I’m not a big rally guy. But I went anyway

Rallies are not really my thing. I’m not a big rally guy. But I went to a Rally for Refugees because I want the kids off Nauru (though not the Nauruan kids. They should stay. I think their parents would prefer it that way.)

Everyone else was wearing sensible comfortable rally-marching footwear ...

Everyone else was wearing sensible comfortable rally-marching footwear …Credit:Katherine Griffiths

So I showed up in the city, joined the back of the march, and almost immediately my rally-going inexperience started to show. Everyone else was wearing sensible comfortable rally-marching footwear, but I’d worn a pair of ill-fitting Doc Martens that were really pinching my bunions. Also I may have put my orthotic inserts in the wrong shoes. A rookie rally error.

And everyone else was waving banners and placards saying “BRING THEM HERE” and “NO KIDS IN DETENTION” but I had nothing to wave – just a flyer for a Jamaican Music & Food Festival that someone handed me in Melbourne Central. I mean, yes, the over-spiciness of jerk chicken is a serious issue that our government should address, but that’s for another rally, another fight.

And everyone around me was chanting, “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!” but I was stricken with an acute attack of Chant-Timidity. Because you have to really commit to a chant, you have to shout with throaty gusto – and what if I yelled out the wrong words? Started with, “Say it CLEAR, say it LOUD” – that would bugger up the rhyme scheme and all the other marchers might laugh at me with their kindly, caring refugee-saving faces. No, I needed an easier chant, a beginner’s chant, so I hobbled faster in my ill-fitting shoes, moving ahead through the crowd, trying to find something else …

“FREE, FREE, THE REFUGEES!” Further up, a woman with a megaphone was leading this one and I really liked it. It had a laid-back Bob Marley backbeat and I felt good about waving my Jamaican Music & Food Festival flyer – it suited the vibe. Yeah, I’d give it a go. Cleared my throat. Took a breath … but before I could yell my first “FREE”, the chant got hijacked by a posse of rogue hippies. A bald guy with a ukulele and three Joan-Baezes started singing “We Shall Overcome”, and the mellow '60s folkiness played havoc with the megaphoned reggae groove. Nobody dared stop them; the Joan-Baezes looked intimidating with their long white hair and floral-motif cheesecloth dresses. So I hobbled even further ahead, looking for something better.

“OH REFUGEES, ARE WELCOME HERE, OH REFUGEEEEES ARE WEL-COME HEEEEERE …” A marching band was playing “When The Saints Go Marching In” and people were improvising lyrics but it just felt clunky and chaotic – an insult to both imprisoned offshore asylum-seekers and the St Kilda Football Club. Hobbled right past, no dawdling …

“KIDS OFF, ALL OFF!!” Jackpot. Right at the front of the march was the best chant of all – this was it, this could be the one. Succint message. Four syllables. Easy to learn: I just had to remember the word “off” and I was halfway there. I started softly: “Kids off, all off,” just feeling my way in. Built it up: “Kids OFF, all OFF.” Now full pelt: “KIDS OFF, ALL OFF!!!!” Ha ha, look at me! I was chanting! I was a rally guy! Then I realised … I was actually leading the chant at the front of the march. It was too much: I got an instant attack of Chant-Timidity. I shut up. Fell back. Hobbled in silence for the rest of the march. Pushing through my bunion pain. Doing it for the kids.

Danny Katz is an Age columnist.

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