Around 1961, due to an acute housing shortage, my family lived in Bradfield Park, near Lane Cove. It was an old RAAF World War II base that was used as a migrant hostel for new arrivals in Australia, and for Australian families in urgent need of accommodation.
It was this time at the age of eight that I got my first job as a paper boy. To get the job I had to purchase an old wicker pram, which I bought for a few bob from a local charity shop on the hostel.
I would go to the paper shop early on the weekends and load up the pram with newspapers. I was issued with a leather shoulder bag that contained change and a small box of cigarettes to sell. (Believe it or not at eight years old I was selling cigarettes to residents of Bradfield Park.)
The tricky part of this was that I had to pass by the migrant hostel that adjoined the housing commission hostel. Although the migrant hostel housed new Australians from many countries, including Italy and Greece, there were a lot of English immigrants.
In those days there was no political correctness, nor was there any overt loyalty to Mother England, at least certainly not where I lived. There was a rivalry between those who lived in what we called the Aussie Hostel and those from the Pommy Hostel.
Small scuffles (or what we called wars) sometimes broke out and it was a brave boy who would venture into the Pommy precinct without being invited.
My paper round necessitated that I had to walk directly past the Pommy Hostel. As fraught with danger as it was, at eight years old I had a responsibility to deliver papers and sell cigarettes to my fellow Aussies.
Daily I would do so, and on one fateful day, I was set upon by a gang of teenage Pommies, who were hunting in a pack. They punched me in the face and despite my efforts to protect my cargo, stole my money bag and cigarettes.
Of course, I told my father who, along with a deployment of Aussies, went into the enemy barracks, but were unsuccessful in getting either the money or cigarettes back.
Experiences like this certainly taught me resilience, empathy and armed me with a tenacity and strength that has served me well both in local government, advocating for those who feel victimised and attacked and also in my role as a community worker assisting people facing homelessness and hardship.
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