Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Federal Labor Announces Omphaloskepsis Strategy

Canberra, 1st of April, 2085

The Federal Labor Party has announced an exciting new strategy for winning the next federal election.

Called 'Omphaloskepsis', opposition leader Anthony Albanese hopes that nobody will notice that this is the Greek term for 'navel gazing'.

"It's an exciting new direction for us. In the past, we've always been far too focused on ourselves and our own silly factional fights, and I think the people of Australia are sick of that. By rebranding this age old practice, we believe that we'll be able to convince people that we're doing something different."

Ghostly hand of the past Gough Whitlam was at the launch, as was the more recently created shade of Bob Hawke. Also in attendance was the Labor Shadow Minister for Zombie Memories, Paul Keating.

"I think that continually trading on past glories and being more focused on our own power struggles than the needs of ordinary Australians is just the way political parties have evolved in this day and age. Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis," he said, before being expelled from the gathering for practising obfuscation in the wrong ancient dead language.

Labor diehard Kerry Definitelynotamarxist said, "I think this is going to revolutionise the way Labor conducts its business."

The launch was accompanied with fireworks and much rejoicing.

Additional reporting provided by the vengeful ghost of the original aims of the union movement. 

Morrison Government Legislates to Approve Compulsory Exorcisms

Canberra, 1st of April 1956

The Morrison government has used the political capital accrued in its shock election win to push through controversial legislation requiring at risk youths to undergo exorcisms. 

"Given that we're cutting taxes and therefore the funding for programs for the criminal underclasses nobody cares about, we feel that this alternative solution will be leaner, more efficient, and more in keeping with Australian values," the Prime Minister said at a press conference to announce the bill.

"We in the Liberal Party are a broad church of churches, and world leaders in public private partnership. Just look at our successes with Westconnex, and all those tower blocks our donors in NSW keep building. I support a rugby team and I like a pint," Mr Morrison was keen to point out.

The proposed program will see youths who are engaged in antisocial or criminal behaviour being referred to a priest, faith healer, or other holy man/woman in order to have the demons causing this behaviour expelled from their earthly shells. "No shamen or whatever, though," Minister for Being a Depressed Potato Peter Dutton was quick to assure the public. "We're a Christian nation, so it'll all be stuff broadly falling within the umbrella of Christianity, and the other two religions we kinda barely tolerate."

When asked how he felt about the new legislation, Darren, aged 8 said, "I was the fangs in the night. The fear beyond the firelight. I was the terror of man and I will prevail. You will worship the earthly form of Hattusas! Get off me, priest!"

"The great beauty of this program is that it costs nothing. And it contains all the crazy people with all the other crazy people so we can stop worrying about them," said Mr Morrison.

When asked about whether his own personal faith had influenced this policy change, Mr Morrison replied with marketing and management gibberish.

A future program aimed at housing the homeless in The Eternal Kingdom of Heaven is slated for consultation later this year.

Additional reporting provided by the great god Ba'al Enchridion. 

Monday, 1 July 2019

Hong Kong vs China

I know why the Brits handed over in 1997. The world looked different then. The USSR was a 'sick man' empire, China looked for all the world like it was liberalising, and besides, they'd paid for the New Territories and all the infrastructure that went with it. And besides, stealing territory and works from yellow people is something the British have only ever done when it was convenient, and not necessarily with any reference to what was right. 

But I'm not here to talk about territory or sovereignty or morally questionable deals designed to resolve morally questionable situations. I'm keen to use my privilege as a person with a Chinese face to say some stuff that other commentators might fight shy of. I'm keen to talk about colonisation - about some of the positives of colonisation, in fact. And about the moral duty of a parent. I know, but bear with me.

Speaking of parents, whenever my mother referred to people from Hong Kong, she'd always derisively call them 'Hongkies' while carefully explaining that they didn't like to be called that to their faces, and that they weren't really Chinese. Not like us Singaporeans. As it turns out, both of these things are true. Most Hong Kongers prefer to be addressed by their names, funnily enough, and they really are very very different to the mainland Chinese - about as different as we Singapore types, but in different ways. 

In Singapore there is a pardonable skepticism about the British and their legacy. This is evident in their having a whole damn museum dedicated to the day the Brits abandoned both us and the Aussies who stayed to defend us to the tender mercies of the Japanese. But that's all ancient history now, apparently, if we're to judge by the collective memory of the west. But we'll get back to that later. 

