The 12-Step Program
18 October 2007
Tatyana Leonov spends a day on the Town Hall steps
For over 100 years the steps of Sydney Town Hall have been a central gathering place. The logical spot to meet someone for coffee or lunch, the steps are also a great place to sit and watch the world go by, or take part in community events such as the APEC protest or the ‘silent flashrave’ held to bring on the recent long weekend. Curious, I decided to dig in and find ut what happens on Town Hall steps over the course of one working day
9am: All is strangely quiet. Two ropes restrict access to all but the bottom four steps and a sign demands KEEP STEPS CLEAR FOR PUBLIC ACCESS. Jeff, a security guard of 12 years who has worked at the town hall steps the last eight explains. “An elderly lady tripped over someone sitting on the stairs. We block them now so it won’t happen again.” Jeff stands there all day making sure people sit only on those four stairs and that everybody behaves.
He has seen a lot in his years. “Once a car missed the corner and drove straight up the stairs,” Jeff exclaims, shaking his head. “No one got hurt and I don’t know how!” He walks down the steps to ask someone to move.
10am: People are moving everywhere. They wait, waive and walk off. A man with waist-length long hair and chunky high-heel boots strides past. When the traffic stops people cross the road from all four sides. The man disappears into a whirlwind of colors and noise. People vanish into Woolworths or step into the Queen Victoria Building.
John and Margaret managed to squeeze in some quick shopping in the Pitt Street Mall this morning and are now waiting at the steps. “We have come from the Central Coast to meet some friends and relatives,” Heather says while John looks around. He notices a man nearby reading an article on the upcoming election. “I’m glad John Howard might get beaten,” he chuckles smiling at his wife.
11am: The four steps allocated to sitting begin to fill up. Lachlan, 19, is waiting for a friend. “I was going to meet him in the city to go buy a guitar but his mobile is switched off so now I’m sitting here reading a book” he says. He flips to the next page and continues to read checking his phone every now and then.
A phone goes off nearby but does not wake the homeless woman asleep on the corner of the stairs. Crouched into a small ball and leaning on a pillar, she’s undisturbed by the constant noise and bustle.
A man rambles past and almost trips over her small frame. He continues on, grunting and mumbling random words. As he approaches people they stare blankly back at him or shake their heads. It’s hard to work out if he is asking for money or sanity. It does not look like he’ll win either jackpot today.
Ronaldo shakes his head dismissively when approached by the man. He seems more anxious than the others waiting here in the sun. Though at first reluctant to talk, he eventually does. “I am 57 and waiting for my grandson,” he allows. His phone rings and he says hello a few times into the receiver before giving up.
1pm: The clock strikes. There are about 20 people waiting on the steps now. Phones are going off as people chatter and meet their friends. The corporate crowd rushes past with iPods, phones and BlackBerries all going off at once. The multi-taskers dodge Ipi, who is here for a working holiday, collecting money for an AIDS charity. A cheerful girl with a big smile, she delivers her spiel walking
backwards with people as they strive forwards. “This is my third day,” she says. “The people were nicer on Saturday – they are more grumpy today because it is Monday.” Sighting a worker fiddling with his wallet, she quickly runs off.
Tourists attempt to read maps flapping in the wind. They stare up at the Town Hall and across the road at the Queen Victoria Building. Some take out their cameras and snap away at everything and anything. A guy with very defined muscles skips past carrying a pink Bloch bag. His iPod is turned up to full volume and Britney can be heard blaring from his earphones – or it could be Christina.
A woman who has been sitting on the steps for over an hour gives up and leaves with a look of frustration on her face. Ronaldo’s grandson arrives with his mother and Ronaldo turns into the happiest man on earth. His face lights up as the boy runs up the stairs and gives him a big hug.
3pm: The elderly couples that were here in the morning are a distant memory now. The kids take ownership of the stairs, dancing, laughing, smoking amd eating.
Jeff, the security guard, points out a small boy attempting a dance move. “He’s one of them,” he says referring to the gangs that hang out here day and night. “The youngest would be about right or nine, the oldest round 24.” The boy stops dancing and lights up a cigarette. He only looks about eight years old but smokes like he’s been doing so for years.
The elderly mumbler approaches another group of kids. “He comes here every day,” says Chloe, 16. The man and Chloe’s friends playfully egg each other on and there is a sense of familiarity in the air. “I don’t think any of these guys go to school,” Chloe says, looking around at her friends. “I do, Year 11. I took the day off though.” She pauses looking back at her friends and the manic man annoying each other. “This is what they basically do all day but Saturday is usually best.” Chloe smiles. “Everyone comes.”
Chloe’s friend jumps in enthusiastically. “Saturday is definitely the best time to come. Sunday you come and everyone, is like, dead.”