Ahoy hoy! We are finally in The House. We moved in about two weeks ago, actually, but still don’t have Internet. I’m at the library on Flinders Lane with an awful busker’s Beatles covers floating up through the windows from street level.
Our original moving day was, you will recall, March 12, but it was delayed again and again because Jamie’s conveyancer (whom he is now taking to court) was a deceptive charlatan. So that’s a total of 110 days late.
On the evening of the 30th, I borrowed Kristie’s car and headed up to the airport, to stand around in the blustery winds outside the Tiger terminal waiting for Chris. I say “terminal” but it’s actually an enclosed concrete area of barbed wire fencing containing a luggage carousel and porta-potties. I already nursed a hatred for that airline after one of the worst flights of my life, but any lingering thoughts I might have had of ever using it again were wiped out by standing outside that haggard refugee camp. (In any case, it was grounded by the aviation authorities for safety breaches a few days later, and remains grounded, and deserves to be grounded.)
Chris stumbled out of the concentration camp looking a little pale and worse for wear after his bout of glandular fever, and we hopped back in the car and cruised down the freeway, past the city and back to the Camberwell house. Jamie had rented a removal truck and already packed most of our stuff into it, but he needed to pick up a few things from his previous residences, so Chris and I took his bike and Kristie’s car while he and Dave went off in the truck. We went straight to the house, only to find that it had no electricity.
“Just check the fuse box,” Jamie said when we rang him.
“No, yeah, we’re doing that,” I said.
“Well we’ll have to ring the electricity company or something.”
“Alright,” Chris said. “We’ll see you when you get here. Well, actually, no we won’t, because there’s no lights.”
We set about moving our stuff into the house in the dark, using our scant reserves of phone battery to see. The house hadn’t been lived in for a while – we still have no idea what the conveyance delay was caused by – and had a musty smell to it. I said, “This is reminding me very strongly of…”
“…last year,” Chris finished for me.
We cracked open a few half-warm beers by taking them outside and smashing them on the letterbox, and sat in the empty living room drinking until Jamie and Dave showed up in the truck. Jamie had been making some phone calls too, and it turned out that the power had been switched off because the electricity company thought nobody was living there. The conveyancer was supposed to notify them that we were, but of course they didn’t. We moved in on Thursday night, and didn’t get power hooked up until Tuesday. At least on the second day we got some candles.
And so here we are, home sweet home, in Sunshine West, the third place I’ve lived in since moving to Melbourne. I moved around a lot when I lived in Perth as well, but it was always in the same area – somewhere in the City of Stirling, never more than a few kilometres from the ocean, upper-middle-class suburbs like Trigg or Carine or Karrinyup at the northern end of the bell curve that hugs the coast. In Melbourne I’ve vaulted all over the city. First there was Essendon: middle-class but still blue-collar, prosperous but not wealthy, the kind of suburb full of solidly middle-class “working families” that both political parties always pander to. Probably a marginal seat in federal elections. Then Camberwell: an old-money suburb, not as snobbish as Toorak or Kew but still very well-off, the streets dotted with European trees and students in private school uniforms. Old houses, churches and plenty of trams. (The wealthy suburbs of Perth lack this European analogy; even Dalkeith and Peppermint Grove are full of garish modern mansions. Perth is a new-money city.) Doubtless a Liberal safe seat.
And now Sunshine, an outer suburb of plain houses built in the 1970s, wide treeless streets, lots of highways and traffic lights and fast food stores. Physically it resembles the suburbs of Perth too close to the freeway; places like Balcatta or Balga, far from the ocean, where the average household income starts to drop. Other parts of Sunshine resemble a rural town like Collie, full of rednecks and bogans; other parts are closer to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The residential streets here are sandwiched in between industrial zones and commercial lots. The avenues are lined with warehouse-like stores selling things like tyres or paint or screen doors; when the wind is up, you can smell fumes and chemicals from the factories. More than half the traffic is semi-trailers and trucks, which makes riding a motorcycle dicey. It’s also a hot-spot for crime. On our first night here Chris heard gunfire in the distance; when I rang my insurance company to tell them my new address, I was informed my premium would be going up; all the petrol stations are pre-pay after 6 pm.
