Since beginning work as an early childhood educator two years ago, I have been struck by the psychological difficulties of performing work that is poorly paid and poorly respected, but that encompasses big, life-giving acts of care, intimacy, warmth, and even love. An emotive dissonance, as Arlie Hochschild would call it. I have been frustrated by the ways in which the supposed feminine, non-technical nature of these life-giving acts is seen as justification for the lack of remuneration, the assumption being: that which is natural is free, or at least cheap.
A portrait of a a farm worker (one in a series) by Tia Kass, winner of the 2018 Fair Australia Prize – Cartoon.
Jeff is doing the school run for me today. I’m wondering where he is, if he’s going to want his usual teeny-tiny black coffee in a giant mug, when, just as we’re sitting down to breakfast, he knocks on the glass patio door and hauls it open. I pop a ristretto pod into the coffee machine. He rubs a hand across his bald head.
‘Hey,’ he says, pointing to my coat. ‘I know that coat.’
‘Yes,’ I say, ‘I got it from you. Well, from your shop.’
‘How long did it take to arrive?’
‘Less than a week.’
‘New collectives, old struggles’, the theme behind this year’s Fair Australia Prize, is an attempt to encourage creative, literary and analytical work that gets to the heart of these questions. This year’s winning entries meet the challenge and they reflect the real diversity of the contemporary Australian working class – from a migrant farm worker with a talent for graphic design to a poetic construction worker to a PhD candidate dealing with shift work in hospitality to a musician and early childhood educator grappling with childcare in the Paris Commune.
Text’s new edition of Helen Garner’s 1977 novel Monkey Grip is an opportunity to revisit the book’s influence on Melbourne. In addition to being widely considered a classic of Australian fiction, Monkey Grip is frequently referred to as an iconic ‘Melbourne’ novel. Certainly, it is a novel absolutely grounded in and shaped by place. For Nora, the narrator and protagonist, it is the locus of the social encounter and emotional intensity on which the book’s narrative depends.