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459 Fitzgerald Street
North Perth, WA, 6006
Australia

Pre-Homecoming

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Pre-Homecoming

Andrew Ryan

This is my last week in Southern Cross, my last week of that special kind of isolation that comes with being an outsider in a small, tight-knit community. The kind of place where if you get people talking, they’ll tell you anything, all you want to know, about everything.

I spoke to a man today who was on his way to Kalgoorlie to visit his parents. I asked him why he moved. He told me the story of his divorce as he ate his steak burger. The divorce didn’t sound nice, and he wanted to get away from his ex-wife, so ten years ago he jumped ship to Rockingham. He told me that it is the people that make country towns a good place to live; the activities you do with them are what keep you sane in isolation, especially when you’re young.

He spoke about fishing for yabbies, going camping, “smashing a few tinnies and talking shit”- all of which sounds wonderful, to my ears at least. He did that all the time before he moved to the suburbs of Perth. But now, he doesn’t do any of that. He has to work more because city work and city pay rates for his field- electrician- aren’t as reliable as those in the country.

He told me that when people get sick of tinnies and camping and fishing in the country, they end up messing around with meth. And most people get addicted to it, and quickly. He said he would probably be a meth head if he were still in Kalgoorlie. Most of his mates are. “Where there’s mining, there’s money. Where there’s money, there’s meth.”

He prefers to “choof”, you see, but working around mine sites, you get drug tested every Monday. “You smoke a spliff on Friday night, you get tested on Monday, it’s still in your system so you get fired.” Meth, however, is gone from your system by Monday, so lots of people are smoking meth to get them through the weekend, after a long week of doing hard work in a hard place.

I’ve never been involved in meth culture. I am not interested in taking the drug because I’ve seen how badly it makes people behave. Plus, I don’t like uppers. So him describing how many people he’s involved with who have problems with the drug was a surprise to me. I know of a few people in my own life who play with glass bulbs on occasion, but none have a noticeable problem, from what I can tell. This guy’s life appeared to be full of it.

He seemed fairly switched on. An affable electrician in his mid-thirties who has worked in a bunch of different situations- in mining, hospital maintenance, for the navy too- he appears to have a keen eye for bullshit. He’s seen the violence and social destruction that meth has caused, and has seen the ridiculous waste of resources that come from bureaucracy.

He talked about the sort of systemic failures within the health department that lead to an incompetent asshole keeping his job for 18 years, despite not doing it properly. He talked about the corruption he’s come across, with friends and families of countless politicians profiting from various political moves over the years, ones which your regular Joe and Jane would neither hear or care very little about, but are the difference between a few thousand and hundreds of thousands of extra dollars coming in to certain businesses/pockets over the course of a politician’s term. This came about because I mentioned solar panels.

This is not conspiracy bullshit; it was all seen by the eyes of an unassuming regular aussie-bloke electrician. A man who is smart enough to not be fucking himself up with meth and booze every weekend because he is a responsible father to two young girls. And thus is totally aware of the world around him.

I am leaving this town because I didn’t have my medication for four days, and I yelled at a local for having an awful attitude towards the asylum seekers on Manus. He said: “Queue jumpers, the lot of ‘em, send ‘em back where they came from” after seeing the ABC news broadcast about the violence happening over the last few days, two Tooheys Extra Drys in to his night. It jolted me. I felt sick.
I continued working but got mega confused while trying to tell my boss about the message I had for him and ended up crying, then had full blown panic attack after I was knocked off early…

After explaining the situation to boss-man the next morning, he said he was concerned for my “health and safety” and recommended I leave to find a new job, because- despite me assuring him that I’ll be totally fine and not confused or sensitive in a few days- they don’t have “the appropriate services” to look after me if I get sick again (any lawyers out there want to help me sue or something for unfair dismissal?).

Which is another thing. One doctor out here for the two thousand people in the area. No psychiatry service. A Child Protection Agency office- often unmanned- with a Centrelink building on the way, as well as empty shops owned by my boss, who won’t sell them for less than he wants- which is more the locals can afford- and there is no interest from outside to spark new ideas for economic recovery. Except me, and I can’t afford to get the rest of my stuff out of my friend’s place in Melbourne yet, let alone buy a shop from a (greedy?) multi-property owner in his 70s.

Anyway. So off to Kalgoorlie I go on Saturday, to do some filming and some research out there, and then back to Perth to edit some bloody music videos mate. Note to self: don’t go off medication again, not until I don’t have to work for someone else to fund my various projects, because it’s pretty hard being sensitive, over-analytical and well-read in environments where I am working minimum wage to increase someone else’s profit.