Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Neighbour can't cop jolly whistle

Gayle Bryant | Heckler | SMH | 5 September 2012

A FRIEND of mine was threatened with an AVO on the weekend. Now, what image has just come into your head? Some violent, uncontrollable loser who lets his fists do the talking? Some drunken yobbo? Try a gentle, non-aggressive man whose only crime is whistling.

No, my fingers didn't slip on the keyboard. I didn't mean to write that my friend enjoys ''wrestling'', or ''wrecking things'', or ''whacking people''. My friend likes to whistle. Not constantly. Just occasionally, when he feels good about the world and has a spring in his step.

On Saturday, however, he was amazed to find that not one, but three police had appeared on his doorstep to tell him his neighbour had complained about this habit. Apparently, my friend was told, his neighbour often hears him whistling as he walks up the path separating their two homes - and this is not OK. My friend was told he can whistle in his own home, but he must not whistle as he walks past his neighbour's front door.

Illustration: Simon Letch

Of all the noises that can be emitted by the body, I would have thought whistling is the least offensive. But now you can be threatened with an AVO if you purse and blow? What next? AVOs for burpers, farters or stomach grumblers?

Aren't AVOs served when someone is in fear for their safety? How does whistling fit into this category? It demeans their very purpose.

My friend has no intention of changing his behaviour. He told the police that he would see his neighbour in court before he stopped whistling. The fact that three police were sent to pass on the message only added fuel to the fire. Especially, as he pointed out to them, no police had yet responded to his calls to the same station about a stolen bike. I'm guessing a stolen bike hardly raises an eyebrow.

But the novelty of a whistling complaint clearly had the police scrambling for the squad car. They had probably never been called to serve an AVO against a whistler and weren't sure how the perpetrator would react. Perhaps they thought he'd launch an assault on their eardrums by whistling at extreme volume or deliberately off-key. Maybe they thought all the local dogs would come running, resulting in chaos.

Are we becoming so obsessed about being in control of the sounds we want to hear that those we can't control are cause for a complaint to the police? Come on Sydney, why not purse those lips and whistle down the street just as Mark Twain writes in Tom Sawyer, ''with a mouth full of harmony and a soul full of gratitude''.

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