My encounter with one of Sydney’s most famous eccentrics happened at Cronulla Station. I was living in Nicholson Parade, Cronulla, at the time and commuting to Sydney University. Here she is.
Yes, Bea Miles. The day I saw her on the train she was wearing her famous sign: “Shakespeare poetry and prose recited. Rational talks on any subject. Modest prices” – the price range – sixpence to three shillings – also being given. To quote the Australian Dictionary of Biography:
Well-known in Sydney, she could be seen about city and suburban public transport wearing a green tennis shade, tennis shoes and a scruffy greatcoat over a somewhat ample body. She had a number of ingenious methods of obtaining goods, services and daily support. One method was to give recitations from Shakespeare, with a sixpence to three-shilling price range. She became notorious for refusing to pay fares, especially in taxis: cabbies often refused to pick her up. Sometimes in retaliation she would leap on their running-boards, bumper-bars or bonnet, or hurl herself against their sides, detaching doors from hinges; however, in 1955 she paid a female taxi-driver £600 to drive her to Perth and back, taking nineteen days. From the 1940s her closest friend was a taxi-driver John Beynon, but this could not prevent the ire of unpaid drivers; she was assaulted several times in the 1950s.
Miles was constantly harassed by police and she claimed to have been falsely convicted 195 times, fairly 100 times, though obituaries give lower estimates. She haunted the Public Library of New South Wales, reading many books each week, until she was banned from the building in the late 1950s. The final years of her life were dogged by ill health, and in 1964 she entered the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged at Randwick. In old age she reputedly claimed: ‘I have no allergies that I know of, one complex, no delusions, two inhibitions, no neuroses, three phobias, no superstitions and no frustrations’. After renouncing her lifelong atheism and receiving Roman Catholic rites, she died of cancer on 3 December 1973 and was cremated.
I’m afraid she scared me rather at the time. See more at Scratching Sydney’s Surface. Her story is well worth exploring.