Rudi’s Christmas Message 2006

Many Canberrans will be familiar with Rudi de Jong’s hulking frame wandering his patch between the City and the Gorman House Markets, plying his trade which exists somewhere in the grey area between self-published poet and beggar.

Rudi’s poems, hand-written and photocopied, go for anything from twenty cents to the depths of your change pocket, and/or a cigarette or two. They usually have a religious theme and, of late, have developed quite a staccato brevity. Buy a poem and you will also receive many a heartfelt ‘God bless you’ for free.

There are some similarities between Rudi and another local identity, one Daniel McFadden, who periodically haunts a similar patch, attempting to sell photocopies of his pen-drawings to unsuspecting cafe dwellers. Both Rudi and Daniel suffer from mental illness. Both are subject to widespread misunderstanding of their conditions by the general public.

There was a very interesting discussion about Daniel on RiotACT a while back. It’s amazing to read the fear-induced hatred some people feel towards people like Danny
and Rudi. Comfortably ensconced in their middle-class cocoons, some people are really outraged by the sight, smell and behaviour of those less enabled than themselves. While unlikely to pour scorn on a passing paraplegic or blind person, they’ll happily
abuse the mentally ill.

It’s also fascinating how some people, presumably without the benefit of any psychological qualifications and without the aid of more than a cursory kerb-side consultation, will happily (mis)diagnose such people and even prescribe a solution for their ills (generally locking them out of sight).

Thankfully there are other voices, not least among them our esteemed friend Konrad Lenz, who step up to the plate for people like Danny. Unfortunately such voices are a minority in society, most people succumbing to their innate fear of ‘crazy people’ and generally shunning them.

In this, mental illness joins the ranks of such conditions as leprosy, the sufferers of which must not only contend with their affliction but also with the, arguably worse, agony of social exclusion. The life of the mentally ill can be lonely indeed, a compounding factor that makes treatment and recovery that much harder.

Any one of us can be struck down by mental illness at any time. Having compassion for those so-afflicted is the same as having compassion for your children, for your parents, for yourself. Any Christians among you would be familiar with Jesus’ treatment of lepers. Regardless of religious persuasion and/or claims for Messiah-hood, we can all aspire to treat, not just the mentally ill, but all people with dignity and respect*.

I bumped into Rudi yesterday. Sometimes I buy his poems. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes he gives them to me for free. He has even written a poem for me, on the spot, about my daughter, Giorgia, and done a reading for my little camera.

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I don’t share Rudi’s Christian world view and I really don’t have much time for his evangelistic ravings, but he’s harmless, as gentle as a true gentleman and, for this scribe, a real character and an integral part of Canberra’s social fabric. Yesterday he just wanted a cigarette in exchange for this poem, ‘Christmas 2006′.

* Note: This doesn’t mean you have to give them money for poems or artworks you don’t like or want.

2 Responses to “Rudi’s Christmas Message 2006”

  1. Ah, I love Rudi – some of his poems are corkers! I have one stuck to my wall at home. And you know, sometimes he’s tres shabby chic in his brown houndstooth jacket.

  2. Gee, you’re giving the archives a bit of a trawling Nelly. Shabby chic, yes, like Big Bird in civvies.