Saturday 8 August 2009

The government gives you a free house - then what?

Three bedrooms, 12 occupants, 10 years of waiting - that is the title of a story from The Australian earlier this week. I read it over breakfast on Thursday, and unfortunately, the online version of the story is not accompanied by the photo that was used in the paper edition.

On Friday, a letter appeared in the paper about this story, and I just noticed that it has attracted some comments.

The photo was quite stunning - stunning for what was not in it. The photo appeared to show the lounge or living room of the house in question - I'm not sure of that exactly, as the caption was not that explicit.

Apart from some scribblings on the wall, the room was empty, bar a sleeping mat in one corner.

No table. No chairs. No book cases. No sideboard. No carpets. No paintings. No books. Nothing.

And this family have lived there for 10 years.

One might ask, "Where are your chairs?"

The usual answer would be along the lines of, "Chairs are not culturally appropriate for Aboriginals. They prefer sitting on the ground."


To start with, Aboriginal culture is not some monolithic, homogeneous thing. Whilst there may in fact be an Aboriginal clan that has developed a cultural rule against chairs, I am sure that there are plenty of other clans that have different rules.

I say it has fuck all to do with culture and everything to do with poverty.

If you walked into a house owned by one of the "big men", I'm sure it would be full of chairs. Dining chairs, sofas, arm chairs, office chairs, chaise lounges and so on. The rich have furniture, the poor squat in the dirt. The rich fellas, whether they be blackfellas or whitefellas, who have grown fat from the spoils system that is Aboriginal affairs, fob off questions from stupid white southern journalists by use of the word "culture". I'm over it.

If we journeyed back 1000 years into my ancestry and visited the auld country, we'd find that the king and nobles had chairs - the king in fact had a throne - the bishops and clergy had chairs, the merchants and artisans had chairs, and the peasants sat in the dirt. The peasants sat in the dirt because they were too busted arse broke to own furniture.

And so it is today.

So I wonder, what is the point of giving a new house to someone who has not accumulated a single stick of furniture over the time that they have bred five children; children old enough to have produced three grandchildren. (By the way, the numbers in the story do not add up. It mentions the main protagonist and five children and three grandchildren, but says 12 people live there. Who are the missing three?)

By the way, the photo also showed scribblings on the wall behind the occupants. The letter writer picked that up, describing it as graffiti. I wouldn't call it that, but I did note one thing - it was all about five feet above the ground. One thing I know about young kids is that some of them write on the walls - ours don't, but I have seen others doing it. They tend to write about a foot or so off the ground, as that is as high as a 4 or 5 year old can reach. The scribblings in the house in question were clearly done by teenagers or grown ups - people who you would expect would know better. When adults are doing childish things, that's a worry.


kae said...

We should build them more houses at a million a pop so that they're not so crowded....

Emily said...

Maybe the missing 3 people out of the 12 are what they use as chairs?

kae said...


Inspector Hobbes has a point.

Perhaps they need to be packed in like sardines.