Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I don’t get it, why people grumble about back packers.

I hear it all the time: “They come in here, expect this and that and so on. We tell them it isn’t happening but they keep on coming.”

Who are they? Where are they from? 

“Oh, you know, that accent.”

Which accent?

“The one that’s around now.”

It’s backpackerism. They are denied individuality, separate cultures, identities and language groups, just one big pack hiding out in the bush waiting to enter town and annoy unsuspecting and innocent business people hell bent on staying alive and in business.

Here’s a secret: I was once a backpacker. Most of my friends were once backpackers. Nearly all of us came home, got degrees, found solid work, made families and now own houses in quiet suburbs, or just out of town on small bush blocks.

I met my partner and wife, also a backpacker, while working on a kibbutz in Israel, a hot bed of hard work, hard talk and soft socialism. We are still together 35 years later.

Whenever I see a backpacker I see us, and know full well most of them are on a journey of discovery, both internal and external, and that if we are kind to them they will remember us, tell their friends what a great time they had, maybe come back with their families when they have more than enough money to spend on fancy accommodation and fine food, and maybe they'll even stay and make important cultural contributions.

It happens. My partner is proof.

Monday, October 29, 2012


FIFO seen as way to keep best staff

Peter Kerr, 
The West Australian 
October 19, 2012
WA business leaders could be forced to make greater use of fly-in, fly-out workers to retain their best talent.
Gary Martin, business academic and chief executive of the Australian Institute of Management WA, made the comments yesterday to 16 of WA's most prominent business leaders at the quarterly Australian Institute of Management WA/ West Business CEO Voice roundtable.
To retain the best talent and overcome acute worker shortages, he said future leaders would need to find ways "to facilitate workplace flexibility".
This might be to make more use of current options including part-time work, fly-in, fly-out arrangements ...
Here's what I think of FIFO
When I was a kid growing up in the south-west of Western Australia there was a mining town just up the road. Even though it was already in decline and most of the fifteen hotels in the main street were long gone, it still frightened my mother. 

She would say: “I don’t like all those men drinking in the hotels when they should be home looking after their families.”

That town has had more than one resurgence over the past twenty years but most of the workers have never lived there they drive in and drive out. As a consequence, the town remains near death.

My family and I saw plenty of mining towns in the 50s and 60s. We had cousins all over Western Australia and often visited them. In the late 1950s I took a trip to the Goldfields with an uncle and auntie and the difference between my small, rural hamlet and the bustling aggression of Kalgoorlie and Norseman was palpable. In those days there was no FIFO but the towns were dominated by men and no visit to Kalgoorlie was ever complete without a drive through Hay Street’s famous line of brothels.

A recent Four Corners program (May 2, 2012) concentrated on one small town in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, Moranbah, population 53,000. The town suffers from a population explosion, with services designed for its original expected population of 23,000. Now it is burgeoning with an excess of single men, or married men on their own.

Over the last two years the Mackay-Moranbah regional crime statistics make startling reading: common assault up 7%, domestic violence order breaches up 26%, sexual offences up 16%, and rape and attempted rape up 96%.

Developers in Mooranbah are tearing down family homes and putting up units. Shops are closing. A town is dying, yet its population is exploding. 

Mining towns have been dominated by men since the Roman Empire and before— and, like our ancestors, we continue to get it wrong.

When I was twelve my parents packed me off to boarding school in Perth. It was a family tradition my father had gone, as had his father before him. My older brother was into his third year when I arrived for my first. Those five years were the first in almost a decade living with men, in shared accommodation, in boarding houses and single men’s quarters.

One thing remains clear to me about men all too often they are not good at living on their own or in large single-sex groups. We know from many reports on the education sector in recent years that boys generally study better with girls in the classroom, yet we fail to plan our mining towns while understanding that men are better off with women in their homes and communities.

I lived in all-male shared-houses throughout rural Western Australia and worked for a year as a bank clerk in Papua New Guinea. Our lives in the men-only boarding houses were full of misogynistic banter, random sex with local women and the occasional brawl. After more than a decade living an all-male lifestyle, it took me three long-term relationships to recover from the damage done and to settle down and learn a number of necessary truths about the other gender.

In my first novel, Boy on a Wire, I have explored the impact an all-male community can have on pubescent boys. My second novel, To the Highlands, explores a male dominated expatriate community in all the horror of its misogynism, racism, and brutality. It is not surprising then that my early experiences would fill me with dread of a FIFO lifestyle.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Doust Files - Albany Advertiser 25/9/201


A lot of people who once loved Germaine Greer now think she is a grumpy old woman. Having recently spent four days in her orbit I feel ready to offer a few impressions.

Germaine and I attended the Brisbane Writers’ Festival where she gave the opening address and proceeded to ridicule the festival, Brisbane and all Queenslanders.

Twitterdom during Germaine’s talk was littered with counter insults from audience members.
As for me, I was amused. I even laughed out loud on three occasions. Why? Because whenever I see Germaine on the smaller screen or hear her on the radio I am forever reminded that she was in the Cambridge Footlights Review with a plethora of English comedy greats.

