Friday, November 20, 2009

#138: Psychotic Reaction

Next time someone says, “I’ve seen everything,” punch them in the face. Hard. And more than once. Then say, "My dear friend, you, sir, are a goddamned liar." Because they haven’t. Far from it. So stick with me here, this won’t take long at all.

In my current occupation as a spoon I’m always on the look out for things to avoid. Things to avoid, for me, generally take the form of serious conflict, angry people and especially those who appear to be seriously unbalanced. And, as a spoon, I am now very attuned to these people, can spot them a mile off and am able to neatly side-step out of danger’s way and scurry off to whatever corner of the world I’m allowed to exist in this week. Case in point: I decided to break my diet and try the new place on a street well known for violence and oddball characters. Well, the place isn’t well known for violence (other than the standard Saturday night/Sunday morning crowd), it’s better known as a place that sells deep fried food which is seagull at best, but pigeon generally, all wrapped up and coated in some basic herbs and spices, the former being a sprinkle of Masterfoods Mixed Herbs and the latter consisting of Worcestershire sauce mixed with curry powder. I walked in, grabbed something that was sold as food stuffs and sat down. I then noticed him.

Six foot nothing; he stood there in the middle of the room and picked a fight in full view of everyone. No-one intervened at all, I certainly wasn’t going to get up and assist. He was violent and very loud and hurled abuse at his victim, which just happened to be….a bacon double seagull burger. He addressed the burger like he’d just discovered that not only had it had carnal knowledge of his wife, mother, sister, uncle but even himself at some stage. “You fucking c*nt!” he screamed. “I’ll fuckin’ have you!! BASTARRRDDDDD!” After a full five minutes of this he stormed outside. I’m not entirely sure what the burger had said to begin the fracas, but it didn’t look too bothered by it, indeed it appeared to be very nonchalant and dismissive of the man’s overall attitude.

It didn’t end there. By the time I’d finished and walked out he was in the middle of the street. He’d finished off his seagull and bacon burger and was now hell bent on handing out the hiding of the century to a 600ml bottle of Pepsi Max. He moved about like a drunken Ali in a pool of Golden Syrup as he bashed his bottle like he’d discovered it owed him money. “DON’T YOU FUCKIN’ BACK ANSWER ME!!” was one of the more interesting things he screamed as he head butted, punched and kicked the hapless bottle from one side of the street to the other and then back again for another go. Again, no-one seemed to know who actually started the rumble, but the odds are fairly high that the bottle wasn’t the either the instigator not the retaliator. Indeed the bottle, and its contents, remained steadfast in its silence though and refused to even give a basic grunt – one tough cookie. This spectacle lasted for at least three minutes, during which, amongst the indifference shown by the assembled masses, I noticed the presence of someone next to me. I glanced over and saw two representatives of the law also standing, transfixed by what they were witnessing. “Aren’t you going to do something?” asked a passerby. “Nah,” replied one, “the bottle is holding its own.”

I suspect that while the bottle was able to retain its contents, the man’s head wasn’t able to say the same.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

#137: Radioactive

The Melbourne Cup should no longer be billed as "The Race That Stops A Nation", if we were to be totally accurate then it should be, "The Race That Ensures All Productivity Ceases For At Least A Day And A Half, Depending On Who Wins, Who Gets Drunkest And Who Scores In The Filing Closet."

Back in the day, and I mean when Moses was a lad, the Melbourne Cup was the premier horse racing event on the Australian sporting calendar. Now it’s the premier racing event on the social calendar. You tell me what went wrong because I have no idea. I think when someone dragged Jean ‘The Shrimp’ Shrimpton to the event and allowed her to show off her long legs and tight buns it all went tits up. Certainly by the time Susan Renauf-Peacock-Sangster-Alphabet graced the event and Sir John Kerr gave one of the more fondly remembered of all drunken speeches (along the lines of “Blaarrgghhhh tha’ fuggin’ Gough fuggin' Whitlam and that fuggin' caaannnttt, Malcolm, don't fuggin' get me started…ahhh fuggit!”) and followed it up with a good spew in a bin it no longer resembled a horse race. Gone are the days when the only female allowed into Flemington had four legs, a long nose and wasn’t Sarah Jessica-Parker no matter how close the resemblance. Gone are the days when men would grace Flemington wearing pork pie hats, drinking cans and smoking darts, they’ve now been replaced by a gaggle of Z-List wannabe celebrities and potential date rapists and their victims; all wearing some of the stupidest outfits this side of Al Grasby and his bloody ties and wide lapels. Perhaps the Race stopped being about horses (well, the four legged variety at least) when ‘they’ – and I have no idea who the mysterious ‘they’ are – invited Paris ‘Man Hands’ Hilton to the event. What does she have to do with horses? Nothing. I doubt she’d seen a horse before she went and she’s probably still not seen one.

You’d not see Think Big racing around entertaining a pack of twenty something, $1:50 per glass Champagne guggling twits all wearing objects on their heads that they’d quite happily ridicule colleagues for if someone would dare turn up to work, or another function, wearing. And therein lies the issue – they’re not hats. A hat is what Steve Waugh wore on the cricket field. A hat is what Rex Hunt puts fishing hooks in and occasionally wipes his arse with when he’s caught short on a boat or in the commentary box. Those oversized pieces of taffeta, wire, cheap dead flowers and tissue paper that you’ve stapled to your head isn’t a hat. It might well be a fashion statement, that statement being that you know absolutely nothing about fashion. Man-O-War never won the Melbourne Cup, but he never worse a hat either.

I once knew a guy who lived in Melbourne who had a double breasted baby-shit brown suit made in the 1970s with lapels wider than most freeways. Ray Charles would have seen it for what it was – horrid. Even Sir Les Patterson wouldn’t have touched this with a brick. Yet once a year it was fashionable and I was always amazed. He spilt a pie on it one year and people complimented him on both the colour blending and the unique design. I poured a pint down his back and the same thing happened. “Two Tone Harry” we’d call him, and he loved it. At least once a year he could wear his beloved suit without having to lose a bet or fear a beating from people who just felt that he was wrong. Tell me how that was fashion. I swear I see that suit every year on Channel 10. Guys wearing suits with the arse out, or those 'tuxedo shirts', you know the ones, that wife-beating bogans wear to weddings or funerals, or suits hired from some formal wear place that charge extra at this time of the year to cover the removal of stains and bodily fluids. Still it is better than some of the size 18 women who insist on covering themselves in butter and cramming into a size 12 dress looking like 20 pounds of shit in a 10 pound bag. Love the side and back tits honey and for God's sake, don't breathe and stay away from the animal enclosure lest someone throw a saddle on your back and enter you in the 4:10pm Bastard Stakes.

The race is a joke. Productivity ceases, nationwide, so why not just declare it a public holiday and be done with it? I do notice that all ‘Problem Gambling’ ads cease – after all it’s not in anyone’s best interests to remind people that gambling can lead to a loss of income, spouse, house, and possibly life. No, one this day it’s all about gambling, and people will happily tell you to ‘bet the house’ on Ol’ Paint and if you lose, well, you’ll be too drunk to do anything about it so why worry? There’s always next year, and hey, if Ol’ Paint doesn’t win you’ll always be able to enjoy him in a hamburger from a fast food joint in a few weeks and/or feed him to your cat. We keep getting told that the race is 'good for the economy', but I fail to see how giving some SP bookie $200 and never seeing him again is good for my economy.

People always have the ‘inside running’, the ‘late mail’ or the ‘dope’ on who’s going to win. Frankly unless your name is Bart Cummings or you have details on the reincarnation of Seabiscuit or Phar Lap shut the fuck up. You’ve got nothing to tell me that I’m going to take notice of. You can bash your form guide right up your chute. I could care less what horse David Hayes trains or if the track is heavy. I couldn’t give a shit what some pissed up Lunchtime O’Booze told you in the TAB – you have no idea what you’re talking about. Put all your money on the grey horse for all I care – it’s probably more logical that way. If there was a bright Ferrari red horse I’d bet on him because, as we all know, red things go faster.

Most people do the right thing and just skive the day away on a false sickie and don’t bother coming into work. Other workplaces have parties, which means that anywhere from five people to everyone in the office and a homeless guy waiting outside begin to organise the luncheons, sweeps, drinks and stupid hats from 8:00am. By the time the race is finished, well everyone wants to talk about it, eat all the food, drink all the drink and are generally too drunk to do anything, plus it’s nearly 3:30, which means it’s nearly 5:00pm so what the shit? Might as well leave early and be done with it and face the saucepan to the face from ‘Er Indoors.

I’d love to see the numbers on inter-office procreation during the Melbourne Cup. I know I’ve been at workplaces where people are so drunk by the time the race is on that they suddenly feel the urge to reproduce, loudly and violently in some backroom or on a desk with any number of random people. That’s got to be worth an iron to the skull as well, at the very least. Still, what it all adds up to is a day wasted, and longer, if the hangovers are anything to go by. Most people, depending on the level of loathing for the workplace or overall depression begin shoving the booze and food down their necks like gannets at around 10:am. And don’t dare challenge this; after all, as has been pointed out to me, it’s Un-Australian not to participate in these events.

So wear your stupid hats, allow your tits to fall out of your dress, get drunk, get beaten up, get sexually assaulted, get abused - do anything you want, just be sure NOT to wach the race while you drink cheap booze and eat two day old seafood. Make yourself look like the biggest dickhead on the planet on national television, spend all your life savings and frankly ruin your life. It’s not about the race anymore, it’s about the event. And if you don’t believe me, without looking, name me the last five winners of the Melbourne Cup.

Can’t do it, can you. Unless your name is Bart Cummings...and I doubt it is.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

#135: As Long As You Follow

Helloooo! I’m back!! Missed me? Oh, please, you’ll make me blush darlings!

