Richer or poorer, how do we deal with it? 73



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I wavered about watching an episode of “Struggle Street”, then gave in and watched it. My reaction at first was horror, at the level of bad language the sad state of houses, and the daily grind of dealing with drugs and ugliness. Then it started to make me think about what being poor means, or what it can mean. How some things never change. How from no fault of their own people find themselves in serious trouble, it can happen to anyone. Life deals some harsh blows.

I know how it was for my grandparents. Grandad had a good job as a young man, he was a glass blower by trade. He had a young family, a tough but hard working wife, and five children. Then came the depression and life changed. They lost their youngest daughter to measles, and then he lost his job due to the economic downturn. Life became truly awful with often no food to spare. So what did he do? He became a lamp lighter and later Gran cleaned cinemas. But also during that time they kept a perfect house and garden. Gran was a scary woman, I was eight when she died, but keenly remember the visits to her house, everything shone; she scrubbed her home from top to bottom, floors gleamed. I was scared to walk on those floors. Grandad made sure there were tomatoes and potatoes in the garden, always something to eat, he helped in every way he could and they kept their heads held high. He wore a clean white cravat, even if his suit was a trifle shiny, and he polished all the shoes for the family. The pawn shop often had his best suit for a week until they could get it back. Mum said they always had ‘Sunday’ clothes, even in bad times.

That was the difference, they had such PRIDE, being poor was already bad enough, so they had to make themselves appear better, not show their poverty. It seems that is what we have lost, that sense of pride in ourselves and our homes, not the puffed up pride of the wealthy or the superior beings who feature in the gossip pages, but the simple things.

Doing what you can with the home you have, not trashing it because you are frustrated. Washing the children, and trying to keep the home reasonably clean. I know sometimes the sheer effort involved is enough to crush even the strongest soul, and long hours of grinding work can wear you down. We have had the good days and the bad in our lives, times when we could go out for meals that cost a frightening amount, and then times when we make meals from whatever is in the fridge. I can deal with both. On returning from New Zealand I had one good dress to wear, I had not bought many clothes and had three children under four, so that dress was washed and ironed and back ready to wear several times a week. I walked miles with children and liked to look clean and presentable when I went out. The pride my parents had instilled in me was the strength I needed. Perhaps it is just the drugs some use now destroying that strength, and then it seems too much of a struggle to even try?

I had an aunt who lived near a railway line and her one topic of conversation wash the gleaming white of her washing, which she compared with the grey efforts of those less industrious in their laundry. Although it was funny, it was also an obvious example of ‘standards’ of a job well done, perhaps the only thing she could feel that elusive pride in. When I look at the rubbish strewn gardens and trashed homes it makes me long for the days when people cared a bit more about their neighbourhood, and about themselves.


Tell us, do you agree with Jacqui? Did being poor mean something different years ago? 

Jacqui Lee

Jacqui Lee is 75 and now retired but the last ten years or so have been some of her busiest. She worked at a hospital, where she took several Certificated courses, she cleaned a school, helped to run two conventions, wrote short stories, started painting, and in fact is never bored even now, "I honestly feel we are lucky to still be upright and breathing, and my motto is, Remember yesterday, dream of tomorrow, but live today. I love fun, clothes, food and friends."

  1. This was the days before television came along and in some parts of the country, before the telephone was installed. I remember my younger days well as my mother was always cooking and cleaning the house. You could almost eat off the kitchen floor. But times were tough but we learnt at a very early age, that pride could never be ripped from the foundation of our family life.

    4 REPLY
    • Very true Stuart…. That was my immediate thought….. So many distractions today to maybe encourage some laziness. I remember my childhood with pride although nobody had much money.

    • Same for us. We had very little in the 60’s and 70’s. But we did have a small clean home, food on the table (even if we did have to trap rabbits for it) and a wRm bed to sleep in
      Our holiday was 2 weeks in our tent at Christmas.
      Soft drink was 2 bottles between the whole family and only at Christmas.
      It has made us grow up knowing that if you want something go and work for it .

