Saturday, 28 March 2015

Why Newcastle Needs the Greens: Art and Social Change

Great morning running the Greens Party booth in Kotara, Newcastle today. I set up and convened from 8 -12 midday. First time for me, in this kind of political activity and was very enjoyable. Sunny morning, just a few others running the Labor booth- and no sign of the Liberals whatsoever!
I was thrilled to find that pencils have been replaced by pens in the polling booth. Seems like a very sensible idea, and prevents doubt.
It was a pleasure to meet and chat with so many residents, and to hand out Greens how to vote information, and to become more involved this way.
As I was setting up I had the posters and polling booth boards at the Old Post Office for a couple of days prior, and made good use of the front verandah, and the location of the cottage which is just a few steps away from the busy Adamstown shopping area, and on the street, to show these to good advantage. I realised when I was taking the photographs how green the Old Post Office is, and how well it suits the Greens messages, surrounded by trees which I planted years ago, and ferns at the front of the house which I also planted.
What has driven me to become so involved with the Greens Party this year, is finding out in my research for my books on my family hidden history, and the secret I have uncovered, that the Hunter Valley where my family has lived, is now being raped and pillaged and decimated by open cut mining, with the new threat of a massive mine run by Rio Tinto which has gained tentative acceptance by the government despite being blocked twice through legal channels, and the threat of coal seam gas mining which poisons ground water, the earth and the air. This is destroying the lives and businesses of the people who live and work in the Hunter Valley- it is driving out the world famous international horse studs (The Hunter Valley is one of the leading areas in the world for raising thoroughbreds) ; and destroying the wine industry, as well as local tourism and arts business. The people of the village of Bulga have been told that their village can be moved, to make way for the ravaging Rio Tinto mine, as if their lives are worth nothing.
This is the shocking scenario I have discovered in my research and writing, on the once beautiful Hunter area. The Greens are the only party opposing big mining and its unchecked devastation, and opposing coal seam gas mining.
So I have become involved far more directly than I ever have in politics this year, and will continue this now as it is imperative that big mining and coal seam gas mining are stopped before it is too late- the future of our lives and our children's lives, the future of the human race depends on it.
It is important to vote Greens, a rapidly growing party, as voting Greens strengthens the Greens vital voice in the NSW State parliament, and gives more influence over the other parties, which is more important at this critical time in human history, than it has ever been.What is just as important is support for the arts, and artists, and art education which has been cut back in the Hunter and Newcastle, over the term of the NSW Liberal government, which saw the excision of fine arts courses from the Newcastle art school at Hunter TAFE.

Story and image copyright ©  Ruth Skilbeck

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Waiting for the Bus in Newcastle

Waiting for the Bus in Newcastle
A fictional account of some time this afternoon.

Ruth Skilbeck

Another classic waiting-for-the-bus conversation at a Newcastle bus stop today.
I walk along the hot pavement, with the typically flat feeling that visiting Centrelink so often leaves in me, the residue of resignation. Resigned despair, beyond despair. That is underlaid with determination. As I said to my next door neighbor today. I am beyond embarrassment over money, I don’t take it personally. To me it is all political. I have done all that you are supposed to do to gain a full time academic job, and due to things behind the scenes, was not allowed one. My poverty is not my fault.
So this week I was sure that I had sorted out all my income “streams” and even sold three books, the first three I have sold here, since they arrived in the box from the US last week.
So it was I had that typically flat feeling I often have when walking the streets around Centrelink.

I had precisely $1.60 in my wallet – the sum total of my current fortune, which was exactly enough for the concession bus fare back to Adamstown. I had given up earlier after thirty-five minutes standing in the public phone booth at the shops on the line to Centrelink and as I had just enough cash left ($3.80 with about ten cents left over) I had gone in to sort it out instead, and it was as well I did as I found out. I walked to Hunter Street, the new bus stop shelter in front of the coming university construction site.
There was a man sitting on the seat. I sat down next to him.
After a couple of minutes it began, the dialogue. One of the extraordinary everyday profound street dialogues that make me realize I have developed some kind of strangely mutual affinity with this place.

“It’s all man-made.” He says in a confiding confident oratorial tone. As a conversation starter it hangs in the air. He gestures in front of him at the sparse traffic on Hunter Street.
I do not say anything.
“Man made the seed and gave it to woman and so life grows.”
He gestures again.
I do not say anything. 
“You don’t have long.” He turns and look at me earnestly. Blue eyes behind fleshy lids on a face that is round small and looks as if his skin is stretched like a piece of shiny flesh coloured fruit.
“To make it all work."
“No,” I say, catching the gist.
 “Name-of-Company Waterside.” He gestures again. “Gone, gone, all gone. Unrecognisable.” His arm traces an arc.
“I’m nearly sixty-four,” he turns to look at me again.
“Waterside. Boilermaker.” He looks out at the street in the direction of the harbour, hidden from view by the row of shops. The waterfront that changed  beyond recognition when the steel works closed down.
 “Boilermaker,” he repeats. “I was a boilermaker.”

 “Uhmm.” I make a noise of empathy. Looking back at him in the eyes.

