Poverty as industry: a plea for conversation and change Reply

by Larissa Payne

Napping but not asleep to the issues of poverty and homelessness. Photograph by Somaya on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

Napping but not asleep to the issues of poverty and homelessness.
Photograph by Somaya on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

Mr Lance Priestly serves the homeless in Martin Place.

“I’ve always had a sense that we either go up together or down together,” says Mr Priestly. “And when poverty has become an industry, when charities are mostly businesses that exist by keeping the marginalised marginalised, some of us don’t want a bar of it.”

Mr Priestly helped establish Sydney’s first 24/7 homeless support network as an offshoot from the Occupy Sydney protest against corporate corruption and neo-liberal globalisation. It is run by entirely by volunteers and community donations.

“Homelessness is a by-product of the corporate excesses that the Occupy movement talks about. It would be remiss of us not to point the figure at JP Morgan or the Macquarie Bank while gazing over the heads of the homeless,” says Mr Priestly.

Originally from Ruatoria, in rural New Zealand, Mr Priestly experienced the hardship of Ruatoria’s 85 per cent unemployment rate during the 1970s and how it led to chronic homelessness.

“It was the same in the early 1900s but the difference between then and recent times is debt,” Mr Priestly says. “Most of the community left town to pay off a house they would never get to live in. It made me question how debt is unacceptable in its current form.”

Before 1994, Mr Priestly worked in management for Land Lease and reworked James Hardy’s occupational health and safety requirements after the asbestos debacle. During this time, he helped develop Just Enough Faith, an organisation that serviced the homeless community for 17 years.

After a Government take-over that imposed what Mr Priestly considered “red tape and restrictions”, he concluded that in order to properly serve and understand the homeless community, he would need to become an independent part of it.

“I needed to understand if what we were doing was relevant. This wasn’t possible from the comfortable position we sat in. So I chose to live on the streets,” says Mr Priestly. “All my perceptions about homelessness were completely out of sync with reality.”

Mr Priestly decided he would not work with established charities because he regarded them as corporations with many of the goals, such as growth, of corporate business.

He suggested that protecting business and government interests has led to the 32 evictions, known to the Occupy Sydney 24/7 homeless support network, since July 3. When the City of Sydney Council moved to dismantle Occupy Sydney in June, there were objections from just two Councillors, Labor Councillor Linda Scott and Greens Councillor Irene Doutney.

“I found the elitist attitude behind this move absolutely disgusting,” says Ms Doutney. “The Occupy protestors cause no harm. They’ve kept the site tidy, even cleaning up after people who make a mess when they emerge drunk from the bars nearby, and have a rule of not approaching people who don’t approach them first.”

During the estimated 760 days that Mr Priestly has slept rough and served the homeless through Occupy Sydney, he has been arrested 58 times for apparent “camping” yet no infringement notice has been given and no conviction granted. The courts have heard 128 similar cases from Occupy Sydney activists with only one conviction.

“They have no legislative powers to stop us feeding the homeless,” says Mr Priestly. “They use the police to impose the desires of Council and government only to have the courts insist they’re wasting their time and taxpayers’ money.”

Regardless of obstacles, Mr Priestly’s goal is the eradication of homelessness.

“Laws need to be changed,” says Mr Priestly. “We need conversation about sustainable incomes that reflect living affordability within a worker’s city. City cleaners get $18 per hour. How can they afford to live in the city? Campbelltown and Penrith don’t exist to serve the city. We need to address Sydney’s economic apartheid.”

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The other September 11: a visual representation Reply

by Larissa Payne

Chilean-Australian artist Miriam Cabello: ‘Tanks of Terror’

Chilean-Australian artist Miriam Cabello: ‘Tanks of Terror’

“I want to inform people that there was another September 11 also linked to the United States,” says Chilean-Australian artist Miriam Cabello. “I want to talk about conflict as a cross-cultural exchange for Australians, especially with what’s happening in Syria.”

