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I wanna tell you a story

I wanna tell you a story. A story of a house and its history. A story of its building. Its problems. Issues.

community houseI wanna tell you a story of its rebuilding. Of the promises made. Of the restructuring and the re-checking. Of the new paint job that cost $10 000. Of the new kitchen and bathroom that now means cupboard doors and new shower. Of the over-costing. Of the big, big promises made, only to be revoked when proper costing is done and it’s realised there’s not enough money to do all that.

More than that, I want to tell a simpler story of a relatively uncomplicated issue – of a leaky tap and some plumbing problems and how they came to be repaired. A story that’s needlessly longer than it should be.

It begins, as you can imagine, with a dripping tap. Drip, drip, drip. It’s a drip that’s built up over days and weeks, slowly at first and now much, much louder. Its gotten to the point that its too much for the residents to bear. So one of them makes their way down to the shire council. She talks briefly with the woman at the desk about the issue. She is told that she needs to get a form. The woman at the counter grabs the form. The two women sit, filling out the form, getting the problem written down.

The form filled, the shire worker faxes it through to the city and tells the woman to wait a week or two – hopefully that’s all it’ll take. The woman walks back to the house and goes on with looking after the grandchildren, and painting, and shopping, and just sitting on country. The tap is still dripping but she knows it’ll soon be fixed.

A couple of weeks pass and nothing happens. Tap still a-dripping, she makes her way downtown. She explains the problem. The shire worker listens and then makes a call to the housing agency, who says they are getting onto it later this week or early the next. The woman heads home to the drip drip dripping.

One day she wakes and sees a plumber’s ute driving around the community. It drives around the corner and she gets excited thinking its coming to her. But it doesn’t. It drives straight on past, heading to the school. The plumbing there’s been blocked for a few days and the department’s sent out their contractors to fix it, she learns when she asks the shire about it. Hers is on the way they reassure her.

Two weeks later – a month and a half after she filed the complaint – the plumber’s ute arrives, having driven 300km out to the community. They replace the tap, which is too calcified to be operational. They find and fix a leak, and then the two whitefellas get back into the car and drive to town in order to be home before dark so they can drive out to some other community the next day.

Now, I wanna tell you this same story but set 15 or 20 years ago. It begins the same way. The tap is leaking. Drip, drip, drip. The house owner walks to the community council and lets them know. The council logs it in a little book, telling her maybe today or tomorrow, but no more than a couple of days.

The next day her nephew’s friend, a local kid who lives at the red house on the corner, comes with one of the whitefellas at the council and they fix it. Find the leak. Replace the tap. They then head off to fix something at one of the other houses on the community.

I wanna tell you a story that isn’t so sad. I wanna tell you a story in which the slow grind of bureaucracy is not dominant. I wanna tell you a story in which the most simple thing does not become an analogy for the larger troubles of the cultural clashes. I wanna tell you that story, and I wanna believe that I won’t have to tell you the other one again.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Scott Foyster lives in Mpartnwe/Alice Springs where he writes and collects stories to share. He is one of the editors of Wai, an independent quarterly national newspaper on social jusice and environmental issues around the country/region, and is also one half of Black Kite Press, an independent press that is currently working on it's first publication.

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