So, you think you have it bad? You ain’t got shit! Seriously. Doing the rounds at the moment is this email purporting to be the ‘new’ email rules of a major department (can’t say which one it is, but I’m glad I’m not stuck there). At first I thought it was another one of those joke emails, but was told that, no, it's deadly serious and about to go into effect immediately. I did a bit of digging and it appears that the person who has come up with these rules isn’t fond of emails and firmly believes that emails are an utter waste of productivity. Naturally the staff disagree in private, but when pushed have to display the best qualities of sycophants and automatically agree, same as lemmings when push comes to leaping off cliffs.

Using the net to its utmost effectiveness and working in the Government aren’t always easy. Earlier this year I was part of a huge seminar to discuss the various aspects of using the internet to its greatest potential – in particular emails and social networking tools such as Twitter and FaceBook. It was generally accepted that upper level management frowned upon such sites as being a waste of work time and something that might, well, be fun at times. Can’t have that – remember the rules of Planet Express: “A Mindless Worker Is A Happy Worker – So Shut Up And Do Your Job!” That motto could easily be any number of Government departments at the best of times really.

I’ve always suspected that part of the overall reluctance of embracing new technology might be down to people just not being able to grasp it when it happens. I worked with a senior manager who, despite telling people how bloody good and smart he was, couldn’t stop referring to social networking sites as ‘My Facespacebook’. And he was serious. Someone once asked him about Twitter and he began to discuss small canaries. True story, swear to God. He also hated email. He’d site there and take people to task in public meetings by showcasing what sites they’d visited and at what times and would refuse to hear any explanation other than “Yes, I was visiting that site because I wanted to waste time, not because I was exploring Local Government policy surrounding the correct disposal of dead bodies found on premises, or the correct procedure to arrange police support whilst going into a dangerous situation”. And this was one of the policy markers in charge of telling all departments what was and wasn’t acceptable internet use and sites. Despite people showing that sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and on-line email sites could be, and are, used for networking, information gathering and sharing and remaining connected with people that you’d not normally see or have an opportunity to speak to, these sites, and others, are banned because of the perception that they’re only used to arrange dates between nerds and clueless 18 year old girls and for people to stalk their ex-partners. Which they might well be used for, and indeed are used for, but hey, by the time you reach a certain level you generally should be given some latitude and trust not to sit there talking to some hillbilly somewhere getting your rocks off when a project is overdue. What is the answer? Education. Pure and simple, it really is as easy as that. Educate both the employees and management about what should be used to save time. After all most Govt departments still rely on paper files for everything and storage/retrieval of said files will keep some people in gainful employment well into retirement age.

So what are these new email rules? I’ll list them with some commentary, just for yuks. Here goes….

1. Emails will not be looked at and answered immediately.
Ok, got that? So if your email alert goes off DO NOT RESPOND TO IT. Ignore it. And if you do happen to see the email in your preview pane by mistake, for God’s sake, don’t reply to it. Hold that job up for as long as possible. Wait for someone to call you into a meeting and point out that your productivity has dropped because you’re no longer allowed to read the emails you get telling you what needs doing let alone reply to them.

2. If a matter is urgent, then you will need to contact the person (telephone/in person/SMS) and tell them it is urgent so that they can deal with the matter.
In other words, don’t send them an email. It’s always better to leave a text or voice message on a phone with a flat battery or leave a message with someone who then goes to lunch, has a few bottles of pop and forgets to pass it onto you until the next day, if at all.

3. If you are important enough to be involved or need to make decisions, then you will be in the 'To' category, and not CC'd.
See rule 1. If you’re CC’d then you shouldn’t be reading the bloody email anyway. And if you are CC’d then clearly you’re plankton and have no place even thinking about reading the email, let alone actually reading it.

4. If you are CC'd into a message, then that will be dealt with at a lesser priority than if the message is 'To' you personally, (if at all).
Clearly. As we now know, if you are CC’d into a message then you have no place reading it, let alone replying.

5. The various functions of the system will be used if possible - eg Tasking, Calendar, Contacts, projects etc.
This one raised a lot of groans – if you stick your head out your window and face east you can hear a hundred voices all screaming, “That’s what I bloody well use Calendar and Contacts in Outlook for already!!!

6. The calendar will be used to make meetings with people whenever possible.
See above. This will be fun when someone asks if you want a coffee or an informal meeting. Make sure you put that in your calendar.

7. No response such as 'Thanks' or 'OK' will be required, unless the sender requests acknowledgement or confirmation that a task has been done.
I can hear it now, “I sent you an email, you could have at least acknowledged it you rude prick!” Hey, you could always try a return receipt, but then most places try that now - I ignore about 95% of them myself.

8. When you take a message, or only have a short statement to make, just put the message in the 'subject' line and at the end put 'EOM' (End Of Message). Then no-one will have to open the message to see what is required.
By now a lot of people have seen emails with subject lines saying things like, “Don’t Read This EOM”. My personal favourite was one saying, “This Email Is Important, Please Read And Respond EOM”, but under the rules I felt I wasn’t able to read the email as it clearly violated rules 1, 4, 7 (couldn’t reply with “Dickhead EOM”) and 8.

9. If you can link to where a document is then put the link in, not the document.
Now this is probably the most useful suggestion in this entire list. I can relate to this rules, as I’m sure we all can, especially after having systems hang or crash due to some clot insisting on sending an email with about 3gig of files attached (of which you might need one or two at the most and a link to where those files could be found.

10. You must put a 'subject' in the 'subject' line - do not leave it blank.
Would the phrase “EOM” be acceptable as a ‘subject’? I’m gonna try that and see if it confuses the masses, especially if I only CC people….

11. Put a message below your name block telling people you might not get to it straight away – "As I’m not always at my desk I only check my messages 2 or 3 times each day. If your email requires immediate attention please contact me on the phone number above - thank you."
Hang on, if you’re away from your desk then presumably you’re away from your phone? Not everyone has mobile phones issued. I’m forever away from my (new) desk and I’ve not got a mobile phone, so what that’d be telling people is, “I’m away from my desk, you can’t find me, you can’t reach me, I am Claude Raines. I am dead to you. I do not exist. In fact I am probably standing behind you right now. BOO!” Mind you such a message would only work if people ever bothered to read the message block, and if you’re sending an email then you can’t access the message block until you get a reply – and that’s assuming that you get a reply, because, frankly, with those rules in place I’d not be too sure if I should even read the email, let alone reply to it.

There’s some fun days ahead for people in that department. I expect that all communication both within and without the department will cease entirely. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for establishing guidelines and parameters for the correct usage of email, internet and so called ‘modern’ technology, but instead of leaving to a few technophobes in high places, why not consult with people who actually need to use this stuff on a daily basis and see what should be used, what shouldn’t be used and the ways to use it. But that day is clearly a few decades away at this point, so, until then, I expect that most people will keep on keeping on and generally ignore such email rules, especially if they’re not yet departmental policy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

#133: Communication Breakdown

William Randolph Hearst made a few mistakes in his life and was far from perfect, but when you consider the fact that he was one of the richest men of the first half of the 20th Century, a man who amassed one of the largest collections of fine art and sculpture, then it’s hard to find any real fault. That is if we only ever look at his professional life (and public persona) and ignore his xenophobic tendencies and the facts that he was as pigheaded as they came, hated taxes and unions, along with immigrants, had extra-marital affairs (which, if we believe history, resulted in the birth of an illegitimate daughter, Patricia Lake) and ruled his publishing empire with a hand so iron he could have made all the Packers combined look like mealy mouthed pacifists. His expenditure was gigantic. This was a man who had wealth enough to tell someone to buy a castle, no matter the cost, and have the structure dismantled and shipped from Europe to America to be reassembled, brick by brick, building his own road and a railroad in order to carry the stones to the docks. Harpo Marx recounted a story of taking a book from the Hearst private library, stuffing it into his pocket and walking off, only to have Hearst ask for it back – a first edition, signed, copy of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, published in 1725. That was the kind of literature that Hearst had on his bookshelves in his reading rooms. No less a luminary than George Bernard Shaw stated that Hearst’s castle, San Simeon, was the place God would have built if He'd had the money. No-one had the money, nor the largess, that Hearst had.

Orson Welles was equally as flawed and also as much a genius in his own right as Hearst. The two men could almost have been different sides to the same coin, both had insatiable appetites, both loved the finer things life had to offer and both walked their own path, regardless of the cost, both professionally and personally. However I’ve always believed that Orson Welles main mistake can be found in a conversation between Douglas Fairbanks and Hearst in the same year that Welles was born. Hearst fell in love with actress Marion Davies in 1915, the same year that he bought a movie studio primarily to showcase Davies in films that he, Hearst, wanted to watch. The archetypal story as to why he didn’t persist with motion pictures, as recounted by Douglas Fairbanks Jr., goes something like this; “My father once asked him, he said, ‘Mr. Hearst, why don't you concentrate more of your energy on motion pictures, which has a world-wide audience, instead of journalism, which appeals to one city or one nation?’ He thought a minute, and he said, ‘Well, Douglas, I'll tell you. I thought of it, but I decided against it, because I realize that you can crush a man with journalism, and you can't with motion pictures.’ That was his answer.”

In that one sentence Hearst revealed the depth of his power. For Hearst had real power, not the imaginary power of cinema. Hearst had a print media empire, the likes of which hadn’t been seen before. Hearst’s media empire was forged in blood, literally. It was established in a period that saw the legendary ‘newspaper wars’, in which the employees and representatives of both Hearst and Samuel Pulitzer would regularly fight in the streets, bloody fights, knives, bats and guns. People died in search of an advantage over the opponent and increased circulation. Incredible to imagine such events today, but in the late 1800s and early 1900s this was the norm. Hearst was the first to have a real newspaper chain, obtained by simply buying newspapers across the country and thus expanding his own empire. It helped that Hearst had an almost limitless pot of money to draw from. It was an era of Yellow Journalism and armed reporters. Hearst’s power extended to declaring his own war on Spain and Cuba – when the American government declined to get involved, Hearst raised his own private army and invaded Cuba himself, eventually dispatching a reporter to the King of Spain to offer Mr. Hearst's terms for peace. The most Kerry Packer did was to tell the world of cricket to get stuffed.