I always imagine that Germaine is having fun with us, and at our expense. Even if she isn’t, it makes no difference to me.

Two nights later she sat next t Bob Katter and on the same side of a debate: Is reading the bible good for you.

Bob and Germaine argued yes, it is. I’d like to reveal  Bob’s take but I can’t. His incoherent ramble was unintelligible. Germaine, however, was funny, eloquent, wise and, at least once, a bit silly.

But there’s more.

I watched Germaine walk and it lead me to believe that she is in a lot of pain and the day after her opening address I was lucky enough to share a table with her in the writers’ green room.

Over lunch and conversation I decided she could be a bit grumpy, somewhat arrogant, condescending and, yes, a bit of a know it all.

For all that, I still look forward to her next comic turn.

And, by the way, this is my final column. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Doust Files - Albany Advertiser 11/9/201

[Penultimate column for The Advertiser]
Before I leave the house I am very clear about one thing, that when I travel things will go wrong.

This same understanding applies to life, but it seems the odds increase dramatically when I’m on the road.

It came as no surprise then, to hear my name announced over the Virgin PA: Would passenger Jon Doust please approach a Virgin staff desk.

There were only two of us at Gate 35 waiting for the Brisbane flight and she didn’t move from her seat, so it had to be me
Here’s what happened: somewhere between the security screening and the Virgin Lounge my wallet dislodged itself from my person, was retrieved by another person, relieved of its cash component and dropped to the floor, where it was retrieved by yet another person who took it to a Virgin receptionist.

All of that is, of course, guess work. All I know is someone gave my empty wallet to a flight attendant.

Whenever I lose money I always like to assume that the prick who took it was a prick who could do with a dose of luck and a quick cash injection. 

But I also believe pricks shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it, so I contacted the Federal Police to see if they could assist an incompetent goose from a state with more money than theirs.

Two polite, heavily armed chaps turned up and we engaged in a meaningful and constructive conversion during which one of them said: Not much chance of getting your money back, Jon. This sort of thing happens all the time. 

Then we had a good old laugh at my expense and the current state of Australian cricket.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Doust Files - Albany Advertiser 28/8/201

I grew up just over the hill from the bush up the back of our place in Bridgetown.

The bush was a place I visited whenever I came home after boarding school, travel, or life in the Big Swirl, Perth.

My grandfather, Roy Doust, grew up in the bush, played with the local Googliup  mob, hunted, fished, camped, observed.

He remembered well the Googliup people laughing at his ignorance, but by the time I was born he knew more than most.

It was him who taught us the evil ways of the kookaburra, the bird introduced from Victoria to clean up the much feared snake population. Roy claimed the kookaburra was the greatest destroyer of native fauna, second only to humans.

We hunted a range of animals, rabbits, kangaroos, fish, but nothing got our blood boiling like a kookaburra.
In 1972, while sitting on his veranda, Roy said: “We’ve gone too far, Jon. They have to stop clearing the bush now.”

If anyone knew when the time had come to stop, it was Roy, his bush loving mates and the Googliup people.
Yet here we are, 41 years later, still clearing as though leaving tiny pockets of bush will satisfy the birds and the bees and the rest of us will soon forget we ever had a fight on our hands.

Roy loved Albany and once swam for his life when he was washed into the ocean by a king wave. It is my firm belief that the plan for Bayonet Head would look like another nail in another coffin to Roy and on his behalf I hang my head in shame, for too many of us know not what we do.

The Doust Files - Albany Advertiser 14/8/201

I’m exhausted. No idea why, because nothing ever happens in this town. 

I grew up in Bridgetown in the 50s and 60s and nothing happened then either.

Sure, there was the golf club and the goings-on after the 18th. Then there was the repertory club with its great pantos, plays and all sorts back stage and the annual apple harvest along with the Apple Festival that went with it.

The annual show was amazing too; and the Soap Box Derby at Easter was always spectacular, particularly the year Big Johnny Jones knocked that old lady for six.

As for us, we rolled down hills in 44-gallon drums, played cowboys and Indians, swam in the Blackwood River, made dams during floods, caught trout all over the place, shot rabbits and other edibles, but, to be honest, nothing much happened.

Sport was big too, with the Nelson Football Association bringing the region’s towns together once a week to bash each other senseless.

But apart from all that, nothing, not a thing.

In the 70’s I wandered around the planet, tried a number of other places where nothing went on, Israel, South Africa, Europe, then I moved to Perth. What a dump, not a thing happened in the entire 28 years I lived there.

Finally we settled into Albany. Why? We heard it was called “God’s waiting room”, but it has turned into some kind of hell because the last couple of weeks we’ve been out every night, having dinner with friends, at the Entertainment Centre, diving into the Great Southern Ocean, or catching live music.

Sunday night we fell into lounge chairs, looked at each other and said: What is it with us, everywhere we go, nothing ever happens?