Ms Cabello’s artworks at the Seymour Centre in September marked the 40th anniversary of the CIA-backed military coup in Chile. Led by General Augusto Pinochet, the coup dismantled Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government bringing an end to 100 years of Chilean democracy, the longest running democratic tradition in South America.

Miriam Cabello uses a bold, confronting technique in her artwork through contrasting colour and her trademark grid-drip pattern.

“I developed the grid-drip technique to represent the people who were locked up; also the dripping of blood or tears. It’s like a whitewash of bleach. When they bleach out history, they whitewash it. They don’t expose it,” she says.

The paintings insist that viewers look and respond while creating a voice for the silenced.

“Systematic torture, incarceration and murdering people caused much fear so many people won’t speak out,” says Ms Cabello.

The exhibition’s focal point is the large ‘Tanks of Terror’ series. Soldiers ready to betray Allende and switch sides to coup leader Pinochet, are depicted.

Paintings of the artist’s family are juxtaposed with these tanks of terror.

“My uncle was trained to go into La Moneda that day. I’ve not been able to ask questions about it. That’s why the images are important,” Ms Cabello says.  “The colours are intentional. Red stands for blood spilled for independence but also blood spilled by the military killing their own people.

“My father is in red as a warning of what is to come. My mother has blue for mourning and sorrow. They’re divided to symbolise the separation and division of people that went missing.”

Erika Roa, daughter of Chilean exiles now living in Sydney’s west, found the artworks confronting.

“I was brought to tears. The art is a reminder of what my parents escaped and what much of my family put up with for 17 years.”

Ms Cabello believes the exhibition is an awakening for non-Chileans, too.

“They ask me, ‘How did I not know? Thank you for letting me know’.”

Daniel Peters, a lawyer visiting Sydney from Melbourne, had heard of Pinochet’s dictatorship but was unaware of the impact it had on Chilean people.

“I remember a uni classmate mentioning that his parents had escaped Chile in the 1970s. I had no idea the extent of human rights abuse or that so many Chileans fled to Australia. This exhibition has taught me a lot.”

According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, 18,740 Chileans voluntarily or forcibly left Chile for a new life in Australia between 1973 and 1981. The 2006 Australian Census found that 25,439 Australians claimed Chilean ancestry. Such numbers make Cabello’s exhibition especially relevant.

A second stage of the exhibition is tentatively booked for July 2014.

“I want it to be bigger and better,” Miriam Cabello says. “I want to incorporate music, poetry and footage. I want it to create an emotional experience that engages all the senses.”

The second stage of her cross-cultural exchange will continue a universal message.

“It’s something that can encourage us to preserve our rights and freedoms. But sometimes that’s out of our hands.”

‘Oppression and Diaspora: The Chilean Military Coup’ was exhibited at the Seymour Centre as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival from September 6 – 29.

A new take on city gardening Reply

by Catherine Bassey 

It just takes enthusiasm and commitment to grow a summer salad on a balcony. Photograph by add1sun on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

It just takes enthusiasm and commitment to grow a summer salad on a balcony.
Photograph by add1sun on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

Many years ago, people bought much of their fresh food from a market, before the convenience of supermarkets took over. Today there is a return to the fresh food market although the emphasis now is likely to be on organic – organic and high quality, that’s what people want.

Myriam Pitre,  who is keen on sustainability and educates people on gardening monoculture, is one of the facilitators of the city gardening workshop presented recently by Sydney City Council.

“My mum and aunt have been gardening their whole lives – about 40 years – and they still say they are learning. So learning is not enough, it’s a lot about doing, it’s about starting up, taking the risk and doing something,” she says.

Myriam has had her own garden for four years. She says growing one’s own food has more benefits than buying from the market.

“Food sold in stores has been there on average a week. You might get it a little fresher from the local markets or farmers’ market but nothing is ever as fresh as picking fruits or veggies from your garden and eating it within a few minutes of picking it up. It’s definitely fresher and healthier, healthier because freshness is directly proportional to the amount of nutrients left in the plants. The fresher the plants, the more nutrients they’re got,” she says.