Back to the Fairbanks-Hearst conversation; Hearst believed that he had definite power not because he had a hand in motion pictures but because he believed that while people might well be illiterate or ignorant and anyone could watch a movie and absorb the messages contained within, but those who could read would always win out, and those who couldn’t read simply didn’t matter. This emphasis on print was to Hearst’s advantage as virtually none of the movies he produced had any deep or real message other than to cast Marion Davies in movies she was ill suited for, and, frankly, they never held up well, even at the time. People can name movies made by Chaplin, Mayer, Goldwyn, the Warner Brothers or Thalberg, but I doubt you’d find many, if any, who can recall any Hearst movie. Hearst’s real power and impact more than likely wasn’t apparent to many until 1941, well after his own career as a motion picture producer was dead and buried.

Hearst had always believed that print was the be all and end all of power and communication and in 1941 got his chance to test that theory to stunning public effect. In 1940 Orson Welles made Citizen Kane, a thinly veiled account of Hearst’s own life, complete with a scathing, and grossly unfair, attack upon long time Hearst mistress, Marion Davies. Welles was a firm believer in the message of the spoken word. He’d made his career and reputation upon radio broadcasts – the ultimate in spoken word – and had been courted by the Hollywood system. Welles believed that his movie would expose Hearst for the dinosaur and fake that he was perceived as being. However when alerted to the movie Hearst sprung into action, a last act of a once powerful man. His empire had been severely reduced, his wealth had eroded and before too long even Davies would be selling her diamonds to help keep the remains of his publishing empire afloat. However this was all to come, in 1941 Hearst attacked Welles.

Hearst’s movie reviewer, and possessor of power in Hollywood, was the columnist Louella Parsons. Working in competition, and at times in tandem, with Hedda Hopper, Parsons could make or break almost anyone. Decades after the Hollywood Golden Age was dust, David Niven wrote that it was better to feed Parsons and Hopper stories, to keep them on side as it was always advantageous to have them working for you than against you. They operated with several tools, from subversiveness, to outright blackmail to praise to hate. With Parsons Hearst had one of the ultimate tools to unleash upon Welles and his studio, RKO, and Welles was about to have his first lesson in real power.

First Hearst approached the heads of RKO. Parsons demanded to see Citizen Kane and reported the contents back to Hearst (it’s a matter of conjecture as to if Hearst ever saw the film proper). Parsons then contacted the head of RKO, George Schaefer, and threatened ''one of the most beautiful lawsuits in history.'' The offer was made to buy the film and negative outright, this was declined. Hearst, via Parsons, then issued a direct threat to the heads of every movie studio in Hollywood at the time. “Mr. Hearst told me,” Parsons is reported as saying, “to tell you if you boys want private lives, he'll give you private lives.” This resulted in Louis B Mayer, representing all the heads of the Hollywood studios, attempting to buy the movie for a reported eight hundred thousand dollars, a large sum for the time, with the view of destroying it. When this failed Hearst really went to work. “Hearst threatened the industry in every way he could think of,” recalled Frank Mankiewicz, the son of Citizen Kane co-writer Herman, “He recalled scandals, drunkenness, miscegenation, crimes of various kinds that he had, at the request of the studios, suppressed in his newspapers and which remained, I assume, in type somewhere. He reminded them that the country that read his newspapers might not look kindly on the high percentage of Jews in the industry.” This was at a time when racial relations were at a flashpoint, with some very prominent Americans going as far to publicly support the Nazi regime in Germany. Part of Hearst’s attack took place in his publication, The Hollywood Reporter. “You Hollywood people who crave respectability do not want the country to think about and talk about and dwell upon the fact that you're all Jews,” read one article, “and that many of your key executives and directors and writers are now refugees from Germany.” Despite this enormous pressure RKO stood behind Welles (and their investment) and indicated that the movie would be released regardless.

Hearst’s written attacks weren’t merely limited to threats. In print he attacked Welles directly, casting aspersions upon his private life in another of his publications, American Life. Suggestions of homosexuality and sodomy were hinted at but the two main attacks involved Welles’s relationship with actress Delores Del Rio, who he’d hooked up with while she was still married. This attack was ironic to say the least, when you consider that Hearst himself had been involved with Davies since 1915 while remaining married. Hearst then shifted his stance and questioned Welles' willingness to serve his country at a time of impending war. This led to the greatest smear of them all – Hearst labelled Welles a communist.

The latter threat might seem very passive in today’s era, but in context calling an American a communist in the early 1940s would be akin to calling a person a member of Al Qaeda today. It’s a vile smear that followed Welles for the rest of his life. The result of that campaign saw the FBI begin to investigate Welles with the result of a file being opened and from then onwards the FBI never really stopped investigating. Seeing that even this wasn’t going to stop RKO Hearst then expanded his attacks further and threatened to pull advertising for the various theatres that’d been booked to screen the film. The result of this was that more than one theatre booked Citizen Kane, accepted the film stock but simply didn’t bother to show it. When the movie eventually gained (a rather limited) release no reviews were published within any Hearst publication. According to Hearst employees this order came straight from San Simeon – no advertising would be accepted for the movie, nor would any review, indeed not even a mention of the film, would appear in any Hearst publication.

Despite Hearst, or possibly to spite him, the movie gained nine Academy Award nominations. Welles was nominated for screenplay, actor, director and the movie was nominated for Best Film. This was a four-peat that has rarely been seen since (one person nominated for producer (best film), actor, director and screenplay for a single movie – it remained a record until Warren Beatty achieved the same spread for his film Heaven Can Wait nearly forty years later) and despite the quality of the film it won only one award – screenplay, an award that Welles had to share with his estranged co-writer, Herman Mankiewicz. As soon as the awards were over RKO buried the movie and only then did Hearst allow life to go on. The fall-out was a movie that is universally hailed as being one of, if not the, finest American movies ever made and Welles being shunned from Hollywood to become an outcast. Never again would Welles be allowed carte blanch on an American movie, despite his obvious talent. From a lofty peak of being hailed as a potential saviour of Hollywood, Welles became a pariah and could be found in later years begging for funding to make movies that were never finished and reduced to humiliating himself doing television commercials for frozen peas. He was washed up at the age of twenty four.

William Randolph Hearst had told Douglas Fairbanks, nearly twenty five years prior, that print had more power than movies. He was right then and he proved this to Welles, and the world, in 1941. Hearst believed that the written word held more power than the spoken word, and it was his own personal written campaign against Welles that buried the movie at the time. The written word had killed the spoken word and the visual medium and diminished any impact either might have had. There’s real power in the written word, it retains its power long after the spoken word has faded and long after film has vanished. Citizen Kane might well be the exception to this rule as more people recall the movie than the controversy behind it, indeed most people today would be hard pressed to even know who the movie was based upon, however Hearst and his media empire, as reduced as it was at the time, succeeded in suppressing a film for at over a decade. If Welles had written his story as a novel and had Hearst attacked Welles in celluloid the results might have been very different.

It matters not what a person wants to say, the true message is in the delivery. Anyone can gossip, anyone can report via television or in a motion picture, but it is the written word that (still) has real impact. A report, well written and researched, can do more damage than any verbal report, and the truth is always the best place to start. It’s amusing to think people firmly believe that they can affect any form of real change by engaging in scurrilous rumours and outright fabrications when a simple article can shoot that down with comparative ease. It can be argued that a person hears rumours and lies and therein lays the impact. That’s true, to a degree. Once the comments are spoken, they’re gone. Once a word is printed it exists for generations, and with the right publication, be it print or on-line (in this day and age) an article’s power is timeless. Remember, the written word has been with us since The Epic of Gilgamesh was penned back in around 2,000BC, if not earlier, but who can remember what was actually spoken?

On a personal level, I’ll see anyone’s spoken word, whisper or gossip and counter it with the written word and hopefully I can manage to do that with a certain degree of panache, verbosity and eloquence. I’ve always been happy to stand, or fall, with the truth that pure writing brings me and in doing so I’ve always hoped to push the burden of proof back onto those who exist only to verbally pull a person down, instead of assisting them to stand back up and move onwards and upwards. It’s always easier to turn a blind eye than it is to help, or admit that you might be wrong.

With the debate of spoken word versus the written word I hope that people never change their views, for as Bernard Berenson once said, “Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.” People might well make the same mistake as Fairbanks did back in 1915, but I learnt from the savagery of Hearst in 1941. Progress is a bitch of a thing, isn’t it? Of course it is. Evolution is only ever useful for seeing dinosaurs become extinct.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

#129: Gangs in the Street

I had a recent discussion with a colleague about the thorny issue of African Gangs. We’d get complaints about African Gangs on a weekly basis, especially in large flat groups. We’d have people from all works of life whinging about the Gangs, from little old ladies through to young males, and all demanding that something be done. When nothing was done, for good reason, the complaints would escalate into Ministerial complaints, for all the good it’d do. We’d advise that the complainants contact the police, again, for all the good it’d do, because the police knew exactly what we did and would deal with the complainants appropriately. So what did we all know?

African Gangs, in this state, simply do not exist and now that I've made that statement I'm going to explain why. The reality is that there are not enough Africans in the state, certainly not enough in the city central and suburbs to be that organised. The perception is that gangs do exist and that those gangs are organised and running rampant over everyone, including bikie gangs, which, as we’re told, the Africans are clearly basing themselves on. I doubt it highly.

