The Sociology of A Place To Call Home Part 5
by Sandshoe (Honshades)
A home is more than a house.
Rogernomics is the economic rationalist theory and policy named for the Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas. Not everybody shares my view Rogernomics created a tidal wave of poverty and displacement of people who were the most vulnerable from their homes.With them went their poor neighbourhoods where the living was already straitened by low incomes and welfare payments. Reports of penury affecting the isolated and vulnerable Maori communities in the north of the North Island escalated rapidly into tragic reports of dire and deadly consequences. Health and medical practices and small stores closed their doors.
One of the greatest impacts on New Zealand was the removal of protectionism core to New Zealand’s being able to sustain its manufacturing industry that otherwise could only be destroyed
by flooding an economy with goods made in labour markets where wages were a relative pittance. Destroyed they were. The significant clothing industry that provided New Zealand considerable prestige went offshore. Economists will point to the reduction in the national debt and alternative industry growth.
The finance market was deregulated. The New Zealand dollar was floated. Australian money did not convert as a given as ours had with, untold here, more New Zealand dollars than Australian. I cannot believe when I reflect on it the percentage in my memory is real, formerly ours to pocket. Newspaper reports lauded the growth of the finance industry and its heroes who were the infamous yuppies. New Zealand was the first stock market in the world to open and, I was to later learn at first hand, did breathing an optimism not shared by sceptics.
A country is more than the sum of its economic parts.
Health care costs soared in the 80s when a user-pays principle was introduced and again the qualitative line between health and illness that includes the concept of health care and a government that is humane crumbled. I was hard hit by it. My closest neighborhood friend has told me in very recent years when I
returned to New Zealand for a visit I disappeared from her ken. I had no concept I did desperate in the ensuing struggle for an income and a living becoming sparer and sparer as inflation as well that soared in the 70s drove prices for utilities through the roof, add the sale of public sector facilities and add the impact of GST.
On the most immediate plane of my concerns, I wanted to return myself and the children to Australia. Every advisor demanded I follow through and remove us but without providing proper advice. My self confidence was critically low so I was unsure how to. My husband’s distress without a question was manifest in regard to separation. I faced as well the double standard of discrimination that the lawyer who was responsible for managing the detail of our buying the house automatically absorbed him as a client to manage the detail of the sale of the house and as well the intimate details of his separation. I telephoned the lawyer, which was one of my first renewed moves to establish dignity. He who had been such a gentleman I admired was no longer the man I had thought so very highly of when we met. He persisted in his attempt to reject me and my call. I persisted that the complexity was I faced potential dealings with his office result of the issue of the ownership and sale of the house. In an impassioned frame of mind, I assured him his excluding me from his office because he had blatantly absorbed my husband’s take on the issue of our separation as if it was a verifiable fact in law and moral fact did not change the blatant discrepancy. I had been denied equity and ease of access to that office. I blurted to him I was devastated by the way I was received on the phone and how highly I had thought of him.
That changed nothing in his demeanor. I drew a breath and provided a rapid fire and unmistakable true-heart account of the way I was living from the date of my announcing I was
separating from my hubby who I tried to live with for a period from the date of my announcing I was separating from him. The quality of life for six weeks and content of what was said to me regardless I met it with the patience of a martyr was killing me by rising degrees. That the cost of the kitchen was a factor was wrecking in its effect on me. I was to look at the hinges of the cupboard doors that they were displaced and going to fall off. Look at them. Look at them. The finish in the kitchen was abysmal. I was a joke. When his colleagues asked him how my writing was coming on, he said he cringed … cringed he repeated … in embarrassment.
I had an affair during my visit in Australia that was not the reason for the end of our marriage, but a symptom. In retrospect I cannot imagine any other outcome. The subject of it was an occasional reference of my husband’s instead focussed on reciting every evening on his return from work a litany of crimes I committed that were specious relative to the value I
invested into our lives. Nothing I had ever been or done that was successful was attributable to me, but to him. I was nothing he raged without him.
