The Artist meets NCAT and the vile and dishonest Family and Community Services

It seems to be the exaggeration of the injured party to use the terms “vile and dishonest” in the title here but read on. Decide for yourself. Remember that the writer is seriously ill, handicapped and even a dying man. Doctors think I am dying anyway. We had all those chilling conversations about wills and things. I said goodbye to my mother.

The carer and I made good time through the traffic to Gosford City. She kept saying she was lost and didn’t know where to go and for a lot of the trip I was just as lost. Recognizable things would bounce the memory enough for me to feel safe about our direction. We parked in one of the big parking bays and walked the two hundred meters to the Gateway. I nearly didn’t make that distance. My body was swept by angina attacks and asthma and the pain in my frame made me think my heart would stop altogether. The carer berated me for asking her to stop so far away when she could have dropped me at the door but the only thing I could remember was that parking lot and the exit towards the Gateway Center. I was frightened and as my health collapsed I clung to things that had some recognizable place in my past When we had been fighting the false claims by the Budgewoi estate agents we trudged along here day after day and it was just as painful.

Bateau Bay local, Liz Baleen, and some students enjoy the massive chess set that was available to anyone who wanted a game inside the Gateway Center 1996 Liz stepped in because, despite a valiant effort, the student was being thrashed

I think I was around when The Gateway Center was built. I have newspaper clippings describing how it would enliven the languishing city center by forming a tunnel of cafes and small stores between the station and the heart of the city. There was a Fringe Festival in Gosford in 1996 that was largely set around the huge space in the Gateway Center. I have images of the event and of large paintings and charcoal works I exhibited with other passionate artists. The festival was a more desperate attempt to pull some life back into the city which still had enough to look as though it could be saved. The space in the middle of the Gateway became home to huge murals by students and local artists. It was a beautiful thing of light and color and hope.

The building now is gray. Its wide hallways contain the entries to businesses and government departments. The carer refused to trust my fading memory and we were escorted by some of the tenants from the offices all the way to the gloomy hallway that houses the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. It is very quiet and during the hours of working is almost empty apart from people like us who face the inquisition of NCAT.

In between 1996 and 2017 the building housed the Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal which died in 2014 after some disastrous cases where decisions favoring the estate agents and property managers were perceived to show corruption (or so it said on the radio news that year) I would think my case was one of the ones in that category. The door into NCAT enters the same fear-scented room as it did back in 2012. The paint could be the same paint and the sheriff who checks us for bombs and weapons could be the same sheriff. It is a dismal and uncomfortable space for me. The toilet is off in the distant reaches of the building and you have to risk missing a call as well as asking the sheriff to use the one key. He keeps a tight grip on that as though it somehow ranks him among the more worthy people in the building and everyone seems affronted by the person leaving the room after being cleared. Mind you, the sheriff is both affable and professional. I do not wish to denigrate the people who keep things flowing.

There are no lounges. There is no sink. There is no drink, snack or coffee machine. It is a place where the people are made to feel as though they are shiftless mendicants or beggars in the hands of more worthy and aristocratic employees of the state. It is disgraceful that people in fear for their futures are not better treated but it is the way with Wyong Court and Legal Aid as well. The downward pressure on your self esteem and personal image is relentless and calculated. The suicide rate begins at the door and mounts quickly once you enter into administrative clutches.

Fringe Festival 1996. One of a number of silhouettes that floated in front of the array of murals in The Gateway Center during that event

We entered. We were searched. We passed through a metal detector which shrilled at me the whole time I was in contact with it. It was the USB drives hanging around my neck. During his time in legal dispute with the Air Force my brother learned to keep copies of important files spread in as many places as possible. For me that included keeping any videos of the events I was being charged with on my body. In this case on strings around my neck. If the video of what really happened that day had been left alone at home I may have come back to find it had mysteriously been deleted or become hash on the drive. It did happen to us!

So it was done. We were in. The time was about ten past two in the afternoon with the hearing going ahead at 2:45pm and we were seated in the waiting area. My head sounded like a tide surge from inside but outside everything looked calm. The carer kept throwing sideways glances at me. She knew I was getting smashed by angina and generating calm to try and control it.