First off there’s no such thing as real organised crime in the truest sense of the word. I used to know a guy in Melbourne who clearly knew these things. I always remember once, as he was being arrested for being part of an organised crime gang, he turned to the arresting officer and stated, “Mate, what drugs are you on? There’s not been any organised crime since Al Capone and Squizzy Taylor died.” Part of me knew he was wrong, but part of me also knew he was right. The concept of organised crime means that there’s a central person who controls all the crime that happens in the city or area in question. Capone was able to effectively shut down Chicago by using such weapons as fear and intimidation, along with more subtle methods as bribery and blackmail. Nothing happened in that city during his reign without his knowledge, even criminals such as Dillinger had to clear his presence with Capone and his offsider, and eventual replacement, Frank Nitti or be forced to leave. Such was the power. Capone had his enemies, but none lived that long or they merely shifted base and controlled their own areas. I doubt very highly that there’s any such ‘Mr Big’ running this city, or any other city these days. There’d be plenty of ‘Little Mr Big’ or ‘Mr Not So Large In Stature’, but those are very small fry indeed. Once you’re caught and named your power erodes a lot. Notoriety does not always equate power, and anyone who says otherwise just hasn’t got a clear idea on how the hierarchy of crime works. There’s more guppies in the ocean than there are sharks in the swimming pool. The real ‘Mr Bigs’ are generally in control of the corporate sector more than living like a pimp and buying large houses and luxury cars whilst having no visible source of income. The more you spend and the less you earn will always mean the more attention you draw to yourself. Low profiles are the key.

So why are there no African Gangs? For all the reasons I’ve outlined and more. The Africans in the state are generally benign at the best of time. Most are the friendliest and wittiest people you’d ever want to meet. But there is an element, as there is in any racial group that causes problems. The main problem is that an African youth killing another in the streets is more newsworthy than an Italian youth stabbing a companion at a bus stop. If you don’t believe me then read the newspapers of last year. The criminal element in the African community draws more attention to themselves by nature of their background and origin. Nothing more, nothing less. There are bad ones, but then go to any prison and see how many bad people are there, and see what the percentages of skin colour and country of origin are represented.

Another problem that surrounds the Africans in this state are where they live. Most are refugees to this country, a status that the last government managed to make a symbol of fear and mistrust. Most come here with very little, if any at all, literacy skills and more than a few cannot speak the language. They’re strangers in a strange land, and I’ve always said, you go and see how you’d live in the Sudan. Good luck. They generally live in their own communities and by virtue of nature, and necessity, they congregate together, as you’d expect. But because they’re a minority, people see these gatherings as gang related activity. To use the punch line of my favourite joke, I’m afraid not.

So why the general perception that there are gangs? To use the simplest analogy, and do forgive me here, to most people Africans all look alike. Guess what? It works both ways. I can recall sitting down having a good laugh with some tenants and I had to ask, “So, do we all look alike to you guys?” They stopped, looked at each other and burst into riotous laughter. “You bet you do man, all you whites look the same.” I couldn’t help but join in the laughter. It was here that I was told one of the secrets as to why some of the African youth act like they do. One is an issue with discipline. From what I’ve been told if a youth carries on and does the wrong thing, or is disrespectful to an elder, then they’ll be beaten with a stick. The bulk of the African bad boys here know full well that they can act like they do and they’ll not face any serious retribution. Capitol punishment, which to me is never an answer, is off the table here so what’s the worst thing that can happen? Jail. And that does happen more often than not, sadly enough. There’s too many people with great potential banged up at the moment who, with the right mentorship and guidance, could easily be a force for good in the community at large. Most of the refugees are fleeing environments that we simply can’t imagine. You may see a movie like Hotel Rawanda, but the reality is that nothing Hollywood has to offer comes close to the horrors that occur in these countries. Here they go to jail where they’re clothed, fed and housed. Compare that with facing a future of torture, beatings, starvation and death and you’ll see that our jails hold no fear at all and rightly so. Compared to the death camps in Zimbabwe, our jails are more like rest homes. Do something wrong here and what? They might take your television away. You might get punched out by another prisoner, not that that happens as much as the TV tells you. Do something wrong in the death camps and you’ll soon discover why they’re called death camps.

Isolation and separation from families also play a large part. Africans come to the country with the view of settling down and hopefully bringing out what remains of their family. Most are poorly educated – there’s an expression that goes like this; “Educate an African woman and you educate the world.” That expression comes from an African friend of mine; by the way, it’s not one of my own. Once they’re transplanted here most are left on their own. They can join communities but if their religion or, even worse, affiliations are extreme then the community will find it hard to accept them. Then they’re on their own. Isolation can easily result in a lower self-esteem and that can just as easily lead to crime or falling in with the wrong crowd with the hopes of being accepted. There’s not a lot that a person can do about isolation, but acceptance and understanding is always a good place to start.

The final part of this deals with racism. This is a nation that prides itself on tolerance but really is based, in part, on being racist. Again I blame, to an extent, the former federal government for a lot of this; after all they managed to win a federal election based upon ‘boat people’ and a hatred towards different religions. Witness what happened at Bondi a few years back. Witness what’s happened in placed like Redfern, indeed in places all over the country. The truth is that we are a nation of racists. That’s not to say that everyone is a racist, but, if we’re being honest, there is a racist element buried within us all, no matter what our background and heritage is. In one flat group that we manage virtually all the Africans have been moved on, either evicted or they’ve left on their own. The reasons why are varied, but it didn’t help when a group of illiterate morons decided to go around and place racist signs in the shared lobbies. I say illiterate because, as I explained to one of them, the word they were using actually has two ‘g’s in it. One word is a crude description of the people they were attacking; the word they used might be where those people originally came from. Through threats, intimidation and harassment the small band of racists managed to ruin at least one tenant’s life for good and move on a good number of others. Surrounded by such intolerance I can’t say I’m overly surprised with the actions that went on. People were physically threatened, verbal abuse happened on a daily basis and the general atmosphere was wrong. Mind you the people who complained the most about these things were the same ones who’d been posting messages of hate and racism on a sustained level for months. Typical of all passive-aggressive bullies, they kept baiting and baiting and when the attacks came they were the first to whinge about being hit. There was nothing I could do, or suggest, other than to advise people to stay clear of certain people and just ignore them. Easier said than done. Fear also plays a large part in this. To most Australians the Africans are large, tall and statuesque. They are mysterious; speak an exotic language and look different, thus they have to be feared. Frankly it’s a two ways street – most Africans are just as worried about offending non-Africans as non-Africans are towards them. Communication and cultural understanding will eventually go a long way to eliminating the fear factor.

So, are there any African Gangs here? Unless you count the entire African community as being a gang, a community that includes a lot of professional people who are held in high regard, the short answer is no. There are no African Gangs. There’s simply not enough people out there to make a gang. And if we apply the generally accepted definitions of what makes a gang to African youth, that being young people who spend time in groups of three or more, a group who spends a lot of time in public places, a group that has existed for three months or more, a group that has engaged in criminal or delinquent behaviour in the last 12 months or a group that has a name, an area, a leader, or set of rules makes a gang, then it’s easy to see that if we are to label African youth as being part of a gang, then a simple Friday night gathering at the pub is also a gang, especially if someone has been pulled over for DUI more than once in the past year. So until someone goes and arrests the gang of little old ladies who gather in groups the we should leave any such gathering well alone. After all, you can call yourself NWA or CWA, it’s all the same – a gathering of people all with similar interests, goals and causes.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

#127: Suffer Little Children

Be warned, the following contains some very strong language and adult themes and shouldn’t be read until after 9:30pm.

Now that that’s out of the way I have a few questions to ask people, the first and foremost amongst them is a simple one: what the fuck is wrong with some people? And you know full well who I’m talking about. I mean, Jesus Fucking H Christ on a bloody bike!!

I recently had to allocate a property out at a group of units. I grabbed the file and drove out, found the units and outside was a child waiting. The child greeted me and I asked, “So, where is Blankety Blank?” The child laughed and said, “I’m Blankety Blank.” I almost fell over with shock and surprise. I’ve seen some odd things in my time but this was very strange indeed – the child was just past the age of being able to legally vote and looked four years younger. I wanted to ask the question, “Where are your parents?” but refrained as I knew the answer wouldn’t be a good one. I've learnt that lesson very well.

We went inside, did the paperwork and I did my usual spiel and asked, “Now, do you have any questions?” She looked down and quietly said, “Well, yes. I don’t know how to get the electricity connected.” I went through the process, made a phone call and managed to get it all sorted out for her and spent a good hour explaining how to cope with living in a flat for the first time, what to expect, what to avoid and that, if assistance was required, to contact us or the cops, depending on what was happening. In effect I went above and beyond my usual role to give this kid a crash course on how to set the place up with the essential services that she'd need. It's one of those things that any number of us will stop and do, although certain Media Queens will insist that we don't, but hey, there you go. It's not in the J&P, it's called being human, having compassion and caring. Insane.

Once back in the office I had a read of the paperwork. I’d like to think that what I subsequently read was an aberration, but, unfortunately, to use the cliché, it’s a typical story, sad but true. Here’s the breakdown: parents get divorced. So what? Mine got divorced. I can’t think of too many people who didn’t get divorced. In this case the evil Step-Parent Syndrome reared it's ugly head, walked up to the plate and began made life not difficult, because that'd be easy, but downright impossible. With the step-father it was a case of borderline sexual assault, resulting in the child complaining to the mother only to be kicked out of the property post-haste. Yep, you did read that right - the step-father attempted to rape the child, more than once, and the mother blamed the kid. Not to mention the beatings. The child then went to live with the father, who, amazingly enough, also began to beat the child and make advances whilst drunk because the child looked like the mother. Thus the two places that should have been the safest havens of them all were violated to the point of being utterly inappropriate, both personally and in relation to housing.