In Hong Kong, what I've always seen is a sort of cheerful mongrel dog. There is, of course, Chinese signage everywhere. Yum Cha is the preferred breakfast, and there's an abundance of distressingly (to my Hakka self) Cantonese manners. The way they yell out "M'goi!" repeatedly and in steadily increasing volume to get a waiter's attention. The way everyone's whole life seems to be solely about stuffing their faces with food and buying shiny stuff (sound familiar, quai lo?). The casual cruelty to foreign maids, the obsession with exam results and authority, the general insensibility to big abstracts like 'materialism' and 'nihilism'. All these strike me as classically southern Chinese, but that's mostly because of my own racism. 

But there's another and equally visible side of Hong Kong, and this is the colonised side. One of my earliest memories of Hong Kong is Maxim's, the cake shop. Sure, there were weird green things, and the sponge was either dew on spider web diaphanous, or seven egg house brick, and nothing in between, but this was a shop full of recognisably Anglo-French tea cakes, mechanised and weaponised with Chinese efficiency (it takes less than ten seconds for a Maxim's worker to pick, box and giftwrap a three tier sponge cake) and matcha powder. And then there's the 'Western Breakfast', which consists of a sad piece of fried bacon-shaped ham, a cup of tea with a whole sliced lemon crammed into it, and fresh eggs deliberately prepared to look like powdered eggs. Apart from the lemon, that's basically a British or Australian army breakfast. 

But where we most see a culture is in its film and literature, and in this respect, Hong Kong is a goddamn miracle. Deep social commentary, films about families corroded by poverty, knife-wielding youths destroying themselves and everyone around them through global mindless hatreds worthy of Compton or any other urban battleground, weird non-conformist love stories, and a kind of ebullient, deluded individualism - the hero will prevail, love will overcome, freedom will ring... so far so Disney, right? But then there's that beautiful added touch that everyone I met in Hong Kong called  cinematic villains 'The cool guy'. And that wonderful Chinese lack of insistence on a happy ending - sure, it'll be a moral one, but we like our morality to cost blood - lots and lots of blood. 

And there's the rub. The British Empire - the west in general - has not been kind to people who look like me. Whether it's force feeding us addictive drugs, creating racial theories which define us as subhuman, actively treating us like nature's dogs and butlers, or simply stealing our shit and then looking the other way when we're in distress, such has been the lamentable track record of the white man and the yellow man. But contact equals transference, and in Hong Kong we find a person who looks Chinese, but somehow, woven into the fabric of their being and world view, are some ideas that are extremely precious to us here in the west. Individual liberty. The right to spend the rest of your life sharing pictures of your cat while scoffing overpriced bijou foodstuffs. Defiance of the tyrant. 

Sure, territorially, and by every other sensible or 'Realistic' measure, Hong Kongers are Chinese of a sort. Always have been. But in the only way that's really important, they're your people. Our people. They are, deep down, westerners incapable of understanding the self-abrogation of freedom, the essential servility and stupidity of the mainland Chinese Communists. A people who cannot - simply cannot - understand why they should have to give up the real estate in their heads to a bunch of guerilla peasants who spit in the street. That's right - they're the spiritual children of the west. 

Which is why every July 1st they protest. Which is why if we look away again, if we once again fail to act as the protectors we've always falsely promised them we'd be, they're going to die like flies. And as the weird surrogate Frankenstein parents of Hong Kong, the western world cannot, in good conscience, look away any more. 

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Conversations With Evil Men

I've spent an embarrassingly large portion of my life consorting with very bad men. Countless mad-dog-loner career criminals, staggering numbers of addicts and alcoholics, some of the kind who had poison for blood and hate in every thought, quite a few who claimed to be killers, and a very few who actually were. There was the guy who methodically knocked out every single one of his neighbour's teeth with a ball-peen hammer because he was late on a two hundred dollar loan repayment, the man who had spent the past seven years of his life sustaining his heroin habit by pimping out his girlfriend, another man who sustained his lifestyle by dint of extreme physical and psychological intimidation of his own mother, and a very softly spoken African of my acquaintance who had a little row of wooden figurines - one for every life taken - on his boarding house windowsill, and who was careful to explain that his collection did not include those he had killed at any distance greater than five metres. "It doesn't count if you don't see the light fade," he'd say, before donning his Dominos uniform for another night of delivering pizzas to pampered English kids.

