Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mr Sweary and his travelling pack

Since I moved home I try to avoid public transport. I get travel sick except on trains, and I don't live near a train line. So I had planned to drive down to the other side of town (actually, it's not even a part of the city!) with my friend to see roller derby this evening. But because I decided at the last minute to go to #barcampbne and chat to lovely geeks at the pub, I decided to catch the train down to Logan.

Some background for those unfamiliar with Brisbane and its surrounds: the usual Aussie city demographics don't apply. We have a north/south divide because of the river, with north traditionally more sought after than the traditionally working class south, and the east/west divide is flipped. Logan city is south-east, and it's known for a bit of racial tension. I'm from the north-west, where the primary tension, racial or otherwise, is based on who gets to the Lexus dealership first when a new model is released.

I get on the train, and everything is fine until we get to Woodridge. Then a pack - best way to describe them - of teenagers get on. They seem harmless enough, but one guy starts roaming up and down the carriage, giving off very aggressive vibes. After a couple of laps he starts swearing - loudly. Now I'm not averse to a bit of cussing myself, but this was very aggressive, very rude, and a bit early on a Saturday night to be quite so vocal in the keys of F and C.


Mr Sweary, drunk teenage lout. Obsessed with two words.

Mr Sweary's Girlfriend, tries to calm boyfriend down, offloads

Mr Sweary's Baby stage right to a member of

Mr Sweary's Pack, composed of a group of teenagers, primarily of Islander descent

Mr Innocent-Bystander, African descent

Mr (Off-Duty) Train Guard, Caucasian descent


Mr Sweary asks Mr Innocent-Bystander what the F he’s F-ing looking at, calls him some further rude names starting with C and N, and appears ready to make it physical. Mr Train Guard asks Mr Sweary to cut the language as his two under-5 kids already learned the letters C and F on Sesame Street this week, along with the number 7, and Saturday isn’t a school day. Another male entering the fray ratchets Mr Sweary up to a whole new level. He doesn't seem to know any other words, so he just repeats the two he does know ad nauseum - and not particularly creatively - while allowing a couple of his female pack members to nominally hold him back. This goes on for some time, and Mr Sweary adds in a few racial slurs for good measure, (calling the guard the N-word, then calling him a "white F-ing C", in a delightful Princess Bride-esque moment.)

The girl sitting across from me looks over at me clutching my handbag in terror and whispers "I'm scared!" I nod in agreement, and don't envy her one iota as she leaves the train at the next station, where the pack also (finally!) disembarks.

Mr Train Guard sees that I'm shaken up, and assures me the behaviour is par for the course. They will get on the next train and cruise up and down the line for a few hours between the same stops. Apparently it's their regular activity, and Mr Sweary is known to guards as a regular trouble maker.

I explain that I'm not used to this, and he mentions that the north side doesn't get the same amount of trouble. When I mention where I'm actually from he jokes, "half your luck". (He probably doesn't know about the Lexus-induced tension, we try and keep it out of the papers.)

This experience makes me all too aware of my place of privilege in this city, and indeed in this country. Hell, on this planet. I'm educated, middle class, white, employed, addiction-free, and I have a supportive family. I benefit from many other aspects of privilege that are so ingrained I don't even notice them. It’s sobering to be reminded how lucky I am to be in the position I’m in within our society. Hopefully I can remember this without needing to catch public transport in the near future.


  1. Bloody awful experience :-( I curl up inside and shutdown...hoping not to do anything that will attract the attention of such. I'm a total scaredy cat in those conditions.

  2. How horrible for you. It's amazing how it takes just one loudmouth lout to put everyone on edge, and worse if something actually happens.

  3. On my home from work on Friday, I was wondering whether every train has a weirdo on it, or whether I was just lucky ;) Travelling on public transport does seem scarier than it used to, but then again, maybe I'm just more easily scared nowadays.

    My worst public transport experience was a few years ago, in north-west Melbourne (as you said, the demographics are reversed here). I was waiting at the train station in the middle of the afternoon, when a group of youths rushed onto the platform, proceeded to beat up a youth who was there on his own using chains and metal bars, and then ran away from the station, melting into traffic and dicarding their weapons as they ran. The poor victim didn't do too badly, though there was one extra-scary moment that he almost fell onto the tracks, saved only by grabbing the clothing of his assailants to stay upright. The train arrived a moment later, and I shook all the way into the city. I'll never forget the feeling of helplessness I felt that day.

    *hugs* to all of you!

  4. Wow Sally that's terrible! At least no-one got hurt on my train. Yeah, north-west Melbourne... I know the area you're talking about. Logan's similar.