by Ross Sharp


Three months after leaving High School, I finally land a job. December, couple weeks before Christmas, I’m 17, a month off 18. How many applications I had made in my search for gainful employment I cannot recall, but I do recall the phone ringing on that day, and I remarked to my grandmother upon hearing it, “That’s probably another bloody company ringing to tell me I still don’t have a job.”

I was wrong. I did have the job. At last.

Independence beckoned. Adulthood. My job. My salary. To spend as I saw fit on whatever I damn well pleased. It felt good. It made sense. I had had my fill of “learning”, of examinations, of schoolrooms and blackboards and uniforms, of barely interested teachers, of being expected to write “essays” of substance about the turgid verbal sludge of Thomas fucking Hardy and pretend to care.

“Cliff’s Notes” came in very handy at the time.

I was reading Mailer and Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison, Hunter Thompson, Capote and Joan Didion. Conan Doyle and Arthur C. Clarke. Steinbeck and Poe and Twain. Thinking for myself, my “undeveloped” and so-called “immature” brain abuzz with ideas, with energy and imagination, the possibilities endless and, finally, I am in the world and I am an adult.

We would, a few other recent school leavers and I, gather occasionally at a pub in Sydney’s south-west and we would drink a beer, maybe two, and we would talk of our efforts to find work, how many interviews we had attended, how many applications we had submitted, and, when one of our number was successful in their efforts, we would offer congratulations, smiles, enthusiasms and handshakes all ‘round.

And we would buy another beer. As men now, no longer children.

Now, almost 40 years later, I find myself wondering what part of my working life during this time could be considered by our Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey, “leaning” rather than “lifting”, as he so simply puts it.

Could it be the 6 weeks during 1990, when I was sacked from a job at a music publisher, and didn’t bother registering for unemployment benefits until 3 weeks later because it just didn’t occur to me? I received one cheque. One week later, I had found another job.

Was it, perhaps, the 3 months in 2001 where I chose to be unemployed, having told my then employer after 10 years they could take their fucking job and shove it? I lived off the long service payout. And, when the money began to run out, I found another job.

Such reckless irresponsibility.

Was it the sick leave, just earlier this year, that I was ordered to take by both doctor and employer so that I could deal with what had become at that point, an increasingly unmanageable mental health condition? Panic and anxiety attacks every morning that would leave me drenched in sweat, dry-retching into a sink for thirty minutes and shaking so badly at times I could barely walk, let alone communicate. There are pills for that. I take them now. Two per day, sometimes three if the fear returns with a roiling vengeance to tear at my chest and punch holes in my mind.

Was it that?

I did have three months sick leave owing to me after nine years work, so it’s not as if I had spent those past years farting about, taking and faking sick days on a regular basis so I could go up the pub for a drunken bludge and play the fucking fruit machines.

Do you think?

Was I leaning?

No. I do not think so.

One “welfare” cheque in 38 years of work. One. That is the sum amount of “money for nothing” from the Australian government I have ever received. Single, no kids, no mortgage and fifty-five years old.

Nobody has thrown me a wad (so to speak) of money just for poking girl to make baby.

Nobody has thrown me twenty grand (or whatever it is or was), because I went looking for that “Great Australian Dream” of owning my own home, some over-priced, ratty little shithole of realty to get me “started in the market”.

Fuck your “market”.

One cheque.

But in 1976, there were no “leaners”, no “bludgers” among our small band of brothers gathered around that table at the pub, talking excitedly and enthusiastically about our jobs, our futures, what we wanted.

We wanted our independence. Our financial independence. We craved the freedom that would afford us, and we did get it. All of us. I got it.

I started work in December of that year as a junior clerk in a finance company, looking after the stationery supplies; on the mail-table opening letters and bundling cheques and vouchers; basic accounts work, and four years later, at 21 years of age, I was the company’s NSW State Accountant.

I attended no courses. I attained no “professional” accreditations. I have no diploma. To this day I have not stepped foot inside a classroom since leaving high school.

The company trained me. They recognised in  me an aptitude, an eagerness to learn, and they trained me. They invested their time. They made the effort. They imparted knowledge. And I soaked it up.

Fast forward to the present day.

I am in need of a new assistant. There is a young man – early 20’s – who manages the office supplies and other general duties, including front desk and reception who, I am told by my manager, has expressed an interest in moving onward and upward, seeking something a little more challenging. While I have little to do with this person, my general impression is that he is pleasant, personable and friendly, and from all reports, very good at what he is currently doing.

“Yes”, I say to my manager, “I’d be happy to see if he’d be interested. He strikes me as having a very positive attitude, so that would balance out well with my own”, I continue, having once been described by another manager once as the Most Cynical Man in The Company (I’d like that on a t-shirt, please).

“I’ll mention it to HR”, he says. A few hours later, he returns. “I’ve spoken to HR, and they don’t think he has the necessary skills, so we’ll drop that idea”, he says.

“Ah”, I say, and I am about to say something else, but catch myself, knowing it would be of little use, and I return to my desk. Where I think to myself, “How the fuck is he going to get the necessary skills, if we’re not prepared to give them to him? I’ve worked in my particular field for 35 years, and I would be more than happy to give him the benefit of my experience and knowledge. I would’ve enjoyed that.”

