Month: May 2017

POVERTY IS NOT A CRIME

I am heading to Melbourne soon to speak at the launch of the CEO Sleepout organised by Vinnies to help shine awareness on the plight of those living rough. I was really honoured to be asked to do this, as this is an issue close to my heart. I know what it is like to be dirt poor and the flashbacks of the deep sense of shame and humiliation still swamp me and wake me from sleep in a cold sweat, even all these years later.

I woke up today and looked in my refrigerator and like many mornings, it brought a tear to my eye. Not a sad tear like in those dark, lonely, terrifying days as a single mum with three little boys, when I would look desperately into our fridge (that sounded like an emphysemic wildebeest) to find it was bare. Once I had to feed the kids plain ice-ream cones because that was all that was left in the pantry apart from salt and a can of corn. Handout food parcels from the welfare agencies always contained lots of cans of corn. They were big in the donation barrels….for good reason. I got good at dressing them up into dishes, but on their own, I had trouble selling them as little ‘lollies’ to the kids. This morning, I could offer my youngest son and daughter, yogurt and berries, rye bread and grilled cheese and a freshly squeezed pineapple juice each for breakfast. Today’s tear was one of gratitude for making it out of the darkness. I walked the kids to school and reminded them again of just how lucky they are. Most kids take a decent breakfast for granted.

But some don’t.

There are kids everywhere, next door to you, not just in the trailer parks but in the rental houses in your suburb, who are hungry, who walk a certain way to distract from the gaping hole in their school shoe. There’s a look in their eyes. I’ve seen it. I saw it at the bus-stop this morning. And it broke my heart.

Having been there, I know how hard it is to ask for help. The first few times I asked for help from the back office of a church or for credit from the local supermarket for milk and bread,  I was met with that churled lip and raised eye-brow and a quick up and down assessment. Was I a druggie? Mad? Or just a loser? The judgmental attitude that many people adopt when faced with poverty and disadvantage is, I think, a safety shield. They want to pretend that those poor people are ‘different’ from them because if they were the same then the same plight could befall anyone through circumstance. There but for the grace of god go I and all that.  So it’s easier to believe that they choose to live that way, either deliberately or indirectly. That keeps everyone else safe. But the truth is that so many people live week to week, hand to mouth and exist only one disaster away from abject poverty and possible homelessness.

Our Western Society is built on rewarding the rich and demonising the poor. That’s the basic premise of capitalism. If you are an able-bodied, well-educated, mentally fit and finely tuned individual who managed to escape childhood without any form of abuse, neglect, poverty consciousness, physical or emotional set-backs and you have an appearance within the parameters that are judged acceptable by society, you might get yourself a job, have healthy relationships and start building the foundation for a successful life. But if death, divorce, illness, accident or cracks in your family relationships, sexual abuse, depression or sudden job-loss strike unannounced, you can be derailed quickly like a runaway train and then you find yourself hurtling to that tent in the park, begging strangers for loose change to eke out a few crumbs to exist on.

It is haughty and foolish to think that it could never happen to you. And when you do fall that low, it is very, very difficult to pull yourself up out of that deep, deep quagmire. Without help.

I reached out to welfare agencies like St Vincent de Paul in my bleakest days and never once did the volunteers, giving their time and hearts to the cause, ever make me feel like a ‘loser’. The food parcels, the assistance with electricity and phone bills, the friendly conversation and cups of tea, helped me gradually back on my feet.

I’ve written a new book about my years of struggle and hope to publish it in the near future. Hopefully it will serve as inspiration to those still struggling and raise awareness for the need to work as a village to help those less fortunate. We are all in this thing called life together! I am fortunate to be in a position as a writer with something of a platform, to be able to draw people’s attention to this issue. I have come a long way from living in a tent and eating ice-cream cones for breakfast and doling out kernels of corn as treats for the kids. And it was thanks to those who did choose to care and not judge.

When you donate your old toys, clothes and furniture to welfare agencies, you have no idea how much that can mean to someone who finds themselves without decent enough shoes to go to a job interview. And when your kids come home from school with a note around Christmas time asking for donations of cans of food or packets of pasta and whatnot….or toys for disadvantaged kids. Please donate.

When I read about those struggling with Centrelink debts and the stricter measures coming in to make welfare payments more difficult to access, it makes me cry. To see funding being cut from women’s shelters, to see pensioners losing some of their benefits, to see health care becoming more expensive, it all looks wrong. Really wrong. There were times when I couldn’t afford medicine for my children, even with a health care card and for politicians to dismiss the cost of medication as a cup of coffee from a cafe shows just how out of touch they really are. For those in dire need, that amount of money equates to a loaf of bread, a litre of milk, a packet of four bricks of noodles and a cheap packet of water crackers and a few days of eating…..not a strong latte!

