George W Bush is in town. It’s kind of unsettling, sort of like the way I felt when Darth Vader told Luke he was his father and when Carrie Bradshaw ended up with Big instead of Aidan. You know it’s true but you don’t really want to believe it.
Sydney is in the grip of visiting-dignitary fever and we have a 5km stretch of steel and concrete fence to prove it. Locals have dubbed it The Great Wall Of Sydney. It serves its purpose well – keeping us out and them(the esteemed leaders of the APEC nations,)in.
More than 5,000 police and troops are patrolling the streets. Helicopters hover overhead. Sirens hang from lamp posts, ready to sound in case of an attack.
“Good citizens of Sydney,” our Prime Minister says on the radio. “Thank you for your forbearance. This is an extraordinary time for us all. It is important to remain patient and calm. In the event of an attack, sirens will sound – please head for the designated holding area.”
Sirens! Holding area!! AN ATTACK@@##!! From what? From whom ? Why do I feel like blacking out my windows and stocking up on bottled water and toilet paper?
My friend, Brando, works in our art department. He is an outstanding photographer. He had the brilliant idea this morning to go and photograph the 3m high fences surrounding the city. We stood in George Street next to some Japanese tourists who were snapping away happily. Before we could even get out our cameras we were surrounded by police who demanded the Japanese tourists delete all the photos they had just taken. Seems it was a directive from the powers that be in case we were terrorists or violent protestors looking for a weak spot in the barricade. The Japanese tourists looked bemused as they adjusted their Hello Kitty backpacks. Brando muttered ‘Fascists’ under his breath. I was seized by an almost irresistible urge to shout “You can’t tell us what to do, pigs!” in an East London accent which I have perfected after years of watching The Bill and Eastenders, but I thought better of it.
The policemen asked to see our cameras but as we hadn’t used them yet, quickly told us to move on. ‘We just wanted to have a look,’ I said. ‘There’s nothing wrong with that is there?’ ‘Depends what you’re looking at or for, Ma’am,’ said the copper with a wry smile.
It’s not just amateur photographers who are being affected by Fortress Sydney. Shop keepers in the CBD have already reported a downturn in business. One cafeowner sent three of his waitresses home after an hour; a hairdresser near Town Hall has had 10 clients cancel their appointments in two days, citing scheduling problems caused by APEC. It’s ironic that this summit on economic cooperation is doing very little to stimulate the economy in the central business district.
“Grow up. Count yourselves lucky,” says former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, to the APEC naysayers. “The world leaders honour us with their presence.” Yes they do. They are here to discuss important matters for which we all hope there are positive outcomes, but most of us are law-abiding, well-mannered, peace-keeping citizens. We don’t want any aggro, mate! And we could have done without the fortified post in the middle of the city.