It’s a long way from Camberwell. Maybe 30 years from now, after they develop Fisherman’s Bend and rezone the industrial wasteland below the West Gate Bridge and gentrify Footscray, Sunshine will become more respectable. Until then it’s one of the hard suburbs of Melbourne, full of struggling families and Sudanese immigrants and feral bogans. My vehemently left-wing beliefs are about to clash with the removal of my middle-class white existence.
The house itself is OK. It’s sort of plonked into the lot at an odd angle, the walls not parallel with the fences. It’s fairly basic, with thin walls and no insulation (and a Melbourne winter is pretty brutal). The shower is well fucked; the head is level with my neck, and doesn’t go up any further, and the floor is coated with years’ worth of grime and mould. (We bought wooden slats from Ikea to stand on. ) But it’s gradually shaping up into a home; Jamie and Dave made some shelves out of planks and ladders, and we got a TV and some couches, and I bought a bed and a chest of drawers from a used furniture shop down the road. I don’t mind sleeping on a mattress on the floor, but these rooms are way smaller than Camberwell, and I need the storage space.
I’m finally getting around to the job hunt in earnest, sending out unsolicited applications and going into the city to use the library’s internet whenever I get the chance. I’m growing tired of working at the airport. It occurred to me the other day that I was better off at Coles: I got paid more, didn’t work as hard, got longer breaks, didn’t work in such an inconvenient location, and didn’t have to start at 5 am some days. The only difference is that it’s more dignifiying to work in a bookstore than in a supermarket. But at the end of the day I’m still in retail. And Lagardere is one of those tiresome retail companies that’s constantly trying to increase profits by putting relentless pressure on the $16-an-hour drones at the very bottom of the pecking order, urging them to meet sales targets and upsell and blah blah blah. Recently three of us were sent to Brunswick to do coffee training to cover the baristas’ breaks, because they’re too cheap to put two baristas on at a time. The coffee training was woefully inadequate, so we’ve been nipping into the cafe whenever we get the chance, to watch and learn from what they’re doing. A few weeks ago one of my co-workers was doing that when the CEO of the Asia-Pacific division happened to pass by (that’s the bother of working in a major transport hub) and screamed his head off at her for being in the cafe rather than on the floor selling books – despite the fact that it was late at night and you have a clear line of sight to the registers from the cafe. He swore at her and the barista in front of customers and told them that they needed to “justify their position there.”
If it had been me I would have tossed my lanyard at him and walked out. I don’t know where the fuck people get the idea that a part-time retail job, with shit hours and shit pay, is some kind of esteemed privilege that has people clamouring at the gates. On the contrary, our staff turnover is amazing. Kristie was working at a retail store in the Bourke Street Mall before she left for Europe and had to put up with the same bullshit – “perform or you will be replaced,” “the reason we’re not making budget is because of your poor sales performance,” etc. I utterly loathe retail companies like hers and mine, who treat you only with as much courtesy as is required by federal law. Coles, in comparison, paid me more than the minimum wage and gave me longer lunch breaks, simply out of generosity. Other companies squeeze every fucking dollar and treat their employees like garbage. There’s no way I’m going to put in 110% (or even 80%, for that matter) at a job that pays me $16 an hour and requires me to get out of bed at 3.30 am. And there’s something disgusting about a CEO with a triple figure income screeching and howling in anger at a girl who earns $16 an hour and reducing her to tears. All the money that we make for that store is fed up the chain to Paris and goes towards mansions in Provence and speedboats in Barbados and private school fees for some rich asshole’s kids. And the more you earn, the less actual work you have to do, as I’ve decided after many hours of watching suits in the business class lounge knock back whiskeys and pile up their plates at the buffet. The harder and more unpleasant your job is, the less you are actually rewarded for it.
I’m not advocating communism. I just want to be on the other side. And so I’m sending off resume after resume in the hope that someone will take pity on me and give me a shitty entry-level position writing copy for shit I don’t care about. At least then I’d earn more money. I actually had a job interview yesterday, at Melbourne University Press, for a three-month internship. That was nice simply for the act of going to Carlton. Something about living in Sunshine and working in Tullamarine, commuting up and down on the Western Ring Road at the fringes of the city, usually before dawn or after sunset, makes me feel like I’m living at the periphery of human society. Like a rat scuttling in the shadows. If I can’t live in the city, I damn well want to work there.