Late July 1977
There was nothing at all!
'There's never anything worthwhile!'
thought Chris as he stooped to read a small card pinned only
centimetres from the bottom of the notice
He read the card to himself, then
straightened to change places with a tiny woman, who glanced
toward the card then shrugged at Chris who nodded his
Chris glanced back over his
left shoulder and saw that the crowd at the counter had not
visibly thinned out during the last half hour. But at least he
had already put in his card, unlike many of the people jostling
for a place at the front of the counter.
'All day!' thought Chris.
'I'll be here all day, waiting for a five minute interview. How
do they expect you to ever find work when they fool you around
Heinrich Himmler goose-stepped to the front
of the room, picked up a green card from a wooden out tray upon a
small table, a metre or so behind the counter, and called
"Over here," called out Chris as he began
to push his way through the thick crowd to reach the front of the
Chris was marched down a long, thin
aisle, which reminded him of the thin aisle between the pews at
church. 'But this place is too depressing for a church,'
thought Chris. 'It's more like a walk to the showers at
* * *
"Take a seat," commanded Heinrich Himmler a
few moments later, when they were hidden away from prying eyes,
within the confines of the tiny interrogation
He introduced himself as Allan Juchster;
however, the reedy, effeminate voice did nothing to dispel the
resemblance to Heinrich Himmler.
Chris realised that they were in the very
last interrogation booth and wondered if "the people at the front
counter, at the other end of the building, would be able to hear
the screams it Juchster resorted to the third
Most of the floor space in
the booth was taken up by a small desk, piled high with note
pads, card indexes, and other writing paraphernalia. Seated the
two men were close enough together so that their knees were
Juchster read through the green card to
himself for a few seconds, and then looked up at Chris to say,
"It says here that we sent you out after a job in a textile mill
in Hyde Road last week."
"That's right," agreed Chris, sitting to
attention upon the small, three-legged stool.
Chris's back ached for a
backrest, however, he knew better than to complain. Any show of
weakness would give the enemy a lever to use against him. The
backless stool was a deliberate test of his stamina.
"How did it go?" asked
"Not very well," said Chris.
He sighed, knowing that the interrogation was not going very
well either. "I had to turn it down, because it was too far to
"Too far to walk?" echoed
"That's right, over eighty minutes' walk
"What's wrong with that?"
"It's my kidneys," explained
Chris. "As a kid I suffered from kidney trouble: nephrotic
"All right, all right," said
Juchster, "don't baffle me with bull! Just tell me why having
had bad kidneys as a child stops you from taking a perfectly good
job, now that you are grown-up?"
"Because I don't have the stamina to walk
eighty minutes twice a day, as well as doing an eight-hour
"Don't have the inclination to work, more
"Look, I've brought in
papers from the Royal Children's Hospital a number of times, to
prove that I'm not able to do anything too strenuous," insisted
Chris. He sat back on the stool and had to quickly sit forward
again as he almost went over backwards.
"Papers! Huh! I haven't
seen any papers from the Royal Children's!"
Juchster scribbled upon the
green card with a biro for a few seconds, and then said, "Look,
you said yourself that it is only eighty minutes' walk. That,
on top of a day's work, is not going to kill you. It would be
one thing if it was heavy work, but it's on a weaving machine.
Even if the walk to work in the morning knocked you out a bit,
you would have all day to catch your breath before walking home
"But I don't have the energy for that kind
of marathon effort," insisted Chris.
Juchster wrote upon the
green card again and said, "Christ! If you are that badly off,
you ought to be on the invalid pension, not the dole!"
From the front of the
building came the sound of a decapitated head falling into a
basket. Then Chris remembered that the Nazis did not use the
guillotine, so that it must have been the sound of something,
which had dropped onto the wooden floorboards, amplified by the
building's eerie acoustics.
"Then how would 1 go about getting onto the
invalid pension?" asked Chris.
Juchster rummaged through
the three drawers of the desk, until finding a form pad, then
said to Chris, "I can give you an application form, if you like.
But I don't fancy your chances very much."
Certain that he could hear the sound of
storm troopers goose-stepping at the front of the building, Chris
asked, "What do you mean?"
"I mean that you cannot get the invalid
pension unless you can convince them that you are at least
eighty-one Percent incapacitated," explained
Amazed, Chris thought, 'How can they
distinguish between eighty-one Percent incapacitation, and a mere
eighty point-nine Percent?' Aloud, he said, "Then why
the hell did you suggest it in the first
Ignoring Chris's question, Juchster said,
"So as it stands I suggest that you forget all about trying to
latch onto the invalid pension, unless you want to step in front
of a green tram first."
"So where does that leave us?" asked
Juchster wrote upon the very bottom of the
green form, then said, "Well, I don't know about us, but it
leaves you with two clear alternatives: accept the Hyde
Road job, or get thrown off the dole!"
