What sort of Australia do I want?

Actually, the Australia I live in is pretty good, if I compare it to other countries in which I’ve lived and/or worked. I decided against both England and the US when I could have had good jobs in each. Why not England? The class system, I guess, was the clincher, even though I would have been up there rather than down there. America? Too much gun violence, even in a lovely mid-west college town. Canada? Too cold, apart from Vancouver. New Zealand? Not foreign enough, but the country, scenery and people were and are wonderful.

That’s only one sort of comparison. If I compare the Australia of today with the Australia of the mid-fifties, when I became an adult, today’s Australia is a lot better in almost every way. Life expectancy, medical care, education, general wealth — today’s Australians are well off compared with their grandparents. The country is more diverse in its population, too, and I think that’s a real win, though not everyone would agree with me. More Australians have seen more of the world, and they’re not so stuck in their ways. There is a strong sense of “us”, no colonial cringe that I can detect, and we don’t say how good we are. We leave that to the Americans —all right, some Americans.

But there are weaknesses, and ways in which the Australia of today is worse off than its counterpart sixty-five years ago. One is homelessness, the other is poverty. Both are evident on a daily basis in the Canberra suburb in which I live. All those years ago there was no apparent homelessness and no beggars. The police would have moved any beggar on, I think (on to where I’m not sure), while family ties, strong during the Depression and the war, would find shelter for a family member. Family was important.

There may be other ways in which today’s Australia is worse than its antecedent, but those two, and of course they are related, are the ones that stick out for me. Why do we have beggars and the homeless in a country that has ample provision of wealth for all? My first suggested cause is the declining power of “family”. My own family has stories of the way in which siblings helped each other in times of stress. One sister took charge of another’s new-born baby while the mother was restored to health after a somewhat destructive child-birth. When she needed to return the infant she felt so lost without him that she had another baby herself. Do such cases still continue today? I don’t know.

Then there is the teenage threat to leave home if he/she doesn’t get what is demanded. The power of family to shepherd young people through adolescence is not as strong as it was. I was occasionally rambunctious as a teenager, but it would never have occurred to me to leave home. Today’s teenagers often work as well as study, and they have money as well as high aspirations, an apartment, a car, freedom! They plan to hire an apartment with two friends, and live the exciting life, free of demands from parents, and chores. Alas, there are still chores to do in the apartment, and one of the trio will be lackadaisical about doing them. The trio breaks up, and one of them maybe will add herself to the homeless list. I don’t see many teenagers outside our local shopping mall. The ones sitting down with crudely written signs are older, and a bit raddled from drugs, I often think. I often carry change to give to them, and wonder what the money is spent on. Whose responsibility are they?

Are they the result of broken marriages? Where do they go at night? Do they have children? If they do, why aren’t the children looking after them? My guess is that part of the reason here is the growth of individualism, and the decline of a feeling of community. What has happened to APEX, Lions and the like in the new burbs? My guess is that they are fading. I have no data, but the urban location of Apex clubs is a bit of a mystery. There’s an Apex club in Tuggeranong ACT, but no other club is listed. They abound where there are real communities — country towns being the obvious location. The clubs that are on every list are not those, but the clubs that cater for one’s individual interests, archery, lawn bowls, calisthenics, chess. And, of course, the ubiquitous licensed clubs.

That is a real change, and I remember well the time they came in, the late 1960s. I was talking to a local MP for a country electorate. I enthused about the wonderful soldiers club the town now had, with a theatre that could seat a thousand people. He made a sort of growly noise. ‘Yes, all that’s true. But I see the other side of things. The club has three thousand members, that’s the same number, give or take a few, in the whole town. The cafes are closing because the club provides cheaper meals. It works because of gambling. I don’t gamble. I’ll put a coin or two in the machines, but I almost have to. We used to have a few problem gamblers. Now we have a lot.’

I’m a bit like him. I don’t gamble because I see no point in it. I’m a member of a club that gobbles up failing sporting clubs, and I don’t even put a coin in the slot. But I often eat at one of its branches. Canberra has a lot of problem gamblers, and maybe a lot of problem eaters, too.

The third way in which you can compare one thing to another is by setting out an ideal, and judging the extent to which what we have is deficient in terms of the ideal. Some of the ideal is not possible. For example, that Australians should all live in harmony with one another and with the rest of the world seems to me an impossible ideal. But I don’t think it is impossible to see a better Australia in which there were almost no homeless and almost no beggars. How would we achieve that? I don’t know. That’s the truth. Yes, we could clear them from the front of the shopping mall, but that is to deal with the symptom, not the problem. I would like a return, at least part of the way, to the strong feeling of community that we once had. There are people doing their best to achieve that in their own areas. More power to their elbows!

Join the discussion 30 Comments

  • Hasbeen says:

    I do not believe the habit of giving to these people is a real kindness Don. It only encourages them to continue spending the welfare they should be using to support themselves, the way that tens of thousands of others do, on what ever they currently waste it on. Most welfare recipients manage to find somewhere to call home, so why can’t the “homeless”.