Some of the consequence of separation of our marriage arrangement was catastrophic on him I was left in no doubt. In the same period I learned as much as anybody could about the mental ill health of domestic violence. I secured insights into my own behaviour towards his compromised position with a large family of children in previous years and to my confusion were not referred to, my heart breaking as his rancor grew, I processed, increasing attempt to exercise tolerance of his distress. I internalised and thought.
I stayed far beyond my use-by date and withhold details I believe it is unlikely he has repeated in another relationship, more especially his circumstances changed. His new partner was a medical professional and advanced her qualifications becoming highly qualified. I wrote a letter to him before our separation when he traveled away for a conference and the reason he did not acknowledge it he told me was it was boring. I have no doubt an account of weeding an entire property in preparation for his return and I imagined enjoyment is boring by comparison with in future inhabiting a medical professional’s ideal world in companionship with a medical professional earning an income before having two more children.
The lawyer was quiet at the other end of the phone. He was listening and taking on board the desperate current then circumstance. I blamed nobody. I was telling the story. I arrived at the final word and broke down in a wave of exhaustion and
traumatised tears. I rarely cry until I sob. Another irony of my experience was the lawyer’s response likely saved me from what surely was imminent collapse, my life. His tone of voice was unmistakably kind and accepting of me, the human. He soothed me out of a deep font of sincerity he was sorry to learn of the family’s troubles. He thanked me for telephoning. He said quietly that if I was able to make myself a cup of tea and sit down with it, he agreed I was on sure ground I saw potential it was an issue of equity. I knew it likely he would advise my husband at least continuing managing the details of other than the sale of the house for both of us on an equal footing was a conflict of interest. I recall my husband coming home and the expression on his face. He asked had I spoken with the lawyer. I cannot recall if I admitted I had, but believed I would have simply said yes. I was thankful I had to deal with not the least further inference of recrimination he had to establish a relationship with a different lawyer’s office.
The first property I rented suitable to house 5 children was hard to find and grotesquely expensive. Electricity costs were soaring due to the removal of subsidies. The policy plan of Rogernomics was a thesis most regrettably, even as government corporations
were privatised, that trucked in all the implementations of change and the dismantling of what was a functional social welfare state.
Combine the increasing difficulties I did not foresee with the discrimination I experienced in an age no-one spoke of domestic violence least named it.
Before I left the marital property with the children the first time, the children and I went to see a medical professional who became agitated when the children and I were grouped in his surgery where I described the acute level of distress the family was suffering. As a consequence I developed a terror of medical presentation for any reason when he looked at me entirely confused and rejected my being there by the pronouncement I recognise in light of experience as shocked confusion, “What if your husband comes to see me and tells me a different story.”
I was too intimidated to pronounce the error what did it matter if my husband attended and told him a different story. Were that to eventuate, it was a medical practitioner well advised he was obliged to treat a family in a circumstance of serious breakdown with a raft of social problems including penury it had added to the woes of travail for a country in deepening crisis. The same
diversionary outcome was a later result of attending to a hospital having persuaded one of the older children she attend with me willing to describe a drug and alcohol problem. The attending practitioner’s eyes blazed as he drew his enormous frame and bulk up to judicial height over her to chastise we could not have you young people behaving like this.
I had gone in the period of separation with the children to a women’s shelter so crowded we lay across beds to sleep to fit all the women and children escaping domestic violence rising as the disease it is does in any circumstance of mental health distress, no one can tell me not exponentially in circumstances of the deepest poverty and mental deprivation. Passing a mirror I saw a skeletal frame and a woman with eyes that were so large I saw they were paralysed in a stare of fear. I had not recognised myself.
I sat down in my first ever group of women sharing their experiences as functioning barely as anything but unpaid domestics and by chance I was seated at the furthest end of a
semi-circle from where the first woman introduced herself and a sense of her despair.
Out of a direct quote from online: in 1984 20,000 women and children in New Zealand sought help from one of…34 refuges.
