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?

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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Phoning Mother

This morning, just before waking, I dreamt of my mother. It was just a fleeting connection and very mundane.  I was at the kitchen sink doing the washing up and she brought me some more dirty cutlery to add to the pile needing to be washed.  Moments later, I woke up and felt both astonished at her appearance and bereft.

Ironic that it was today, Mother’s Day that she chose to appear.  She died with breast cancer twelve years ago, and of course I miss her – even though she often exasperated me or we disagreed on things.  I realise with hindsight though that although I was aware in a general sense that she did so much for me, I took a lot for granted and never really thanked her properly.  This morning’s episode reminded me of a story I wrote in the months following her death.

 

 Answer the phone Mother – answer the phone!  

     “This call is being diverted to another number.  Please hold.”

     Not again!

            “You have reached the mail box for …”

            “Nancy … Shorne.”

     My mother’s disembodied voice.  I listen intently, absorbing the tonal nuances and waiting for what else she might say.  You never know, this time it might be something different.  The two names are spoken distinctly, as though there is no association between them.  Nancy – pause – Shorne.  Two separate words, not Nancy Shorne, with the words running into each other with a combined inflective melody.  I listen to the message, hesitating.  Should I speak?  What should I say?    I dither and the silence extends into an embarrassment.  I hang up, feeling stupid and bereft.  Unfinished business is so unsettling.

       After a few moments I collect my thoughts and pick up the phone again. 

            “Nancy … Shorne.”

            “Ummm, it’s me Mum.  Just calling to see how you are.” 

     This time I’m prepared and hang up the phone quickly.  No pause.  I feel a little flushed and unsteady though. 

     It’s strange – it’s not as if I am a kid any more, but there are times when you still want your Mum.  I was surprised when it first hit me.  I was always quite independent and confident.  I had unexpected surgery a few years ago.  When I awoke, I was overcome by post-operative melancholy, to say nothing of pain, and all I could think was ‘I want my mum!’  That was bad luck, because we were in different parts of the country.  I wept miserably, saved only by a nurse of mature years who recognised my distress and isolation and sat with me for a while. 

     I would have phoned Mother then, but only local calls were permitted from my bedside phone, and I couldn’t walk down the hall to the pay phone.  I had to wait for her to call me, just like I am waiting now.  I wonder if she knows what time it is?  Perhaps that is why she hasn’t rung.

     Phones have become such a way of life.  They are more than just communication devices.   They are statements of personality, fashion accessories, reminders, companions, and cameras..  I have a theory that in the not too distant future, our phones will be the means of Big Brother keeping track of us all, and we will use them for everything.  They will hold all our identity information and through our personal phone number it will be possible to access our tax file number, credit card info, social security number, etc.  It will happen gradually and we will all be seduced by the gadgetry before we realise what is happening – a sort of pocket sized Trojan Horse.

     Mother’s phone is just of the basic variety.  It took a while to coach her on how to leave the message.  All she wants is to be able to make and receive calls.  It does have other features, but she never uses them and she seems to have lost the instruction book now anyway.

 Once, we used to solve our problems for ourselves, and now when we are unsure what to do, we automatically reach for the phone.  Our children are loosing survival skills, and are really dependent on their phones.  I know it, but I still reach for the phone for the simplest thing.

          “Nancy … Shorne.”

     “Mum, do you know where your address book is?  I need to do the Christmas cards and I don’t know where anyone lives.  I could send email cards instead, but it is nice at least once a year to actually post something.  I suppose all I really need to do is wait until other people send their cards and then just note the addresses from the back of the envelopes.  I’ll write some notes in the cards as well.  Is there anyone you particularly want me to write to?”

       While I wait for her to call back, I could have a look through her desk.  It seems a bit intrusive though – like looking in someone’s handbag.  They are such personal spaces.  If anyone looks in either my bag or goes through my desk it feels like a real invasion of privacy but how else can I find anything?  I’m very careful and try to put everything back just as I found it.  Hopefully she won’t even realise what I’ve been doing.

       Actually, I have been looking through her recipes too, but she never seems to file anything in a logical order.  A lot of stuff she just keeps in her head and never actually writes it down.  When you do read the recipes that she has written, she leaves out the crucial bits, like in which order ingredients should be added, or how long to cook things and at what temperature.  I have to sort of guess, or else give her a quick call at some crucial moment when I’m getting a bit panicky.

           “Nancy … Shorne.”

  “Mum, how long do you cook quince paste?  How do you know when it’s ready?  This stuff that I’ve got on the stove now looks more like jam.  It’s taken so long to peel and cook and sieve and cook, and it just doesn’t look like yours at all.  What do I do now?”

       I wait for a while, just in case she has just picked up the phone and has heard my message and is going to reply.  I know that’s silly, because although you can pick up the phone and interrupt a call to a land line that is connected to an answer phone machine, calls to mobile phones go to virtual mailboxes instead and you can’t interrupt those.  I still wait for a bit, but there is only silence, so I hang up.  With some answer phones, a silence is interpreted as a completed call anyway, and the device actually hangs up on you, the caller.  Bit rude.

     Having got this far with the quinces and seen how difficult it is, I think I will just buy some from the providores in future – there are some good stalls at the Central Market – but it seems such a waste to just throw out this batch.  I’ve invested so much time in it.  Perhaps I will just keep it as jam.  Pity I never eat it.  By the time she calls me back, it might well be Quince Toffee – a new culinary delight.

