Watching, WaitingGeorge Orwell would have enjoyed the irony.
The only time in my life that I ever worked a 9 to 5 job was during 1984, when I was the Community Arts and Recreation Co-ordinator for the City of Perth.
I led a team of 25 actors, musicians, artists and play-leaders, developing programmes of art, craft, drama and games activities, ba
It was a lot of fun, working with groups of children, parents, teachers and senior citizens, to make the most of the City’s parks and gardens, and great to have access to its recreational resources.
There was an excellent staff canteen on the top floor of the Council building, with three-course meals for $2 and a million dollar view out across the Swan River. Some days we would wait for the afternoon sea breeze, then head across to the south bank of the river to hire a fleet of catamarans –at the City’s expense, of course- and spend the rest of the afternoon scudding across the waves. Recreation research, we called it.
I guess it was inevitable that we would be resented by many of the other staff as a bunch of feral hippies, but I never considered that some would go to such lengths to undermine our efforts.
We had worked throughout the winter months at one park in the affluent western suburbs, organising groups of children from local kindergartens and elderly people from the adjacent community centre, to celebrate the installation of some new playground equipment. It was heart-warming to watch the way they all worked together to prepare an inter-generational programme of songs and stories, art, craft and games.
We scheduled the show for 10am on the first day of Spring and, as a courtesy, I made sure to inform the Parks and Gardens Department of our plans well in advance. I even invited the gardeners and the Department Head to join us.
The weather co-operated wonderfully and September 1 was a beautiful bright Spring day. We hung the banners, flags and other decorations from the sparkling new playground equipment and set chairs and tables in the shade beneath the trees. The elderly folk were seated in their pre-arranged groups and the children lined up in the colourful hats and costumes they had spent weeks perfecting. All was ready for the celebrations, and a photographer from a local newspaper stepped forward to record the moment.
“Say Cheese,” she called, and everyone responded appropriately.
Then, at precisely 10am, the high-pressure sprinklers popped up out of the ground and spat streams of water over all of them, causing ranks of children to scream with shock and fall as though mown down by machinegun fire. Elderly people struggled to their feet and staggered out of range, muttering in justified outrage. And within seconds, all those weeks of careful planning and work were reduced to a soggy chaos of soaked calico and cardboard and dripping poster paint. As we struggled to move everyone under cover, I saw a van-load of gardeners drive by the park, smirking at the outcome of their evil deed.
Back at the Council building, I stormed into the office of the Head of the Parks and Gardens Department to demand an explanation.
“Those sprinklers haven’t been in use for months,” I fumed, “and your gardeners had to turn them on today, just as we were starting our celebration.”
He looked at me with fake concern on his fat red face.
“Oh... I’m sorry,” he lied. “I thought you wanted the sprinklers turned on. You sent me a memo to that effect.”
He thumbed through a file on his desk and produced my memo.
“Please ensure that the sprinkler system is in operation at the time,” he read.
I shook my head, and slid the memo across to where I could read it.
“Not!” I read aloud, pointing to the word. “It says Please ensure the sprinkler system is NOT in operation.”
He feigned surprise, and looked again at my memo.
“So it does,” he said. “Sorry, I didn’t see that little word.”
“Sure!” I snarled. “You heartless bastard!”
I spun on my heel and left his office, sneering at his Secretary as she snickered behind her hand. I went straight back to my own office on the floor above, and typed out my resignation.
Big Brother had been watching us, and waiting for the moment to act.