It didn’t get better. From there the child moved in with her boyfriend only to suffer a sexual assault from his father. It was all downhill, couch surfing, borderline street sleeping. Thank the maker that she didn't go down the road of prostitution, or sought solace in drugs like so many do. Once it was all brought to our attention we stepped in provided the one thing we can do in this situations – provide safe and secure housing. I hope that from now on life will look up and things will improve, but it’s hard for a young one out on their own, trying to make a life at an age when they should be looking at better and brighter things.

So who do I blame in all of this? Sorry, but I blame the piss weak excuses of parents. No matter how difficult things get I cannot understand why a parent would chose a new partner, or anyone for that matter, over their own child. It's an utterly alien concept to me. No matter how dysfunctional my own family might be (and we did put the dys into functional) if I ever needed help, or a place to stay, I could call any of them and crash out for as long as I needed to. All I can say is that such parents need to be assessed before being allowed to breed once more. And to those idiots out there who’ll say that there’s always two sides to any story, in this case there’s not. Not when you’re faced with a quiet, inoffensive child, scared yet brave enough to move onwards and leave the crap behind and forge ahead with a new life. There’s no two sides to that story, just one side – the child coming up as the winner. If there is another side it’s equally as simple – the parents are the absolute scum of the earth. Those are the sort of people who'll blame society and the world for their own flaws and leech off the system. Those are the ones who complain the loudest. I guess if they can deflect the attention from their own failings as humans no-one will notice them. Keep dreaming...

To paraphrase John Grisham, via Samuel L Jackson, “Yes they deserve to die and I hope they rot in Hell!” Arseholes.

Closing note. Walk to a property, go up the drive. Walk to the door and KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!! Sounds of scurrying. Wait for a second. KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
ME: “Hello?? Anyone home??” No answer. So I look through the window and spy a newspaper, a piece of toast and a cup of coffee steaming away on a table. KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
ME: ‘HELLO!! OPEN THE DOOR!” More scurrying, but no answer. Wait for five minutes. KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
ME: “MATE!! HELLO?? YOUR BREAKFAST IS GETTING COLD!!!” KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

Ok, so he didn’t answer, but at least he wasted a slice of bread and hopefully his last cuppa.

Friday, May 01, 2009

#125: The Full Bug

I’ve been having an ongoing debate with a few people about hoarders versus collectors. Most people fail to see any difference between the two groups – you’re either one or the other, and each will deny that they’re the worst. A hoarder will tell you that they don’t hoard, they collect items, and a collector will tell you that they have everything under control and as such can’t be considered to be a hoarder. Over the past few years I’ve seen both types, hoarders and collectors, and I can tell you there is a very defined line between them.

Just for fun and games let’s look at the common (accepted) definitions of the two terms. Collectors are those people who buy and sell, or manage to gather from wherever, items of some value, be it monetary or otherwise. Collectors will generally itemise their collections, they’ll organise them, catalogue and, more often than not, will set up little displays for themselves and if need be, other people, to enjoy viewing. Collectors often have a specialised field in which they play – myself, I collect what I collect and I have no desire to have a collection of beanie babies. Evil bastard things, I’d use them for footballs if I had the chance.

A hoarder will gather anything and everything. They refuse to throw anything out, if they pass a Samboy chip wrapper on the floor they’ll pick it up and take it home. They have no rhyme or reason and they’ll fill both their properties and lives with clutter that soon over-runs their basic household needs and living requirements. A hoarder has a collection of stuff that, for the most part, is worthless. It’s not catalogued, there’s no use itemising it (“Oh, a rare January 2009 banana peel taken from a dumpster behind McDonalds,” is not a description of use) and no-one would be interesting in seeing it. Sorry, but a ‘collection’ of pizza boxes, complete with food stuffs left in them, does not constitute a valid collection. Hoarders will allow their possessions to utterly overtake their lives to the point of serious physical and mental harm. There might be a show named ‘Collectors’ on the ABC, but you’ll notice there isn’t one called ‘Hoarders’. I wonder why…

The Collyer brothers were hoarders. William Randolph Hearst was a collector. There’s your difference. One was rich beyond imagination and bought almost everything he saw, had it catalogued, itemised and shipped to storage or placed upon display. At his time of need he managed to sell some of what he’d bought for a decent profit and became rich again. The bulk of Hearst’s collection still exists at San Simeon and is a world renowned tourist attraction. The Collyer brothers died, one of neglect holding a bottle of rancid milk, unable to care for himself, the other buried beneath a pile of rotting newspapers which took weeks to clear. Nothing exists of the Collyer brothers ‘collection’ today, no tourist attractions exists and no-one wanders by to see a collection of Collyer Apple Cores. By now you should be able to see the difference very clearly.

Both a collector and a hoarder can suffer from a mental health issue, such as OCD, but, for the most part, OCD is not required to be a collector. It does seem to be a pre-requisite for being a hoarder though, along with various other diseases and issues. I doubt anyone ever caught nits or suffered suppurating sores from touching Prince Rainier’s stamp collection, nor did they have to endure warts by holding one of William Babcock’s Daumier paintings, nor has there ever been a case of anyone contracting bubonic plague from buying one of Edgar Church’s comic books. However these diseases, and more, could possibly be contracted from handling or eating food prepared in an old food container that hasn’t been cleaned in years, or by attempting to drink milk which is solid enough to break a shovel. Well, perhaps not the plague, but then rats are carriers, and they are often hang around hoarders.

Possibly the most famous of all hoarders, the Collyers, operated in New York and had a career hoarding spanning nearly three decades. When the elder Collyer, Homer, died of starvation in March 1947 it took the police a few hours to break into the property to find him. The brothers had gathered so much shit that it took the police two weeks to find the younger brother, Langely, who’d been killed by one of his own booby traps. The rats ate well that fortnight. The brothers had turned their four bedroom mansion into a maze of corridors and tunnels, formed by newspapers and other debris that the two found on the streets and dragged home. And the Collyers weren’t poor – they owned the mansion outright and their net worth was estimated at around $90,000 at the time of their death, in 1947 that was no small sum. $20,000 of that was estimated to be their piles of crap, piles that weighed over 100 tons, I kid you not. The Collyers are generally held up as being the most extreme example of hoarding.

Piss off. I’ve seen worse than that. This past month actually.

I’ve seen many examples of people hoarding and people collecting. I did a visit on a lovely lady who showed me, with great pride and deservedly so, her collection of fine Doulton, the bulk of which was behind glass in a display cabinet in her sitting room. Worth quite a bit, very decorative and although my knowledge of Royal Doulton is limited to the toilet, I could easily appreciate both the time and effort that she’d gone to in amassing her collection. The next day I saw another house where the tenant had made new rooms and corridors out of newspapers and magazines. The kitchen was one big sink – such was the sheer amount of clutter I had to ask if there was a table in the room. I was told yes, but I’d be damned if I could find it. Access to the house was via the front door or a side window, with the window being the preferred point of entry, not that I’d use it. I insisted on using the door, much to the tenant’s dismay. During the visit another person materialised, it seemed, out of thin air. He lived in another room within a room with some cats. The tenant told me that the cats kept the mice away but I felt that the mice left the property of their own accord. The tenant herself had several open, weeping sores on her hands and as I left she held one out for me to shake. I leapt backwards like I’d be stung by a bee, grabbed my clipboard and fled. Once in the car I spent the next ten minutes washing my hands furiously with alcohol based hand sanitiser.

What got me was when I asked the tenants if they needed help cleaning their place up they looked at me like I was an alien from the planet Arse. “There’s no problems though,” they replied. “But,” I said, “have a look. There’s stuff piled up to the roof, and in the case of where the manhole is, it goes into the roof.” “But,” they replied, “it’s just our collection.”

What I felt like saying was that a collection is the Doulton on the walls I saw yesterday, your pile of rubbish is a pile of rubbish. The house would have looked like the local tip, only without the order. I told a colleague when I returned, imagine five photos of five different places you’ve seen that have been invaded with hoarders. Now overlay the photos. And then double it. You’re almost there. And yes, it really WAS that bad. Not to mention the stench. It was a cold day, and slightly overcast, yet I could smell the property clearly from the road. At first I thought that someone had dumped some old potato peelings wrapped around cracked, rotten eggs into a pool of spiled milk and vinegar, but no, the smell was actually coming from the house. The closer I got the worse it got, but then I put that down to simple physics – the closer the proximity to the epicentre, the stronger the smell. Once inside my first impression was that someone, or something, had recently died. I didn’t ask because I really didn’t want an answer. The grass was overgrown and the house just looked tired. If a brick can age like a person and get exhausted then these bricks already had. I felt sorry for the property and thought that the noble and humane thing to do would to simply have it put down. At some stage one room might have been used for something like a bathroom, but now it was merely a room full of books, however I doubt that the tenants suffered from any serious form of bibliomania as the bulk of the books were mouldy and covered in what I hope was cat urine, but you know, I wasn’t going to be hanging around to test it. I could go on and on but I think you get the idea.

Hoarding creates its own special set of problems and issues. I’m sure that most people who live where I do have seen the footage of a property where a family lived, the child died a needless death. Now if you look at those photos you’ll see what happened – hoarding. More than one person has asked why didn’t we, as an organisation, do something about this and the answer is a very simple one – it wasn’t one of our properties, so we’re not to blame. But the property I visited was worse than the one that’s now legendary in the media, but as far as I’m aware there were no children present in the property, but then again I didn’t lift the newspapers up to look underneath. I wasn’t game. But I digress. Some of the obvious issues that hoarding brings with it include physical ailments of a serious nature. I’ve seen people in some houses who have needed immediate medical attention, however due to the nature of the related mental health problems commonly associated with hoarding, it’s never easy to get those people the assistance that they need. Hoarders often display characteristics of recluses, some often only come out at night to collect their items and vanish during the day. It’s hard to engage them, they’ll refuse to admit that there’s any problem to deal with – acceptance, which is important to aid treatment, if often missing. It’s also not that hard to draw a line between hoarding and mental health issues, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and kleptomania amongst others. The Collyers were so good that a hoarding issue, Dipsophobia, was nick-named Collyer-brothers syndrome in recognition of their events.

