Secrets, Lies & Chat

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Summer in Sydney

It's Tuesday 10 January 2006, 9.15 pm daylight saving time in Sydney. The day has been long, and hot, with the temperature at 6.00 pm outside in the shade, a humid, horrible 39 degrees celcius. I hate summer; it seems to me as I get older. that summer is the longest season we have. Spring starts out hot usually and ends up like summer would be in other places. Then along comes December. and the weather just gets hotter and more humid by the day.

According to a report I read recently we experienced the hottest year on record in 2005. Winter wasn't really all that cold, with just a couple of frosts. No rain probably made a big difference to the temperature. Winter to me would be a perfect summer. I could still get sunburnt on a winter's day if I spent too long out in the sun. We have been on water restrictions for months as Warragamba Dam drops lower and lower. Most of the rain we get in Sydney seems to fall near the coast, with little or none in the catchment area. The ideal situation would be to knock down some of the houses on the coastline and build a reservoir. After all, can we live without fresh water? No, but we can live without the mass of houses built along the coast. But now I sound like I'm jealous because I live inland, about 60 kilometres from the coast.

I had an aunt who lived near the beach. She never went to the beach; she never sat on the sand and watched the waves roll in, or breathed in that wonderful sea air, or smelled the aromas of the water. I bet if you surveyed those that live in close proximity to our beaches, a large percentage of them would agree they rarely go near the water. And so here we all sit in our homes, with pools if we can afford them, out in the heat at the foot of the Blue Mountains, dreaming of living near the beach, or at least having a holiday there. We live near the catchment where it hardly ever rains. Warragamba Dam is now closed to visitors as work is carried out. So we can't even go there to gaze at the water and have a picnic anymore. The Nepean River is just a ghost of what it used to be, as are most of the waterways around Sydney.

When I was a kid we would go swimming of a weekend in whatever river we happened to be spending a happy family Sunday near. The water was pristine, and the banks were clean and some were even sandy. The creeks warbled along over flat stones that we loved to pick up and toss, watching them skim along the top of the water. The winner was the person whose stone skimmed the furtherest. There was no fear of broken glass in the water, of used needles, condoms, plastic bags and other refuse. You could swim at night with no lights and have no fears about what might be in the water. Those days were fast disappearing when my children were born, and the places I had swum in I wouldn't take my children to. No longer can you fish around Sydney unless you are just in it for the sport, or love to kill things. We are warned not to eat the fish and prawning has been banned in Sydney Harbour because of the toxins found in the prawns. What a wonderful world the last couple of generations have made for those yet to be born and those already living here.

I think about today, in Sydney, and understand why there are such problems with the young. Not only can't they find work, but they have no recreational activities either like I grew up with. We lived in town and yet we lived on acreage. That land now would have probably 10 houses on it, all built so close together that you might as well knock down the fences and the outer walls of neighbouring houses and all live under one roof. We had old pushbikes and spent our weekends having Redex trials in the scrub at the back of the house. We would pack sandwiches and a drink and disappear for the day. There was no fear of rapists or weirdos. The only thing that happened to me was I managed to collect a slug in my face from a gun fired over a fence. The local Constable visited the boy concerned and confiscated his air gun. End of story. Now I guess my parents would sue his parents.

When I left High School I continued my education at TAFE for another year full-time. Most of the boys who finished High School the same year as I did, attended the TAFE college as apprentices. They were already employed. Every young person who wanted to work could get a job in the Government. Depending on how you fared in the entrance exam, there would be a choice of jobs. Young males could go straight into apprenticeships. Those young men are now approaching the age of retirement with no one to take their places as tradesmen. For years there has been only a token apprenticeship scheme with the Government setting down guidelines for the number of apprentices a business is obliged to take on. This depends on the company's workforce of skilled tradesmen and is worked out on a ratio. No longer do we have young men learning tradesmen skills unless they are very lucky.

For every apprenticeship on offer, hundreds of young, and mature age, males and females apply. It's a sad indictment on our society when we bring in skilled workers from overseas because we have very few young tradesmen/women coming up through the apprenticeship scheme. Where did it all go wrong? Who decided that it was best for the economy to stop training and start shipping in workers? Didn't anyone ever consider what it would do to the self esteem of the young, and not so young, when they realised that they may never hold down a permanent job in their lifetimes? One day all of this will come back to bite society and we will all pay the price. Already there are stirrings. People are beginning to fight back, or try to. Laws are being changed to keep these people down where the powers to be have decided they should be kept. People power may well overcome force in the days to come.

People by the hundreds are leaving the city, or working on a plan to do so soon. They are tired of the ratrace, tired of the traffic, the noise, the pollution, the one sided laws, the melting pot of races that isn't turning into the wonderful brew it was supposed to. They are heading for places away from cities; either to the country to start small family farms, or to the seaside. Many are heading west, right across the continent, to Western Australia. There they find a lifestyle they can afford without being mortgaged to the hilt, a lifestyle that allows them much less stress, and a state with less taxes than those on the east coast.

For those who grew up in Sydney in the 50's, this is no longer a place they wish to be. The friendliness has almost gone. People rarely smile. Shoppers are treated like they are being done a favour, not the other way around. Every day, no matter where you go, there is this feeling of tension in the air. Most people show the stress of life on their faces and their big homes and flash cars don't do a thing to erase that stress that is etched in the lines on young and older faces alike.

So, to cut a long story short, I'm so grateful I grew up in the world I did. We didn't have much, but then we had so much more than society has today. We had family and a family life where respect didn't have to be earned, it was the right of parents to expect respect, and the right of teachers, and employers. I grew up in a strict environment in a lot of ways and I probably resented some of it too, but when I look around me now, when I hear the way people speak to their children, and the way children speak to everyone they single out, I'm grateful for that strictness. I bet today's kids would have loved to grow up when I did. But they will never know about the things that I know, and they will never experience the things that I experienced. And their children yet to be born will know even less of the good things and more of the bad.

As I step off my soapbox, have a great night.

Vena McGrath

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