The Price of Progress

April 4, 2019 at 1:50 pm | Posted in Australia, discrimination, divisions in society, Politics, Social Responsibility, Society, Ways of Living | 16 Comments
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This is a short story I wrote about power & powerlessness; rich vs poor. 

 

“Can’t you just admit that the Council laws are only meant to help the rich?”

“Of course they aren’t. You’re just like the rest, trying to find somebody to blame for your own shortcomings. Our city re-development is for the good of everyone; who wants to live in a slum? And our labour laws are fair and just. They reward those who put in the effort.”

His words seemed relaxed enough, and he appeared outwardly at ease. However, to the eyes of a keen observer, the Mayor’s impatience with the journalist’s questions showed in a brief narrowing of his eyes and a slight shuffle in his chair. He was tired of this incessant revisiting of the subject.

“It’s a pity those sixty people were made homeless when the old tenements were bulldozed, but there was nothing I could do about that. Those old buildings were an eyesore. How could we hold a major inter-city event with buildings like that still standing? We’d be laughed at.”

The fact that many, indeed most, of those former tenants had been forced to move derelict houses outside the city boundaries and were living there in squalid conditions was not his fault. His tenure as mayor had seen continual development and economic progress in the city. Many people had benefited from his social and industrial reforms.

“But those people can’t find a decent place to live now. They’re too poor.”

“True Kangans should be too proud to live in such conditions. Those people should get themselves a job like any other good citizen, instead of blaming the Council for their plight.”

“But Mayor, most of the men do have jobs.”

“Then what’s the problem? What are they carrying on about? Can’t they manage their money properly like sensible people?”

“Mayor, the only jobs they can get are menial ones, like cleaners, or factory labourers or hospitality work. Those jobs pay so little that no one can afford to even rent a decent house in the city.”

“Then they should work harder instead of whingeing. The reforms in the Council’s labour agreements means that if they work hard they’ll get more money.”

“That would be fine if the hourly rates were sufficient, but even when they work ten hours a day, they barely make enough to feed and clothe their families.”

“They signed individual agreements with the Council that they would work at those rates. They didn’t need to do that. They could have found other work.”

“There is no other work for them. They don’t have the education required for higher paying jobs.”

“They should have finished their education, just as I did, then they could have well paying jobs. Why should I be blamed for their indolence?”

“Their parents couldn’t afford to send them to high school, Your Worship. You abolished free secondary education, remember.”

“Education is never valued unless it has to be paid for. It’s not the Council’s role to provide free services. Anyway, that’s not the issue here.”

“It’s part of the problem, sir. If these people had been educated, they might have been able to bargain a little, at least at one time. Now, with your new laws, the employers have all the say. The workers don’t have a chance.”

“But of course the employers should have a say in how they run their businesses. They are the ones who are putting up their own money, after all. Look how much these companies have done for the people of this city. They’ve cut the cost of production so that goods are much cheaper. Why, I can buy a computer package now for half what it cost five years ago.”

“I’m not denying that, Your Grace. You certainly can, but those workers can’t. They get less money than they earned five years ago – a third of the pay, and they must work longer hours for it. They don’t even get a guaranteed fifteen-minute meal break, or annual holidays.”

“That’s their own fault. They took the jobs. They knew the conditions.”

“What I’m saying, sir, is that you’ve taken away the workers’ right to fair conditions. They are not allowed to unite to provide a common argument to help their cause. The employer just tells them that if they want the job they must accept the conditions. They are just like slaves.”

“Don’t be silly. That’s just using emotive language instead of reasoned argument. Now, if they need more money, then their wives can work. After all, we live in a city that values women’s input just as much as men’s.”

“The women who have children can’t go out to work, Mr Mayor. There’s no one to look after the children. You passed a law forbidding children to be left alone after that boy fell off the broken swing in the park and the parents threatened to sue the council.”

“That was a good law, just like the one forbidding parents to traumatise their children by smacking them on the wrist. If people can’t look after their children and keep them safe from abuse and danger, then the Council must pass laws to make them. Anyway, they can put them into child-care centres. The Council has wonderful facilities to care for children. It’s one of Kanga Council’s achievements that I pride myself on. My wife thinks the one our children attend every day is wonderful. She wouldn’t be able to go to the gym or to tennis or even to civic functions if we hadn’t established those centres.”

“Mr Mayor, you can afford child care at those centres, but these poor people can’t. The cost for one day there for one child is equal to what a woman can earn in a week.”

“Well I’m not to blame for that. The centres have to make ends meet.”

The mayor stood up and leaned across the desk.

“Look, young man, I’ve had enough of all this. You want me to back down and say that my, er, the Council’s policies, are to blame for those people living in disgusting conditions. That’s simply not true. Everyone makes a choice. If they’ve made the wrong one then they have to live with it. Now, thank you and good day.”

“Your Worship, before I go, can I ask you one last question?”

“All right, but that’s all. I have to get to a banquet for the Mayor of Yankey, who’s visiting for our Games.”

