Monday, 31 October
Jack peered into the small
building, through the dirty pane of glass in the door. The
people standing at the counter looked like a fish and chip shop
crowd during lunch times pushing and jostling each other in the
vain hope of getting their order placed in time to get back to
work before the whistle blew.
Reluctantly Jack pushed the
door open. He felt conspicuous as he stepped into the crowd,
although no one looked around as he entered.
"Dole! I want dole!" called
out a little Italian man who had been standing in line for more
than an hour.
"You'll have to go to the
kinder if you want to play with dolls," said a peroxide blonde
behind the counter, drawing sniggers from her
"No, no," corrected the man.
"I want to enrol for unemployment benefits."
"You mean employment benefits
you stupid prick," said the girl. "We don't pay you bastards to
bludge, although at times it seems like we do."
"Yes, yes," agreed the little
man, eager to please. "That what I mean."
Jack stood near one corner at
the front of the counter for nearly an hour. He was beginning
to think that he would never be served, when the peroxide blonde
finally walked over.
"Yeah? What're you want?" she
"I want to sign up," said
"You'll have to go
Street to sign
"I beg your pardon?"
"If you ask nicely, they might
let you drive one of their tanks."
"What...?" asked Jack,
"You said you wanted to sign
up," said the girl. "Well the army recruitment centre is
"No, not I want to enrol for
employment benefits," said Jack, careful not to follow the bad
example set by the little Italian man who had been speedily dealt
with. He added, "And get help looking for work."
"So you want the dole, do you?"
said the peroxide blonde, picking up a blank information
"No I don't. I want a job,"
"Yeah, yeah, sure, I just bet
that you do. Around this place everybody wants a job. So
what's your speciality Elephant juggling? Flea catching? Lion
taming? Or have you thought up a new one? How about a gnu
bluer? Or a red-rattler watcher?"
"I'm a lathe operator," said
"A lathe operator?" repeated
the girl. "Wow that is a new one, I've got to hand it to you,
I've never had a lathe operator in here before. Although I did
have a dodo plucker once. I don't suppose that that's anything
"No, I don't think so," said
Jack, trying his best not to be goaded into losing his
"That's too bad," said the
girl. "Anyway, first things first: name?"
"Fifty-seven," said Jack. He
was puzzled by the reaction of the girl who had started to
After a few seconds, she
settled down again, and said, "Then it's only eight years until
you'll be eligible for the old age pension."
"So I suppose you think you can
bludge on the dole for the next eight years, to tide you over?"
"No way! I don't even want
"You don't want the dole?" she
asked, throwing her hands above her head and doing a mock stagger
"No. I'd rather have a
"I see..." she said in mock
relief. "But you are prepared to accept the dole until you can
get a job?"
"Only because I've got to stay
alive somehow, and I've got a wife to support."
"Ah here we go, the wife and
six kids routine...I get this one thrown at me at least a dozen
times a day," she said. "For a moment there you had me worried,
Smith. I thought you were going to refuse the dole. You
almost shattered my faith in the basic parasitic nature of the
entire human species."
"I'm not trying to parasite off
anyone," insisted Jack. "I'm only asking for some assistance
until I can get work."
"Oh of course you are, Smith.
And then there's the little woman and six kids to think about,
isn't there? I mean we can't let them starve, now can we? Or
is it eight kids? I haven't heard the eight kids bit for nearly
a month now, but it makes my day every time I hear
"No! It's only one kid, but
he's grown up," said Jack, butting in out of fear that the girl
would never finish.
"And he's on the dole already,
"Well ... he was up until a
week or so ago," conceded Jack. He wondered whether the girl
"What, two in one family?
Talk about breeding like rabbits, no wonder this country is going
to the pack!"
"Look! I didn't come here
just to be insulted...?"
"Yeah?" asked the girl. "What
was your other reason?"
"I've done my bit for this
country, and when I'm down on my luck, I'm entitled to expect a
little something back," said Jack.