    Some, perhaps many are the victim of the closure of mental institutions. I have never known if the do-gooders or the been counters who were responsible for that catastrophe, but it was a major mistake. They were surely the best option for those incapable of looking after themselves due to mental problems, & should be reestablished. Meanwhile I believe giving individuals a small is more likely to do harm, rather than help.

    There is no physical reason for anyone to be homeless in Oz today, so for those who are, it is mental support they need, not extra financial.

  • John says:

    In regional Australia the various service clubs have diminished too. I blame the supermarkets. When I was young supermarkets didn’t sell alcohol; that was the local pub’s domain. These days the supermarkets don’t simply sell alcohol in line with the pubs but they sell it at a lower price. That and the drink-driving laws has meant either the end or a massive downturn in business for the pubs.

    The pubs that used to be the social centre of town. Having a yarn, getting volunteers to help with something either physical or financial was the kind of thing that was done in the pub, and out of that the local branches of service organizations were born. Emptying pubs and people buying alcohol to drive at home have removed that social cohesion, the being part of the community and working to better it. A few, very few, supermarkets put money back into the community but it’s it’s only money, not time and effort. Does anyone reading this remember working-bees ?

  • Aert Driessen says:

    Don, I agree with Hasbeen. Dropping coins in beggars’ bowls does nothing other than buy the next cig. First line of support should be the govt like Centrelink. Next line should be the Salvos or Vinnies. Clubs like Rotary and Apex are little more than social clubs. Then, have you heard of Ozmarket? The will pick up expired ‘use-by-date’ food and distribute it, even prepare meals from it. But I always try and support those who will work for a coin, like windscreen cleaners at traffic lights. I also see this country going backwards, but not for the same reasons. I think the reasons are mostly driven by leftist politics, but let’s not go there.

  • Chris Warren says:

    Yes the increase in beggars is hard to understand. There were none in Canberra in the 1970’s as I recall and I don’t think that this was due to police action.

    I think we need an Australia where the rich don’t get richer and the poor don’t get poorer and we do not leave the ecology in a worse predicament than we gained hold of it.

    • Peter S says:

      My first experience with beggars was at the train station in Paris in 1974 – they were Romanian Gypsies. A few weeks later I was in San Francisco and they were everyone and a lot of them quite young. I had never seen beggars in Australia. The closest was the odd swagman dropping in to do some chores in exchange for a feed.

      Now they are everywhere and and range from young teenagers to elderly adults. I some time wonder whether the restructuring of psychological services for people with mental illnesses is responsible. We once had specialist hospitals like Larundel, where an older sister spent a stint rehabilitating from alchoholism. In the 90’s the social engineers decided to move away from institutional care, where at least they were housed and and move the inmates into the community in smaller housing units, run by charities such as the Richmond Fellowship. In time I suspect many of these individuals drifted out onto the streets.

      The other big change that has occurred since the 70’s is increasing usage of drugs and the wider diversity of drugs. Combine that with alcohol abuse, disintegration of families, domestic abuse and we have fertile grounds for producing homeless people and beggars.

      Like Don, I don’t have any answers.

  • JMO says:

    I have said this time and time again.
    If we confiscated all assets from everyone and with the proceeds give ( say) $ 1 million (or more) to each and everyone. Everyone equal, equal outcomes, equal opportunity, equal wealth.
    Within a month we will have beggars on the street.
    Ecology better or worse has nothing to do with it.
    It was ever thus.

  • spangled drongo says:

    Good post as always, Don.

    The main reason for current community problems is lack of discipline in bringing up and educating kids.

    When I was young we used to break in hundreds of horses every year in order to run the station, and to control and work with those big numbers those horses had to understand where they stood and to give respect otherwise you would be dead.

    You draw the line and show them where that line is.

    And they soon understand and love and respect you for it.

    And relationships not only function smoothly from then on, they bloom into often unbelievable capabilities and capacities.

    So it is with kids.

    When we were kids, parents and teachers drew the line and we observed it and thrived.

    Life doesn’t work like that anymore and the results are very obvious.

    • Neville says:

      Thanks for that accurate and logical link SD. What a disaster and we certainly need to build only reliable BASE-LOAD power for our future energy needs.
      That’s the Australia I want for our future, not the delusional, TOXIC S&W idiocy.

  • Neville says:

    Here’s more of what I’d like to see in Australia and the sooner the better.
    What a pity that so called historians and Anthropologists etc take so long to correct obvious errors and stupidity.
    This Dark Emu nonsense has been allowed an access to children’s + some so called adult’s (???) imaginations for far too long.
    Now even the SMH and The Age have allowed experts to challenge these fantasies and yet 250,000 of these books have been sold and the author has received Vic+ NSW Premier’s literary awards and years of promotion, support and adoration by their ABC etc.
    Andrew Bolt called out this nonsense years ago and had the support of Prof Blainey etc over the years. That anyone believes that Aborigines have been residing in Australia for 120,000+ years is beyond a joke and the fantasy of any type of farming and animal enclosures etc is laughable and a very sick joke. Here’s the SMH link and I also feel the sense of outrage with Prof Sutton.


