Right now I’m angry, upset and pissed off.
This morning my train pulled into Redfern station as normal. There was the usual struggle to get off the train, dodging the selfish people who just stand there and won’t move.
I get out of the train, and follow the noise to somewhere near the bottom of the stairs, which I manage to miss. When my cane hits the side of the lower stairs, I realise my mistake and double back.
I trudge up the stairs with hundreds of other people, walking at the slowest pace possible. I reach the top of the stairs, and turn to my right at the tactile ground surface indicators (TGSIs) at the top of the stairs.
I follow the barrier on the right side of the concourse by sweeping my cane back and forth in front of myself as I walk. I use the straight edge of the concourse wall to keep walking straight, which is something I’m not able to do without tactile reference. In my left hand I hold my Mini Guide, which I swing in the opposite direction to the cane. As I put my left foot forward, the cane taps the barrier on my right and the mini-guide is pointing around 45 degrees to my left.
I reach the top of the stairs of Platforms 2 and 3, indicated by more TGSIs, and slow, listening for people coming up the stairs checking for people and obstacles with the mini guide. The path appears clear and I take an angle across the top of the stairs looking for the concourse barrier again. I think I find it first with the mini-guide, which vibrates in my hand, and I confirm with the sound of metal on metal as my cane makes contact. I adjust my angle and walk on.
For reasons that completely fail to make any sense to me, people often stand along the edge of this section of the concourse. I have no idea why. Usually it’s a game of dodging some people while others move, but it’s generally hard to tell which is which. At this point, traffic has picked up; trains come and go, people run without looking. The mini-guide starts vibrating continually, which renders it useless, and the sheer number of people making noise on the tiles makes the state of play more confusing.
The stairs to platforms 4 and 5 are set back from the concourse, and while listening for people coming up the stairs, the background noise makes it impossible to work out if the path is clear, if people are standing in the way, or if there’s actually traffic there. I slow down and pass the entrance to the platform as the cane finds only empty space. I take two steps forward before I’m hit first on my left side by someone trying to enter the stairs. I bounce off the person, spin slightly and try to move forward as I’m hit from the right.
People just keep walking, and I try to get out of the way. I’ve lost contact with the side of the concourse while someone kicks the tip of the cane, making it bounce off the ground. I can’t see anything beyond a lot of movement in the dark. I swerve right and the cane contacts the ground and the barrier as I move forward into another body. At this point, it’s just one of those “get out of there” moments, so I push forward, and follow the turn in the concourse.
At this point the concourse changes to a concrete gutter, and I’m hitting it with some force, making a lot of noise, hoping people might actually pay some attention. The cane feels odd, and I suspect its bent. The path clears a bit, the mini-guide stops it incessant vibration, and lots of people are walking the same direction I am, though I feel a few people brush past going the other way.
We come to the entrance to platforms 6 and 7 which are, if anything set further back than the stairs to platforms 4 and 5. At this point I’m just trying to get out alive. There’s lots of noise and motion, the path seems clear. I take three full steps across the landing entrance before not, one, not two, but a bunch of three or four people hit me from the right. I stumble and half trip while the people move around and keep going. I take another step and something feels wrong.
The cane isn’t running over the ground properly. I stop as I realise that the thing is now in two pieces held together by the elastic inside. I throw the useless thing on the ground. Retrospectively I think the tip actually broke off at this point, but given the whole end had come away, that was just the last straw.
I shouted. I don’t remember exactly what I shouted. I realise at this point I’m totally stuck, I can’t see anything meaningful, I have nothing to track the ground with (the mini-guide really only works around waist height). I am close to tears and in shock.
What has happened at this point is that my mobility and independence were taken away by a few uncaring people. Were I in a wheelchair, it would be as though they’d tipped me out and taken to it with baseball bats. Would people have done something if that had happened? What about if these people had walked up and poked my eyes out?
(We’ll ignore the minor problem that if I were in a wheelchair I wouldn’t be using Redfern Station as it isn’t wheelchair accessible)
What I got was some random fellow commuter who stopped and asked if I was OK. Not station staff. Not transit officers. A fellow commuter. Would that have happened if I’d been a wheelchair user? If I’d been obviously assaulted?
So this one guy actually stops and asked if I was OK. I mumbled something about the ruined cane, waving it vaguely. At this point I’m mentally pulling myself together enough to think I’ve got a spare at work. I fumble around my phone a bit, trying to find my contacts. Eventually I get it together enough to call the office. It’s just before 9am, so it goes to the answering machine. I hang up and try to find colleagues mobile number. I manage to make the call and arrange to meet near the ticket barriers on Gibbons Street.
At this point I’m starting to make sense of things again, and realise I’ve got to make it down the concourse and the across the open space to the ticket barriers. While I can follow the wall on the edge of the concourse, I have no idea how I’m going to make it across the space with no tactile references. At this point the other guy is still standing there and asks again if I need help. I stumble my way through a sentence, indicating where I needed to go. Placing his arm against my hand, he offered his elbow for me to grab.
I was surprised. Most of the time, when strangers try to lead they grab my arm, or worse still my hand and try and push me along. This is totally the wrong method. This random guy had got it totally right. I asked if he’d done this before, to which he responded that he hadn’t. After taking me through the gate, he left me by the ticket machine, placing my hand on the fence.
So to this random guy, thanks. Seriously thanks. Sorry for being a mess and not thanking you properly at the time.
To the staff, transit officers and other commuters at Redfern Station, I am seriously angry. Presently I’m trying to find a way to work that avoids this station entirely, though I suspect there isn’t one that doesn’t involve at least three train changes.
This is not the first time I’ve had a cane ruined at Redfern station, though this is the most severe example. At no point has any member of staff, any transit officer, or any commuter ever offered any kind of assistance. This, to me, demonstrates exactly what’s wrong with Australia.