City Square. I went out mid-morning for an apple from the Swanston Street fruit stall. By that time the eviction was commencing and I passed between rows of protesters holding placards made from brown cardboard that was wet because of the drizzle. At lunchtime I went out for sushi from the cheap sushi shop in Capitol arcade where you get free miso with your order. The intersection of Collins and Swanston was at a standstill and several trams were stuck in the throng. It looked like Wellington Parade on a Saturday afternoon after the football in the 1950s when trams lined up to ferry thousands back into town. It was raining now, and the police were telling the protestors to go home.
Why wouldn’t you? The City Square is an ugly concrete slab with patches of hard sand. A dreadful place to camp. The shouting had begun. A man wearing the old wilderness society koala suit, but without the head, was holding a placard. A wizened woman who looked like she was reprising Monash 1967 ran up Collins Street shrieking, “They are using fear against us,” and the word 'fear' took her about five seconds to get out. She disappeared into the Collins Street Baptist Church, where a sign out the front reads: Café Open. Our coffee is Guaranteed Organic and Fair Trade. That’s what religion does. Makes the world’s most indulgent luxuries completely and utterly guilt-free. She would have been all right after a double-shot latte, or she might have gone right over the top. The sushi was good and got me through the afternoon. One raw tuna, one raw salmon, one seaweed.
I left the office at six and commenced the walk home. It was still raining softly and the lights of the city made the clouds pale gold. Protestors in twos and threes were marching up Russell Street towards Carlton, and carrying drooping unreadable placards. Some of the placards had lost their cardboard in pools of papier mache here and there on the road, so they were using them as walking sticks instead. I saw the wilderness man again. His filthy green koala suit made him look like a 1960s Shellube mechanic after a hard day’s work changing oil in Volkswagen beetles. Russell Street was blocked at Victoria Street. There they all were again, outside Trades Hall. They were lined up on the footpath and the police were on the road and they were facing each other across a six-foot gap. I and other disinterested pedestrians who were obviously on their way to Little Italy for dinner walked along the gap, like a guard of honour. Both sides completely ignored us. In the middle of the road near the corner of Queensberry Street, a hoarse bearded man was barking a tuneless protest song at the police, while smacking his guitar like Jack Johnson. Smack. Twang. Smack. Twang. Smack. Twang. Then there were garlic and pasta aromas in the air and I walked past a hundred cafes and Readings bookstore and Jimmy Watson’s winebar and the VicRoads building and Melbourne General Cemetery and onwards, home.