And, Myriam says, “you’re guaranteed completely natural and organic food, free of any form of chemicals because you know what it’s been grown with. In the supermarkets, you can’t assume that unless it’s been labelled organic.”

In her sitting room window are four green square pots of what she calls macro greens, commonly known as wheatgrass. Part of it has already been cut, used to make ‘wheatgrass shots’, as described in organic cafes.

In her backyard she has chilli plants, kiwi fruits, lemon grass, strawberries, Australian native raspberries, blueberries, beans, cucumbers, lettuces, parsley, turnips, kale, beetroot, ginger, and canna lilies.

She makes her own compost; six large bins are full of rich, dark soil, one of which already has a few pumpkins sprouts in it. Her two-year old silverweeds had started budding again and her chicory has been producing leaves every day for a couple of years.

“I pluck chicory every day for my juicing because I do a lot of raw vegetable juice. I get just the quantity I need, so there’s no waste. For plants like that, I don’t have to replant, except once every couple of years.

“Starting a garden is inexpensive,” Myriam says. “If you have patience, you can make your own compost in three or four months from food scraps. I also go to fruit and vegetable markets and get their fruit and vegetable left-overs. So compost costs nothing, and it’s very nutritious for your soil.”

She’s even made use of the abandoned flower pots from her neighbours, so she doesn’t have to buy pots.

“Most seeds don’t cost very much. For $4 you can get a pack that has 100 seeds. When the flowers produce seeds, you collect the seeds and save for the next season, and that can go on forever,” she says.

“We try to encourage people to get open pollinated seeds because they are very fertile; most of the seeds you get from the shops are often not very fertile because they’ve been hybridized, genetically modified many times over,” she says.

Myriam says gardening can also be a great way to make friends. “We go to clubs, we exchange seeds. During Christmas, for instance, instead of exchanging gifts, we exchange plants or seeds instead.”

One major issue city gardeners often face is the problem of too much shade. The sun may be obstructed by buildings or trees, and so plants only get two or three hours sun a day.  “So there’s not enough sun to grow most of the plants that you would love to grow,” she says.  “However, most leafy plants are more shade tolerant, and thrive even in partial shade.”

A participant in the city garden workshop, Sara Bates, of Newtown, said growing her own garden was a way to keep fresh food on the table.

“I love eating fresh food but once you pay the bills, there is not very much left over for a bunch of beetroot or a kilo of vine-ripened tomatoes, especially when you rent in the inner west,” she says.

She has used up the small space in the backyard of her apartment building to create a garden to grow tomatoes, strawberries, three different types of salad greens (red and green oak leaf, red giant mustard greens and rocket), sage, rosemary, oregano, coriander, parsley and a bay tree.

Having almost lost most of her veggies last year to pests and pesticides that destroyed  beneficial insects in her garden, she has planted flowers such as jasmine, pansies, petunias, and celosia to help attract pollinators like bees.

Sara describes gardening as fun, mentally stimulating, and something that has taught her patience. “It’s really nice to come home and see your garden doing well, and it’s very rewarding to eat what you’ve grown,” she says.

She was excited about her first home-grown strawberry. “I’ve never seen anything so juicy. Most of what we buy in the market tends to look really good but don’t taste as good.

“Every day, I walk through the front door, I kiss my husband hello, I say hello to the dog, and I come out to see how my garden is doing,” Sarah says.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said budding urban gardeners can learn how to grow their own edible gardens of fresh food as well as get tips for composting, worm farming and natural pest management.

“You don’t need much space to be an urban gardener – just a balcony, patio, window or small backyard that receives a few hours of sun,” she says. “Over 85 per cent of people who attend our workshops make use of the lessons they learnt, meaning every season more fresh food is being grown across our city.”

Sydney City Council runs a series of garden workshops under its Green Villages banner including ‘Edible Gardens in Small Spaces’, ‘What’s Eating My Basil? Natural pest management’, ‘Build a Vertical Pallet Garden’, and ‘Be a Balcony Garden Bandit’.