The usual portrayal of men like this (and they're almost always men) is pretty two dimensional. The most sympathetic of fictional villains is generally, though not always, written by a person who at best has sympathy for them, but little to no real understanding. There are some stand-out exceptions. Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy spring to mind as authors who seemed to really understand what it is to be a bad man. Shakespeare, strangely, also makes that list. But the overwhelming trend is to hollowness - a sense that the villain exists as a construct to serve the righteousness of the hero, or the anti-hero, as the case may be. In fact, in stories which contain an anti-hero, this cyclostyling of the villain is often at its most egregious. The less 'heroic' the hero is, the more 'villainous' the villain.

In fact, the whole idea of villainy is prey to classist prejudice. The word itself derives from a French word for 'peasant labourer', and it's telling that of all the various terms for antagonists - blackguard, cad, devil, etc. - the one which has stuck in literature is 'villain'. There is a strong sense that the villain is somehow lower than the hero, that their desires are degraded and base, their motives carnal and worldly. One can see, in this binary categorisation, an echo of deep Christianity in the idea that simple human desires for power, sexual gratification, wealth, or revenge are somehow less worthy than more high-minded goals, and therefore deserving of defeat and punishment in the artificially just universe of literature. What's interesting about this is the fact that villains, like monsters, serve as unflinching mirrors held up to the very same qualities and desires which exist in heroes. The lust of the villain is offset by the purer spiritual yearning of the hero's love. The urge to vengeance in the villain exists as a counterpoint to the hero's high-minded service of justice. The villain seeks wealth and power as a bulwark against the world. The hero seeks it as a comfort and resource for their loved ones, or to perform some altruistic goal. The difference between the two is painfully subjective, and film and literature provide us with the illusion of objectivity by creating artificial flaws in the villain. Fanaticism versus faith. Random violence versus measured force. Fear and hate versus courage and love. But faith must always contain a seed of fanaticism, force isn't really possible without exactly that same rotten core of violence in the heart, and courage and love are practically dependent on fear, either as a thing to be overcome, or of the loss of that which is loved.

I remember sitting in a living room with three very bad men. Two were younger and one, let's call him One Shot, was older and acting as a sort of mentor for we three. It was the shank of a very long night, and we were enjoying that contemplative space in the grey of the dawn, sipping on the dregs of the alcohol supply and, for the moment, utterly relaxed in the strange liminal zone between an all-nighter and a three day bender. Moments like these can be very dangerous, as they are so often confessional. It's important, if you're young and inexperienced, that you be very selective of the people you do this with, as the confessions of some men can be fatal to the one acting as priest. But I digress. We were swapping stories about moments of fear. I don't mean stage fright or starting a new job or any of the other petty terrors of ordinary life, but rather the kind of fear which paralyses - moments when the balance of life and death hangs, pauses, and holds its breath for the kind of eternal brief second peculiar to existential danger. There were some excellent stories being told, of cars tumbling over and through roadblocks, kitchens awash with blood, knives and guns and mobs pummeling lone bodies with fists and bricks and bars, but I don't really remember them. Like movie villains, there was a kind of familiarity - a kind of sameness - to them all. Each one of those stories could have been mine or theirs or practically anyone's.

The one that sticks in my mind is One Shot's. I think I'd just finished telling some half-lying, mostly embellished story of being saved by dumb luck - the kind of story which is a compression, an indication, of a lifetime's worth of unmerited escapes. Immediately after I'd finished, there was one of those particular moments of silence which usually preceded one of One Shot's rare and quiet pronouncements.
"What about you?" someone had said. "I'm guessing you ain't scared of shit."
"Unconditional love," said One Shot, which, as you'd imagine, confused us enough to shut us all up. "The most scared I've been in my entire fucking life," he explained, "was when I had this woman. Longest I ever been with anyone. And I remember one day when she turned and looked at me, and all I could see in her face was pure, unconditional love."

