BIN RAIDERS

Chapter 21.    More Legal Battles

Three television stations had come by the flat that morning, with one of them offering to pay for exclusive coverage. Dave refused to do an interview with any of them.

When reporters could not get an interview with Dave, they would start asking for Roger. Juan had wisely taken Roger with him to distribute tracts in Parramatta for the day, so that he was unavailable for comment throughout the day.

Roger's first reaction when hearing of the media interest at dinner that night was to jump at a chance to get his side across. Dave cautioned him:

"What they did in the papers this morning is just the start of what they could do to you on TV. The papers can misquote you or leave out what you've said; but TV can make it look like you actually said things you never even thought... and everyone will believe that they saw and heard you with their own eyes and ears."

Dave told of an incident that had happened years earlier:

"Cherry was filmed at a peace march talking about war. She said, 'It'll never solve anything.' But when it appeared on TV, they put her statement right after a statement by another demonstrator supporting the demonstration itself. Obviously the station wanted some quotes against the protest, and when they couldn't get one fairly, they just cut and spliced until they had Cherry saying what they wanted her to say... that the demonstration would never solve anything."

"Did you take legal action against them?" asked Roger.

"Legal action in itself doesn't solve anything," said Dave. "We need to change peoples' hearts if we're going to have any lasting effect. Stooping to the level of those we're fighting only changes our hearts. It can make us just as bitter and tormented as they are."

Just then the phone rang. It was the landlord.

He said that he had received a complaint from the Health Department: There were too many people staying in the flat. Of course, this was true of most of the flats in Redfern. But, because the landlord did not want to be challenged with regard to his other properties, he told Dave that he would have to give in to the pressure from the Health Department. The group would have until Monday to shift out. If it was any consolation, he said he would give a very good reference for them to show to their next landlord.

"Four days' notice!" Dave said at an emergency house meeting, convened moments after he got off the phone.

"Don't you have a lease?" asked Roger.

"No," said Dave. "Not many people do, in this neighbourhood. The landlords like to be free to boot people out if they fall behind on the rent. It's hard to get a place for seven people at the best of times, and when none of us has a fixed income, well, we have to take whatever we can get. It's never been a problem in the past, because we always pay on time, and because we look after the place well."

Dave heaved a deep sigh. "Well, boys and girls, we've got four days to get out, and the media may be coming and going in the middle of it all. Sound exciting?"

"We'll never get a place that quickly," said Anna, who handled the group's finances. "Besides, it'll take all weekend just to move out. What about using the tents for a while?"

Greg warmed to that. "Roger, Juan, and Sean can sleep in the van," he said. "Dave and Cherry can use one tent; and Anna and I can use the other. How's that sound? We can camp by the canal in Leichhardt."

Everyone agreed, and jobs were quickly assigned. Cherry and Anna volunteered to pack, and to clean the house; Juan would place an ad in Saturday's Herald, then make garage sale posters and stick them up all over Redfern; and Roger, Greg, and Dave would start putting price tags on everything in sight.

*    *    *

"What'll we do with these?" asked Greg on Friday morning, when he came to the box of 144 pieces of chalk that Anna had purchased on Monday.

"Put them in the van. We'll use them eventually," said Dave.

The van was already crowded with clothing, bedding, the computer and mobile phone, important papers, and boxes of tracts. Some things were stored in Roger's car, but Dave did not like making themselves dependent on a disciple who hadn't yet finished his trial week, and whose car was not yet paid for. Virtually everything else was put up for sale. Most of their meager belongings had been found or donated anyway, so any money they received from the sale was straight profit.

One TV station came by on Friday afternoon, still hoping to do a report on them. There was little that anyone could do to stop the cameras from filming in the yard, but everyone had agreed not to speak to the reporters. Roger reluctantly co-operated with the decision. The cameras returned to do more unauthorised filiming on Saturday, during the garage sale. The bin raiders did not, however, let it stop their plans.

By noon on Saturay the group had sold $280 worth of belongings.

"It's great to be free of it," said Anna. "I prefer living on the road. And the money will go farther on petrol than it would on rent." Anna was a hippy living inside an accountant's body. Sales slowed to a trickle in the afternoon, and a lot of stuff went for free. A bit more sold on Sunday, bringing the total to $430. It was nothing by system standards, but it was quite a stash for the bin raiders.

Sean was excited about living in the van, and Roger Seeker was actually looking forward to living on the streets. Barbara herself would have been surprised at how quickly her prediction had come true. But it wasn't at all the way she had imagined. Adversity had drawn each member of the team closer together, in a way that nothing else could have done. The whole thing was turning into an adventure for Roger.… one that was graciously taking his mind off more negative thoughts. On Sunday night they all slept together on the empty lounge room floor, after a rather boisterous late night singalong. One guitar had remained from the sale, although Anna suspected that Greg's price tag may have had something to do with it not selling!

On Monday morning, Anna turned in the flat key and collected the bond. Cherry had the electricity cut off, notified the Water Board, and arranged with Nanna Cuthbert to have the mail re-directed to her address. The men distributed tracts for most of the day. Monday was usually a slow day for getting tracts out, but they all had an extra incentive - the more tracts they could get out, the more room they would have to sleep in the van that night!

Sean was caught up in the excitement of roughing it, and being one of the men. He got out 35 tracts, and would have done 40 if Juan had not stopped him for his afternoon nap. That evening they all met up at Blackmore Park in Leichhardt. The location was ideal. Trees along the canal gave some cover for the two tents, providing they packed them away before joggers started arriving in the morning. There were not only toilets in the park, but hot showers as well. The track beside the canal was perfect for an out and back run in the mornings. There was even a playground where Sean could amuse himself while the others discussed business. It was a van-dweller's paradise.

