Be it ever so humble, there’s still no place like home

A dwelling made of bricks, sticks or even a tiny tent can be a home – but not nobody should be forced to live in one, writes Rebecca Levingston

Oct 26, 2022, updated Oct 26, 2022
Many Australians are being forced to live in tents, or even worse, as the Great Australian Dream becomes increasingly like a nightmare. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, File)

Many Australians are being forced to live in tents, or even worse, as the Great Australian Dream becomes increasingly like a nightmare. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, File)

You know it’s serious when the port-a-loo arrives.

That’s how I discovered the builders were ready to go on my neighbour’s house.

For months last year I had been watching grass on vacant land grow and get mowed until finally the lone yellow Tardis showed up on site. I felt excited for the family … but it’s a been a long, slow process.

The slab got poured in January. The frame was delayed but eventually took shape. Walls went up, bricks seemed to take forever, windows never arrived. Tiles are in, I think, but lights and plumbing are connecting in slow motion.

It’s an agonising wait for the family who visit most days and look longingly at what will one day be their dream house. It’s now unlikely they’ll move in before Christmas.

Master Builders Queensland tells me that building time has doubled from what it was pre-covid. A single storey house used to take 18 weeks to build – it’s now more like 36 weeks. Ditto for two stories – from 24 weeks to the best part of a a year.

Short on labour, timber and time, the profitless building boom is hurting everyone. The Great Australian Dream is taking a lot longer to come true.

I’ve been thinking a lot about houses recently. I met a woman who lives under a bridge and the closest version of a home she has is a tent. It’s been raining this week and I worry how she’s coping. No toilet until the local public loos open at 7am. No privacy.

Surprisingly, much pride. She keeps her tent in immaculate condition. A few clothes, toiletries and a blanket folded neatly sit near her pillow. She joked that her bedroom and lounge room were shared and that I was welcome to sit on her “verandah” while we talked.

A flap of canvass that gets zipped in at night is her front door. It’s scary when she sleeps. The noises, the strangers. Sometimes violence. Her Great Australian Dream became a nightmare.

I met another woman who slept in her car. Mental illness meant she couldn’t work. She couldn’t afford rent. She didn’t know where to go. So her front seat became home at the age of 52.

People tell her she doesn’t look homeless because she has beautiful, shiny hair. We both reflect on how ridiculous that sounds, She manages to find a shower occasionally and takes pride in keeping herself clean. She dreams of a home.

It’s hard to rent a place when you don’t have a current address. Refuges are full or frightening. She tells me men visit offering a place to stay in exchange for sex. She’d rather sleep in a car or on concrete.

Last week the Queensland Government held a housing summit to figure out how to put a roof over everyone’s head. This week the Federal Treasurer promised to build one million homes by the end of this decade.

The last official count of people experiencing homelessness in the “lucky country” was the 2016 census that showed 116,000 people without a permanent place to call home.

How did it come to this? And can we fix it? The Great Australian Dream reimagined.

I’ve been watching one other home take shape these last few weeks. Built by bird, not human. Stick by stick from the mouth of a white faced heron. I’ve become quite attached to “Heri” who swoops in every afternoon and teeters about in the backyard looking for spindly building materials.

I feel unusually emotional about it. He grunts and I call out hello. It’s a painstaking process to carry the individual sticks up to a nest I can’t see in a gum tree. We all want a place to call home. It’s still the Great Australian Dream.

When will it become a reality for all?



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