I did work for the dole at various places around Darwin a few years back: Vinnies, Larrakia Nation office (the Larrakia are the traditional owners of the Darwin area), and at the Aviation Heritage Centre. I had arranged to work at some other place I can’t remember the name of (I think it was a housing co-op) but that fell through. I was angry about being made to do slave labour. I wanted to protest and resist it but I was on a good behaviour bond with a suspended jail sentence for political activity hanging over me at the time. I was luckier than other people, even though I certainly didn’t feel lucky! I only ever had to do 1 day a week. Others were made to do more: 2 days, or maybe even 4! They sure seemed to come down harder on the young, and on those who complained about having to do it. At Vinnies I knew the person in charge from activist circles I’d worked in. Gave us breakfast with the long grassers (homeless people). This person was pretty cool and had us painting a pergola. I think she let us go home early and ticked off our names as if we’d worked the whole day.
Larrakia Nation was pretty slack. Once we mowed the grass in the bushtucker garden at the back of Royal Darwin Hospital. Another time wewere clearing infestations of the mimosa pigra weed along the banks of Rapid Creek near the university. I pretended I didn’t know how to use the whippersnipper or brushcutter or whatever it was so I ended up just collecting the pieces the other guys cut down. As Larrakia rangers they were getting paid something like a proper wage, I believe. CDEP (Community Development Employment Program) pay plus top up.
I remember doing a bit of work in the garden at the Larrakia Nation office on a couple of days, and shovelling up dirt in the car park at the back another day. But a lot of the time we didn’t have to work there as it was badly organised. We’d sit around talking for hours, waiting for someone in authority to tell us to do something. Those in charge never knew how many people who were supposed to be there for WftD would actually turn up. There might be 18 names on the list, but 6 or 7 would turn up. Or maybe 1 or none. A few times I showed up there to find I was the only one. Some guy told me, “You always turn up. But no-one else is here. So I’ll just tick your name off and you can go.” The Aviation Heritage Centre was a museum featuring a B-52 bomber from the USA, surrounded by many smaller aircraft and artifacts going back to WWII and earlier. I used to enjoy reading the info and learning history while dusting and polishing the planes and things and sweeping the floor.
There were also 2 Aboriginal women and a tall Sudanese man doing WftD there. The woman from WA said the WftD was demeaning. There was nothing much we could do about it though.
One day I wore an old t-shirt a friend had given me. He’d sprayed ANARCHY NOW on the back in red. I thought the writing had faded and was hardly visible any more. Unfortunately it was visible and the boss noticed it even though he couldn’t make out what it said. He marched up to me and said, “You’re not working inside with that on your shirt! What’s it say? Wanker? Go outside and sweep the leaves out of the big carpark out the front!” (I thought, “There’s only one wanker around here, mate, and it’s not me!”) But I didn’t say that. I said, “I’m not going back outside unless I get some sunscreen to put on. (Because I’d got a bit sunburnt working out there before.) Boss man storms off in a huff.
One time he made me stay back late and help lift a heavy bbq into a dumpster. I hurt my back doing that. The following week I forked out $27 to see a doctor who thought I was faking back pain. (Good luck getting bulk billing in Darwin! They made you feel like a criminal just for asking.) Just so I didn’t have to do slavery that week. I hated it. Had to do it another week instead.
That boss was a prick. He’d sit upstairs bludging in his air-conditioned office while the rest of us, paid staff and slaves alike, soldiered on in the heat and humidity. Once during a break he bragged to us how he’d bought a car, an old bomb, in Darwin for a few hundred bucks, and had it shipped over to East Timor where he sold it to a Timorese guy for $3000.
After I left I heard from my friend who still worked there in the shop and doing the guided tours, that they caught that boss with his hand in the till. The board sacked him but didn’t press charges. I think I had to do WftD for 6 months, 1 day a week. Centrelink bureaucrats surprised me at one stage. They told me I didn’t have to do any more of it. I thought they were mistaken but I didn’t argue! Later they discovered their mistake and I had to go and work the remaining couple of days.
All in all it was a shitty experience being a slave. I’d always thought that if I were ever told to do Work for the Dole I’d refuse, find a way out of it somehow. But when it happened I couldn’t get out of it. Not that I had the worst of it. Plenty of people copped it a lot worse than me. Aboriginal people particularly.
I heard of people in remote communities like Kalkaringi being made to do 30 hours a week work for the dole and on top of that getting punished with income management as well. If they refused this slavery they’d get no money. The government wouldn’t dare try that on in a place like Sydney. They seem to use the NT as a sort of social laboratory and Aboriginal people as guinea pigs, to see how much abuse of people’s human rights they can get away with.
In conclusion I can sum up my limited experience by saying that Work for the Dole is really about more than work. It’s about power and control. It’s rich bastard governments punishing people who are unemployed. It’s class warfare, and race warfare. If people are doing that work they’re not unemployed and should at least be paid award wages like anyone else. Anything less is bullshit.