"Ah, here we go, I love this
one!" said the girl. "The how-I-won-the-war-single-handed
routine. I get this one almost every day. So you were a
regular John Wan, and Errol Flynn rolled into one, were you?
And so now we owe you the entire world, and all its surrounding
"No! I didn't even fight in
the bloody war!" said Jack.
"Whyever not?" asked the girl.
"I had a job in a manufacturing
plants which was converted to produce weapons, during the war,
so none of us were called up," explained Jack.
"Gee, that was lucky!" she
said, writing upon the form. "So you had a job way back in the
days of the second world war, did you? So what happened?
Didn't it work out, so you had to throw it overt and have been
looking for something else ever since?"
"No. I held on to it for
forty years," said Jack. "Up until a fortnight ago."
"Really? How impressive!
What happened? Decide that there was no future in it, so you
had to give it away and look around for something a bit more
steady? Or did you notice how much fun your son was having
lounging around, watching the midday movies?" said the peroxide blonde, "So you
decided that you'd like to join him, eh? Then you could share a
few tinnies, relaxing around in front of the idiot box. Oh yes,
that's the life all right, if only you could convince the little
lady to leave the housework until the weekend, you could make a
proper little family day out of it!"
"Look!" shouted Jack, finally
managing to interrupt the girl. "I didn't quit, they sacked
"Tut tut!" said the girls
shaking her head in mock outrage. "Got caught with your fingers
in the till, did you? It's a wonder you even need the dole in
that case, you should have been able to build up quite a tidy
little nest, that way, over forty years."
"Look, I wasn't caught stealing
from the company!" said Jack. "They're hardly likely to keep
the till next to the lathes, in the machine shop, now are
they...? The firm was losing money, and so they decided to lay
off some workers."
"Oh! Now you weren't sacked
at all, you were laid off! Are you quite certain this time?
Finally got your story straight?"
"Yes, I'm certain!"
"Are you sure you don't want to
change it again? How about saying that the place burnt down,
and the insurance company wouldn't pay up, so they couldn't
"For crying out loud!" said
"Or better still," said the
girl, "you could say they decided to invest the insurance money
in a brothers instead of rebuilding. There's a much higher
return to be made on their money that way."
"It's not a story, it's the
truth!" insisted Jack.
"Oh I'm sure it is, I know you
wouldn't lie to me. I trust you implicitly, even if trillions
"If you won't take my word for
it, you can always check with the company that I used to work
for! I can give you their name and address."
"Off the top of your head? Or
would you like five minutes alone to scour through the yellow
pages first?" said the girl. "Oh you can just bet that we'll
check up on you, Smith! You surely don't think that we're
stupid enough to blindly take the word of every Tom, Dick, and
Mary who comes in here with some cock-and-bull story about being
sacked after working for the same company for over forty
"It is not a cock-and-bull
"Particularly when you can't
even get your story straight in the first place."
"I didn't change my story!"
"Couldn't you have come up with
a more convincing story in the first place? After all, we have
to get our laughs around this place somehow. This job is dull
enough as it is, without you giving me such an easy yarn to see
through.' 'It isn't a yarn!"
"Most of the bludgers who come
in here can. Oh, we get some really well thought out yarns all
right: about invalid grandmothers who need constant care and
attention, sick kids who can't be left on their own all day,
deserted wives who can't collect alimony, exotic ailments...You
name it, we get it," said the teenage girl. "And all you can
come up with, is a wild, totally unbelievable story about being
sacked, then laid off, after working for the same company for
forty years! You would have been better off sticking to your
story about being sacked straight after the Second World
"I never said that!" insisted
"Bullshit!" said the peroxide
blood. "You'll really have to try a hell of a lot harder next
time. I mean hell; didn't you even work out what you were going
to say before coming in here? Everyone, but everyone does. We
even have some blokes spending up to an entire a rehearsing there
story before coming in here...One broke even used tiny prompter
cards in his left hand to road from whenever he forgot what he
had intended to say. But you, you apparently just walk in,
straight off the street, totally unprepared, and try to make up a
story as you go along. Well let as tell you, it just can't be
done. It's like sitting for an exam at school, if you don't
study before hand, you've got Buckley's and none of knowing the
right answers." She stopped for a moment to catch her breath,
and shook her head in disgust. "You really must think I'm some
kind of an idiot."
