A Fair Go for Whom?

As Australians, we have been brought up on stories of giving everyone a fair go. It’s part of our culture and is a value that we hold most dear.

My European ancestors came to Australia in the mid-nineteenth century looking for a fair go. They came from times of hardship, unemployment and poverty. They hoped that in this new country they could make a reasonable life for themselves and their children. Their descendants are now spread far and wide, leading by comparison comfortable lives in middle Australia. Someone gave them a fair go.

There are historical examples that support our belief.  The miners fought for a fair go at the Eureka Stockade, some of them giving their lives for it. A few decades later, Australia was the first country to both give women the vote and to grant them the right to stand for election.  We were brought up on stories such as the bravery of John Simpson and his donkey, bravely providing first aid and carrying the wounded until he himself was killed during the Gallipoli Campaign at Anzac Cove. Heart-stirring stuff.

1856 saw the introduction of the 8-hour day for stonemasons in Victoria, granting them Saturday afternoons off.  This was fought for on the basis of not sacrificing health and shortening the duration of human life; allowing working men the time to develop their minds through education; and allowing tradesmen to be better husbands and fathers.  In time, these working conditions spread throughout the workforce.

We have believed that education is the right of all Australian children and that access to affordable health care should be given to everyone. We like to think that if anyone puts their mind to it, they can do anything.

Post WW2, there was mass migration to Australia from war-ravaged Europe.  Those people didn’t always have an easy time of their re-settlement, but they and their children have helped to make Australia the multi-cultural society that it is today.  In spite of calling them Wogs, Eyties, Ethnics, Poms and various other names, we like to think that we gave them a fair go and often use those names affectionately today.

It is true that our concept of a fair go was often biased. Our indigenous Aborigines rarely got a fair go and many struggle to do so today. Immigration policies restricted Asian neighbours from migrating here, although early Chinese migration played a significant role in the development of nineteenth-century Victoria.

Common sense and a review of history tells us that the concept of ‘fair go’ is very subjective. It is reserved for PLUs – People Like Us.  We are the ones who deserve it and as for the others – they just have to buckle down and earn it or else learn to change their ways and to become PLUs – if we let them of course.

In recent years, even the righteous and deserving are questioning what has happened to the fundamental value which underpins our way of life.  We have seen government and commercial actions which have threatened our Australian pride.

We imprison people who have fled their homelands as conditions there have become untenable or worse, life-threatening. We deny them adequate health care, education, and the opportunity to lead a meaningful life and to contribute to meaningful society. Even worse, we deny them any form of hope for the future. When we are being particularly scornful, we accuse them of being just ‘economic refugees’. Since when is that a crime?  So were my ancestors economic refugees, and one of them even jumped ship to remain in Australia.

We erode the benefits and working conditions of the most vulnerable of our workers. We also have begun the process by which penalty rates are reduced, a move that will spread to many industries. It seems that we no longer deserve compensation for giving up our evenings or traditional family time.

We are increasing the cost of education, ignoring the fact that for us to truly be a lucky country, we need a skilled and educated workforce. We need our scientists, our teachers and our technicians. We need to invest in our people if we are going to innovate, to develop industries, and to keep up with other nations. The return on this investment is a clever society and dare I say it, a fairer society. It is one in which everyone has the opportunity of developing their skills and talents for the benefit of us all. Increasingly, only the wealthy are able to educate their children.

We refuse to pay our job-seekers a livable sum of money, choosing to label them leaners and bludgers in spite of the fact that changes in technology and the economic environment has seen many jobs disappear.  Some are too inexperienced, some are over-experienced, some are too you and some are too old. Some no longer have skills in demand and others have never had the opportunity to develop them in the first place.  Whatever the reason, it is their fault that they can’t find a job and they don’t deserve our charity.

Just to make sure that life is really difficult, we restrict their eligibility to social security benefits on the theory that this will make them try harder. Bad luck that they can no longer afford the costs of applying for work, nor can they afford to pay rent or keep up the mortgage payments while they search. They just need to try harder.  We also reduce the number of staff within Centrelink and make it more difficult for those who need social security assistance to access information and accurate advice.

We hound our social security recipients on the theory that they are all out to defraud the government and therefore the tax-payer of valuable funds. We use poorly defined algorithms to decide just who is a miscreant and put the onus of proof on them in establishing their innocence. We then use bullying tactics and private debt collectors to enforce payment, whether they actually owe it or not.

Our political leaders, with the self-assurance that they are acting on behalf of us all, explain that it is a system that is working well, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. In the meantime, their colleagues are caught out rorting their entitlements to the tune of thousands of dollars. If they lose their parliamentary seat, they can seek comfort in the knowledge that entitlements and a comfortable superannuation payment will follow them into private life. After all, they deserve it. It’s only fair.

