Lismore. Monday, 7.15am
The boom gate is down, the Subaru is idling in front of it, and the trailer-load of rubbish is vibrating in the rear-view mirror. The motor ticks after the long run into Lismore from my shack under the cliffs.
If you haven’t got money in this society, you’re buggered.
I know that’s saying the obvious, but every now and again it staggers me just how deeply money reaches into our lives.
Of course, you can’t get much without money.
A modest Lismore home for a young couple just starting out, their education debts still warm, will cost more than a quarter of a million dollars. They won’t have that sort of money of course and will need to take a loan and then work for most of their lives to service the debt. Banks dribble with anticipation; governments smirk with control.
(In some societies, a young couple gets a home built for them by their village on the day of their marriage. It’s a house just like everybody else’s. It costs the couple nothing except cups of tea and some barbecued meerkat ribs. Obviously it’s one of those primitive societies where young people are valued. Oh, how we have progressed…)
The bloke in his high-vis shirt is smiling out from the Lismore Recycling and Recovery Centre (aka The Dump) boom-gate booth, waiting for money. I’m looking in my wallet. There’s a twenty, a fiver and a ‘free coffee’ card with nine holes punched in it.
The Widjabul people, who lived around here long before The Dump was operating, could build a perfectly good shelter in a few hours. No, they didn’t have Bunnings but they had an environment which provided everything. They respected it for that.
They had no money. Lord knows how the Widjabul survived for thousands of years without a mining job and a high-vis shirt. They would have just laughed at the idea of working 9-5, five days a week, 48 weeks a year to pay for food and shelter.
I reckon the first people probably did a lot of laughing. And then they’d have gone fishing. In a few hours, in a bark canoe which had a little fire burning in the centre so they could munch on freshly steamed Richmond River cod as they fished, they would have caught enough tucker for their family for the whole day.
A toasted sandwhich costs $8 from my favourite Lismore cafe. And that’s with plain old tortured pig, not turkey or wild pigeon or even Richmond River Cod (which became extinct as hard-working Europeans choked the river with their business enterprises).
Nothing is for free. (Except for my next coffee, the tenth – and a freebie!) You can’t acquire much anymore without money. This I already knew, but now I’m finding out that you can’t even un-acquire stuff without money.
‘$36.50?’ I ask, looking at the small trailer of rubbish from my shack.
‘Yeah, mate. $36.50. Those three old tyres are $7.50 each…’
‘I haven’t got enough. I’ll keep the tyres.’
‘That’ll be $14 then.’
I give the bloke the $20. I will still have enough for a toasted sandwich when I have ditched my trailer of rubbish.
The bloke gives me my change and the boom gate rises.
Poor people pay interest on loans they must have because they’re poor. They pay taxes on the jobs they must have to pay the interest on the loans they must have. They even pay to take their rubbish to the local recycling joint they paid for with their rates.
If I was rich enough, the government would pay me to dump my tyres on the Barrier Reef.