"I'm starting to, yeah," agreed
"The only reason that I said in
the first place that I'd been sacked, is because that from where
I'm standing, there's bugger-all difference between being sacked
and being laid off," explained Jack.
"Well, well, well, Smith, I've
really got to hand it to you. You might not always got your
story straight the first time around, but you certainly do have a
knack for improvisation."
She paused for a moment to
write upon the form, and then said, "I'll just bet that you could
have come up with a really convincing little yarn, if only you
had spent an hour or two working out your story in
"It's not a yarn, damn you!"
said Jack. "You can always check it out if you want
"Yeah, yeah, you said that
already," She wrote upon the form again, then turned it over and
wrote a few lines upon the reverse side, before saying, "I'm
almost afraid to even ask, but, any disabilities?"
"Any what?" asked
"Any illnesses or deformities
which would prevent you from undertaking any particular types of
"No, none, I'm in perfect
health," said Jack.
"Wow!" said the girl. "We've
never had anyone who is in perfect health apply for the dole
before. Usually the people that we get all have exotic
disabilities which prevent them from accepting any job that
requires them to stand up all day, sit down all day, lift more
than five kilos more than once in their lifetime, use any kind of
switchboard or keyboard, or lift more than one finger at any one
time during the day -- mono-finger-itis I believe it's
"Well I'm in perfect health,"
The teenage girl sighed, and
then said, "Well I really hate to have to be the one to tell you
this ... but I'm afraid that it looks as though we'll have to let
you on the dole. But you can bet that we'll keep a close eye on
you, so you'd better at least pretend to look for
"I won't be pretending
anything," insisted Jack. "I sure don't intend to stay on the
bloody dole for a second longer than I have to."
"None of this staying up until
all hours to watch the late, late, late, late movie, then
sleeping in till mid afternoons Warned the girl. "We'll have
one of our blokes down there to knock on your front door, every
other morning, between nine and ten o'clock. So just watch your
step, all right?"
"All right!" said Jack,
relieved that the interrogation session was finally over. He
certainly hoped that he found a job quickly, so that he would not
have to submit to this sort of third degree every
"Here," called out the peroxide
blonde, as Jack turned to leave. "Before you go, you had better
take these," she handed over two forms. "Fill in the white one
now and leave it here, fill in the green one at home, and bring
it back in here in a fortnight's time, if you haven't found work
She handed Jack a ballpoint
pen, and as he walked toward the end of the counter, she called
out after him, "And don't steal the bloody biro
* * *
Ten minutes later Jack had
completed the white form. He handed in the form, along with the
pen, and turning to leave, found himself face to face with Bob
"Hello, Jack, how's it going?"
"Not too badly.' said
"Putting in your weekly visit,
"No. I was Just enrolling,"
explained Jack. He quickly added, "Not that I expect to be
scrounging off the government for long, mind you-"
"Of course not,
"I'm a forty-year-man,
employers will be lining up for a chance to hire me. Just as
soon as I get the hang of this job hunting lark."
"I hope so, Jack, but you
haven't had a bite of a job so far, or else you wouldn't be in
"That's only because I've never
had to look for work before. So I haven't figured out how to go
about it yet. But once I work it out, it'll be all smooth
sailing," said Jack confidently.
"There's not really much to
figure outs there are only so many places you can look for work.
Mainly all you can do, is to cover them all one at a time, then
when you've tried them all, you start at the beginning again.
Plus, of courses you have to get up real early to keep an eye on
the situations vacant section in the morning papers," said Bob.
