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Editorial June 17th 2022

Welcome to this week’s editorial,

For those of us interested in history the fact that history has an ability to repeat itself, one way or another is at times entertaining to watch from the sidelines or down right scary if you find yourself embroiled in it all.

Presently in Europe the repeat of Russian “expansion” reminds us of other ego driven wars in Europe that resulted in the senseless destruction of towns and cities driving residents to flee or be killed.

Closer to home we watched the financial collapse of Sri Lanka at the hands of corruption, mismanagement and gross failure. Like Ukraine it happened within weeks. The resultant is a country that has ground to a halt. Basic supplies of food and medicines have become critical. Cooking gas is almost gone and fuel is unaffordable and near impossible to find. The difficulty with this situation is that most of Sri Lanka is middle class and, as such, ill prepared for the eight hour queues for the most basic needs. A once affluent country brought to its knees in just months as world stock prices tumble, coal and gas prices soar and the great food belt of Ukraine and its ports remain firmly shut. Meanwhile next door India has banned the export of its wheat to retain as much as they can for their own population given the impact of the recent heatwaves that has decimated its yield. Calamity can happen in a trice.

Much as it did in The Great Depression between 1929 and 1939 that began after a major fall in stock prices in the United States. America sneezed and everybody got a cold. An economic shockwave rippled across the globe resulting in an intense economic depression. And no-one was ready. Overnight money became worthless. Overnight the once affluent became poor. With widespread shortages people hunkered down. Nothing was thrown away. String, paper, clothing and most of all food. It became acceptable to have cardboard in your shoes where the sole had worn through, clothing repaired with flour bag patches and food from the store with weevils and mould as supply chains ground to a halt. But coming soon after the first world war there was a preparedness, in Australia at least, and the stoic nature of Australians managed to get most through, even if they had to eat dandelions and chokos.

When I came to Australia in the 1970’s I was honoured to meet some of Sydney’s homeless around Wooloomooloo and the Cross. Back then there were not the numbers we see now and on any given night at the Mathew Talbot Hostel where I often stayed on rainy nights there might only be thirty or so. All, with the exception of two were male in their sixties or older. And most shared their memories of “Waltzing Matilda” when the warm soup was flowing and the heaters were turned on.

It was during this time that I developed a love of soup. Mathew Talbot did a good job but it was always watery and thick with floating beef fat. The best soup at the time was in the Cross courtesy of the Sydney City Mission folk who seemed to have a love of thick potato soup with hand cut slices of bread that were as thick as your thumb. Coming close behind was Saint Canice’s soup but it was a hike down to Rushcutters Bay and the Eastern Suburbs police were “nasty” toward “vagrants”.

The stories I heard and characters I met were amazing. Lives richly led with barely a penny in their pockets. A different life indeed but with so many stories of survival and resilience that matched the stories my grandmother told me of the depression where meals were cooked on fires fuelled with dry horse shit patties and dinner was a rabbit or pigeon caught that day or a wipe of fat-skim on a piece of stale bread.

Those days sleeping “rough” on Sydney streets are now far behind and the homeless that were are not the same as we have now. Back then it was almost a life-choice to be homeless. I met many who would not have it any other way. They had a freedom to pass through life in the shadows. Back then there wasn’t the irrational violence to the homeless we see now with senseless drug-fuelled beatings. Generally the police looked the other way and there was a wealth of charities well resourced and able to offer whatever help was required. Agreed that there were some who had mental issues but their numbers were small and they were supported by their “fraternity”.

I must admit here that as a boy, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would respond “A hobo. I want to ride the trains and see the world with just a little pack on my back”. My parents friends would laugh.

My parent knew better.

But these are new days. And the homeless we have in our community are not the marvellous wiry old gentlemen I met in the 1970’s near content with their life choices. In the 1970’s there was, as there is now, alcoholism. Sometimes there were issues but mostly not. The numbers of homeless were fractional. And few, if any, slept out openly in public. But now are homeless are measured in the thousands. And surprisingly, or not, many are new arrivals to their circumstance. As such they are not at all prepared. They are not resilient and they are not coping.