Hands off our grass hombre!

My radar went off! It was like some ethereal hand had gently taken my chin and turned my face towards the entry. I had seen another of the people in the room suddenly direct their gaze at the figure in the metal detector. That figure was very short and slender. It was a man in gray business slacks and a short-sleeved business shirt. In one hand he carried a brief case but it was the other hand and what it carried that told the thrust of his story. He held a hat. It might have been a very small Homburg. It was the kind of hat people know as artistic affectation and by having it he indicated that he felt he was outside the realm of normal government employees. He was special! Family and Community Services had sent theirĀ  legal ninja, their gunslinger. This was the guy with the bag of dirty tricks they used to quell peasant uprisings and demolish bloggers. My poor old brain was chugging away on huge amounts of medication and now I had to pull it together to deal with this shark. He wasn’t playing. I guess that makes me a sick and bumbling “Shane” (movie reference!)

He sat for a moment with his back to me before straightening his shoulders and standing up. He didn’t introduce himself. He didn’t shake hands. Maybe he is a mystic as well and could feel that I had recognized him although my first experience of his name in the documents I mistook him for the contractor.

“We both seem to be here early. Follow me up the hall and have a talk!”

He said it almost without looking at me. I didn’t want to talk to him up the hall. I know this game. The estate agents played it again and again. He might as well have said. Lets just go somewhere while I see what it takes to trick you into doing or saying something stupid. There is supposed to be a referee in these meetings. He walked right to the end of the corridor to the room I have always jokingly called the place where nobody can hear you getting screwed over. There always seems to be several empty rooms beside it. He checked those rooms to make sure they were empty. He didn’t want witnesses. That made the old radar go almost hoarse in its desperation to warn me off. He invited me in.

“We will talk in private, no witnesses and no recordings. You can say whatever you want!”

I was so ill by now that there were lights playing across the back of my eyes and my words came out in a soft growl. That was good though. Soft growl is good. Ask any television hero.

Fringe Festival, The Gateway at Gosford. 1996 One of my charcoal works and an acrylic with some others about to be wheeled out after being in protective custody overnight

He started by telling me I was in trouble and the administration wanted me out right at that moment. Let me bore you a little more. Some months back the Family and Community Services were sent documents explaining that I suffer from Complex PTSD. That is not normal PTSD. It takes different form including me feeling as though I am being attacked and not always being able to control my moods and language. Here is where the term “vile” is most appropriate. They took that information of a terrible illness and briefed this guy on how he could use it to create a situation where the police would come and destroy any chance I might have of defending the case even I am innocent (which I am). He was goading me and the result if I fell for it would be to die on the streets over the weekend. “Vile” doesn’t seem a strong enough word

I asked him if was aware that acting against a person in a way that caused their death was murder even if the act was proscribed by law. I asked if him if he felt a death sentence was appropriate. I asked him how many people he had driven to their deaths and how many of those were vulnerable enough for him to be considered a serial killer. He didn’t seem too happy and he scribbled on his pad as fast as he could go. I think that was how this man kept his temper from exploding. He didn’t like being questioned by a peasant, a serf, a worthless houso! It wasn’t just the fact that he was being questioned but he knew if society starts to ignore the media tropes and looks hard at what he is doing this was what they will see. A man who reveled in driving helpless people into deadly situations

When he had enough he hit me with the big gun.

“You have no right to grass! The grass is common property and we control it!”

I explained to him that right across all those corporate apartment complexes there were people who happily mowed the tiny bit of grass in front of their apartments and houses. I explained that they were not reviled and attacked for it. I leant forward, spread my hands on the table, and asked why the corporation saw fit to discriminate against me. It was probably the last reply he would have expected and instead of enraging me and giving him the weapon he needed to stop my defense he had been handed a question that made him the guilty party. It was the first real emotion that wasn’t manufacture since he had arrived and it may have been as close to fury as he could muster. He closed his book. He had struggled to get the effect he wanted and now he dropped the pretense.

“I am telling the police you threatened me. He said. They will arrest you, take you from here and charge you; and with this against you as well (he was holding up the letter about that day’s events) you will be out tonight if it kills you or not!”

Oh yes. That was what he said.