“Mr Morris, why do you think “fairness” and “justice” and “equality” are dirty words?”

 

4th April 2019

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Epidemic (3)

June 15, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in 1960s, Australia, Family History, Memoir, Polio epidemic | 16 Comments
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monday-memoir-badge

Continuing the story of our family’s experiences during the polio epidemic that raged along the Illawarra coast of NSW, Australia, in 1961.

On a Tuesday, exactly two weeks after Dad became ill and four weeks after David had, my older sister Pauline came down with similar symptoms: nausea, weakness, difficulty walking. By then, Dad had managed to get his chest muscles working well enough that he was transferred back to Wollongong, although he was still in isolation. Not allowed out of our home, we couldn’t even see him.

I think that, at some stage during this period, David may have come home from hospital. I seem to remember him behind glass, crying for Mum, but, as we were still in isolation, it may be a false memory; we would not have been allowed out.

When Pauline was admitted, the doctors didn’t want Dad to know, as they thought it would retard his progress. However Mum disagreed and word was somehow got to him. As Pauline was also in the isolation ward, he was at least able to see her.

Pauline’s diagnosis had meant we had to remain confined at home another two weeks. Mum could not go shopping – we had no money anyway – and my younger sister and I ended up finishing the year unable to go back to school. Fortunately, Pauline had been inoculated with Salk vaccine, so she was only mildly affected once the initial sickness wore off. She came home after the two-week period of isolation was over.

Because all of us were isolated, Mum didn’t have even Peter’s meagre wages to bring in food. We lived on food parcels and other charity during this time. The local policeman, Sergeant Rose was great. He arranged to have money from the Police Benevolent Fund paid to Mum on a regular basis. He came to the house, in spite of the isolation order, to deliver it personally and make sure we were all right. The church and parishioners came to the rescue too. Father Greely, the parish priest, made an appeal from the altar, and two hundred pounds was raised. Mum was a great one for making pennies do a pound’s work, and that money lasted us quite a few months.

There were heavy rains around the region at that time, with roads closed due to flooding. David’s playmate Jeffrey’s father, went to bring Dad home from the hospital. He just managed to get there before floods closed the roads between us and Wollongong. After picking Dad up, they had to go a long way around to find roads that were still open and that would get them home.

Dad had been told not to try to walk, so he came home to a wheelchair. It was not a lovely padded and comfortable steel or aluminium one; I don’t even know where it came from. It was ancient, straight-backed, made of wood, with lattice-work seat and back. It had huge wheels, solid rubber tyres, and a flip-up footrest. I think a more uncomfortable chair could not have been found. The damage done to Dad’s nerves and muscles appeared to be confined to the whole right side of his body below the neck. My little brother was affected in his left leg, mainly at the ankle.

Dad’s and David’s crutches were the same basic style as this but much more primitive.

Dad’s and David’s crutches were the same basic style as this but much more primitive.

The specialist had told Dad categorically that he would never walk again. And that is what we all believed – apart from Dad. And again, the doctors didn’t reckon with Dad’s determination. Bill, the man who lived next door to us then was a boilermaker. He made Dad some crutches, the kind that has a handle and a wrist support. The crutches were made, not out of light aluminium, but out of heavy pipe steel. They were heavy, not adjustable for height, with only a rest for the forearm, not a grip, and with no padding at all. Using them, Dad forced himself onto his legs and feet again. Bill also made a mini-pair of crutches from the same materials for three-year-old David.

On his first return visit to the specialist, Dad used the crutches to get into the man’s office instead of using a wheelchair – he couldn’t have taken one up the steps and into the place anyway. The specialist castigated him for not following his orders to have complete rest. A few days later, Dad received a letter from him saying that as Dad was so unco-operative, he would no longer consider having him as a patient.

Dad was on his own – and glad to be. He didn’t want anything to do with the specialists, seeing them as stuck-up know-it-alls who actually knew nothing at all. Dad believed that he had to keep his muscles working if he wanted to get back any semblance of normality – if you don’t use it, you lose it. He wouldn’t let idiots tell him he had to do nothing. Unknown to us at the time, the work of Sister Kenny with polio patients had strongly supported this approach with great results. From then on, Dad worked at getting himself mobile with only the help of his family, a couple of friends, and his steely resolve to walk again.

The newspaper article, with Dad and David.

The newspaper article, with Dad and David.

In December, shortly after Dad came out of the hospital, with David also at home by then, the local newspaper, the Illawarra Daily Mercury sent a reported to interview him. Being the only family in the district with three members of the family affected by the polio epidemic, the paper decided it would make a good human interest story. Dad was interviewed as he half lay-half sat on a bed in the living room. The story was accompanied by a photo of Dad and David, Pauline was still in the hospital I believe, and wasn’t included.

But Dad still had other problems. Because of his debts, we were very close to losing the house that Dad had mostly built by himself. He had taken out a couple of mortgages on the place to finance the building and, I believe to keep his business going. He owed the bank a few hundred pounds – a fortune to us then. We were on the verge of being evicted from, with no place to go, when we heard from the head of the Royal Air Forces Association in Sydney.