No-one chooses to be dirt poor. Sure, bad choices can lead to some dark places but if you agree that it is morally right to sympathise with people dying or suffering from lifestyle diseases, then you must also find sympathy for those who made wrong turns along the way. No one is perfect. When you are in a maze of starvation, illness, terror, particularly if you have children, you can barely see any light ahead, the tunnels are everywhere. It is literally like being in a maze. If you are high above looking down at the maze, it’s easy to see which turns to make to get out, but in the maze, it’s much harder and you inevitably make wrong turns, sometimes many, before you escape. Having someone beside you, holding your hand and shining a torch for you can really help.

Go and donate to Vinnies, the Salvos, Red Cross, Lifeline or any reputable charity. Give warm clothes, sturdy shoes, books, pots and pans, blankets and food (just go easy on the cans of corn, eh?)

Nik x

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Family Detox

My kids hate me. I’m sure they don’t deep down but this week they are saying it a lot because I have just gone all Gwynyth Paltrow on their arses! Yup. I am having a spring clean. Usually it’s just me that gets all detoxy after a big Easter chocolate binge and holiday laze-about but this time I’m getting the whole family on board. Did I mention that the kids hate me? Well my husband hates me as well and when I spout Paltrowisms at him he reminds me that Chris Martin ended up consciously uncoupling from G etc.

It’s not a big deal. It’s just some dietary/lifestyle housekeeping. You know, like no sugar, dairy, wheat, alcohol, caffeine, complimented with daily workouts and meditation and family bonding sessions and gardening (because apparently it’s good for the soul and also my garden is overrun with weeds and I can’t afford a gardener).  At first they climbed aboard begrudgingly, after I gave an impassioned speech about how this is a family project that will bond us all closer because our current arrangement has the grown ups working around the clock while the teens get home from school and plug into devices and stay there until they are asleep with drool running all over the headphones. I don’t want much – just the perfect family. Now that it’s sinking in and they can tell that I’m seriously serious, they all look a bit shocked and clammy and terrified.

My hip nags at me and I have something seriously wrong with my joints…it might be arthritis or perhaps carpal tunnel syndrome. I’m loathe to go to a medical practitioner as I’m pretty alternative and have always been able to heal things with dietary adjustments and my go-to for everything TURMERIC AND MANUKA HONEY. My teen daughter is a chocolate addict who will eat nothing but chocolate, white bread, pasta  and cheese. My son eats anything. He is more confident that he can pull off this detox fortnight. My daughter says she will die. My husband alternates between those two. His mouth says he’s up for it but the look on his face says he will also die.

I just made up this week’s shopping list and it looks like something the Goop-Meister would be proud of – I have sheep’s milk yoghurt, buckwheat pasta, every vegetable under the sun including Jerusalem artichokes. I have kimchi and blueberries and almonds ready to be activated (I’m not even being silly…I’m going to try that). I have quinoa up the wazoo and things like vegannaise and kombochu. I have so much produce there that I think I’d better stagger the shopping over the fortnight or I’ll end up with stinky, rotting veggies in the crisper, floating in their own soupy, moldy slime!

School lunches will be fun and I don’t doubt that my little darlings will beg or steal their mates’ lunch-time treats and lie to me…..to my actual face. Each one has been given an exercise pad to record their daily feelings about the process and every day there will be a creative drawing exercise…today we must all draw a tree. Drawing is also apparently good for the soul. Husband draws a stick figure tree and I think that’s a vulture sitting on the branch…that may or may not be symbolic of something.

I’ll keep you posted. Either this will be the making of us and I will change my daughter’s name to Apple and lose my round tyre of fat impersonating a belly (maybe Fat Bastard’s) and my opera-singing husband will release an album of emotional songs that all sound the same but sell millions and I will win that Academy Award and we’ll all look like those folks in knitted sweaters on Christmas cards or it will all go to hell and we’ll kill each other or there will be a mutiny and they will all gang up and kill me.

I’m really positive. I think it will be fun. Also my new book is rollicking along…okay it’s not really…I’ve written one paragraph and I’ve now decided that it won’t work to tell the story from the viewpoint of a Blue-Jay…so this detox can clear me of stupid ideas and fill me with some new good ones.

Don’t tell me to break a leg….you know….wishing me luck…because I think the demon of osteo might take it literally…..

Cheers. Clink glasses of goopy green juice with lots of KALE and ginger and other weird shit!

Nik x