I remember understanding this instantly. The terror of being suddenly naked before an image of yourself you know you can never live up to. A threat which cannot be defeated by anything in the armoury you've so painstakingly built, because the teeth of this enemy exist within the self. This has always struck me as the essence of evil men. Slice them how you like, at bottom they are formed by fear and necessity and pain, and so often the source of these is coded deep into the bones of a society which seems to simultaneously create, revile, and crave their existence. I've always wanted to catch that in a script or a novel or a story - in anything really. Mainly because there is a yawning gap in the portrayal of villains, and this gap is shaped pretty well exactly like that sudden revelation of One Shot's humanity. And because a gap in our literary portrayals usually corresponds with a yawning, egregious gap in our understandings of the world and of each other.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Democracy Has Always Been Elitist

The etymology of the word 'democracy' is often rather sloppily rendered as 'rule of the masses', on the strength of the word 'demos' meaning 'the people' or 'the masses'. This isn't really correct. A deme, in ancient Greece, isn't some amorphous population group but rather an administrative unit. I'd say that crossing the word 'electorate' with the word 'village' or 'town' (in a corporate sense) would be the most accurate way to understand what the term refers to. Which means that the idea of democracy, in its earliest and purest form, is more about systems of power than it is about some Marxist interpretation of popular rule.

And when we look at how Athenian democracy actually ran, we can see the template for all future kinds of democracy as well. In essence, once we get past the central idea, the actual operation of democracy is rooted in limitation or control of the franchise or, to put that another way, placing limits on who can vote and who is qualified to stand for office. In the Athenian system, this was done through the simple mechanism of citizenship. Some historians argue, in fact, that the whole idea of citizenship was invented to serve this franchise limiting function of democracy. The requirements for Athenian citizenship are actually quite draconian by our standards. It initially boiled down to ethnicity, with potential citizens needing to prove some generations' worth of residence in their particular deme, and/or membership of their tribe. Women were famously excluded, as were slaves, and so were many of the poor by virtue of needing to have completed a term of military service - the equipment and free time required to participate in the hoplite formation were beyond the reach of most poor people. Many of the most bitter constitutional disputes in ancient Athens had to do with citizenship - to whom to grant it, and what its requirements were. In the period following the Persian wars, the morphing of Athens into a naval power meant commoners completed military service at rowing benches, and foreigners flooded into the city. This caused quite a lot of Athenian heartache, and was solved by creating yet more controls in order to limit the influx of new citizens. So it can be seen that the first and purest democracy was primarily preoccupied with limiting or controlling access to it.

We can also see this pattern in communist countries, most of whom think of themselves as democratic. China is a good example, as at local and provincial levels they have elections, and they also have a kind of ersatz (though not well understood) parliamentary, or at least assembly, based system. In China, which is nominally or socially communist, we get the strange anomaly where membership of the Communist Party is actually quite exclusive. Political officers are present in most schools, and their role is to look for the most able and most doctrinally sound students in order to mark them for potential party membership in the future. Sure, the upper echelons of sovereign and executive power are not directly accessible by the people, but on many coarse measures, China is about as democratic as we are. Sure, it's an oppressive oligarchy, but the simple fact is that they are able to claim, without looking completely insane, that they have democratic mechanisms, and these mechanisms are very similar to the ancient Greek ones in that they primarily exist in order to confine actual power to an elite while simultaneously encouraging popular involvement and participation.

But by far the most predominant and egregious example is representative democracy - basically the system in use in most of the western world. The vast mass of the people are effectively cut off from the actual running of their country. The actual mechanisms of executive power are surrounded by a constitutional ring of steel, with the state holding more or less absolute monopolies on the enacting of legislation and the use of force. Every few years voters can choose the people who are going to rule over them, but like the hoplite formation, there is in fact an effective property qualification for office. Basically, the amount of time it takes to run, the licence fees, the cost of media - even simple stuff like the cost of corflutes and posters - make it highly impracticable for poor people to stand for office. Sure, it's possible in theory, but it's far far easier to run for office if one has access to property, leisure, and significant sums of cash. And then there's the attitudinal aspect. We need only look at the recent election of Zali Steggall in Warringah - correctly hailed as a breaking of the deadlock of the two party duopoly of Australian politics. If we look unflinchingly at what exactly made her viable and attractive as a candidate, some uncomfortable truths emerge.