"In the old days, I'd get up at 8:30 and get around the corner to
my work by 9:00 easy. But these days, if I'm not up by six
o'clock, I reckon I've slept in."
"Six o'clock?" asked Jack not
believing his ears.
"Too right, you have to get up
that early to get first crack at any jobs you see, if you're to
have any chance at all."
"Hell, I haven't been getting
up until 8:00 or even 8:30 every morning," admitted
"Maybe that's why you haven't
had a sniff of a job yet."
"No worries, I'll soon get a
job. I'm not an idler to stay on the dole for years, like that
layabout son of mine."
"Go easy on him, Jack, Chris is
a good lad."
"He's a bludger," insisted
"No he isn't, it's just that he
made the mistake of leaving school with too little education.'
"Well don't look at me," said
Jack. "I didn't force him to leave when he did."
"It's not your fault, or
Chris'. It's the bloody job situation."
"Jobs can't be that short
surely?" insisted Jack.
"It's not just the shortage of
jobs," replied Bob. "But also the way most employers exploit
the job situation."
"If things are that bad, why
doesn't the government do something about it?" asked
"The bloody government started
it! I know a bloke who was employed in 1970 in a clerical job
in the Australian government, with only second form to his name.
A few years later his brother tried out for an identical job,
but with fifth form to his name. He was knocked back because in
the meantime the bastards had raised the minimum education
requirement for the job to HSC. The poor bugger has been
rotting on the dole ever since: four and a half years
"That's about the same time
that Chris has spent on the dole," said Jack, more to himself
than to Bob.
They stood to one side, to
allow three teenage girls to walk out of the building and Jack
noticed that they were now among the last few people
"Well I've got to be off," said
Jack, holding out his right hand to shake hands with Bob. "I
suppose I'll see you here next time, if I don't see you before
"I hope so," said Bob. "But
the bastards have thrown me off the dole."
"You too?" asked Jack, shocked.
"It's only a short time since they pitched Chris
"Yeah, it seems that Frazer is
starting to crack down."
"If you ask me, he's starting
to crack up," said Jack, forcing a laugh from Bob.
"You're not wrong," conceded
* * *
Thursday, 10 November
Jack stood in a small
alcove outside the employment room, waiting for the office to
open, He pulled the collar of his coat up in an attempt to
protect himself from the pouring rain, and thought, 'What's the
bloody world coming to? Christmas less than two months away and
teeming bloody rain. Anyone would think it was the middle of
winter, instead of three weeks till the first day of summer...The
way things are going, we could end up with the first white
Christmas in Victorian history.' He stopped for a moment, then
thought, 'Oh well, at least the Christmas cards will make some
sense for a change, with their snow-capped cabins and snow
covered pine forests.'
And perhaps the traditional
turkey dinner won't taste so bad this year," For years Jack had
been trying, to convince Norma to settle for salads for
Christmas, however, she had always refused to depart from the
"But why did the bloody rain
have to come just while I was on the brink of landing a job?"
As the rain pelted down, Jack
looked around at the dreary sight of the back view of the
factory. The two buildings at the back were of brick, painted
white and were shaped like huge sardine cans. A bitumen road
ran from Cross Street, through the double-gates, between the
sardine can buildings, and on to the workshops at the front of
the factory in Barkly Street, The pouring rain seemed to follow
the broken yellow line painted onto the centre of the bitumen
road, out into Cross Street, as though it knew that was the way
it was supposed to go.
In the rain, the factory took
upon a depressing aspect. 'More depressing than usual!' thought
Jack. It looked more like a scene from the film San
Quentin, than a place where anybody would go to of his own
free will to earn his livelihood.
