Wednesday, 28 May 2014

THE FLOWER MAN

THE FLOWER MAN
 by Dave Wheeler

   This yarn is a rewrite of a yarn that was first published within "TALES AND PHILOSOPHY OF A CANBERRA BOY, which is out of print. It is not in "TALES OF A CANBERRA BOY," which can be downloaded from this site free of charge. 
  I worked as the Inspector for the ACT RSPCA for around 3 years in the mid eighties, (84-87 from memory), and I could write another book about that experience.
   The job was good and bad. It was good to the extent that I felt I was doing something useful, and I received much satisfaction knowing I had stopped some suffering of (non-human) animals. It was bad to the extent that I was ill-equipped because of hopelessly inadequate legislation. Fortunately the ACT now has reasonably good legislation to prevent cruelty to animals and I like to think my efforts played a role in the legislation going from a useless ordinance to an act with some teeth. I made sure I used the media to assist in lobbying for the change whenever I had the chance to do so and it all helped.
    The inadequate legislation was not the only reason the job was unpleasant at times. Other than my being unable to avoid seeing animals suffer I did not enjoy having to interact with many of the people I came across, the type I call human garbage. I am referring to the sorts of people who neglect animals or who are deliberately cruel to them. 
   When I worked in an admin position within the child protection section of the ACT Government several years after I resigned from the RSPCA I was to discover that several of the subhumans I had dealt with when I was with the RSPCA, who were abusing and/or neglecting their animals, also neglected and/or abused their kids. Once people begin neglecting or abusing kids or animals they should be sterilised and prevented from owning animals or going anywhere near kids.
 
     Back to the subject of this yarn, who was a Canberra character known as "The Flower Man," an older bloke who was obviously not the full quid. He was a common sight in the Berra throughout the sixties, seventies and early eighties. I was always led to believe he was a Russian refugee, although someone rightly or wrongly told me recently that he was of Greek origin. 
   I was also led to believe his insanity went unnoticed when he applied to come to Australia, just after WW2, because he could not speak English. I do not know if this is true, but it seems obvious. He never did learn English despite being here for several decades.
    He always had flowers pinned all over him and he would sing very loudly and almost continually. I can remember seeing him work for what I presume was the “Parks and Gardens,” a local government department, while I was looking out the window while at school.I was also told that because he had worked for many years it enabled him to pay off his house in Watson. (Houses were very cheap in those days.)
  It was while I was working for the RSPCA I received a call, in my own time, regarding  The Flower Man’s animals. 
   It was because the phone call about the Flower Man's animals was received in my own time and I did not get paid for the work I did with his animals I am not subject to the Privacy Act and can therefore describe my experience. There are many yarns I would like to tell about my time while I was on the RSPCA payroll, as well as the payroll of the ACT government, which I cannot because of the Privacy Act.
    The caller told me that The Flower Man had died, and because he knew I had the means to collect his ownerless dog and ducks he asked me if I could go to the deceased’s house in Watson to rescue them as they were not being fed and needed immediate attention. I did this independently of the RSPCA with my mate, John, who was also associated with the RSPCA, but also working in his own time. 
  The Berra has always had colourful characters. I can think of one who was known as "Spooky," an old wino who hung around Civic. I last remember seeing him in the early seventies.
  The story I was given was that Spooky wanted to end his life and tried to do so by pouring petrol on himself and lighting it. As a result his face was horribly disfigured. Apparently much of the rest of his body was also burnt including his scalp and most of his torso, although because he wore a beanie and long-sleeved clothes we could only see his disfigured face.
   Once when I was in the Scottish Bar at the Canberra Rex in or around 1970 I was discussing Spooky with a half pissed apprentice plumber named Ronnie, who came from somewhere in far western NSW. We were wondering why Spooky had not topped himself after he had set fire to himself considering that if he was suicidal before he became a human torch one would presume he would become more suicidal after his disfigurement.
    Ronnie, a font of wisdom, said to me in his broad nasal accent, something like, “Once a bloke reaches Spooky’s age he's got no hope of getting onto any good looking young sheilas even if his face hasn't been burned, so he probably doesn't care about the state of his face and just wants to drink piss."
   When we arrived at the deceased’s house to pick up his dog and ducks I had never seen anything to compare with the place. The outside of the house looked like a rubbish dump and the inside was indescribable. I will however, try to describe it as best as I can, although I do not believe I have the ability as a writer to do so in a manner that would put an accurate picture of the place in the reader’s mind. 
    To start, all his clothes were thrown onto the floor of his fairly large dining room which was next to his kitchen. The clothes took up half of the dining room and the pile tapered to ceiling height!
   The amount of clutter was so great we could hardly move, but it was extremely filthy clutter. His sink had filthy dishes and cutlery that were also almost at ceiling height, with plates of very old, solidified food all over the place.

