The Lowest Rung: Voices of Australian Poverty

The Lowest Rung: Voices of Australian Poverty

The Lowest Rung: Voices of Australian Poverty

The Lowest Rung: Voices of Australian Poverty

Synopsis

This 2003 book is a fascinating and moving portrait of the people who are suffering in a more divided and less egalitarian Australian society. Based on the author's conversations with hundreds of people living in three areas commonly described as 'disadvantaged' - Inala in Queensland, Mount Druitt in New South Wales and Broadmeadows in Victoria - this is a book in which impoverished Australians, who are often absent from debates about poverty, tell their own stories. Some are funny, others are sad. There are stories about loss, despair and an uncertain future they can hardly bear to tell. But there are also stories about hope, and the capacity of poorer people to imagine and create a fairer world. Rather than focusing on abstractions such as the underclass, this book provides an intimate account of real people's fears, hopes and dilemmas in the face of growing inequality, entrenched unemployment, and fading opportunities for the young.

Excerpt

Journeys

Blue plastic bags stuck to wire fences by an unrelenting wind. Streaked fibrocement and grey-green besser block. Spindly trees dying in the leaded dust. At the welfare centre women pick over the used clothes, pots and pans. On the community workers’ pinboard directives about best practice crowd out and almost seem to mock fading notices for social justice workshops. Closed shops, old service stations selling ten-dollar stretch jeans and cigarettes ‘at Queensland prices’. Wounded cars on blocks, dead ones in front yards. Broken beer bottles crunch underfoot outside the tab. At least the newsagent promises to ‘Tatts you out of here’.

Many accounts of places such as Inala, Broadmeadows and Mount Druitt begin and end with the same sense of desolation. Granted, there are tragedies and despair. You can’t just wish away entrenched unemployment. You can’t ignore the men who know they will never work again, the teenage boys who tell you they’ll be overdosed or dead in a car crash before they’re 20, the mothers, nervous, ashamed or simply resigned, collecting their emergency food parcels at the church hall. But nor can you ignore the sparks and flashes of invention and resilience: the young jobless fathers I saw in Mount Druitt who tenderly minded their babies outside Coles while their girlfriends finished their shifts, the Broadmeadows children’s playgroup that Joan, Barbara and Geraldine helped turn into a language . . .

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