More of the same; on bogans present and past

14 Sep

Image hosted by Photobucket.comRegard this as work in progress. It is really is a problem that has been around all my life and before that, but is bigger as the city has grown, as certain areas have been overwhelmed with problem families and problem situations — swept out of sight in many ways — and as many kinds of work that once supported people with basic skill-sets have disappeared. It is too big for me to solve. I am simply trying out a few thoughts, that’s all. My base position is that we need to approach this non-judgmentally, but not blindly. Above is William Hogarth’s famous “Gin Lane”: 18th century London bogans.

I happened upon Troppo Armadillo when I went searching for Bernard Shaw’s phrase “the undeserving poor”. You will notice he does not sentimentalise, nor is he “holier than thou” (I hope I am not either, as it would be SO inappropriate, and the first draft of this was a bit that way), but he does not demonise either.

…After I first graduated in law way back in the 1970s, I experienced a momentary outbreak of bleeding heart altruism and worked briefly for a NSW government agency dispensing social welfare services to the (mostly) undeserving poor. I soon re-embraced rugged enlightened self-interest when I discovered that welfare families almost invariably had brand new videos, colour TVs and houses full of new-ish furniture courtesy of St Vincent de Paul, Smith Family and Waltons’ open door hire purchase credit policy. They somehow always managed to persuade some government or charitable organisation social worker to approve an emergency cash grant for food when their money ran out towards the end of the pension fortnight, having been consumed by Waltons repayments and copious quantities of drugs and alcohol. Meanwhile I was scraping and saving to pay off and renovate my first house and making do with an old black and white TV and furniture bought at garage sales to save money.

…I accept that these behavioural characteristics of the chronically poverty-stricken are (as with Aborigines) partially a consequence of a generational cycle of poverty, violence, poor education and so on. It’s much harder for children from a welfare family to break out of the cycle of poverty than for a child of middle class parents (as I was). Nevertheless, the standard bleeding heart left-ish approach towards poverty and disadvantage simply reinforces that cycle, by making excuses for chronically irresponsible choices and shielding people from the consequences of those choices. At the risk of provoking a bilious attack in Professor Bunyip, we badly need a large injection of what Phillip Adams’ mate John Embling calls “tough love”…

Professor Bunyip is really hard Right, as you will see if you check. (One could of course establish camps in the desert with razor wire and German Shepherds and fetching black uniforms for the guards.) The Right seem not to have any answers, beyond ones that must be unconscionable, if not as Hitlerite as what I just suggested, and focus on how bloody horrible these people are. The hard Left are utopian and have failed anyway, and the “standard bleeding heart left-ish” approach hasn’t effected much either. My sympathies are with Troppo Armadillo.

Let me say however: 1) the story [that used to be] linked at the head of this entry [was] amusing in many ways; 2) the Rabbit I know is very much in evidence therein, both in his willingness to send himself up and in his genuine love of kids and babies and small creatures; 3) the types he describes are only too familiar around here and easily induce despair; and 4) what a horrible experience it must have been!

All that said, let’s support (even if with reservations sometimes) St Vincent de Paul, the work of the Salvation Army, Uniting Care, and a host of similar organisations who are not just “worthy” but actually get their hands dirty. Among my heroes, because I doubt I would have such vision, love and wisdom and sheer practicality to do as well as they have done, are the Principal and community of Plumpton High. These people seem to get beyond just being bleeding hearts, but on the other hand we need to see they offer something better at least than right-wing disgust.

Yes, I see bogans every day; they move through Surry Hills and Waterloo day in and day out. They haven’t all moved out to the south-west. Over time I have learned to discern that there are gradations and subtleties here as much as anywhere, and that sweeping generalisations are really out of place. I also grew up among bogans; back in the 50s Sutherland Primary was probably bogan central, before the estates in the south-west were built. Vermont Street was wall to wall bogans… Except we didn’t have the word then. Maybe we were lucky.

Maybe “there but for the grace of God go I” is not such a bad position; it doesn’t have to be patronising. We could try being a bit less judgmental about situations we do not really understand. And we could lend support to all those amazing people, probably mostly not politicians and journalists, who actually do something about it all.

This is an imperfect world and we have to live in it without too much pain. One could end up working at Bogan High, after all… With all that, the piece that spurred these reflections (thanks for that!) really is well-written and honest, so far as it does not hold back from revealing aspects of the writer which further down the track may perhaps make him cringe a bit. 🙂

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Posted by on September 14, 2005 in Australia and Australian, blogging, culture wars, education, History, local, Multicultural, personal, reminiscing, right wing politics, Surry Hills


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