Jack had been calling
around at the factory, the Australian Amalgamated Packing and
Production Company, every day for a week now, and every day he
had been told to come back the next day. 'They must have a job
coming up,' thought Jack. 'Or else they're about to lay off
some bludger, or one of the old-timers is about to retire, or
they're about to expand out a bit and will need another bloke to
handle the extra loading, Or...well, who knows?' He shrugged
his shoulders. He knew, of course, that they might only need
someone part-time for a few weeks to help out during the
Christmas rush, or to replace someone going on holidays. 'Still
three or four weeks' work is better than the same time on the
dole,' thought Jack. Certainly he would not refuse
The rain began to absolutely
teem down, and Jack wondered what had happened to the employment
officer. It was well after 12:30, Normally the man would
already be inside when Jack arrived at 12:30. 'Funny time to
interview people for work,' thought Jack. 'Just after lunch.
Most people want you there for an interview at 7:00 or 8:00 in
the mornings.' Still, they'd made a point of telling Jack
the first day, that they only interviewed people for two hours a
day, from 12:30 to 2:00 PM.
'They must only have a
part-time interviewer,' thought Jack. 'Maybe he does other work
the rest of the time. Either way, the bludger is late today.
Must have overstayed his lunch.'
Jack looked up at the sky and
thought, 'If only the bloody rain would ease up a bit, I could
try going round to another entrance.' As it was, not having an
umbrella with him, Jack was stuck in the small alcove outside the
interview room until the deluge abated.
But the downpour showed no sign
of abating. If anything, the rain was beginning to pelt down
even harder. Jack was beginning to feel more than a little
uncomfortable in the alcove. Rain splashed up off the bitumen
like water pouring from a tap, to spray the cuffs of Jacks
trousers, and drench his shoes and socks.
'If it gets any harder,'
thought Jack, 'I might as well give up the pretence and stand out
in the opening.'
"What can I do for you?" called
out a security guard. He raised a white umbrella and walked
across from the adjoining building, to where Jack was
"I've come about a job," said
"Well you're out of luck," said
the grey-haired security guard.
"Don't tell me they've filled
"I don't know about that," said
the guard, "but the bloke who does the job interviews has gone on
holidays. Two weeks from last night."
For a moment Jack thought that
he had misheard. "But he told me last night to call around here
today," Jack insisted, not wanting to believe the
"I don't know about that," said
the security guard 9 "but there's not much chance of them taking
on anyone this time of year anyway. The place always closes
down for six weeks over Christmas and the new year."
"But he told me to call around
here today!" insisted Jack.
"I don't know about that," said
the guard, "but I do know that he won't be back here for another
two weeks, and even then there's little chance of them taking
anyone on until late January or early Feb."
"But the bastard has been
telling me to come back tomorrow, every day for the last week,"
said Jack. "Why would he keep on stringing me along like that,
if there was no chance at all of me getting work
"Don't ask met" said the guard.
"I don't know anything about that, but I do know that you're in
for a very long wait, if you decide to stay here till he comes
back," So saying, he put his left hand on his hip, and for the
first time Jack noticed that the guard was wearing a holster upon
the belt of his green and gold uniform.
"I suppose so," said Jacks
wondering why he felt intimidated by the sight of the gun
holster. Jack looked towards the heavens in the hope of
detecting a break in the rain.
"You'll probably have to stay
here a while yet, if you don't want to get drenched," said the
guard, seeing Where Jack was gazing. "But I suggest that you
make a dash for it, the moment that it starts to lighten up a
"Yes all right," said Jack,
seething with frustration, after thinking that he was so close to
"As good as had a job,"
said Jack out loud after the guard had returned to his building.
Jack laughed out loud, and thought, 'How big an idiot was I?'
He wondered what he could tell his brother, Kevin, after all the
boasting that Jack had been doing about having a job lined up.
'Next time I'll know to keep my trap shut until I'm actually on
the payroll,' he thought.
* * *
Jack lay back in the bath tub,
allowing the steaming water to soak up to his neck, he closed his
eyes so that he would not have to see the peeling paint on the
walls, and the green-brown mildew that covered most of the
ceiling. It would only mean work for Jack, work that he would
not be paid for. So, until he had a paying job, painting and
scraping the bathroom could wait.