So what does a fair go meant today?  On the evidence available, it means to strongly define who deserves it and who doesn’t. Those who deserve it are the ones who get to decide who don’t. Those who don’t, only have themselves to blame for their situation. If only they were a PLU (employed, educated, and fit) they might be deserving also. That’s only fair.

Do you think that we still abide by the maxim of a fair go?

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May Day

Today started off sweetly, visiting the Prahan Market which was featuring a Wicked Chocolate festival. Yum. when we think of chocolate, we think of South America and tropical climes. When I was in Cuba last year saw the cocoa pods growing and learnt a bit of the process of making chocolate. Now, there are some cocoa trees growing in Australia as well and there is a very small chocolate industry.  The produce is very tasty and also very expensive.  It’s in the realm of a special treat. Of course, this is the price that should be paid for chocolate anyway, with the people who work in harvesting the cocoa being adequately paid.

Catching the tram back to town, I found myself at the head of the May Day march. Traditionally, May Day celebrations are held on 1  May but presumably, it was moved to a Sunday for practical reasons.  It was the Pipe Band that first drew my attention (love a man in a kilt) and I stopped to watch the marchers go past.

There were a range of community sectors that were taking advantage of the opportunity to express their views.  In general, May Day represents the interests of workers and draws attention to less than favourable conditions or wages. There were representatives of various countries who were drawing attention to conditions overseas, and of course interest groups from here.One of the groups was representing the interests of the homeless.

One of the groups was representing the interests of the homeless.  I have already talked about the impact of seeing so many homeless in the streets of Melbourne. Some people go to a bit of effort in making their little alcove on the street just a bit more homely. I have seen street squats with pot plants, cartons turned side on to make cupboards and shelves and bedding spread on a base of milk crates to protect from the cold of the pavement.

This person made his own private room in this alcove on Bourke St, complete with bedside rug and broom. Whenever I went past, the alcove would be very tidy, bed neatly made, blankets folded and belongings stacked away tidily. He was gone today though so perhaps someone moved him on.

PS — I went past the alcove a little while ago and it had a new occupant.  Good spots don’t last long in these streets.

Autumn Excursion

Today (wearing my celebrant hat) I conducted a wedding ceremony at Hepburn Springs, north-west of Melbourne. It was a great opportunity to get to know an unfamilar area of Victoria, so I booked myself into the local pub and did some exploring.

To my delight, I discovered that it was autumn in that region. Okay, I know that it’s also autumn here in Melbourne but living in the CBD I don’t see or experience it. Suddenly there was colour – reds, golds, oranges and browns. Leaves scattered on my car overnight.

There were other issues that reminded me of what I don’t see in the city. I knew I was back in the country when I could smell the wood fires burning. There were horses in the paddocks wearing their blankets, and the paddocks gleamed with moisture after the early morning frost had melted. Sheep with black faces and feet grazed in others.

At times the paddocks were bordered by canopies of tall gums which shielded the road. Other times there were forests of densely planted eucalypts.  Roadside signs indicated that one should watch out for wombats, and sadly I saw one sad little marsupial, paws skywards, evidently having lost a battle with a car. This was not far past a sign proclaiming Wombat Forest.

At farm gates, there were buckets of produce, with hand-painted signs and honour boxes for when you made your purchase. One sign indicated that free range, fair trade horse poo was available. Not having a garden I passed that one up. I did come home with a carton of free range eggs instead. I assume that they were also free trade.

The pub in which I over-nighted was fairly typical.  Bathroom down the hall, noisy wooden floors and a wood fire down by the front bar.  I was relieved that the drinkers on the balcony outside my room didn’t stay too late.  My only complaint was that tea and coffee facilities were not provided for guests – in fact the only things in the room were a bed and bedside table. No chair, desk, or any other amenities. I hoped that there might be a lounge upstairs for the benefit of guests but it was not to be.  The décor was pleasant but for what was provided the tariff was on the expensive side.

I woke early and went for a walk early in the morning before finding an early morning café that could not only offer a cup of tea to start with followed by a country breakfast, but also the Sunday papers.  There are some city habits that I don’t like to lose. I then found a country market and browsed the stalls with loaves of bread, fresh produce, arts and crafts, and various tools. Heaps more of course. Chocolate brownies, candles, second- hand clothing and treasures of days past and now dubious use. I purchased a lovely blue felt had and think that it will be useful to cover the frizzy hair on cold, damp Melbourne streets.

I loved my weekend excursion. Living in the city is like living in an insular bubble, in spite of the cultural benefits. I must do it again.

Protesting Melbourne

I have been so impressed with the fact that Melbournians are prepared to take to the streets with a megaphone and a chant when they are not happy or see an injustice.

