White Cane Warrior

Kids can be hard to keep entertained on long summer holiday drives. Some parents resort to telling exaggerated stories of daring-do from their youth. It’s marginally better than I Spy or punch buggy (which consists of punching someone when you see a Volkswagen beetle).
One such story popped into my head as we stopped at the dog sitting on the tuckerbox five miles from Gundagai  on our way to Melbourne recently. And I couldn’t resist re-telling it.
Part of my youth was spent as an activist in the disability movement, travelling around the country to various meetings and conferences. On one of these occasions, I was travelling back to Sydney from Wagga Wagga in a car full of my mates, and our various mobility aids – a couple of wheelchairs, a walking stick, and my own white cane. We decided – as you do – to stop for a hamburger at the dog on the tucker box café. (Please imagine at this point loud tuneless renditions of “the dog sat on the tucker box, and the protesting groans of eleven-year-olds).
We had found a table and ordered our hamburgers and milkshakes when a group of bikies arrived. Now, these weren’t bikers – that gruff, rugged bunch who look tough in their leathers and helmets, but underneath are just your average suburban boys with the need to bleed off a bit of extra testosterone. These were bikies – the sort who live outside the law, and communicate with grunts and rattles of the chains they wear around their necks. And their idea of fun that day was to harass the young woman managing the tucker box hamburger joint.
Now in those days I was a fighter for equality on the front line, not using the more conservative legal tools that I use today. And I was offended by the crass and sexist behaviour they were demonstrating. Their lewd suggestive comments, urged on by the support of their mates, were causing her a lot of discomfort.
But what could I do – one bloke with an aluminium white cane, whose pecs needed a lot more work, up against half a dozen tattooed gym-junkies with chains at the ready. So, I came up with a cunning plan.
They had parked their machines on either side of our car. So, borrowing the car keys from my mate in the wheelchair, I proceeded to walk to the car, white cane prominently on display, in full view of the marauding horde.
I tapped my way to the driver’s door, got in, started the engine and revved it a couple of times.
Balancing the opportunity to have some fun at the expense of the female hamburger operative, against the potential terminal damage to their prized modes of transport from my driving, the retreat was prompt and absolute. I’ve never known a group of motor bikes to leave more burned rubber in the car park of a hamburger joint.

Which just goes to show that brains can sometimes outwit brawn, and disability can have some advantages. At least, that’s the way I told the story to my kids.
Have you had to put up with a parent who thinks he tells a good yarn? Was I being brave or foolish? Tell me what you think.
Graeme Innes is Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, and an inveterate story-teller. He has kissed the Blarney stone and is prone on the odd occasion to leaven his stories with a small amount of exaggeration. An earlier version of this article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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