How do we treat hoarders? Good question. We can intervene to a point. Some hoarders will recognise their issues and sometimes they do cry out for help. Those who do ask for help not only deserve it, they get it. It’s easy to look upon a hoarder as being somewhat deranged – the crazy cat lady for example – and such a simplistic outlook is as unfair as it is inaccurate. My own personal belief is that hoarding, in its most extreme state, is an illness all of its own. I also believe that some people who claim to be hoarders just aren’t – just as there’s a difference between hoarding and collecting, there’s a large difference between being a hoarder and just being an utter lazy bastard. There’s an easy way to spot the difference and here it is. A hoarder will collect everything and most are extremely active – they’ll wander around the city and suburbs looking for more and more material in which to fill the house with. Lazy bastards will just be content to sit in their own filth surrounded by the debris of their lives as they can’t be arsed cleaning up behind them. Hoarders want to live in the debris of EVERYONES lives, not just their own. Hoarders will go out of their way to get out, under the cover of the night to explore. Lazy swine will sit there, watch TV, have the computer with the internet permanently switched on in the bedroom, or not that far from the bed and just throw empty bottles and food containers everywhere. Neglect of others can lead to serious illness and, sometimes, death. A hoarder will fall ill because of what they collect, not by what they’ve dumped. Both will lie about their problems, but in my observations the hoarder will simply lie to say that they have no problem and that they’re not a hoarder. The lazy bastard will lie about their problem and attempt to cover it all up by blaming others. For the lazy bastard society is to blame, not them. If they’re caught in a serious situation, such as death, then they’ll cry about how they were screaming for help, despite the utter absence of any supporting evidence. Shifting the blame is the name of that game. False claims, only in a totally different way. Spot the difference now?

What do we do with hoarders? In the extreme cases the properties can be declared to be unsafe on the grounds of health and safety. If such a thing happens it’s not that difficult to engage support services or obtain council and local government assistance and arrange the cleaning out of properties. In some very, very extreme cases I’ve seen what’s referred to as a pathological clean up of the property. For those who don’t know, pathological cleans are generally done when a violent crime or nasty suicide has happened, in effect something so toxic that the property isn’t safe for any form of human contact without the correct safety gear, gloves, biohazard suits, masks, goggles – you name it, you’ll be wearing it because the risks to your own health and wellbeing are far more important. Trust me on that one.

Just how much can you fit into a place is another common topic. Here’s an example – I once visited a tiny one-bed roomed unit that the occupants had turned into a labyrinth made up of newspapers, old magazines, clippings, form guides, TV books – you name it, it was in there. The usual tunnels and corridors existed, along with the main room of the property having been turned into a sub-unit made up of three separate sections, portioned off by newspapers from the floor to the ceiling. It took me and a colleague a good forty minutes to get in through the front door, and in doing so we had to remove enough items to nearly fill the front verandah section of the complex and hadn’t scratched the surface. Two people lived in the unit and I doubt that they’d seen some parts of the unit since they moved in. One person had turned an old lounge char into a bed, a bed that, upon him standing up, we noticed a family of mice living inside via a large hole in the seat. The electricity had been cut off a few days previously but this didn’t bother the tenants – they merely resorted to candle power. In the height of summer. And a heatwave. The tenants were totally oblivious to the obvious fire hazard that they were causing. Needless to say we effected what we rarely do – immediate removal of the tenants and the locks changed. One tenant wasn’t supposed to be at the property in the first place, the second had supports to take him away. I arranged a clean up by the council and was amazed to walk past to find three industrial sized skips out the front. They were all overflowing with garbage. The tenant’s supports had told the council to remove everything and they had. The next time I looked inside the unit it looked huge compared to the twelve roomed unit it’d once been. Now it back to a four roomed unit. We moved the tenant out and he’s remained hoard-free ever since.

I doubt anyone has any real answers to combat hoarding other than patience and understanding. If someone calls for help, if someone needs help, then we have a duty to assist them. There are solutions, if the person is willing to embrace them. Supports need to be in place, long term supports though, as short term solutions might clean the immediate problem but won’t eliminate the situation totally. You can clean a house out but if you’re not prepared to hang around then you’ll soon discover that all that’s happened if that the place has been prepared to be filled once more. A person also can’t be sucked into believing that hoarding is another form of collecting – it’s not. Without rhyme or reason, without any logical or rational pattern, the collecting aspect goes out the window and the hoarding comes in. And that’s where the problems all begin…

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

#124: Working On It

One of the hardest ways to obtain a job with the Government is via an external agency. There’s several reasons for this and right here, right now, I’ll cover a few of them. Just for the sheer hell of it all.

The first thing an external agency will do is make you jump over more hurdles than a 100 metre track final. I kid you not. In a standard Government job the procedure goes something like this: you apply with a cover letter, address the J&P and include a resume. You’ll get a letter either saying your application will be considered or you’ve not made the first cut. If you make the second cut, and are shortlisted for an interview then you’ll get a letter stating so with the time of the interview. The interview will generally be a week after the letter has been sent, so you’ll get a few days to prepare, as is the wont. Do the interview and you’ll either be offered a position or not, and then offered feedback.

Feedback here is an important thing and if offered then you should take it, and it will be offered. However some feedback will be misleading – if the panel was stacked or clearly wanted an internal applicant then the feedback might not be what you’re expecting. It’ll be something along the lines of, “You did really well, however you weren’t successful.” Its then up to you to ask as to where you went wrong with your application or interview. The process can be appealed if you feel that you’ve been taken advantage of, but you cannot appeal the appointment, so be very careful as to what you do next. Immediately after the interview it’s always a good idea to make some notes about how you feel you went. You’ll soon know if you did well or not. Expect to score lower for simple things – I went from first to third in an interview simply because I failed to mention one key point. Seriously. One little point saw me ranked down the list and as such I was offered a pissy contract where I prayed for an extension. Still, that’s another story, but the point here is that if a department is doing its own selection then they’ll generally play fairly. No-one wants the union or anyone else for that matter poking about in their selection process. Too much paperwork and no-one needs that black mark against their name as they’re trying to climb the corporate ladder. Each interview will consist of the same questions and scenarios – there’ll be nothing different. You’ll only be asked questions that are appropriate for the job at hand and no-one is tripped up – it’s entirely fair and equal. Really, it is. Remember that, it’ll come in handy down the track.

An external agency doesn’t play fair, nor does it need to. It doesn’t hate you, it doesn’t care enough to hate you. In fact it just doesn’t ever recognise you, unless you win a position or you can benefit them – but more on the latter shortly. Remember how the process worked a few paragraphs ago? Here’s the same job, with the breakdowns, as done by an external agency:
Application – cover letter, short J&P and resume – all on-line. From there you'll either be...
Shortlisted or rejected via email.
If shortlisted then you’ll be sent a link to an ‘aptitude’ or ‘personality’ test to complete on-line where you’ll be complete a test somewhat akin to being hooked up to a monitor to see how high your midi-chlorian are. From there you'll either be...
Shortlisted or rejected via email.
If shortlisted then you’ll get a phone call to for a verbal interview. This will be conducted by someone reading a script somewhat
Like
This
Slowly
Word
By
Word
Get
The
Point? They don’t have the time to waste and will rush you through each and every scripted question. These people are paid by the hour with attractive bonuses for each person they get out of the way during the day. Thus they don’t give a crap about your qualifications or questions and will simply ignore anything that isn’t part of the script. They’ll notate your responses and if you answer with the right buzz words then it’s onto the next stage, which is...
Shortlisted or rejected via email.
If shortlisted then you’ll be asked to come into the agency for an ‘assessment’ and interview. By now you’re thinking, “Hang on, I’ve done this already,” and if you are then you don’t know shit. You’ll be asked to put aside a few hours, no exceptions. I once tried to re-schedule one of these due to a combination of a family emergency and a persistent nosebleed that I’d carried throughout the day only to be told that if I didn’t attend then my application would be considered withdrawn. Again, the agency could care less for you.

Once at the agency you’ll be shunted into a room with other idiots, usually between seven to eleven. Nine is usually the number as a few people will invariably fail to attend. Someone will stand there and introduce the agency and patronise you, after which you’ll be given a group exercise to do. My favourite was a murder mystery which I solved within two minutes out of the fifteen minutes allocated only be shouted down by three know-it-all cretins whilst the other five people sat quietly and clearly waited for the agency people to walk back in. I gave up discussing the mystery as the people involved were clearly those ones who believe that the way to shine during such group exercises is to utterly dominate them to the point of violence. Oddly enough my guess of the killer was right, not that it helped. During this exercise you’ll be monitored from another room via camera, and generally laughed at, with the best bits making a blooper tape – even better if someone hauls off and belts the living suitcase out of another participant.

One the group fun is over the group will be divided into two and you’ll generally be shown into another room where you’ll either wait to be called for another interview or subject to either an aptitude or a skills test, or both and possibly a role play. The one-on-one interview is always fun as it’ll involve one of the agency people and hopefully someone from the department who’ll be hopefully hiring you. After three hours have passed you’ll be at the end of it all and you’ll either be...
Shortlisted or rejected via email.
If shortlisted then you’ll be asked to attend another interview, this time with the department you’re applying for. This will be the standard interview and you’ll either be...
Hired or rejected via email.
As easy as that really. Selection via attrition.

Having said all of that here’s the stumbling blocks to watch out for. Agencies don’t need to be fair or equal. They have a rough idea as to who they want for the job and here’s one of the biggest secrets out there, one which, when I reveal it, I doubt I’ll ever land another job via an agency: they cheat for money.