“It’s a terrible world” he says.
“In the Middle East,” he adds, as if he feels he has to temper his assertion.
Face turns to me. Flash of blue eyes.

“Hot today” he says brightly
“Uhmm.” I assent.
“What’s going up here?”
He gestures backwards at the boarded closed fence of the construction site
covered with big glossy colourful drawings of prosperity ahead.
“Yes,” I say.
“When’s that happening?”
“Started.” “When’s it happening?”
“It’ll be finished in 2017.”
“Ah,” he gestures at the semi-empty street, smiling.
“Central place, not too busy a city, will be modern.”
He gestures again smiling brightly.
A bus full of passengers pulls up in front of us.

A man walking down the steps is looking straight at me, smiling.
He is wearing two heavy black orthopedic boots, has very thin legs clad in flapping black trousers, long grey hair flying around his head, lined face, smile reveals gap-snaggle teeth.
I semi-smile.

He exits left out of eye sight.
A couple of minutes later he returns into view.

Gesturing expansively abrubtly he says in a tone of alarm: “Can I sit down?”
Loudly crying: “I have terrible legs! Terrible legs!!”
We move up on the seat.
“Civic, Newcastle, what is it?” he says loudly.
The man to my right and I are both silent.
“It says Civic here, and Newcastle there, what is it?” he continues, waving his arms at the street in the direction of Civic train station, across the road, which is no longer in use as the train line was closed down on Boxing Day.
“Don’t know.” I say.
I don’t know, I don’t know,” he semi shouts.
“I’ve never been here before!” smiling.

Another man comes into view from the left.
I notice him walk down past the bus shelter. I notice his stomach stretching out his red tee shirt in front of him. His slightly erratic air, is he on medication, and then he walks back up again from the right into view.
He walks up and stands right in front of the man sitting to my right. Beneath the brim of my hat I notice his large belly and legs in shorts.
“Three dollars! Three dollars!!” He shouts.
“No.” The man beside me is saying.
He moves and stands right in front of me.
“Three dollars!! There is commotion.
“Three dollars!” he demands again.
“He wants money! He wants money!” Calls out the man to my right.
 “Don’t give him – don’t give him!” the man to my right shouts even louder.
“I don’t have any change” I mutter.

The man in the red tee shirt shuffles off to the left and carries on along the street.
“HA! HA! HA!” the man to my left with the wild grey long hair and thin legs laughs loudly saying the words HA HA HA.

A few buses arrive together, bus full of passengers, and a number of people disembark suddenly. People are milling around.
Another bus arrives.
“Is this the superior connecting bus route to Hamilton?” The tone of enunciation is clear and precise. A well dressed country gentleman, in a white suit with a flower in his buttonhole,  and wearing a panama hat, is bending down and asking the man sitting to my right, waving his hand at the bus pulling up.
“It’s the bus to Hamilton,” says the man beside me.
“The shuttle bus to Hamilton” says a voice from somewhere.
“The new one to replace the train!” the man says in a loud tone of contempt.
“We should be taking the train!” His well dressed female friend wearing a long flowing white dress, flowers in her straw hat, and carrying a large bag, says loudly and belligerently with exaggeration, as if making a public point. They both have theatrical expressions of utter disgust on their faces as they climb the steps onto the bus, they look disgruntled and put out as they find seats and sit down inside, I watch them through the windows.
The man with terrible legs gets on behind them.

The 222 veers into view. I stand. But it is behind another bus and it is not slowing down. It is pulling right, out into the traffic. I am walking towards it but it is accelerating past me.

“Hey, hey!” The man I had been sitting next to stands up, shouts and waves.
Flagging the bus.

The 222 slows suddenly to a screeching stop yards ahead of the bus stop.
I hurry towards it. As I do I turn.
“Good luck.” The man says.

“Does this bus go to Adamstown?” I call up the steps to the driver.
“Yes.” She is a rather sullen looking large woman with pink lipstick, chewing. 
I climb up the steps, show my bright cerise concession pass in my wallet and fish out my last coins.
She holds out her hand, staring down at it.
I put the coins in her hand.
She continues to stare down at her hand filled with coins.
I notice there is a tiny shred of tissue paper on top of the coins that came out of my purse. Delicately I lift it off thinking this may be what she is objecting to in her body language.
She continues to hold out her hand with the coins in it, looking down at the coins, minus the scrap of tissue, not saying anything.
She continues to look down at her hand.
“Do you have a concession card.”
“I just showed it to you.”
I show her again the cerise rectangle in my wallet.
“Is that January? Is that January??” Her voice is loud and carrying.
“Take it out.”
I do so.
“That’s January. It’s out of date. Three dollars eighty.”
“I don’t have it.”
“It’s three eighty.”
“I don’t have it.”
“It’s out out of date.”
“I don’t have it.” Later, I realize my tone, flat neutral, is exactly that of a Novacastrian.
There is nothing more to be said or read into it. It is the bare fact.
“Well, make sure you get the right concession card. It’s out of date.”
I walk down the bus aisle to the watching eyes of the bus, people are smiling. In solidarity and enjoyment. The small triumph.
The bus rolls on.

Adamstown, Newcastle.
Copyright © Ruth Skilbeck 2015