Lismore. Saturday, 5.55pm
Apart from having to drink it from a plastic cup, the wine – a shiraz; Victorian, I think – is not too bad. But I don’t like the throwaway plastic.
I have a reusable coffee cup (or two or three) in my car (they seem to breed there like cloth shopping bags) but I think the rather prim woman fussing behind the outdoor bar may have recoiled in horror if I’d asked her to pour the wine into a (hastily rinsed) coffee mug.
I sip slowly. Normally, I would resent the little plastic cup, and curse the way the world is heading.
But not today.
A tall African man (Sudanese, I reckon) with tomato sauce stains on his t-shirt carries a young boy who holds a sausage sandwich and points excitedly.
‘Jumping castle! Jumping castle!’ the boy shouts, sandwich bleeding.
He and Dad wend their way through the crowd, past the fire truck – ‘Fire truck! Fire truck!’ – to the jumping castle.
I’m seated with friends at a plastic table (at least it’ll be used more than once) outside the art gallery in the Quadrangle, Lismore’s new public space. People have gathered for a public celebration held on public grounds. That doesn’t happen often.
Today, Lismore City Council is using this public space to celebrate last year’s devastating flood – hmm, that’s not right – to celebrate Lismore’s resilience after last year’s devastating flood. Better.
Generally, Lismore on a Saturday afternoon is quiet. If you’re looking for serene silence to soothe the frayed nerves of modern living, there’s no need to head to a healing centre in the Border Ranges or an ashram in Nepal; come to Lismore CBD on a Saturday afternoon. It’s quiet. Very quiet. You can hear the wind whistle and crickets chirp.
But not today.
A woman walks up to me parting a tide of kids. She’s an artist I haven’t seen in ages. I’m in awe of her skill with paint and canvas. I jump up and we hug. We chat, we hug again, and she leaves.
Lismore is full of creative people. (There’s a locally produced theatrical event, The Overtopping, being staged in a few minutes.) But, as a town, we don’t often gather in our public spaces. Lismore council, to its credit, balances this trend with the Lantern Parade and Eat the Street, but these are annual events; Saturdays come every week.
More and more we congregate, bank cards waving, in privately owned places where we pay for our happiness. More and more our social connections are virtual and selective. They don’t embrace the whole community, with its range of opinion and lifestyle. Yes, despite turbo-charged Subarus and iPhone Xs transcending space and time, we are becoming isolated from each other.
But not today.
From the stage a woman encourages everyone to dance. People from the crowd drift to the front of the stage and mimic her choreography. A fat bloke in a tiara and white dress dances gracefully and is nimble for his size. A little girl stands in front of him, watching him intently, and then joins him in dancing. It’s a diverse community.
Isolation works well for a governing ideology which sees the public as an obstacle to its agenda rather than as its boss. Public assembly, though a democratic right, is seen as threat by our law makers.
Looking around, I can see why. When we gather together, we are happy. For free. On this, its own turf, the public is celebrating community and standing up to the plutocracy with its divisive fear-mongering, inhumane laws and ruinous capitalism.
Being here is an act of rebellion. It’s a revolution with face-paint.
I raise my glass to hope. Through the plastic I see humanity.