Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Different sides to Sydney

I’ve been on my travels this week and will be finishing off the week with a trip to Melbourne. The last three days have involved three very different sides to Sydney and its hinterland.

Monday – Campbelltown. A “rough” area to the south west of Sydney, about 90 mins drive from the centre, characterised by high unemployment, lots of public housing and high levels of crime, drug use and so on. The sad moment of the day was when my colleague pointed out the large pub across the road from the court house, which apparently does a roaring trade in people drinking their last beer before going for sentencing and throwing their last few dollars in the ‘pokie’ machines (games machines, which loads of pubs here have huge rooms full of).

It’s several degrees warmer inland there than it is on the coast, which gets pretty suffocating in summer. The breezy glamour of Sydney Harbour seems a world away.

I was there because we’re setting up a new social enterprise to help local people get work in the trades by carrying out repairs and maintenance contracts for the Department of Housing, and I spent the morning in the local civic centre, meeting some of the people we hope to create jobs for. As always, it was good to be ‘on the frontline’ to remind myself why I do what I do. We had a great turnout and the room was full of people who want to work, have lots to offer, need a bit of support, but most of all need to be given a chance – and I’m really glad we’re able to do that.

Tuesday – Nowra. Nowra is a three hour drive from Sydney on the South Coast. It’s in an area of high unemployment, but is itself a pretty little place with beautiful surroundings. It’s a popular destination for ‘sea changers’, people who choose to move from the city for a lifestyle change, and for rich Sydneysiders with weekend homes (which inevitably prices the local population out of the housing market). If Australian culture and social attitudes generally feel like Britain in the 1970s, then Nowra is more like Britain in the 1950s (as I’m led to believe it was anyway!) Old fashioned, socially conservative and claustrophobic. It’s the kind of place where you imagine people still tut about single mothers. Mind you, I realise as I write this that there are plenty of places in Britain where that still happens.

Wednesday – the heart of the CBD. Today I spent my day in the glitzy heart of the CBD (Central Business District), rubbing shoulders with the city slickers that knock around the financial centre here. Suits, ties, lip gloss and spiky heels as far as the eye can see, more skinny double shot cappuccinos than you can shake a stick at, towering glass buildings everywhere and an army of low paid workers servicing the whole shebang.

This post doesn’t really have a point other than as a vague musing on how communities segregate the way they do. The image at the top is a visual representation of this, sourced from the Centre of Full Employment and Equity, which shows the relative vulnerability of different areas to rising unemployment. The dark blue areas are those, like the ones I live and work in, which are populated by people with good qualifications, working in secure jobs. The red and amber areas are those like the ones I visited earlier this week where people have casual, low paid work if they’re lucky, have much lower levels of education and qualifications, and are the first to lose their jobs when recessions hit. I very much doubt this picture will have changed much by the time the next recession comes around. Some might say who cares, but I find it hard to accept that a child born in a ‘red’ area will have significantly fewer opportunities than one born in a ‘blue’ one.

Thoughts and comments welcome as always…

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