"Thrown off the dole?" asked Chris in
disbelief, almost toppling off the stool as he sat forward too
"That's the way it goes: you
can only reject three jobs offered to you before you lose the
dole. This is the third job you have knocked back."
"But none of the jobs you've
offered me were any good! One of them required me to do heavy
lifting all day, which my kidney trouble won't allow. Another
required me to be on my feet all day long. Now this one would
mean walking nearly three hours every day."
"Tough luck! The CES
regulations require you to be prepared to walk up to two hundred
minutes a day, if need be, before you can knock back a job on the
lame excuse that it is too far for you to walk."
"But I've got bad kidneys!" insisted
"The CES regulations don't
say anything about making allowances for bad health. In fact,
they do say that you have to be 'fit and able to work' before you
are eligible to receive employment benefits. If you are not
'fit and able to work' then you have been receiving the dole
under false pretences, for the last four and a half years, and
could be liable to repay every cent that you have
"But you can't do that!" shouted Chris,
knocking over the three-legged stool as he staggered to his
"Just watch me, sport!" said Juchster.
"All right then what is it to be, the Hyde Road
job, or the bum's rush?"
"But it's too far for me to
walk!" shouted Chris. He heard his voice echoing around the
building, and knew that he should try to calm down.
"Then it's the bum's rush,"
said Juchster. "Fine by me."
"I don't intend to take this
crap lying down," shouted Chris. He was aware that the people
in the other booths and at the front counter had stopped talking
to listen to him. "I'll take you to court!"
"Why don't you get
Galbally?" suggested Juchster. "He only charges a couple of
thousand dollars a day."
Chris moved round the desk, grabbed hold of
Juchster's tie and dragged him to his feet, then said, "Well,
maybe you won't be so smug with a mouthful of broken
Trying his best to keep the quiver out of
his voice, Juchster said, "Calm down, doing your block isn't
going to help anyone."
Holding onto Juchster's tie with one hand,
while waving the other hand menacingly in front of Juchster's
face, Chris said, "Well, it certainly won't help you, that's for
"Look, just to show you what
a fair man I am ... " Juchster said, desperately rummaging
through the papers on top of his desk with one hand, "I'll give
you one of these." Having located a thin pad of yellow foolscap
forms, he tore off one of the forms and held it out toward
Accepting the form, Chris released Juchster
and asked, "What is it?"
Straightening his tie out
with one hand, Juchster explained, "It's an appeal form. Fill
it out and send it off to the address listed on the back. Your
appeal will be considered by an independent panel, and if they
think you have been hard done by, they will allow you back onto
* * *
"Knocked him back for being too old," said
"I thought he was only in his twenties?"
"Twenty-two," said Gladys,
and he's always been very good with figures, so a bank job
would've been right up his street. But the bastards said he's
too old, they'd rather hire a sixteen or seventeen year old who
they could pay junior rates for four or five years."
"Bastards!" agreed Frank.
"How's a kid supposed to get ahead in the world if they won't
even give him a chance?"
"Yeah," agreed Gladys, "nowadays they won't
hire you without any experience, but coming straight from school,
how are you supposed to get any experience if they won't hire
I supposed to keep my food down with those two whingers doing
their level best to make me throw up? The boy'd land a job soon
enough, if he really wanted work. Probably got hair halfway
down his back and wears blue jeans and T-shirts to job
interviews, so he can claim to be looking round for work, without
the danger of really getting hired!'
Jack looked round the
canteen in the hope of finding himself a seat further away from
Frank and Gladys, but the canteen was very small. "The inbuilt
closet," as old Rossi had always called it. There were four rows
of rectangular steel-frame benches lined up like school
Jack noticed old Gerda
Spritz among the three women working behind the Formica-topped
counter at the front of the canteen, preparing sandwiches and
pastries to sell at lunchtime. Three years Jack's junior, Gerda
had begun work at the factory the same day that Jack had, nearly
forty years earlier.
Jack considered going across to talk to
Gerda, but he knew that the women were hot allowed to talk while
on duty, other than to take orders and he did not want to get
Gerda, or himself, into trouble.
Jack looked around at the
four rows of faces; however, there was no one who he was
particularly friendly with. Gerda, old Rossi, and Jack had been
what Gerda called the "Three mouseketeers of the old timers, up
until Rossi's recent retirement.
As far as Jack could see,
there was not even a vacant seat that he could move to. "A full
house," as old Rossi would have said. So, after listening to
Gladys and Frank for a few moments longer, Jack walked across to
the soft drink vending machine, at the front of the canteen, near
Jack stood near the machine
for a few moments, pretending to be making a selection. After
three different people had nudged him aside so that they could
make their selections, Jack gave up the pretence and returned to
his seat beside Frank.