'Christ!' thought Jack.
'This is something that I didn't count on.' He still had three
more factories that he had planned to go around to asking after
works that afternoon. But there was no chance of it now, even
if he did not already have the flu, if the torrential rain kept
Jack had waited in the
alcove outside the interview room for twenty minutes, before
deciding to make a run for it. He had been drenched to the skin
in the process. 'But at least I'm home now,' he thought. He
sniffed, and wondered whether they had any flu medication in the
house. Jack doubted it; they had no money to keep up a home
He wondered how he was supposed
to hunt after work during the winter months, if he did not have a
job by then, when he was having this much trouble in late
Jack lay back in the tub,
his feet propped up against the bathroom wall, Occasionally he
draw up his knees to allow his feet to be submersed in the
scolding water. 'If I ever get another job,' he thought, then
corrected himself, 'when I get another job, I'll have to lash out
to buy a larger tub.'
The one he was soaking in was
so small that it reminded Jack of a picture that he had once seen
of an old-fashioned bath chair: a sort of sawn off barrel with a
back rest, where people would have to sit up while bathing.
'Ours isn't that bad, thought Jack, but it's not too far
The water began to cool off,
and so Jack decided to get out. He already felt a chill coming
on, without lying about in tepid water.
As he began to towel himself
downs Jack found himself suddenly sneezing uncontrollably.
'Christ!' he thought. 'I've never had a cold in my life
before!' But then Jack had never been drenched to the skin in
his life before, Futilely he tried to dry himself one-handed
while sneezing into his other hand for a few moments, before
realising that by standing around naked and half wet In the cold,
he was only making things much worse. So he abandoned himself
to sneezing openly while dressing as hurriedly as he could,
occasionally leaning back to support himself against the wooden
towel rack behind him.
Ten minutes later Jack was
sitting at the kitchen table, rugged up in two blankets, rather
than have the expense of the radiator burning up electricity,
sipping a cup of lemon tea, while reading through the situations
vacant section of the Melbourne Sun newspaper. He sneezed from
time to time and debated switching on the heaters but decided
against it, since he no longer had much of a hand in paying the
Sneezing so hard that he almost
dropped the cup that he was holding, Jack splashed tea across the
newspaper soaking it. Cursing, Jack threw the paper into a
corner of the room, then took a tea towel from the rack above the
sink, and began to mop up the mess that he had made on the
After cleaning the tables Jack
stooped to pick up the newspaper, and began to straighten it out
again. Not that he supposed the others would want to read it,
Norma would have done so in the morning, and Chris had no time to
read anything but his textbooks for night school, And no need to
either, now that he at last had a job.
'The lucky bastard,'
thought Jack, 'why can't I get a job, with all my years of
experience, if Chris can get one? I only hope the bastard knows
how lucky he is!'
* * *
"My God, Jack," said Norma,
finding him rugged up at the kitchen table, sneezing and
coughing. "What have you done to yourself?"
"I got drenched to the skin,
going for a job interview," said Jack almost sneezing the words
"Why didn't you take an
umbrella with you?" asked Norma. "There must have been a few
rain clouds in the sky before you left home, surely?"
"A few," agreed Jack. "But I
figured that it couldn't possibly rain the second week into
'My God!' thought Norma.
'Debbie was right: men really are such helpless creatures.'
She wondered how men would survive if women ever achieved total
equality. 'Probably the male of the species will become
extinct,' she thought. And the women would use test-tube baby
reproduction to keep the species going! Out loud she said,
"Come on love, let's go to bed."
"No thanks," said Jack, "I'm
just too ill to think about sex at the moment."
"I meant for sleeping,"
explained Norma. "We can think about sex when you're good and
"I'm afraid it won't work,
Norma," said Jack, allowing her to lead him out of the kitchen.
"It's a clinically proven fact that you can't bribe someone into
getting well again."
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