I once applied for a job at a phone carrier in the dark ages when I really needed the cash. I went through the process and did the role play and was stunned. During the role play I was faced with an angry caller who refused to engage with me and basically told me to fuck off no matter what solution I suggested. There was nothing I could do to obtain a positive outcome, so I adopted the ‘angry caller’ syndrome and believing that this was a test of my ability to cope with a difficult customer, gave the three warnings and terminated the call. I then wandered back into the main room where five others waited. We discussed the calls and I learned that four out of the five had very easy calls, easily resolved, no abuse. Myself and one other had abusive, non-resolvable calls. I went home and waited for the inevitable rejection. I stated that I felt that I’d been harshly treated as the assessments were not fair and equal. I was given another chance, same result. It was then that a close friend who was working for an employment agency caught up with me for lunch. We discussed what had gone on and she told me, “Oh, you’d not get that job if you’re not signed to the employment agency.” I asked what she meant and she told me this secret:
Employment agencies exist with the assistance of federal Government funding via Centrelink and other little job network funding. They’re generally paid for each person that they can sign up and land a job for. Thus if you come into the agency for an assessment and are on their books and are successful then your employment can mean a few grand more in funding for the agency. If you come into the agency and land a job and are not signed to the agency then you’re worth bugger all in extra funds. As such they’ll push, and push hard, for the people on their books to gain any form of employment and an even harder push to ensure that those people not on the books to fail. Once the person has failed to gain employment the agency will often contact the person and attempt to sign them up.

Good rort isn’t it? You get your arse it is.

Feedback from external agencies is about as meaningful as hearing a $20 hooker saying that you’re the biggest boy she’s ever seen. They’ll call you and just say, “Sorry, you didn’t get the job,” and cut you off if you ask why. I remember once getting one of these calls and attempting to explain why I did poorly (loss of blood, emotionally charged week) only to have the agency person on the other end of the phone actually say, “Look, I don’t care. I have twenty more of these calls to make before I knock off. You didn’t get the job mate,” and with that he merely hung up. Great feedback. Very helpful. What it did do was ensure that I’ll not go anywhere near that agency again.

Agencies also couldn’t care less for any experience that you might have. Again, just for shits and giggles, in the mid 1990s I applied for my own job via an agency only to be told that I didn’t have any on-the-job experience, despite me having worked in the role for over two years. Go figure.

The lesson in all of this is as follows: if you apply for a position directly via the Government department in question then you have a better than good chance of landing the job. You’ll be treated as fairly as could be expected and despite some of the hurdles I’ve mentioned previously you’ll have a good shot at it, especially if you have the right buzz words as we’ve discussed previously. If nothing else then you’ll get some decent feedback, especially if you get someone who is willing to go through your entire application and offer suggestions as to how to improve your overall application – I once spent an entire hour with a senior manager on the phone as we pulled apart my application section by section. The end result was the next job I applied for, incorporating her suggestions, I landed. However if you go through an external agency then anything can happen. If nothing else you’ll be working hard before you ever get near the job. And that’s entertainment!

More to come.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

#122: Sixteen Tons (Slightly Altered - More Like 14 Tons)

One of the questions I’m asked during interviews these days that often catches me off guard is a simple one, “How do I get your job?” I used to wonder the same thing, but now I just answer with a wry smile, “Trust me, you don’t want it.” That generally shuts people up and returns the attention to where it should be – on the problem at hand. It has got me wondering though, just what have I learnt about getting a Government job?

Nothing. Nothing at all. With that in mind I thought I’d share some thoughts for anyone who actually reads the positions vacant sections in the newspaper and are thinking, “Jeez, I might go for that job.” Here’s the first piece of advice: if it’s a position that involves service delivery then you don’t want the job. Trust me. You don’t need the aggravation.  Sure there’s a lot of people who’ll support you, and there are free headshrinkers on hand if you need them (for a limited time only) but, for the most part you’re screwed and on your own. Deal with it. You’ll soon work out who you can rely on and who just doesn’t care, and you’ll move yourself towards those who care accordingly. The biggest problem is when you work with senior management who fall into the just don't care category. Thus if you’re highly strung, then you don’t want the job. You’re better off cleaning toilets. Less stress and probably better cash. Work as a cleaner, after hours. More fun, and you can use the IPod freely.

Now, if you are silly enough to want to apply here’s the second piece of advice: don’t apply for anything you’re qualified for. If you have loads of experience then the odds are good that you won’t land the job. After all the department you’re applying for already has an entire section full of people who are better than you, and the last thing anyone wants is some smart arse waltzing in big noting about their experience. Get stuffed, no-one cares. They don’t. By all means have a basic understanding of the position – if it’s service delivery then have some background knowledge and experience in that area. However, and here’s the key, if the position is say in housing then a background in social work would be more advantageous than tenancy. If it’s social work then a background in housing or police would be brilliant. Applying for the police? Get a background in social services or, better yet, come straight from the dole office. All of that additional knowledge that you might think is useless is better for you than you think. I mean, Jesus, if you have a basic knowledge in an unrelated field to the job you’re applying for, even a mail-away TAFE degree, then you’ll be guaranteed a job interview. Most panel members are dazzled by certificates and degress. I kid you not. So don’t limit yourself to what you know.

By now you’ve probably picked a job you want to apply for. Now here’s the third piece of advice: go and find a book titled ‘How to Write and Talk to Selection Criteria’ by Dr Ann Villiers. There’s more useful information in that book than anyone can ever want or need. If you follow that book from start to finish then you’re guaranteed to win a position. It’s like the KLF book, ‘The Manual’, in that you cannot possibly fail to land a job, even if it is a short term contract, if you follow exactly what Dr Villiers says. If you do follow it and don’t gain a position then I’ll refund your money – if you can find the book. Here's one example: there’s a good clue in the book to writing selection criteria, it’s an old trick but one that not many people share so here it is. When writing selection criteria remember the following phrase: STAR.
STAR
stands for:
Situation: What was going on?
Task: What did you do?
Action: How did you do it?
Result: What was the outcome?
Sounds like wank? Don't you believe it pal. Follow STAR to the letter when you’re writing to a J&P and you won’t fail.

If you’re now sitting there asking just what a J&P is then you might as well leave and go find a porn site. You’ll have more fun.

The kicker is finding out if the job actually exists. Just because a position has been advertised doesn't necessarily mean that it actually exists. A lot of Government jobs are advertised out of procedure, not because a position is actually vacant. Sometimes a job will be advertised that already has someone acting in the position - in most cases the incumbent will be slotted in once the process is finished. Look at the J&P - if it's full of specific jargon then you can be fairly assured that it's not a job at all, it's just paperwork. Call the person listed and ask if anyone is acting in the position. If the answer is yes then you might as well move onto the next advertisement. Don't waste your time on applying for a job you're not going to get anywhere near.

Once you have the interview then the fun starts. Here’s the fourth piece of advice: no-one will tell you this but your chances of landing the job all hinge on your presentation. Seriously. You’ll be told that your application, interview, presentation and referees all count, but the ratio is clearly geared towards your interview. You can walk into an interview knowing absolutely bugger all and ace the job just by knowing exactly what verbs and nouns to say at the right time. A few years back I saw a guy land a job that knew nothing about the job at hand but said all the right things at the interview. He was an utter failure as a worker, but by gosh could he spit out buzz words like they were going out of style. He once sat and spent an entire day just reading emails, such was the level of his incompetence, but because he could say phrases that’d see him win Office Bingo easily in front of the boss he remained where he was. Last time I looked he was still there. Knowledge of the workplace is important, but not as vital as being able to use the right verbs. Dr Villiers book has 180 verbs that you can use in place of words that you normally use. Instead of writing, “I saw a problem and asked a co-worker to fix it,” you’ll soon be writing, “I uncovered a potential situation, and after analysing the error, I advised a co-worker with my recommendations and achieved a suitable outcome.” That works for everyone. The more words the better. Dazzle the panel with paperwork and verbs.

Do your research. Write down a pile of scenarios and rehearse them in front of people. Rehearse them in front of the mirror. I once read that Freddie Mercury would sing and prance about in a room of mirrors just to see himself in action, and look at what he achieved. Other than the fact that he’s now dead, he was, and still is, considered to be one of the greatest entertainers who ever lived. Big bands and artists like Kiss, Coldplay, Pink and U2 tape every show they perform and watch them back on the night of the concerts, just to see what worked and what didn't. You could stand next to Mick Jagger on stage and set yourself on fire and nobody would notice. You don’t think he built that charisma up without rehearsal now do you? Rehearse, rehearse and when you’re sick of it, take a break and rehearse some more. Print out your job application, resume and make copious notes and bring them into the interview. More likely than not you’ll be given the questions beforehand so you can refer to your notes and prepare yourself even more. Use the last two minutes before you walk into the actual interview to clear your head. Think of aphids. That always helps.

Once you’re in the interview room remember what Zaphod told Arthur Dent: Don’t Panic. The people in there are the same as you. They might have had a shitty day already. Get their attention and keep it – the last thing you want to see is someone on the panel looking out the window and wondering what they’re going to eat for lunch. And yes, I’ve had that happen. I once did an interview where I had two panel members in the palm of my hand but the third just couldn’t care. I could have explained the theory of evolution with an emphasis on where Darwin was wrong and proving the existence of Satan but not God and he’d still would have been staring out the window. He only perked up when I turned the interview away from the job and into a philosophical debate about the semantics of art appreciation, Monet vs Manet, Picasso and Daniel Thomas (not the kidnapped Queensland toddler, but the ex-director of the SA Art Gallery). For a split second I thought I’d snared the job, but nope. I couldn’t have done any worse if I’d violently passed wind and attempted to lay all of the blame on a non-existent canine. Keep the panel's attention by making eye contact with them all, read your notes but speak without reading from the page (this is where the rehearsal comes in handy) and if you need a break take one. Have a glass of water. Take a deep breath. Don’t swear; don’t even say ‘Damn’. Keep your language squeaky clean, even if the panel members swear. Don’t get sucked into any traps that a loaded panel will set.