Each woman in the circle where I was no longer alone in 1986 told a story of living with a sense of extreme deprivation because of the poverty of her home and its cultural or religious mores or because of fatigue, social pressures, isolation. I was normalised. I was safe. Only in a much later retrospect did I recognise I felt safe for the racial diversity and that a larger number were Polynesian women who were immigrants. When it came to my turn, the facilitator announced to me by way of opening my presentation that of course, I was married to —— and I would not understand the experiences of the women who spoke before me, that for example I lived in comfort. I quietly described myself without rancor including the wind howling through the gaps in the structure of the house on the side of a hill and my isolation as a migrant woman with a large family, the hours I had worked, what I had invested and learned. That a social worker could deliver and direct such a crude assumption by way of a summary judgement at anyone who was a client they did not know but who looked as broken as I did would only defeat me still if I was not the experienced ageing woman I now am.
The effect however was I found myself painfully shy with the women on an individual basis. I was relieved for myself as equally for the children my husband’s lawyer persuaded mine
my husband would leave what was still at that difficult stage of the issue of housing the marital home so I could remove the children from the shelter and live in the house alone with them. My husband’s anxiety communicated through the lawyers was fear for the children they would be exposed to and contract any one of a multiplicity of childhood contagions that incidence of was rising in New Zealand at an alarming rate, especially the result of overcrowded housing.
The first property I rented suitable to house 5 children was hard to find and grotesquely expensive. Electricity costs were soaring due to the removal of subsidies. The policy plan of Rogernomics was a thesis most regrettably, even as government corporations were privatised, that trucked in all the implementations of change and the dismantling of what was a functional social welfare state.
The social welfare system shut down and excluded me because I had said I intended to return to live in Australia. I was refused an income as a supporting mother of five children. The Australian government at its inner city office refused me consideration citing the New Zealand Government responsible
as long as I was resident in New Zealand. My status as the wife of a professional whose place of employment had paid all the expenses of family relocation to New Zealand and it appeared on paper generous support on entry attracted to me discrimination. For many months I went by way of a lone and long bus journey into the city to stand in an unemployment cue to secure a government payment of the dole it was deemed by the New Zealand government I was allowed.
I witnessed violent and desperate scenes in the Department of Social Welfare result of people suffering blatant hunger they described in dramatic outbursts of anger. I recall myself angry and frustrated, hungry and deriding the behaviour of a counter clerk rejecting my attempt at application, telling me to come back in a following week to apply again for payment. You stood
in a queue until you were issued a number and called and processed. You were issued a cheque you took to a designated bank and cashed so nothing was convenient and you carried money you had to guard with your life. A woman whose obscure original nationality confused me she was employed in the position she was while I begged for considerations for the children like clockwork was eventually assigned to me as a case manager. Her sense of superiority frustrated me like a sword. I had to endure her as one might a blank wall until I realised her name was perfect for caricature, For the only time in my life I have I took to addressing her by the caricature, hesitating, and correcting myself before I proceeded with my repeated application.
I attended her office and asked for a Statutory Declaration form. I announced I had come to advise I did not intend to return to Australia. She snapped, “You can’t do that!” “I retorted I just had and for her to now provide me a Stat Dec.
However, I was not awarded a Supporting Mother’s payment for a very long further time. Among other experiences that were rough particularly on the children I received a letter in due course telling me that when my youngest turned 5 years of age I was obliged to find employment. I was back otherwsie on the dole.
The children emerging from the shelter and post-experience of unhappy parents had to be persuaded to go back to school. The education system was suffering increasing stress that was critical for impoverished sole parents struggling with high costs of living and children run amok who were poorly supervised. I
was struggling with behaviour I found intolerable my husband brought with him into my life from erratic time to time and a legal set of commitments that were harrowing. I found myself increasingly better educated in ways I had not foreseen and one of those was I witnessed work done by sophisticated practitioners of the law that was terrible, cunning, mediocre, good, excellent and incomparable.