   When I felt the need to siphon my python I made the mistake of walking into his toilet, but upon seeing what I had walked into I could not bring myself to piss in it. There was shit everywhere, and I mean everywhere! It was on the floor, the bowl, the walls and the ceiling. There was also evidence that he had engaged in some recreational finger-painting. I believe inmates of gaols refer to the practice as "bronzing." I removed myself from his toilet as quickly as I could.
    Because of the general state of his house and the smell we breathed as shallowly as we could while we took custody of his pets, and we did not linger unnecessarily. We then dropped his dog and ducks off to a safe place, and good homes were eventually found for them.
   People condemn the "Department of Immigration" for allowing people like the Flower Man into the country, but they brought in far worse than him, and once people are here they have as much right to stay as anyone else if they don't commit criminal acts. 
   Of course he partook in some of the environmental destruction we all partake in just by living, yet he would have been far less destructive than most of us because he never drove a car. Nor did he marry or produce dysfunctional kids. He also worked and paid taxes for many years and he never went to gaol or a mental institution. 
  In today's dog-eat-dog world where the market is worshipped and most unskilled private work has been sent overseas and most unskilled government work has been contracted-out, the Flower Man would be deemed unemployable and probably put on an invalid pension. This would worsen his mental health and cost the taxpayer a fortune. Having the government employ otherwise unemployable people was a form of welfare, but it probably saved money in the long run and it was also welfare for the private sector, as it allowed the disadvantaged to consume more than they otherwise would, as they were employed and had job security.Many of their counterparts today find themselves drug addicts, drug dealers and/or inmates of gaols. Our bean-counters have no idea about the concept of holistic reasoning.
   When I compare the Flower Man to some of the garbage that sailed through our migration screening procedures after WW2, such as the ex-Nazis who were often in charge of me on the building sites I laboured on in the Berra during my youth, and those immigrants who have established ethnic crime gangs, the Flower Man looks pretty good. 
    While I’m at it, if I am to compare him to the appalling examples of humanity that hold office in our House of Representatives and Senate (I am referring to politicians from all the major and minor parties; not just those who currently hold power) he was an absolute saint.
    Other than what I have said about the Flower Man, his flowers and singing brightened the streets of the Berra and I know he made my brain produce feel-good chemistry whenever I heard him in full voice. I miss the man.
   The above photo shows me with my workmate, Faye. It was taken at the RSPCA in Weston in 1985 or thereabouts while I worked as the ACT RSPCA inspector. It was around the time John and I picked up the Flower Man's dog and ducks.
  If any readers know more about the Flower Man than me or have any photos of him please contact me by clicking on the contact button above and I will make the appropriate additions or subtractions. I don't even know the man's real name.

UPDATE-8/8/18
  Thanks to Richard Holgate for posting the above photo of the Flower Man on Facebook within the “Old Canberra’s Northside Group". Thanks also to Richard’s mum who saved it from the Chronicle article dated 10/4/1985. We now know his name was Fedor (Freddie) Charchenko and that he was Ukrainian. Richard also posted the Canberra Times article above the photo of Freddie the Flower Man which tells us he died on the 3/4/88 aged 78 and confirms that he arrived after the war and worked in the Parks and Gardens. He may also have been a Cossack. Thanks again Richard. Some older people within the Ukrainian community may know more about him.
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