Suck up to the panel but don’t crawl. Some places love hiring sycophants but the bulk of them can’t be bothered. What they want is someone who wants to work badly enough that they’ll overlook any disadvantage that the workplace might bring. Ask questions but, and this is a biggie, if it’s a government job DON’T ask how much you’ll be earning. Only an idiot would ask that. Look at the level of the job you’re applying for (ASO2, ASO3 etc etc) and work it out for yourself. Asking starting salaries shows that you’ve not done your homework. By all means ask when the position will be filled and if the starting date is set. That’s fair.

Always remember that no mater how good you are, no matter how good you present, there will be panels who know exactly who they want to hire. Even if that person isn't that good, but answers the questions with the right dot points then they'll be hired over you. The feedback will be something along the lines of, "You did really well, and we'd like to offer you a short term contract, but you were pipped at the post." This kind of a panel is referred to as being a 'loaded panel'. The loaded panel is set with co-workers and/or immediate line managers who want a contract worker win the position. If you get into the workplace you'll soon discover where you really came in the merit list just by talking to the winner. If they're a dud then don't be upset, that's life in the Government - things are rarely fair and equitable, and always remember, positions are filled by the panels recommendations and the managers discretion. Both of those bows bend a fairly long way and are broader in scope and definition than most highways.

Be careful what you wish for - you might just get it.

Now that your brain is overloaded I’ll leave it there and come back later with more insider tricks…wait for it.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

#121: Baby Got Back

Overheard on the radio the other day;
CENTRELINK DUDE: Feel free to phone in and ask me anything.
CALLER: Yeah, can you tell me how old a kid has to be before the parent moves from the pension to NewStart?
CD: That’d be…oh, between the ages of 5 and 7.
CALLER: So, 6 years old then.
CD: I’d have to check that, but I think you’ll find it isn’t 6 years old; it’s between the ages of 5 and 7.
---------------
CALLER TWO: This new stimulus baby payment - the one for the family tax benefit?
CD: Yep.
CT: How are you eligible?
CD: You have to have been in receipt of FTBA in the first week of February.
CT: My wife just dropped another kid two weeks ago. Can we get it?
CD: Well, probably not, as the child wasn't born in January.
CT: Why can't we get it retrospectively? It's not like we wanted it. Oh well, at least we get the baby bonus.
CD: I'm not sure how to answer that.
------------------------------
No wonder you can’t get a straight answer from them when you phone, if that’s the level of the senior public relations staff. Still, you do hear some amusing things while driving along on the way to be abused...

Monday, March 30, 2009

#120: Baby, You’re A Rich Man

I continually ask myself, what is it with people who seek rental properties that are way out of their league? It doesn’t make a lick of sense to me, but then that might be due to me having a small degree of common sense. In the past few months I’ve seen people who commonly present with the same problems – they pay too much rent and refuse to acknowledge it, to the point of eviction. And therein lies the biggest problem of them all, because once you’re evicted then you’re more than likely to be added to a blacklist, where your name will remain forever (or until it’s removed). Each land agent and most landlords check the blacklist every time they receive an application for a rental property and if you’re on that list then you might as well not bother. The agent or landlord will always, and I mean ALWAYS, plump for the cleanskin of a tenant over damaged goods, no matter how good your reason is.

And allow me to digress for a short second. We all know about the tenant blacklist but I can’t help but wonder when a renters/landlord blacklist will begin to appear. I know of quite a few land agents and landlords in this state alone that I’d not touch with a pole, nor would I recommend others to (I’d name names but my insanity isn’t that complete – yet). For example there’s one landlord who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to walk into any property he owns whenever he feels like it. He’s also got a good reputation for touching up female tenants and has been known to take a few people with baseball bats around to collect any rents owing. I’ve yet to see him actually release a bond without RTT intervention and the properties he owns are as run down as can be. You’d be better off living in a dumpster. He’s not gotten any mellower in his dotage though and has developed a new tendency of visiting properties that he sold years ago and demanding rental payments with menaces. The result has seen a few restraining orders put in place, but to this guy such things are challenges, not binding legal documents. And then there’s the semi-large land agent that operates a lot of rental properties. Run by a husband and wife team, this lot like to increase rents but don’t bother telling the owners, nor do they pass on the additional monies collected. They’ve got a great habit of forcing evictions for no reason and also hold onto bonds until ordered otherwise by the RTT. What they do though is clever – they’ll threaten the tenant with blacklisting if they dispute the bond claim. The tenants, usually young and worried and bullied thus they don’t dispute the bond claims, lose all the money and end up on the blacklist regardless. That’s democracy in action.

So get a renters/landlords blacklist up and going and let me know – I’d be happy to see how it all works and you never know who’d contribute. The irony is, if you did such a list, the Real Estate Association would be up in arms, yet they allow landlords and real estate agents to list tenants without any form of recourse or resolution. Piss the landlord off and on the list you go. But, as I said, I digress….

We’ve talked about how to locate and secure private rental more than once on this site but one thing needs to be reinforced – location, location, location. Sure, everyone wants to live in the city, by the beach or in the more affluent suburbs, but the stark reality is that if you’re on a government benefit you’ll be more likely to be living in a suburb surrounded more with effluence than affluence. Sorry, that’s just the facts and nothing but the facts, m’am. Still it doesn’t stop people coming in with leases signed indicating that the tenant will be paying more than their total fortnightly payments in rent alone. And, amazingly enough, the tenants refuse to see this as a problem. I recently had one tenant in who was paying $280 per week in rent. No biggie, I pay more than that, but the tenant was earning a pension of approximately $550 per fortnight, meaning that he was $10 in arrears every fortnight. The tenant didn’t see this as being a problem though, despite being six weeks in arrears. I did advise about the basics, you know, simple things like food, electricity, gas…small things. In one ear and out the other. In the end I refused any assistance of arrears payments and assessed for assistance more in line with the payments the tenant was receiving. You’d have thought I’d questioned the tenant’s heritage, such as the anger displayed. Throughout it all I never got an answer to the simple question: “So, where exactly do you find the extra $10 per fortnight?”

Sadly, again as we’ve seen, rents increase out of proportion to the cost of living index. That's a simple fact of life and nothing, until proper industry regulation is effected, will ever change that. Landlords and real estate agents know that they can charge what the market will bear, and this often means charging amounts above market value rents (the argument being that any rent that is paid actually is the market value rent). And let’s not mention rental auctions, an insidious practice that has, officially, been outlawed, but, unofficially, still happens on many scales in the majority of rental offers. There is a way around all of this though and it’s a very simple one: only pursue rental properties in areas where you can afford to pay the rent.

Having said that I am aware that it’s not always the easiest thing to achieve. Everyone wants to live close to the city for a number of reasons. These can include the most simple of reasons – people want to be close to the hub. In the same way that all roads in Italy lead to Rome, all roads leading out of the city centre lead to somewhere else. It’s easier to start a journey using the centre of the city as your starting point than it is to have to travel to a location, change modes of transport and so forth until you finally get to where you need to be. Some call this behaviour being lazy, some call it convenience. Call it what you want, it’s a very real, and in some cases valid, reason. Being close to a linked in support network is also a valid reason, but one that often doesn’t hold water. There are a lot of support agencies and networks within a city centre, but in this day and age many of those agencies have either outreach services or branches in the suburbs. It’s a simple choice to move your case file from one branch to another, and quite frequently the agency in question will only be too happy to move a file from one overloaded central office to a more manageable office. In a lot of cases this can clearly benefit a client as, in a smaller region, their case can receive a bit of extra attention. Win-win all round really.

Some refuse to move outwards due to a certain snobbery. If you’re looking for a rental property under $150 and you find a dog box that frankly you’d even allow your dog to enter then don’t whinge to me. You’ll be getting exactly what you’ll be paying for, so shut yer yap. However, move about 20 kilometres away from the city centre and that same $150 will more than likely net you a very decent one bedroom or a very reasonable (condition wise) two bedroom unit. Live close to the city and the same money will result in a smaller place with lesser quality overall. That’s just logic, but try explaining logic to a group of people who think that Edward DeBono is the real name of the singer in U2. People keep seeking what I refer to as the Golden Peanut. That one peanut in the packet that is so magical it makes the rest of the packet worthwhile, even if the other peanuts taste like processed crap. People will attempt to hunt down that elusive two bedroom, twin story executive town house complete with spa for under $200 a week in rent. It ain’t gonna happen. That place does exist, but if you’re not willing to pay around $400+ plus per week then you’re not going to get anywhere near it. It’s really that simple and anyone who tells you otherwise is simply full of shit. And that’s the truth.

So when you figure out what you can afford in rent, and that assessment is generally easy to do – you’re looking at anywhere between 50 to 60% of your gross weekly income (that’s pre-tax kiddies, or all the money you either, or are supposed to, receive from the dole office) – then start hunting. Why 50 to 60%? Because that’s affordable. Anything over that amount is just not sustainable no matter who you are or what creative accounting you think you can do, unless you're sharing and/or have a second income to draw from (but if you did have a second income then you'd be well under that 50-60% rule wouldn't you?). It just won’t work. Anything under those amounts are bonus time. If you earn around $275 per week on dole payments and find something to rent for around $120 then consider yourself lucky. It means you might be able to afford to keep smoking, both legal and/or illegally. Take your pick.

The trick to all of this is a simple one. The lower you are on the income table the further away from the city centre you’ll have to live. The higher you are on the income table the closer you get to live to the city. There’s no simpler way to explain things than that. Live within your means and do what you need to do and play the cards you’re dealt. If you want to live better than either get a job, earn more money or rob a bank – anything – but you can’t live well if every cent you’re paying goes into rental. If nothing else you’ll either freeze to death in the winter due a lack of heating or you’ll starve to death after you’ve eaten the place clean of food, insects, vermin and pets. Live within your means and you’ll live well.