  • Neville says:

    The Bolter has come out swinging against Pascoe and in support of the Academic’s claims in the SMH. And he also used the F word.
    But will their ABC +Premiers+ Teachers etc and all the other delusional donkeys really apologise and admit that for years they believed in these stupid fairy tales?
    Here’s the Bolt quote.


    “To me, white “Aboriginal historian” Bruce Pascoe is the biggest fraud in Australian literary history. Now the Sydney Morning Herald admits two top academics prove his book Dark Emu, claiming Aborigines were actually farmers in towns, actually “distorts and exaggerates” and is “riddled with errors of fact”. Will the ABC finally say sorry”?

    • spangled drongo says:

      Thanks Neville. You just can’t believe that a national institution like the ABC would preach this sort of crap in the name of factual history.

      There is no end to the lies they will spread when it involves belittling western culture.

      This govt should tell them straight; shape up or ship out!

      Full marks to Andrew Bolt for sticking with the facts and convincing others to do likewise.

    • Bryan Roberts says:

      “Will the ABC finally say sorry”?

      Um, no.

  • Neville says:

    Here’s a referendum I’d like to see in Australia. Swiss voters have rejected a tax on fuel etc and is a direct snub to their govt’s stupidity and extremism and a warning to the EU.
    In fact the Swiss emit only 0.1% of global co2 emissions so it doesn’t mean anything compared to the monster emitters in the NON OECD countries.
    China, India and other NON- OECD countries combined now emit about 66% of global emissions with ongoing co2 growth for decades into the future.
    And with Chinese money, engineering and influence Africa will build many new Coal power stns and the rest of SE Asia will continue to see strong growth as well.


  • Neville says:

    More on the Bruce Pascoe hoax/fra-d and Ken Wyatt’s sacking of Aboriginal lawyer Josephine Cashman, because she wouldn’t accept Pascoe’s dubious claims.
    Unbelievable but true and the corruption involved over many years of the ABC’s promotion of this nonsense is beyond belief. And children/ students have been misled by their ABC and teachers and schools + the viewers who are stupid enough to trust their ABC.
    Will these fools ever wake up to these con merchants?


  • Chris Warren says:

    What sort of Australia do I want?

    One where the Prime Minister is not under the influence of nutty, rightwing conspiracy, climate denying views from the likes of QAnon.

    • spangled drongo says:

      You already have that, silly deluded one.

      Just not an Australia where blitherers are not under the influence of left wing conspiracy, climate denying views of those who choose to promote lies.

      You are the only ones who can fix that problem.

    • Boambee John says:


      Is that story true, or did you hear it on Their ABC?

      The wives were friends.

  • Neville says:

    This is a very interesting first contact story in October 1964 and shows the remnants of a WA desert tribe who had never seen the white man ( were they devils or cannibals) or trucks ( rocks that moved) .
    It’s very moving to listen to the much older adult women in 2006 tell the story of how scared they were as young kids and incredible to see themselves as they were and the way they lived.
    This is also the story of Woomera and the blue streak rocket program that led to the search for people in the drop zone in WA.
    How this fits with Pascoe and their ABC fantasies today is truly a puzzle to many of us I’m sure. The actual “first contact” starts at about 28 minutes into the video.

    • spangled drongo says:

      Very interesting, Neville.

      Yes, for anyone who had contact with Aboriginals in their original state, as I did when as a teenager I was “apprenticed” to the local tribe’s rainmaker [mainly for the purpose of finding Kopi, a poor quality mica which was mixed with the kidney fat of a water-borne animal as the essential brew to make it rain] and also for the purpose of writing to all the other surrounding tribes’ rainmakers so they would all start at the same time, Pascoe’s stories just didn’t hold up.

      It’s interesting that your video above looks like an old ABC TV story and if these people were at all interested in that truth they already possessed, they would never have promoted their Pascoe blurb.

      But when you have an agenda, what’s truth got to do with anything?

    • Chris Warren says:

      This is probably the only useful thing Neville has ever posted.

  • spangled drongo says:

    MickMack informs us of the Australia we have.

    Alice Workman in the Oz:

    Blessed are the cheesemakers! Not only those who can now trade with the British but farmers providing sharp traps for the plague of mice and men along the east coast of Australia.

    “I live in a community where they are ravaged by mice,” Michael McCormack cried in question time, putting the acting into Acting Prime Minister. “And there is nothing worse than the stench of mice. There is nothing worse than having mice running rampant around your house, around your farm, around your factory.

    “We have, of course, PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals … saying the mice, the poor little curious creatures, should be rehomed.”

    MickMack’s cheesy solution has a catch, which left Josh Frydenberg and Sussan Ley in teary-eyed stitches. “I agree they should be rehomed, into their inner-city apartments so they can nibble away at their food and feet at night and scratch their children at night,” he belted across the chamber as the Labor benches blew up.

    You know what they say … location, location, location!

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