Jack wished that he could
return to his lathe. They were only supposed to have fifteen
minutes for morning tea, however, it sometimes seemed more like
fifteen hours to Jack.
"Of course we tell him to
keep his chin up and all the other clichés," said Frank, stirring
the sugar around the bottom of his empty cup with a plastic
spoon; "but it's getting harder all the time. You feel as
though you're lying to the boy if you tell him something is bound
to turn up sooner or later, because maybe it won't. Maybe he'll
never find a job."
"Yeah, I know what you
mean," agreed Gladys. "There're virtually no jobs to even go
out after these days."
"None at all," said Frank.
"Only the usual run of bar courses and typing courses disguised
as jobs, and, of course, the usual run of door-to-door
Gladys snorted her contempt, and then said,
"He'd be much better off on the dole, looking round for real
work, than wasting his time going
"What's the matter?"
demanded Jack, having listened to as much as he could stand.
"Is the boy afraid of some fresh air?" Gladys and Frank looked
shocked at Jack's interruption, they exchanged glances, and then
Frank said, "It's not that. It's just that there's no future in
the door-to-door racket."
"Still, the boy'd be better off going
door-to-door for a few years, while looking round for something
better, than just rotting away on the dole," insisted
"Maybe, but he'd need his licence to go
door-to-door," said Frank, "and he hasn't got
"There's no law saying he
can't go for his licence, is there?" asked Jack. "You don't
have to be born with a driver's licence, you know. These days
there's a test you can go for and if you pass they sell you a
licence to drive."
Ignoring Jack's sarcasm, Frank said,
"Still, he'd need a car and doesn't have one."
"Why doesn't he buy a car?"
asked Jack. "Surely he can afford at least a bomb that'd do him
a year or two till he could lash out and buy something
"Dream on," said Frank.
"Where'd he ever get the money for even a bomb, going straight
onto the dole from school? I sure as hell don't have anything
saved up to loan him."
"If he's been on the dole
for a few years he should have saved a few hundred dollars by
now," insisted Jack. "How much does he get a week on the dole?
$250? $300? $350?"
Jack looked shocked by this revelation,
however, he quickly recovered his composure and said, "Still, I
bet you keep him rent-free, right?"
"We have to," said Frank, "otherwise he'd
Jack laughed then said,
"He's really got you dancing on a string! If he hasn't got bed
and board to pay he should be living on Easy Street on forty-nine
ninety-five. It's a wonder he doesn't have his own Rolls Royce
by now, or hasn't he been on the dole long enough?"
"Look, those jobs are all
jilts!" insisted Gladys, coming to Frank's aid. "My son David
got stranded in the middle of nowhere, going door-to-door, a few
"The firm advertised a
weekly wage of $900, regardless of whether or not you sold
anything, plus 5% commission on all sales. And you didn't even
need a driver's licence."
"Sounds all right," said
"Yes, it did," agreed Gladys. "They
called round in a panel van to pick him up each morning, drove
him out to his sales area, then picked him up again and brought
him home each night. "Everything went All right for a week,
except that he hadn't managed to sell anything. However, when
they stopped to pick him up on pay night, they were bloody mad
when they found out he still hadn't sold anything. They swore
at him and accused him of trying to take their money for work he
hadn't done. They not only refused to pay him anything, but
they drove off before he could get into the car, leaving him
stranded in the middle of the whoop whoops. He had to walk back
nearly twenty kilometres, and didn't get home till well after
"Why didn't he call for a taxi?" asked
"He should have done,"
agreed Gladys, "but he never saw one and didn't have the money to
ring for one. Of course, he should've called me reverse-charge
and I'd've phoned a taxi for him. But he's just a kid so he
didn't think of it."
"Thick as a plank in other words!" said
"Here let me give you a
hand," offered Debbie Williams. She pushed back her chair from
the kitchen table and walked the three steps across to where
Norma stood near the kitchen sink.
"No, no, love, you go on
ahead into the lounge," said Norma, as she began to pour the
scolding hot water into the stainless steel teapot. "I've got
everything under control."
"All right," said Debbie walking out into
* * *
"Help yourself to the bikkies," said Norma,
placing the plastic tray upon the small cane coffee table half a
metre in front of the sofa.
As Debbie helped herself to two chocolate
biscuits from the red tin, Norma sat beside Debbie upon the green
vinyl sofa and began to pour the tea.
"You only like it weak, don't you?" asked
"That's right," agreed
The two women were complete
opposites. Debbie Williams was one hundred and eighty-five
centimetres tall, lean from driving herself at work all day, with
hard features seemingly chiselled out of marble, and
close-cropped platinum-blonde hair. Norma Smith was one hundred
and sixty-five centimetres tall, plump from eating too much fatty
food, with soft features and shoulder length auburn
"Business doing so well that
you can afford to take a day off?" asked Norma, helping herself
to a Monte Carlo biscuit. "Or are your staff so
efficient they can run things without your
Debbie sipped her tea, helped herself to a
third biscuit, and then asked, "What staff?"