Johanna Wyn and Hernan Cuervo from The Conversation

“[Youth Research Centre’s longitudinal Life Patterns research program] Following a cohort of secondary school graduates of 1991, this research traced the impact on young people’s lives of two significant policy changes that occurred in the early 1990s: university fees and the Workplace Relations Act. These policies changed the rules of school-to-work transitions, and created the conditions for a new generation (Generation X).

The period that young people spend in educational institutions has extended into their mid-twenties. They have then spent the next 10–15 years seeking secure work before “settling down”.

Although the majority of the participants in the Life Patterns study said they expected to be in stable relationships or married and becoming parents by their late 20s, it was more than ten years later that the majority were economically secure enough to make these commitments.”

I see a letter in Brisbane’s Murdoch tabloid “The Courier-Mail” that “young people don’t know what it’s like to do it tough”, and I’d like to punch the person who wrote it.

We have this …

One in five young Australians are dealing with mental illness, but more than 60% felt uncomfortable seeking professional help, according to a new report by Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute.

The study of 15- to 19-year-olds across the country found 21% of the 15,000 surveyed were battling a probable mental illness. The rate among females in that age group was much higher than among young men – 26% compared with 14%.

“The confronting findings in this report illustrate the significant challenges many of our young people are facing when it comes to psychological distress and mental health issues,” Mission Australia’s CEO, Catherine Yeomans, said on Wednesday.

“We know that many of our youth are struggling with complex issues, and it’s impacting on their ability to transition with confidence into adulthood.””

So we do this …

It is proposed that young people under the age of 30 will have a six-month wait until they can access Newstart or Youth Allowance. The benefit will be available for six months only. The age of eligibility for the Newstart allowance will increase from 22 to 24 years and those aged between 22 and 24 will only be eligible for the Youth Allowance.

This amounts to a loss of just under A$50 a week compared with current arrangements. At the same time, funding has been withdrawn for the organisations that provide career counselling, including Youth Connections and the Local Learning and Employment Networks (in Victoria). Support for young people who are already vulnerable, including those with disabilities, will drop to a new low.” – Wyn and Cuervo, The Conversation

Which gives us this …

“The Life Patterns research also shows that financial hardship and combining work and study are associated with the trend towards declining mental health for young people aged 19 to 25. In other words, even now, many young people struggle against the odds to get educational or skills qualifications and to use these in the labour market. A proportion of those who do experience stress levels that are harmful to their health.” (ibid)

Which makes for more of this …

“In a report to the Australian Senate in 2010, men accounted for over three-quarters (76.9%) of deaths from suicide while an estimated 72% of males with a potentially diagnosable condition don’t seek help for mental illness … Every day, at least six Australians die from suicide and a further thirty people will attempt to take their own lives.” – Kate Richards, “Is There No Place for Me?”

They want to Kill Your Sons.

Not so much the daughters. They will be needing them for breeding (For further information, please contact the Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews. He has pamphlets, dontcha know).

The rules change. The reality changes. The goalposts shift.

Yet in the minds of our current leaders, Abbott, Hockey, Andrews, Abetz, there lingers only fondly held, somewhat dusty, sepia-toned memories as life once was, the life they led and their parents, “back in the day” – Why, they worked hard, harder than anybody has ever worked before, they learnt respect for authority, they did what they were told when they were told to do it, no complaints, no talking back, they endured hardships, they fought against the odds, against consequences, nobody gave them any fucking handouts, there are jobs out there if you want them, that’s what they did, went out and just got one, but these young folk today, they’re too busy with their Playstations and texting, they don’t even bother to fucking look.

In their minds, those of our leaders, it is not the goalposts that have shifted, it is not that the rules or the reality has changed, it’s just that the fucking people are all WRONG, they’re doing it all WRONG!

This world we now live in. This country.

A plutocracy of demagogues. Fear, cruelty, punishment, retribution.

I would not like to be young in it.

So you can’t find a job?

You have sinned. Your sins shall no longer be held as sins, but shall henceforth and from this day forward be regarded as criminal acts of gross negligence and indecency against the standards of the State. We can no longer be expected to tolerate those who would take advantage of us. As you cannot, or will not, find yourself a job, one shall be given to you.

The State is taking care of the protection, cultivation and exploitation of the forests. The State is taking care of the physical education of the nation, especially of the youth, with the aim of improving the nation’s health and national, working and defensive capability.

It is to this end, the State demands that you abide by its Decree.

You are, as of now, conscripted into the service of the State. You will accept this service. You will carry out all and any duties requested of you by the State. You will do so with pride and dedication. You will receive a small allowance for your service, but you will be granted no other rights or benefits. Your blood, your sweat, your tears, the dust of your bones shall fertilise our fields, grow our crops, and help feed our people. Your words shall be whispers to the ears of the deaf, your hopes the vain follies of indolent youth.

Welcome to Our Green Army, Australischen Arbeiterjugend!

As you toil in our lands, our factories, our fields, hold your head high, know that dein Vaterland watches over you, and loves you, be proud of your labours, and let your voice join in unison with those of your fellow labourers, and let it sing a chorus of glory, of celebration, of Victory, “Vorwärts! Vorwärts! schmettern die hellen Fanfaren!

Green Army