       Sometimes when I phone her I don’t wait.  I dial her number and that impersonal mechanical voice starts with This call is being diverted to …” and I just hang up.  I get a bit irritated.  I don’t want to hear that strange woman’s voice.  At least it’s not an American voice, like those you hear in lifts telling you what floor the lift is travelling to.  The phone companies seem to have developed some sensitivity to the local markets.  I haven’t thought about it before but perhaps this is a new job for current times.  Qualification – well modulated voice, slow delivery, absence of regional accent.  A bit strange – there would be exposure around the country, all day every day, but totally anonymous. 

     Even one of my printers talks to me, and tells me when it has a paper jam, or if it has finished printing.  Voices everywhere.  I wonder if there is an association for recorded voices, or whatever they might be called.  There is bound to be some very important sounding technological name.  What would happen if they all went on strike one day?  What would we do with the silence?

     Speaking of silences, I wish she would call me back.  It’s a bit of a one-way street, leaving messages and not getting a call in return.  I have my mobile with me most of the time, so I am always contactable.  I miss some calls when the phone is in the bottom of my bag and no matter how frantically I scrabble around, I can’t find it in time and it stops ringing just as I locate it.  She doesn’t have a silent number, so I would know if she had called.  Her number would be displayed as a missed call.

     Dad has the phone now.  He inherited it by default, but he is even more technologically illiterate than mother was, so he often forgets to take it with him, or even to switch it on.  As for changing the recording or even reading the messages, forget it.  He has no idea.  It means that any time I want to talk to Mother, she’s there, her voice permanently preserved in virtual reality.  It’s comforting in a bizarre sort of way. 

     “You have reached the mail box for …”

            “Nancy …  Shorne”

     “Hi Mum.”

                   24 June 2004

 

Shortly after this story was written, my father erased the recording, as he pressed random buttons on the phone, trying to figure out how things worked.  My trojan horse comment was more prophetic than I realised at the time.

 

Children born through IVF have no souls

An acquaintance reported recently that another guest at a BBQ was loudly critical of people who used IVF services and declared that children born via IVF ‘have no souls’.  As my friend (unknown to the gathering) was mid-cycle with her latest IVF attempt in conceiving a child, thins was highly distressing to her.  As the mother of a child conceived via IVF, the comment was insulting to my son and I was understandably indignant .  You don’t know whether to laugh or cry at dim-witted comments like that.

Young Donald is now 21 so I have had plenty of time to observe the soul-less creature.  He was a fairly conventional kid really.  Baulked at eating vegetables, had too much screen time, thought that I nagged him too much and protested at being made to walk or ride his bike when surely it would be much quicker for me to just drive him.

Admittedly he didn’t have much of a religious upbringing – well none really.  I had to attend a church service in an official capacity when he was about four and took him with me.  We sat up the front with the dignitaries.  During one of the hymns, all in attendance standing of course, I looked up from my hymn book to realise that he was standing on the pew along side of me, conducting the rest of the congregation.  I don’t think that we have attended a religious ceremony since then, except for a recent wedding in Japan in a Buddhist temple. I guess there wasn’t the need for someone without a soul.

When small Young Donald loved cuddle time (and still gives me beaut hugs), is always ready to give his mates a hand, and is very generous – especially for a soul-less person.  He has morphed from at times being a morose and moody juvenile to being a socially adept young man who charms one and all with his conversation.  It gives me a frisson of pleasure when people seek me out to tell me what a personable young man he is and how much they have enjoyed their conversation with him.  What a pity he doesn’t have a soul.

I am reminded of a Valentine’s Day a few years ago, when Daisy was very much a feature in young Donald’s life.  He took her out to dinner, selecting a cuisine the he knew she would enjoy.  When he brought her home, he had set up my massage table in his bedroom and scattered the whole room with red rose petals.  When they arrived home, she was greeted with soft lighting and massage oil.  Whatever else she was greeted with, I as his mother don’t really want to know, but think what he could have done if he actually had a soul.

I started to wonder just what might have been intended with the reference to ‘soul’ and resorted to online sources for interpretation and definition.  There were many, all much of a muchness and Wikipedia captured the essence with this explanation.

    “The soul, in many religious, philosophical and mythological traditions, is the incorporeal and in many conceptions immortal essence of a living thing.”

I’m not going to debate the presence or otherwise of a soul, whether from the religious, philosophical or mythological perspective.  In my son however, I can see and hear the essence of many who have gone before – my parents and probably their parents and it is possible that his essence will be reflected in those who are to come.  I see mannerisms, I hear laughter, I see reasoning, I see a sense of social justice, I see an observant young man – and I see an individual.  This individual has a resonance that impacts not only on myself, but also on his mates and those he holds near and dear.  Does not that impact render one immortal and if so, is that the influence of a soul, that incorporeal essence of being?

Whether or not my son has a soul is irrelevant really.   What that man was insinuating was that my child, and others who were conceived via assisted reproductive services, is somehow deficient and not a complete human being.  It’s that sort of bigotry that has fuelled the justification of those who would impose segregation on others, and worse.  I just hope for his sake that when the time comes that he wants to reproduce, that his swimmers are up to the task. How would he cope with fathering soul-less children of his own?  That would be karma.