What made Zali attractive? Well, let's look at the aspects of her which were used to promote her. Firstly, there was the name recognition and moral connotations of her past as an elite athlete. Then there was her highly successful career in the law - an elite profession which is further seen as eminently suitable owing to the fact that politicians are lawmakers. And then there was the perception that she was 'experienced at high levels', and talk of her more than average intelligence. Put simply, the thing which made her most attractive as a candidate for democratic office was not the 'anyone but Tony' aspect - multiple candidates have run against Tony to near zero effect. No, what made her viable in the public's eyes was the fact of her belonging to an elite - to several elites, really.

This kind of limitation of power is, at its best, designed to actually facilitate rather than debar popular participation in rule. But the important thing about a system of power is that it needs to be understood. I see a disheartening number of people with little to no understanding of how their state is actually run, and therefore of actual and existing avenues to the creation of change and the application of leverage. This mass ignorance creates a situation where power is more and more monopolised by special interest groups and lobbyists, who are probably the people best acquainted with these systems. And it also creates the very dangerous situation where the people cease to understand how they can interact within the system, which inevitably leads to apathetic non-participation, or a kind of frustrated impulse to either bypass or destroy the systems they don't understand and feel (technically correctly) are disenfranchising them.

Both of these are recipes for disaster, and it's actually down to each individual citizen to fix this. We can blame fatcats or media or alien lizards as much as we like - the simple fact of the matter is that we ourselves are ultimately responsible for the types of government we have, and we shape this reality through a combination of what we consent to, and the extent to which we can be bothered understanding it.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

A Day in the Writing Life


Go back to sleep, idiot. I can't. Yeah you can, you're tired. There's a difference between tired and sleepy - you can tell by the spelling. Fuck your semantics. Shut the fuck up. Let's at least have a smoke and think about it. It's quiet out. What the fuck did you expect? Hey look - there's a paddy wagon. Do the thing - the thing you do for practice.

The orange lights of the hospital precinct form an inviolate dome under the black void of the urban sky. Prowling at little more than walking space, a paddy wagon noses its way round the corner, the single eye of its halogen spotlight outraging the dark secrecy of odd nooks and corners. From this vantage its progress is little more than a hard white cube, smooth and cool to the mind's touch, underpinned - punctuated - by distance-softened tyre roar. 

My god that was shit. Did you want to over-write that any harder? Is your next birthday card gonna read 'Felicitous Anniversary of Natal Phenomenon'? Shut the fuck up.

I wonder what's happened. Should I go ask them? No, you're only a pretend journalist. Fuck you. If copy pasting viral tweets and then describing what's in them in different words is journalism, then I'm a fucking Pullitzer nominee. Whatever - you go down there and see how you like spending the rest of the day in lockup. Do something productive. If you're not gonna achieve anything, you may as well fuck off back to bed. Let's compromise - do some research and see if you fall asleep.


Why don't people who make history documentaries ever tell the truth? It's like a congenital disease. I'm sorry Mr and Mrs Jones, your child has History Channel Syndrome. I'm afraid you're going to have to spend the rest of your life listening to urban myths about Hitler. I wonder if I could write something about Hitler looking for the Holy Grail. It's called Indiana Jones, you fuckwit. Oh yeah. What time is it? Twenty eight minutes until I can get a coffee from that joint down the street. I kinda regret automatically deflecting all their questions - I'm really interested in them now, and now it's too late to re-set the terms of the  relationship. Do something productive. You could do up notes on your research. Don't be fucking stupid. Get off Facebook. In a minute. You know, you should try a stream of consciousness post. You'll have to take a selfie for it. So? What the fuck do you care if people think you're a narcissist? Will they be wrong? Just remember to look at the camera and not the screen.

You have got to start smoking less. It's ridiculous. You are aware, aren't you, that every time you head out to go somewhere you ritualistically roll a smoke whether you're craving one or not? You're stupider than that chicken that dude taught to spin round for food. What was his name? Google it. No - I refuse to outsource my memory to the internet. There's a story in that surely? About control of your memory being taken away? It's called 1984, fuckwit. Oh yeah. Do something productive. Fuck off - I'm on smoko. And besides, I'm getting a coffee.

