Multi-award winning blind Indigenous artist Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu has been refused a cab on the basis of the colour of his skin, according to his managers.
Gurrumul was leaving The Palais in St Kilda on Tuesday night after performing with Missy Higgins when the incident occurred.
When the taxi driver saw them, he said, ‘Oh no, don’t worry about it mate,’ and just drove off.
He was making his way out of the venue after the concert with his partner, Bronwyn, and the help of security staff while his co-manager, Mark Grose, went to hail him a cab.
Grose said he hailed a cab out the front of the Palais and asked Gurrumul’s co-manager and double-bass player, Michael Hohnen, to wait with the cab outside until Gurrumul exited the building.
“When the taxi driver saw them, he said, ‘Oh no, don’t worry about it mate,’ and just drove off,” says Hohnen. Hohnen says that the cab had not been told of their intended destination and therefore would not have refused the fare on that basis.
“I was half way between the building and the cab just imploring the cab driver to wait a second,” says Hohnen, who is reluctant to describe the taxi driver, other than to say he looked about 45 years old.
“I think that just sort of draws negative elements into the whole story,” he says. “All I know is that he saw Gurrumul and Bronwyn come outthe door and said, ‘Nup, I’m not taking them.'”
Grose told ABC radio this morning that the driver was subcontinental in appearance.
Hohnen angrily yelled after the cab as it drove off, but did not tell Gurrumul that he thought the driver’s reaction had been motivated by racism.
“I said it just drove off. He and Bronwyn were laughing at me because he never hears me yell.”
It was a bitter end to what had been a great night, Hohnen said.
“Missy Higgins had tweeted that the song she’d performed with Gurrumul was a career highlight, and we were all on a high and then we come out and this happens.”
He says it’s not the first time it’s happened. “We work with a lot of Aboriginal artists and you see it happening all the time.”
An incensed Grose called the ABC this morning to report the incident, which is earning Gurrumul sympathy and support on Twitter and Facebook.
Gurrumul himself is yet to comment. “He would have heard about it by now, I’m sure,” says Hohnen. “He doesn’t really express a lot, he’ll process it for a while I’d say. He’ll probably watch how everyone else reacts before he makes up his mind.”
The Victorian Taxi Directorate is investigating the claims, but spokesman Steve Bright says it will be “very difficult” to track down the driver without a taxi number or license plate.
“Otherwise it’s just one of 6000 taxis on the street,” he said.
If caught, the driver could be charged $305 for a first offence, said Mr Bright.
“Depending on the seriousness, the accreditation may be reviewed, he may get a warning, he may get his accreditation suspended, or even cancelled entirely.”
Mr Bright said the directorate gets about 300 to 400 fare refusal complaints a year, but that “zero” complaints in the past year have been made on the basis of race.
Anyone with any information on the incident is encourage to call the VDT complaints line on 1800 638 802.