I began to seek every avenue in which I could be a client of any department to observe and learn the skills of presentation and negotiation through lived experience. I sought groups and associations where I could witness family interventions. I read books on the ills that beset us. I was developing advanced knowledge of crisis management. The tertiary studies I had done had provided me opportunity to understand the lived experience of being hurled into the formalities of separation when children are involved.
I began to understand and find myself. I held considerably higher qualifications as result of education and experience than the situation I was described by. When I changed my own lawyer I had the unusual experience of seeing in one office a group of lawyers swell in size keen to try to establish between
themselves in discussion and argument I could attend their offices as a client whereas they identified my husband had been for a short while a client. I would normally be excluded. Their eventual decision they could not offer me a place provided me a growth of self worth especially witness to the sincerity of their apology and regret. That I was sought for my skills in presentation and I have no doubt dignity restored me that I was confident to direct and beg the office of the lawyers I finally settled with to agree in accordance to whatever path would effect a final financial separation as stress free and immediate as possible.
They agreed without protest I would pay for items however trivial or menial in their perception a listed expectation was, that meant tools of domestic use I had bought in opportunity shops at retail value, half a sewing machine that was second hand and years old that was valued by my husband’s lawyers at the highest potential retail value, the children’s beds that were given to us when we were first in New Zealand out of a discarded pile leaning up against the external wall of an auction room.
I slept on a blanket on a floor and became accustomed to it.
Housing was the primary issue and establishing a normalcy.
Normalcy was a struggle and I made innumerable mistakes I would not repeat. I was started on a learning curve.
I was appointed to my first full-time position in 1987 at the age of 37. Irony it was 1987 and I stepped after a few months in my first position into the high powered and stressful world of the deregulated finance industry. I found myself capable and equal to the demands of work in both high powered environments. The market was volatile and unstable where added to my responsibilities was a client base that was substantial and vulnerable. Having studied Economics at High School stood me
in stead for the study I had to accomplish next. My knowledge of human behaviour was a factor in market analysis that was confident. I was considering scheduling to sit broker exams.
We were especially a family unaccustomed to my long absences from home. I was working critically long hours. Home circumstances were chaotic. One night walking to the bus through deserted city streets I realised the children were neglected and my health was deteriorating. I volunteered the care of the two younger and small children to their father.
In the interim I fell into rent dispute with the landlord of the second rental property I moved the family too that was Local Council housing.
My subsequent experience was of a roller coaster as the finance industry bucked and bolted and crashed before the end of the year even as the daily paper I had worked for dismantled its manual methods of production and discarded staff in favour of the innovation of digital technology.
Choosing to illustrate families break down and that their circumstances unstable to begin with are circumscribed by the quality and affordability of their housing I have found the chronology out of sync in places and gaps in the story that is personal history only because there is an emotional enormity attached to the task of recreating a period of social history as lived experience.
Choosing to include insight into the end of my marriage is a result of the work of Rosie Batty, champion and advocate of the imperative we attend to domestic violence in whatever form it evidences in Australia.
In 1987 I joined the ranks of homeless.
To finish Part 4, I quote from online New Zealand History (Nga korera ipurangi o Aotearoa) out of a chapter titled ‘The 80s’ and as well some contemporary figures on housing in New Zealand.
By the end of the decade there was a net annual outflow of more than 30,000 with nearly 60% of all Kiwis moving overseas, included many young Māori, heading for Australia.
It is thought in New Zealand today there are 24,000 homeless in Auckland. In 2016 the population of Auckland was 33.4% of New Zealand’s population. Auckland is the destination of local migrants and incoming. Regards a demographic of population density, understand 70% of Auckland is rural and 90% of Aucklanders are urbanites. Population density is 1,210 people per square kilometre.
The rise of rents in particularly Auckland since 2013 where it was said in a news item recently the base rents start around $500 … and I have said of my experience in 1986 rents were astronomic … suggests the number of homeless in New Zealand must be on a dramatic rise well in excess of the statistic in 2013 (published 2017) 1 in 100 New Zealanders was homeless.
to be continued…
Christina Binning Wilson