The Association was set up to assist ex-servicemen who had belonged to any of the Allied Air Forces in WWII. The president had somehow seen or heard about the “Mercury” article on Dad and the dire financial situation he was in. As Dad had been an R.A.F. fighter pilot in the war, he arranged to come down and see him. The Association offered to pay off Dad’s debts. However, it was on condition that they be allowed to take over ownership of our home.

The alternative was homelessness. Dad couldn’t work to support his wife and five children. Here, he was being offered life tenancy of the house even though he could never own it. There was no other option for him but to take up their offer. We all lived there until we kids married and left home. Mum died in the house in 1984, and Dad lived there until his death, just before his 92nd birthday in June 2013.

That epidemic changed our lives. It took months before Dad was granted a T.P.I. government pension as being totally and permanently incapacitated. It was the charity of the church and friends that kept us going until then. There wasn’t much in the way of material gifts for us that Christmas, but our family was together again, with the promise of a more secure future than we could ever have expected. That was a priceless gift.

© Linda Visman

B is for Butcher and Bicycle

April 2, 2014 at 11:59 am | Posted in Family, Family History, History, Ways of Living, Writing and Life | 15 Comments
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A2Z-BADGE-000 [2014]

Dad left school in early 1935 at the age of thirteen and a half. He was on his way home from school when he saw a notice in the window of a butcher’s shop in his home town of Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, England. The notice said “Boy Wanted”.

DSCF8547

He went into the shop and the butcher said, “Yes, son. What can I do for you?”

“It’s not what I can do for you, sir. You have a sign that says ‘Boy Wanted’. I’m a boy and I want a job.”

The butcher was impressed with Dad’s attitude and said that, if he was available and if his parents agreed, he could start the next day. He never returned to school, and went to work for the butcher six days a week, taking orders and delivering them by heavy bicycle to the local farms and villages, over rough roads and hilly country, in sunshine, sleet and snow.

Butcher's shop 1920s

Dad handed all his earnings to his mother to go towards feeding the family, but he was allowed to keep sixpence a week.

A few months later, Dad decided he wanted his own bicycle. He approached the owner of the local bike shop and asked if he could purchase a fixed-wheel bike (their cheapest) for sixpence down and sixpence a week.1909_Royal_Enfield_bike

When the owner found that Dad had a regular job, he agreed to the terms Dad had stated. Dad paid his sixpence religiously every week. By the time he moved on to an apprenticeship as a moulder at age fourteen, he had fully paid for the bike.

During the warmer days of the northern England summer weekends, Dad rode that bike, then a better one he bought later, over many miles of countryside. He would take some bread and meat, or bacon and eggs, and camp overnight by a brook, sleeping on a tarpaulin and wrapped in a blanket.

He said that those weekends were wonderful for a teenage lad with a sense of adventure, and regretted that the freedom he had then has now been lost.

Young man with bike 1920s

The story of the butcher and of the bicycle shows how Dad exhibited initiative and determination from an early age. He kept both of those qualities all his life.

 

Do you think youngsters show enough initiative and determination these days? Do you think they have lost many of the opportunities that once existed for youngsters with such qualities?

 

© Linda Visman 02.04.14

Entitlement or Responsibility?

August 3, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Posted in Philosophy, Social Responsibility | 2 Comments
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The choice of TV stations and free-to-air programmes, as well as of pay TV, has certainly expanded considerably in the last couple of years. Then again, this is like many other aspects of our society. We have access to so much, and for such little cost, that it is almost, if not literally, obscene.

There are so many people in the world who struggle to keep body and soul together, or to have any kind of personal freedom. And yet most of us in western society have everything we need, and more, so easily and so cheaply. And it is usually based upon the exploitation of cheap, exploited, overseas labour in third-world countries.

We have also come to expect this as our right, and that is tragic for our greedy and selfish society.

We are not learning – or indeed, teaching our younger generation, that it is a good and positive thing to work for what you get. It should not be handed out on a damask-covered platter.

How will our young ones learn responsibility if they are given whatever they want? How will they even know the satisfaction and sense of achievement that comes with doing something for themselves?

How will they learn to exercise their imaginations if they are spoon-fed with computer games and movies and wii games, with instant communications and instant gratification, with advertising and political exploitation.

How can they stretch their creativity if they cannot make something from almost nothing, to fulfil their needs, or even for their entertainment?

I fear that there is coming a time when creativity will be stifled – if it has not already arrived. The exceptions will be those few who are given the opportunity to stretch themselves by caring and discerning parents, and those who have the strength of character to go their own way, against the pressures of conformity.

These are the ones who give us hope for a future that is not robotic or constrained by the bread and circuses of those who rule by giving the masses what they want.

We should hold back on giving our children what should be earned, and on allowing what they should produce from their own creativity.

 

© Linda Visman, August 2011

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