Where there were the resources and good will of organisations like the Wayside Chapel and the Salvos to step in with meal support, health assistance, accommodation or clothing the demands today on such help leaves most organisations stumbling and failing. The numbers are enormous.

Adding to this numbers are the modern complexities that involve children, drug dependence, mental anguish across all spectrums and the lack of resources to provide any short term relief, let alone any solution.

Unfortunately we have been caught off guard. Just like the Ukrainians and the Sri Lankans the future impacts of the day to day changes that are, and will affect us all are an unknown. As we look to our Local, State and Federal governments for help and guidance we find them floundering as well.

So what to do? From observations in Eurobodalla it appears that we are running around with our heads cut off. The call is for the government to do something. Exactly what is never defined. Just the same bleat that “The government needs to fix this”.

Back in the 1920’s Australian’s realised that the Government weren’t going to fix it and that they needed to step in an find their own solutions. Church members opened church doors and invited the homeless in and then feed them.

Community kitchens were established. “Estates” were built to provide basic homes and jobs created. Meanwhile local gardens on common land were created and rabbits became a rare beast indeed. Out of calamity came resilience and fortitude led by the very people affected. Across Australia there were local “task force’s” assembled and the community stepped in to help their own.

There is a hint of a groundswell developing in the Eurobodalla but presently it is a quiet whisper that falls well short of the ROAR required to have any momentum or effect.

The Mayor of Eurobodalla has begun a process by saying he will ask the council to look at whether halls can be opened up so that people living rough can shelter there or considering a longer-term solution that would see the Council providing land for tiny homes in a pilot project funded by the Federal government, or building a homeless shelter to be run by a local service.

Both are admirable but neither addresses the very reasons why our homeless became homeless in the first place and why the numbers are growing at an alarming rate.

In the meantime we can only hope that solutions can be found locally and nationally to some major issues well outside of our control. I think we should begin by planting community pumpkins and potatoes along our road verges rather than mowing them. A warm soup always brings a smile.

Until next lei

Fond memories: In 2013 I create a monthly soup and music event called Tuross Soup Song. 120 good folk arrived with their wine and their friends to enjoy a hearty choice of three stunning soups prepared by Chef Jason (now of the Waterfront Hotel). Jason provided the culinary flair and was recompensed for the ingredients. With the soup came an oven fresh bun from Nick at the Tern Inn. Nick also took a small fee to cover his electricity and ingredients. The money came from the entry fee: $5. This covered the soup, the bun, the cost of hiring the hall and a fee paid to guest musicians who entertained the assembled for two hours. I organised everything including the bookings and promotion. Every event was a sell out within hours of being announced. The community loved it. To serve the soup the local Tuross Head Community Garden folk were invited to the task that also included washing up. I purchased a stainless steel trolly for the task along with 120 soup bowls, spoons and knives. The Garden folk also ran a raffle each night to raise funds and to promote their project. The Tuross Soup Song ran for over a year with each event better than the last. I purchased lighting to add to the mood and the musicians loved the audience and the opportunity to play. But then it came to an end. Council put up the hall hire by 400% and the volunteers to help serve the soup found it was too hard to commit. It tried to encourage some other organisations to help but they weren't prepared to commit to three hours per month to assist. So it came to a halt. The new Tuross Head hall at Kyla Park has a kitchen that can prepare soup for 200 each week from vegetables sourced next door at the Tuross Head Community Gardens or donated. Behind every soup event is the primary purpose of providing low cost nutrition and social connectivity. We had that but it was destroyed by the greed of the council and the unwillingness of volunteers to give their time. I still dream of a soup kitchen for my community. One day we might have to revisit it.

In the meantime I shall daydream of what once was and what inspired it from so many years ago.