Old folk at lunch

Friday, October 24, 2003


A point I have made clear on a number of occasions is that I think it makes a difference that I generally speak from a lot of experience rather than from theory about "The poor" (or "underprivileged" in Leftist jargon).

One of the great Leftist themes is their "compassion" for the poor. But from what they say it is clear that the average dreaming Leftist intellectual knows only as much about the poor as he can imagine from the comfort of a well-paid middle class job and general middle-class background. I however was born into a working-class family (my father was a lumberjack) so I have always been perfectly familiar and at ease with the poorer members of my society and been able to speak to them using their own idioms, concepts, values and characteristic beliefs.

I actually have to make some effort to write this blog in international English as my natural tendency is to express myself in the vivid Australian vernacular. If I were writing this blog solely for an Australian working class audience, for instance, I would be able to convey very accurately my impression of Leftists by saying that they are people who are always "bunging on an act", who are not "fair dinkum" and who are always "big-noting" themselves -- but I doubt very much that such terms would be universally understood in the way intended. All three terms are, by the way, expressions of extreme contempt among Australian working class people.

Because my background made it possible, I did for a couple of years not so long ago own and run a large boarding house in one of Brisbane's poorest suburbs (Ipswich). My tenants were almost exclusively long-term unemployed and, yes, I did accept black tenants. The law was of absolutely no use in managing such people. The previous owner of the place was an "outsider" and had experienced financial disaster as a result.

Because I understood the type of people I had as tenants, however, I WAS able to manage them and made good money out of the business. And I would not have been able to eject "campers", single-handedly clear a room full of interlopers or physically throw out druggies if I had not always known the right psychological buttons to push. I always did such tasks with impunity even though I am not physically imposing and even though I was often dealing with hardened criminals.

My psychology was practical as well as theoretical -- largely because it was founded on an intimate understanding of the people I was dealing with. If anybody thinks they know the Australian underclass better than I do, I would like to see them do the sort of thing I did without getting their head punched in.

So what were my tenants like? Foolish. Few if any, for instance, were keen shoppers. Almost all would buy a lot of their food and other requirements from nearby service stations and "convenience" stores even though prices there were up to 50% higher than at the supermarket only a short walk further down the road. If that does not tell you that a lot of poverty is self-inflicted, I do not know what would.

And dishonesty and criminality were rife among them. They were always stealing from one-another. Anybody who had anything of value in his room was very unwise to walk out of his room without locking the door behind him. They WERE often unwise of course so there was an awful lot of "lost" money and property among them. If that does not tell you that poverty is closely associated with moral breakdown, I do not know what would.

And despite the fact that all of them lived entirely from welfare payment to welfare payment, all of them could afford to drink (alcohol) and smoke. On "payday", there was a regular parade of cardboard boxes of "Fruity Lexia" (a cheap but pleasant Australian white wine) into the premises. If that does not tell you that they were not really poor I do not know what would.

Maybe I will say later how I think the welfare system should be reformed in the light of what "the poor" really are like.