Having delivered his bomb he stood and started to slink out of the room. I coughed and he stopped. Maybe he was psychic. He seemed to know it wasn’t over. I waved a USB device at him. It had a flashing red light on the side. His eyes widened.

“It records. Everything you say!”

He dropped back into the chair as though his limbs had failed. There was a moment of babbling as though his tongue was telling him to shut up but his head was too panicked to stop. The gunslinger was babbling. Bet that doesn’t happen a lot! I didn’t feel happy because it wasn’t even time for the first hearing and they had unrolled some really dirty behavior. It was in keeping with the dishonesty expressed by the company and the contractor to bring me here anyway. His voice went high and very loud for a moment and he shrieked into the USB that it was illegal to record him without warning and he objected and it was illegal to record in a courtroom. But it wasn’t a court room was it? It was an informal chat. I explained as gently as I could that I had memory problems and it was appropriate for me to keep digital notes for me to refer to later. Nobody could hear them unless a court order wrenched them from my hands. He leapt out of the room. I knew where he was going and what would happen next. I had bubbles of light behind my eyes and the whooshing sound almost obscured everything else. My head felt like it was falling or climbing quickly. My legs felt like rubber but I rocked and limped out of the room. and then out of NCAT. Desperate, I handed the USB to an office girl I found outside in the hall then turned and limped back to my seat beside the worker. I asked her if she wanted to go and sit in her car. When she asked why I explained that people would be after the USB and when they didn’t get it things might get all bloody. She was delighted. Sigh.

The little demon in my chest was stabbing happily way with substantial bursts of pain. Stab stab. I gave in and chuffed some nitro which made the whooshing almost overwhelming and felt as though someone had tipped me backwards off the seat. I sat still. As still as I could manage. A big sheriff came in through the door and the sheriffs and others huddled in the tribunal room. I turned to the carer and said these guys were here for the recorder. She chided me but I had to sit still or I was gonna die right there.

The sheriffs came out and asked me to come with them. Back to that room. The same room. They surrounded me and leant in close but they were real nice about it. At least I think they were. The blood in my ears made the words of the first one to talk go blah, blah, blah blah. I smiled back and they seemed to think that was the right thing to do. I am a bit relieved by their seeming good humor. If they had roughed me up this letter would have been ghost writings.

“Are you recording right now?” asked the gigantic sheriff.

No. I wasn’t.

“Are you carrying a recording device?”

No, I wasn’t doing that.

They seemed very happy and the next sentence went back to being blah, blah, blah. This time I shrugged and they threw back their heads and laughed. They escorted me back into the waiting area where I had to fight to resist the urge to lay on the floor and get someone to call an ambulance. Then we were called for the hearing. I wanted to speak to the Tenant’s Advice and Advocacy Service who are supposed to be available for me so I know what to do but that person had passed through the waiting area and then hid so I went into the chamber unable to understand what was happening or being said. I swayed and fought to remain upright in front of the microphone. The pain had unleashed itself and the nitro was not holding the angina at bay. The gunslinger stood to my left and he didn’t look at me although hate was evident in every curve of his body. When the person in the front of the room asked us something he answered her and I am pretty sure he said we had agreed on something. I didn’t agree but I kept silent because the sheriffs would chuck me out if I annoyed anyone. I don’t know what happened after that. The lady up the front spoke to me and gave me some paper. There was a second lady. I called them both Ma’am and hoped that had not become some misogynist insult. I had to stay as still as possible or I was going to die. No stress.

We got out. Some girl slid an item into my hand as we walked back along the hall. A lovely girl. The carer was really angry with me because I wouldn’t let her bring up the car and she could see I was ill. I didn’t want to get in the car so soon. I had just been through something really horrible and I just wanted to feel the breeze and hear the traffic noise. Add to that the moment I got in the car she couldn’t chatter with me any more and it was to be the shortest path back to this horrible squalid apartment. I had been someplace horrible and was going someplace horrible. I just wanted a few minutes. She had another job and she was late though. That was Wednesday the 15th.

Later, if I was having waking dreams about being buttonholed by a government agency and my audio and video files taken away I might just mail the original device and some backups to friends O/S. Then I might erase everything of that nature on my local media.