      1 REPLY
      • That was the lesson were learned early, that work was the only way to better yourself. I know today that is falling apart, but I also know people in our small town who find a way. The lessons we had gave us strength.

    • Looking back I realise we were poor but at the time I didn’t have a clue. Our house shone too and my father worked two and three jobs and grew all our fruit and vegetables. We also had rabbits and chickens for eggs and meat.

  2. I agree with you totally Jacqui.i feel that pride and effort is sadly lacking in many parts of our lives

  3. But isn’t it so much easier to whine and blame everybody else for your problems! On the the other hand I know people (both black and white) who have realised they only have one life and just get on with it. Even if that means having to have more than one job and growing a garden in the back yard. One widow, left with nothing after the death of her partner had 4 part time jobs.

    1 REPLY
    • So true, and the lady who got four jobs, needs every support. Hope she gets it Max.

  4. Well said Jacqui, self PRIDE in their appearance, home, children and behaviour that’s the missing ingredient, wonder when the Australian people lost this trait? Some people will stand proud at the Dawn Service or wave the flag on Australia Day and then go back to a yard full of rubbish or filthy home and some people will say we can’t tell people how to live….why not?

  5. i watched that show, struggle street what a joke, mobile phones drugs, smoking, always had money for those, when times are tough you pull your belt in and make do, growing up we never had much but slept in a warm bed with a roof over head and never went hungry,

    1 REPLY
    • Very true, the basics first the things that really matter. Food and shelter.

  6. This article raises questions for me. Is it correct to assume that a lot of poor people today lack pride? What factors of today’s society contribute to lack of pride? How can people be supported so that they gain self worth? Is it maybe lack of self worth rather than lack of pride?

  7. i watched that show and i didnt feel a bit sorry for them, always had money for the ciggys, drugs or booze, when times are tough you pull your head in and live with in your means, ;people need to take respnserbility for them selves stop blaming every one else and get on with life, i did it tough when i got married but learned to live with in a budget, never asked any one for help, you cant live a steak life when you onmy have mince income

  8. Sai remember being poor too. Our mother was hospitalised a lot when we were little (weeks and months at a time), and the bills were horrific – no Medicare or health insurance, so there were many nights when dinner was a bowl of Vegemite broth and a slice of bread, and if we were really lucky we got a few spoonsful of custard made with powdered milk. We had very few clothes, and what we did have was handmade. But we always had a bath every night, our clothes were clean and tidy, and we were brought up with a very fair hand. Dad worked at fairly low paid jobs, and could have received more on unemployment,but refused to go down that path, and until Mum was able to go back to work full-time she took in dressmaking and did relief teaching – often having to catch 2 buses to get to school, and having to take me with her as there was no childcare in those days (I sat in the corner of the classroom), and the neighbours couldn’t look after all of us. There were no toys at Christmas time from our parents – it was new pyjamas and perhaps a brush and comb. When we got old enough to notice, it really irked us that our rear neighbours on welfare got hampers of food, heaps of toys and clothes for Christmas.
    But yes, there was pride in providing for your family, and not expecting the government to support you. The only thing our parents got was child endowment, which was pitiful, but at least it helped.
    Today the mentality is one of “I am owed”, not one of “I will provide for my family”. What should be considered luxuries that are earned through hard work and saving, are now considered as an everyday right. Until we stop the handouts and teach the young that you need to earn the things you want, they will not respect what they have, or be able to take pride in achieving a goal.

    1 REPLY
    • A really great reply and illustrates what I was trying to draw attention to. You must be so proud of your family.

  9. These people never the good basic foundation that many of us had, my family went through the depression here too. My grandfather had market gardens and supplied the whole church congregation with fresh fruit and vegetables. But it all balanced out, when my mother got married everyone they knew chipped in their sugar and flour coupons so my mother could get married, and have a wedding dress and a cake.The untidiness and the mess is just a symptom of the disease. These people have given up hope

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