You are such a shiteing fucking coward. Why don't you just tell them it's served too hot for an espresso? You tell yourself it's cos you can't be bothered, but you don't get coffee anywhere else, so on what planet can't you be bothered? I've got a message. Again. Oh look - research to do. That's gonna take about three hours. Three hours of aggregating shit for brains stories about Trump, the ultimate shit for brains. But at least it'll get you a hundred bucks that you'll have to chase for three fucking months. Brilliant.


Eight bucks. You can definitely make a meal for eight bucks can't you? Depends on the price of onions. Just fucking steal one. No. I don't do that any more. Fuck this IGA is incompetent. And now this fucking child in an adult costume is looking at me like I'm an arsehole because the marked price is five bucks and it scans at seven. I know it's only two bucks, but fuck you it's retail law. I really shouldn't have said that out loud. Oh well, there's always the Asian supermarket. They still like you there. And I got my two bucks, so that's greens for the next few days.

Do paedophiles remember their childhood crushes differently? Of course they don't - they're pre-sexual themselves, you fucking idiot. I wonder if there's a story— it's Lolita, fuckwit. Oh yeah. Do something productive. I gotta pick the music to write to. Do something productive. Yep, I just gotta put on a load of washing. Do something productive. Okay, okay, I— DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE YOU USELESS FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT!


I like food.


Students. You've got students. Which means talking to people who are actually listening to you. I wish they wouldn't - it's quite a lot of responsibility. Don't be a such a fucking coward. Now shut up - it's time to get in character. Your time is over for a bit.


That novel's going really well. You do realise, don't you, that you've just basically written Master and Commander in a different setting, and because you didn't have the fucking mother wit to realise this, you've now got three irrelevant, tone deaf, structurally redundant chapters right at the beginning that you're gonna have to move or change? You fucking retard. Fuck you.

Red Dead is awesome. It's really sad, though. I wonder if there's a story in that. Haha - it's called Red Dead Redemption, fuckwit. Haha, shut up. You did well today. Don't get conceited - it's just a day.


You need to sleep. No I don't - there's a difference between tired and sleepy... Yeah, you're looping. Time to go to sleep.


What did I just say about going to fucking sleep? Shut up shut up shut up shut up I'm trying to sleep.

Whatever. I'll reset tomorrow.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Strange Days

It's one of those depressing overcast days when the weather seems to hesitate frustratingly between fine and stormy without being able to make up its mind. This might explain why Katie is having her third shot of methamphetamine for the day, or it might not.

She's crouched on a milk crate under a rail bridge. Scattered around us are two men and a girl who can't be more than sixteen years old. They're all grubby-faced, like children who have wiped their faces with dirty hands. The other three all watch the progress of Katie's injection with hard, laser-focused eyes. She stabs the needle into a black vein which bumps and knots its way down her forearm. Once it's in, she wiggles it left and right whilst pulling back on the plunger until a tiny dejected plume of dark blood reluctantly flares into the barrel of the syringe. Satisfied, she pushes the plunger home, yanks the needle out, and covers the bleeding puncture wound with a grubby finger. There's no real change in her face or demeanour as the drug hits her system, just a hint of satisfaction in her eyes as its tense lines relax slightly. I'm reminded of the expression of a footsore passenger who has finally found a place to sit down. 

"I'd offer you one," she says, "but I don't have a clean. And you don't look like a tweaker anyway."
"You could offer me one," says one of the men. 

This is Ken, who I think is a partner of sorts for Katie, but this is difficult to determine as Katie is a prostitute and has offered me her services free gratis several times already while Ken was present. 

"Why? You'll just scab it off me anyway," quips Katie. This kicks off a long and circuitous conversation about who supplies more drugs to whom, a dialogue which peaks and troughs in emotional intensity with the regularity of a sine wave. While this is going on, Katie is fiddling with a drug bag which contains just under half a gram of crystal. She's got an old set of pipe-cleaning equipment - the kind with the scoop and probe - and is painstakingly lifting out individual clumps and placing them in the plastic spoon she's just used to mix up her own injection. When she's done, without really breaking the flow of her wrangling with Ken, she looks over at the young girl and says, "There you go, love." It suddenly dawns on me that this girl is her daughter. 