A ranger lived nearby, and police patrolled the area during the night; but the bin raiders had used the park on a number of occasions in the past without any problems from the authorities. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the others took Roger's car to Parramatta to distribute, while Dave and Cherry used the van to hunt for another place to live. The pair also had to contact people who normally attended their Wednesday night meetings, to let them know that there would not be further meetings until they had a new home. They did not bother to contact Joshua King, of course, who had never given them a residential address anyway.

On Wednesday afternoon, Dave and Cherry stopped by Nanna's to get the mail. When she saw who it was, she quickly asked them to come inside.

"We're pretty rushed," said Cherry. "We have so much to do before we can move into another flat."

"It's important," said Nanna, and Cherry softened when she saw the worried look on her face. "Okay, but just for a few minutes."

"I had visitors this morning," Nanna announced when they were seated around the kitchen table. "People from the Department of Community Services. They were looking for Sean, and asking questions."

"What sort of questions?" asked Dave.

"Questions about where he's living now, and about what your group believes. They're trying to say he's being neglected, or that he's being abused or something. Don't worry. I didn't tell them anything."

"We should notify them that we'll be in another flat by the weekend," said Cherry. "It's not like we plan to stay camping out."

"I don't think that's what's bothering them," said Nanna. "They got my address from the post office. They thought you were living here, because of the mail thing. But they had some kind of a paper that they wanted to give to Juan. And…" She paused before going on. "There was a policeman with them."

"Hmmm. Must've been coming to take him," said Dave. "It's almost certain. We'd better warn Juan, and get Sean off the street."

"But wouldn't they investigate first? Find out if he's being looked after properly?" asked Cherry.

Dave answered, "Sure, that's the normal procedure. But when the "c" word has been said, a lot of other rights just go out the window."

"I never told 'em where you were," said Nanna. "I just said your plans were uncertain at the moment. You could pretend you never knew they was looking for you."

"Maybe so," said Dave. "But they know we're picking up the mail here."

It was fortunate that the group had chosen that week to shift their distributing spot out to Parramatta. They would have been easy pickings for DOCS in the city, where they were known to distribute regularly. Dave and Cherry drove straight to Parramatta to warn the others, and to discuss the situation.

*    *    *

They sat in a circle in a park near the Parramatta court house. Anna had taken Sean away to feed some ducks, so that the others could talk freely.

Roger, who had been slowly adjusting to the injustice of their situation, was thrown into another bout of complaints and agitation. Dave had to rescue him from further thoughts of hitting back. "We'll never beat them through force," he warned. "Our only hope is to overcome hate with love. If they're going to take Sean anyway, the most important concern at the moment should be ways to make it more bearable for Sean. It won't make things any easier if he sees us hating (or fearing) the people with whom he may have to live for some time."

"What about shooting through?" asked Greg. It was a valid question. They had often moved away from a locality when things became too tense. But Juan was the one who had to make the final decision.

He had been thinking about the dream he had experienced only a couple of weeks earlier. So much had happened in such a short time. In the dream, he had left Sean in order to protect another child. He could see now that Roger was that other child. Roger needed to see that love really was the only Christian response to a cruel world. Letting go of Sean could well be the price Juan would have to pay to demonstrate that to Roger.

"Sooner or later they're going to catch us," said Juan. "And when they do, we won't get any favours for having run. Sean will sense our fear too, and it'll be ten times harder for him to go with them if he's scared of them."

"What if we just lie low for a day or two at Leichhardt, before we hand him over," said Cherry. "We could help prepare him for it during that time." There was no objection to Cherry's proposal.

Dave added, "In the meantime, Cherry and I can check around to find more information. We don't know for certain that they want him, or for how long, or on what grounds. We don't know what visiting rights we would have, or anything."

"Can we have time off from distributing so we can spend the day with Sean tomorrow?" asked Juan. "Of course," said Dave. "We can go back to Leichhardt now, and spend the rest of the day in fellowship."

Then Dave added, "In the midst of all the confusion, we forgot that Roger's trial week ended last night. We may need to discuss where Roger is going to go from here."

"I didn't forget," said Roger with a smile. "As far as I'm concerned, I knew what I wanted the day I moved in, and I still feel the same. This is what I want to do with my life… if you'll have me."

Dave asked the others to share their thoughts about how Roger's first week went. There were compliments about his enthusiasm and sincerity; but there were also concerns about his anger. "No offence, mate," said Greg. "I was a lot more angry than you when I first come in. I felt like bustin' up the churches that put me down for so many years. But I reckon you're different. You got it really together in other ways, and it's too bad you let them get under your skin like you do."

Being criticised so bluntly in front of everyone else embarrassed Roger deeply. It didn't seem fair either, since he hadn't really lost his temper at anyone; and he said so.

"It's not like you lose control," said Juan. "I think what Greg's talking about is something different, something that's hurting you more than anyone else. Bitterness destroys the person who harbours it more than it hurts the people you're bitter with."

Dave could see that Roger was staggering under so much public criticism. People who generally do a good job of disciplining themselves are usually the first to crack under direct criticism... because they are so un-used to receiving it.

"I don't think anyone is talking about kicking you out," he said, in an effort to reassure Roger. "They're just saying that this is something you need to work on. Even when a teacher gives you a high distinction on an exam, she's entitled to let you know if you got any answers wrong, isn't she? On the whole, I think we've given you a high distinction. Am I right on that?" Cherry, Greg, and Juan all indicated their agreement.

"It's just the the way we are," said Greg with a smile. "We're pretty up front about criticising each other."

Roger managed a smile, and he responded to the hugs and welcomes that the others gave him; but he still felt that the initiation ceremony would have been more pleasant without so much criticism.


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