I live very close to Parliament House, and this is the gathering place for many a protest. I am alerted to this fact by the amplification of speeches on the steps of the House, and perhaps the roar of the crowd.  Stepping out onto my balcony, I can see the placards, the t-shirts, the cameras and the police. If it is a large and organised protest, Spring Street will be closed off to traffic and police cars with flashing lights will block the lanes to traffic.  Police wearing protective clothing and hi-viz vests will collect on the street corners and will form a human  barricade part way up the  steps to ensure that an unruly mob does not storm the House.

I can’t usually decipher the words of the speeches from my apartment but I can hear the crowd response.

“What do we want?”
“Roar!”
“When do we want it?”
“Roar! Roar!”

There were anti-Trump protests, protests on Australia Day relating to the impact of colonisation on the original inhabitants, taxi-drivers protesting against the devaluation of their taxi-licences due to the introduction of Uber and protests on International Women’s Day. These are just a few. Some protests have been union-led and others are organised by a small band of true-believers. As I made my way home past Parliament House a couple of days ago, a group of people of middle-eastern appearance was appealing for acceptance and tolerance of all people – we are all of one blood.

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Sometimes, the protests are focused on a government department and then the marchers are more likely to take over the street in which I work. The music and megaphoned chants rise to my desk on the tenth floor, and the crowd decries the Centrelink debacle or perhaps decisions that doom refugees to a miserable and interminable existence.

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Whatever the cause, it reassures me that people are still prepared to take to the streets and to voice their opinion on what they believe is right and to protest on what is wrong. The day the protests stop is when we all have to worry.

 

Finding my feet

I have been in Melbourne for two months now and am gradually getting to know my new environment. It has not been without challenges – the apartment for one. My landlady still hasn’t cleared out all her possessions from the bedrooms and so I am still sleeping in the living room. I have graduated from the floor to a proper bed though and have also bought a chest of drawers in which to accommodate some clothes. It is rather cramped but I liken it to living in a caravan.

The upside is that I have a small balcony and have acquired a table and two chairs, plus lots of garden pots and troughs. I have planted a few vegetables, herbs and flowers and that area is my little sanctuary for maintaining sanity. It is also my vantage point for checking out the world.

When I awake, (which is early courtesy of the Melbourne trams) I poke my head out of the balcony door to inspect the weather, and see what surprises the view might present me with. One morning, there was a passenger balloon in the sky and another morning the huge red lights that mark the entrance to Little Bourke St and Chinatown were a  flaming contrast to the dim morning light.

img_0622Ballo0n on the horizon

My garden is doing brilliantly – I love the fact that there are no slugs, snails or green caterpillars to contend with. The cumquat tree that I mentioned in my last post now is covered in flowers so I am hopeful that it might actually bear fruit. I learnt that a few years ago, a pigeon made a nest two years in a row in the base of a large pot plant. Sadly, the resident cat ate the babies that hatched but I am hoping that a pigeon might come back again and for the record, I do not have a cat living with me.

Some of the street art in the alley ways is interesting.  I try to remember to take my camera with me. It’s a journey of exploration.

Street  art in Liverpool St

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I’ll post more street art as I find it.

 

 

Discovering Melbourne

Although I have thought often of my blog in the year since I have last updated it, demands on my time lead me away from regular entry. There has been another seismic shift in my universe, and here I am once again.

As a brief synopsis, my last full time position was made redundant and in the face of a very sad economy and even sadder employment market, I retrained and launched my business as a life coach (www.worklifejunction.com.au), helping people through times of transition and career review. It was a challenge getting clients and sufficient income to cover the establishment and ongoing costs. As the redundancy funds ran out, and I was confronting utter exhaustion from long hours in business development, I became increasingly concerned. Thoughts of selling the house were looming. I did love not being in the corporate environment, and in particular not having to participate in mindless performance reviews, but all the same there is something to be said for a regular and dependable income.

Scanning my LinkedIn feed early one morning, I noted a job interstate that outlined all of my prior experience. I could tick all of their boxes. For fun, I threw together a quick application and emailed it off, considering that my age and current location would see my application confined to the bin. I was surprised to get an interview (via Skype) and even more surprised to land the role. With my son now independent and living interstate, and my father now deceased, there was nothing major to stop be taking the role. Okay, there were two cats to consider and a large house and garden that needed looking after but they were not insurmountable problems and so here I am. In apartment on the seventh floor of a CBD building in Melbourne.

I drove over from Adelaide last weekend with a carload of personal effects and started work on the Monday. That sounds quite simple, except that the apartment in which I am currently living is owned by the sister of an in-law, and when she vacated the apartment a couple of years ago, she walked out and shut the door on everything here. She started again in her new apartment – new furniture, new clothes, new household goods. She was also a hoarder – old boxes, broken items, empty containers: all of them are stacked in every room. She has not been able to deal with it since. There are various reasons for that and I won’t go into it here but it means that I am confronted with dealing with the sorting and disposal issue.