Once this is done, the others come forward with spoons, Ken first, still half-heartedly arguing with her but clearly dividing his attention between her and the specks of rock she's dropping into his outstretched utensil. Katie sees me watching and says, "My kids always come first." The others nod and make sounds of emphatic agreement. I watch them punch their blunt needles through their scar tissue into their veins and then carefully hide their syringes away about their persons.

"You can get done for self-administered, you know," says Ken. "A lot of people don't know that."

He's talking about the fact that it's a criminal offence in NSW to self administer a prohibited substance. The maximum penalties are a fine of up to $2200 or a two year prison sentence. Generally, a user found with a needle or a bong will be charged with this offence and strongly advised by the police to submit a written pleading. This is convenient for the police, being administratively easier, and they will often sell it on the basis that the accused won't have to attend court. The problems with this are that not attending court is a very good way to be sentenced to the maximum penalty in absentia, and that the vast majority of magistrates will not accept the simple presence of paraphernalia as conclusive proof. Some magistrates will even accept addiction as a defence, as there's a provision under the law for necessity or duress. A person with a strong support network and money for representation is most likely to get a caution or community service, but as with many aspects of the criminal justice system, the heaviest penalties tend to fall on the poor and friendless. 

Once they've all had their hits, they become far more talkative. There is a brief period where all of them are talking at once, three of them to me and one to himself. Ken is earnestly telling me a story about being beaten senseless by nightclub bouncers who lost patience while attempting to move him away from their corner. He had elected to meet his dealer there and then his phone had run out of battery. Unable to either explain this, or comply, they had dragged him into a nearby alley and taken turns kicking him in the head. He seems especially upset by the fact that they had referred to him as a junkie the whole time. "I'm not a junkie," he says. "I've never thieved anything in my life." 

Katie is showing me pornographic pictures on her phone and explaining the fine points of how to achieve the sexual positions depicted. "You gotta remember to clench your abs and plant your heels or they'll rip a hole in you," she says. "Men forget themselves in the moment, you know what I mean?" 

Her daughter, whose name I never discovered, is asking me an unbroken stream of questions. She wants to know what music I listen to, what school I went to, if I think she's pretty, what I think of bacon, if I've ever been arrested, what the law is surrounding strip searches - that's the only question she waits to hear the answer to. When I tell her what little I know, she then launches into a long and disjointed story about an illegal strip search she was subjected to at a music festival, concluding multiple times that "all pigs are pervs". 

The other guy, Cameron, stares at the sky and mumbles about finding spirit dragons in buried coffee mugs. "People don't know this stuff, but there's dragons hidden everywhere," he says at the end of every one of his brief vignettes.

"This poor bloke," says Katie eventually, referring to me, "we're all talking at him at once." There's general laughter, and Ken explains that it's not often they meet new people. 

"People avoid you if you look like a user," he says. 

I don't think that's true. My own observation is that beggars and users are basically invisible to passersby. Katie announces that she's got to get on again and invites me to come with her for "a bit of peace and quiet". We wander off down the street at the slow amble that's almost universal amongst the long term homeless. She links arms with me, explaining that she's "holding" and that I look respectable - she wants to use my respectable appearance (I'm dubious about this) as a sort of aegis to avoid being searched or, as she puts it, "verballed" by the police. As we walk, she apologises for her sexualised conversation. 

"I know what it's like," she says."I didn't mean to harass you or anything. It's just I've always used sex to get affection. That's all I want, really - for people to like me and to show me some affection. I know there's other ways, but it's the one I've always gone with. I guess it started with my old man. He started fucking me when I was about nine or ten, him and his mates. It went on for ages, but I was just a kid and I didn't know how to stop it. Eventually, it just became normal for me, you know? Well, not normal - it can never be normal - but I kinda just accepted that that's how to be with men. And it's never gone away."

We reach the corner where she's appointed to meet her dealer, and I take this as an opportune moment to say goodbye. She thanks me for listening and tells me to drop by any time. It's silly, but the fact that this conventional politeness is exactly what one would expect from a middle class housewife strikes me as extremely odd. But of course, why would Katie be any different in this respect? There's no reason at all. 

"Are you sure you don't want a fuck?" she says as I'm walking away. I politely decline. "Yeah, I don't blame you," she says, her hand unconsciously covering the track marks on her forearm. 

Names have been altered at the interviewees' request