A Day On The Road


This article is part of newmatilda.com’s Urban Intervention experiment. For more information read this.

Day 3

I figure I should wake up at 7:00am to meet my friend at Bondi Beach at 9:30am.

To partially simulate the situation for people living in town camps in Alice Springs — which aren’t serviced by public transport — I can only use trains for the course of the fortnight. That’s another one of the rules. My train station is close to a kilometre from my place. In Sydney, we rely on buses. It’s inconvenient.

When I get to Bondi Junction I walk to the beach, which is about three kilometres away. Six buses pass me on the way.

Anthony De Rosa is a northern Italian, anarcho-socialist, who goes to the gym every day and bought a javelin online to throw in public parks, he’s also late by 20 minutes despite being allowed to catch the bus.

We talk about the story I’m writing. He scoffs at the idea of being "forced" to live on $300 a fortnight. He’d live as a monk if he could. As it is, he lives with his generous, Bolognese-making Italian mother.

We get on to the Intervention. Full of sympathy he says, "What can be done about it though?"

I tell him I don’t know, but it sounds like it’s bullshit — that these people are on just enough money to sustain themselves and nothing more; that social welfare shouldn’t be about barely keeping people alive at the least possible expense. That it seemed to me like collective punishment that no other group would have to endure.

He glances at me with a wry smile and says, "But Scott, you’re only one man."

I rein in the spiel.

He asks how the Intervention can be legal. How can a law only apply to black people? I explain that they claim it’s based on geography (ie. It only applies to people living in "prescribed areas"). It just happens to be that the areas where it applies are places where basically only Indigenous people live, such as on communities and in town camps.

On their website, the Department of Indigenous Affairs (FAHCSIA) goes to great lengths to repeat that the Intervention applies to Indigenous and non-indigenous people alike. This sounds like a weak defence to me — it would be like American states in the 1950s making laws for the segregated areas of cities but insisting the laws are for both black and white people. The NTER Review Board’s report flagrantly states that "The relevant provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 which protect other Australians from racial discrimination were deliberately rendered inoperative under the NTER legislation".

So if the legislation isn’t racially discriminatory, why the suspension of the Act?

It takes another hour or so to walk up to Vaucluse to see another friend, by which time it’s almost time for me to start heading back to Bondi to meet someone else. By the time I get back to the beach I have spent four hours in transit.

My friend Liron Israeli voted for John Howard. He even did so in the 2007 election. He’s a law student and we generally avoid politics. But not today. "It’s absolutely f*cked what they [the police and the state]can do [under the Intervention]," he tells me. Liron wrote a paper on the Intervention for his course last year. He thinks it’s probably legal, but totally immoral.

"You know there’s a lot more to it than the money. You can’t really simulate it — the powers the police have over you," he explains. I’m a bit defensive but agree.

He gives me his essay, although he doesn’t know if I’ll understand it. I’m sure I probably won’t but I’m eager to read it. I also get a copy of the actual legislation from him.

In a quest to find a legal opinion I might be able to understand I discover that lawyers of a far greater standing than my mate have a considerable amount to say on the issue. On 28 January a complaint was drafted for the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination — the same committee that denounced John Howard’s detention policies for asylum seekers.

The complaint alleges that the "Northern Territory Intervention legislation has constituted and continues to constitute serious, massive and persistent racial discrimination against Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and has constituted and continues to constitute multiple violations of the Race Convention".

After spending 16 precious dollars on dinner with Liron and a few mates, I head home. It’s now 9:30pm. It takes half an hour for the train to come. I’ve been in transit for about five hours already today. I fall asleep on the carriage. I wake up at Town Hall, where my line is down for maintenance. I wait on the southern line for almost an hour until a train going to Newtown shows up and I fall asleep again.

When I walk home from Newtown station some drunken Irish dickhead slags me off for walking down King Street with the energy of a jet-lagged heroin addict with sunstroke. I’m also still wearing board shorts and flip-flops. It’s about 12:30am. Shit and piss pour out of the pubs and even the pathetic awning signs are too bright for me. I’ve spent eight hours in transit today.

I get into my apartment and I’m far too tired to be angry, let alone do the dishes. My foot is cut up, from glass I think. I’ve got to go into the newmatilda.com office tomorrow at 9:30am. I end up waking up the next morning at 9:20am.

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