Currently, I am sleeping on a mattress on the lounge room floor. The kitchen and one of the bathrooms are functional and I have just taken delivery of a washing machine (she did take the fridge and washing machine) so yay – I can now wash my clothes. I really, really want to sort out the rest of the apartment though and as she wants to review items and decide what she still does and does not want, I have to wait for her to turn up. It is now 3:30 on a Sunday and although she texted that she was on her way over an hour ago (living 10 minutes walk from me) she still hasn’t turned up. I guess we are not getting much done this weekend.

There are some plus sides to this apartment. It doesn’t have a huge garden to maintain and that is a huge plus. I did buy a cumquat tree for the balcony yesterday and also a Croton for indoors. I still need some greenery about me. When she has sorted/taken the rest of her stuff on the balcony, I will make that a more liveable space, with a small table and chairs and some potted herbs – perhaps even a tomato.

I have Chinatown on my doorstep and the train and tram service run past my door, with the train being underground. I don’t have the internet connected yet, so I can slip over to the train station daily and access 250Mb of free wifi. This is not a lot but it all helps.

1 Hydrangeas in the Conservatory across the road

2. View from my balcony

3. My new abode (level 7)

A slowing down – sort of

Last night I watched a program on the ABC on the slow movement.  Titled Frantic Family Rescue, it detailed the efforts of three families to slow down the frantic pace of their lives, guided by journalist Carl Honoré.  Honoré is the author of “In Praise of Slow” and an advocate of the slow movement.

Slow-Life

 

The pressures of my frantic life are not a revelation to me, nor are my regrets about the toll on the life of my son during his formative years.  For financial reasons it seemed that I had little choice as I tried desperately to support us in the face of inadequate employment and compensation.  Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough, or explore alternative options but I am not interested in beating myself up over something that I can’t change now.

I am interested in making positive changes from here on however and am considering how I can make that happen, whilst still doing what I need to do.  A key component of the experiment that was shown on television is the reduction of screen time.  At a time when I am in the process of establishing an online-based business, that would appear to be a challenge, as of course is the whole concept of slowing down.  I’m not prepared to put it in the too hard basket though.

Looking realistically at my day, I haven’t been using my time very effectively.  Working from home can be an easy way of losing focus and succumbing to diversions.  So … I am planning my day the evening before, making a realistic list of what needs to be achieved and am blocking out the time for the various tasks in my Outlook Calendar.  I know that one can use Tasks for tracking but I have never found that it worked well for me.  If anything I get irritated by the pop-ups, so Calendar it is.  I’m starting each day with one of those irritating phone calls that I usually need to make – to banks or utility companies or whatever where you know that you will be confronted with layers of confusing menus and then put on hold for ages.  Getting those calls out of the way early in the day and spreading them out over the days in the week is a sanity-saving strategy.

I am also scheduling some time away from the computer – i.e. weeding a patch of the garden, raking up the leaves, going for a walk.  I am not blocking out 9-5 totally, as there needs to be flexibility in the day to allow for the unexpected, or tasks that arise during the day (thanks email).  I am also alternating tasks so that I don’t get bored with the tedium and become less effective.  I figure that if I can maximise my productiveness during the day, I don’t have to work on the business at night.  I can read or joy or joys, I can work on the next novel manuscript.

An important part of my regime is going to bed at a reasonable time and this is going to take some working on.  I know that I would benefit from more sleep.  Supporting that goal is turning off screens at least half an hour before that so that I have wind-down time.  OK, I know that there should probably be more screenless time, but I’m working on it – okay?  It will just be checking emails and of course if I am working on the manuscript then probably I will have been typing.

Even more radical will be giving myself guilt-free weekends.  In all of my home-based businesses in the past, I have worked on them every day, and have felt incredibly guilty when domesticity has taken me away from those tasks.  Taking my weekends back feels incredibly self-indulgent but that’s what I am doing from now on.

My diversionary activity through the day is typically scanning through online media sites.  When there is no water-cooler activity happening in your workspace, there is a craving for some interaction and information about what is happening in the world.  My very first time block therefore is for reading the various sites.  I am not going to stop doing it, but I’m going to contain it to a reasonable time slot.

The other activity that I have introduced is walking and no, I am not actually scheduling this one.  This is first thing in the morning to blow away the cobwebs and to make a good start to the day.  With our recent wintry and drizzly weather, gloves and raincoat are my friends but I am still walking.  Sometimes I combine it with a supermarket trip so the car gets to stay in the drive.  Saving fuel – woo hoo!

This is a time of transition for me and I think that my recent redundancy has probably given me a gift.  What are your slow living strategies?  Please share them here.  What have the benefits been to you? I am interested in any tips you might have.