Centrelink is a terrible place. Knowing I have to go there I remember it is a terrible place. Approaching it from the street, seeing the small insignificant people waiting on its monolith stairs I know it is a terrible place. It brings back memories of poverty and dependence and looking over my shoulder even when I have nothing to hide.
In those days it was the Department of Social Security. The name has changed. The people have not. They wear society’s rejection all over their clothes, tattooed into their skins with blue ink and smeared on their children’s chocolate faces.
The bureaucrats, blank and bland laugh with customers. (Or are they clients these days? I have lost track.) They joke through necessity to show they are human too. That at home they have children and dogs and dishes to do and money in the bank and bills to pay.
The line is anaconda long. The air conditioning is set at ‘bake the dole bludger.’ Ahead in the line is a tall dark haired woman. She is wearing sandals with white stockings. This seems weird. She waits her turn. The closer she gets the heavier she breathes. Holding her stomach to keep the butterflies from escaping. Her eyes are damp with retracted tears. She is personal pain facing government money.
She gets the bureaucrat with the bulldog face.
“You’re being evicted”
Could she say it any louder?
“You can’t see the social worker unless you have an appointment. Do you have an appointment?”
It is a one sided conversation. The clients’ requests and replies are whispered into the counter.
The bulldog starts waving a piece of paper. She is resenting difficult people with difficult lives. “I can only give you this. It’s a list of all emergency accommodation. You have to go and ring to find a vacancy”
I know. I know so unequivocally from my own professional work that she will find dead end after dead end. The ‘Social’ Housing System is a constipated fat man. Private rentals are as expensive and rare as water in the desert.
In the end bulldog gives white stockings an application to get an advance on her pension. “You understand this means your income will decrease while you pay this back?” She says this five times. Less money to pay market rent.
White stocking lady nods and nods. In her mind she begs bulldog to stop shouting her misfortune to the anaconda line of eavesdroppers.
My turn comes. I get the bureaucrat just off her break. I have an easy middle class question. She has answered before I finish asking it.