"I thought you employed a young girl three
"I did," agreed Debbie, "and a young girl
two days before that, and a young bloke a week before
"Then what's happening to
them all?" asked Norma. She reached for a second biscuit as
Debbie reached for her fourth.
Debbie munched the fourth biscuit then
said, "They quit."
"All of them?" asked Norma.
She wondered for the umpteenth time how Debbie could eat so much
yet remain so deathly thin, while Norma herself ate only half as
much and struggled to keep her weight under control.
"Yes," said Debbie, "the bloke lasted four
days, the first girl one day, and the second girl quit just
before lunch on the second day.
"There has never been a
fortune to be made in the laundry business, but I could at least
make a reasonable living, if only I could get someone to settle
in as my permanent assistant. As it is, I've gone through
nearly two dozen assistants already this year."
Debbie took a sip of her tea, and then
shovelled in six heap spoonfuls of sugar.
"Perhaps you aren't
paying them enough," suggested Norma. She grimaced as Debbie
began to drink the over sweet concoction and thought, 'If only
she'd stir the bloody stuff, she could get by on two spoonfuls,
and I wouldn't have to scour the gunk out of the bottom of the
cup after she's finished.'
"I'd pay them more money if I could," said
Debbie, "but what would be the point of having a steady
assistant, if I had to pay her so much that I wasn't making any
money on it myself?" Debbie sipped her tea then
'Serves you right!' thought Norma, only to
watch in horror as Debbie shovelled three more spoonfuls of sugar
into her tea, then took another sip.
"Aaaah! That's more like it," said
Debbie, reaching across for a Monte Carlo
She ate the biscuit in two
bites, then said, "It's not really that the money is so bad,
rather the job is so bloody monotonous: ironing and spray
cleaning all day long. After a day or two of that they all
think that there has to be something better just around the
"The poor silly
twits," said Norma. For a moment she wrestled with her
conscience, then seeing Debbie reach for a sixth biscuit, Norma
decided to risk a third biscuit herself. 'What can a few more
kilos hurt at my age?' decided Norma, helping herself to a
chocolate-coated teddy bear biscuit. "They'll probably spend
years on the dole regretting their mistake."
"And I feel sorry for them,
truly I do, but I feel much more sorry for myself. I've got
enough headaches trying to run a very shaky small business,
without the added burden of having to find replacement staff five
or six times a month," said Debbie. She sighed, and then said,
"Kids! They all expect too much out of life these days. They
don't just have great expectations, they have ridiculous
Debbie selected a seventh
biscuit, which she devoured more from anger than from hunger,
then said, "What I really need is a mature, older woman.
Someone who realises that any job at all is better than no job at
Norma leant forward to place
her empty teacup on the plastic tray, then said, "It can't be any
more monotonous than house work. It's almost the same job,
except that in your work there are only half as many different
things to do."
"And you'd get paid for your
efforts in my work," pointed out Debbie. She sipped her tea,
then said, "So what do you do with your time these days,
"Oh the same old drudgery,"
said Norma. "Washing, cooking, and ironing mainly."
"Surely that can't take very
long, with only the three of you to take care of?" asked Debbie.
"Particularly now that Chris is old enough to help out a
"Yes, he cleans out his own room, makes his
bed and sometimes washes the dishes for me in the
"Then you can't really have
much to occupy yourself with," said Debbie. "What you really
need is a job to keep you busy."
"Oh no, I couldn't really," said Norma,
thinking, 'Why didn't I see this coming a mile away?'
"I'd love to help you out, and I could certainly use the
"Then what's wrong?" asked
Debbie. "You admit you need something to help pass the time,
and what could possibly make the time go faster than working at a
"I suppose so, but...."
"Then what's the problem?" demanded Debbie,
leaning forward to place her empty teacup onto the plastic
"You know what the problem is," said Norma,
grimacing at the sight of the thick sludge of sugar in the bottom
of Debbie's teacup.
"There's no need to even
tell him!" insisted Debbie, turning upon the sofa to glare toward
Norma. "Hell I don't want Jack to work for me!"
Norma sat forward upon the
very edge of the green vinyl sofa and peered down at the plastic
tray upon the small cane coffee table, to avoid eye contact with
Debbie, and said, "He'd sooner go to work for you himself, than
have me take a job." Debbie sat forward in a bid to force Norma
to look her in the eye, and said, "Come on Norma, Jack's your
husband, not your master! He's got no right to stop you living
your life any way you choose."
"I know that," said Norma.
"It's just that ... Well, Jack is a little old-fashioned when it
comes to working wives."
"Working wives?" asked
Debbie. "Hell you make them sound as rare as
"You know what I mean," insisted