Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Secret Men's Business

   Secret men’s business. You heard about this in the Crocodile Dundee movies. No women allowed in these bush meetings , also called corroborees, although there are Secret Women’s Business corroborees that men are not allowed to witness. Who knows what goes on at these campfire meetings? I may never know. But then, I don’t get out in the remote bush that often, either.

   Most of us live in cities and this requires a shift in venue and likely a shift in focus. Introducing the Men’s Shed. Not usually a small structure made of the corrugated metal and housing lawn mowers, weed wackers and garden tools like we all had in the corner of our backyards growing up. Men’s Sheds are solid buildings, large enough for all of the big boy toys. And the occasional female who crosses its portal as I recently did on a trip to Geraldton.
   The Men’s Shed in Geraldton, Western Australia is an impressive boys clubhouse. A former liquor store, it is a cavernous place with many rooms. Fronted by a sitting area and kitchenette, each room exposes an impressive collection of wood working machines, table saws , neat storage areas, hand tools stored in an old walk-in refrigerator and a camp cot at the back in case of emergency. The 43 members , aged 25-82, occupy spare hours chatting, wood and metal working, yard work in the community and the occasional men’s health chat with a local nurse.

Viking funeral ship
    Their finished pieces – as small as ipod holders to chairs, cabinets and even guitars- are largely for sale and they take special orders. On display during my visit was a small scale Viking ship. A widower promised is wife a proper Nordic funeral pyre and commissioned the Men’s Shed to make the faithful reproduction. Her ashes will have a proper send off.

Blokes being blokey
    I’m afraid no secret men’s business was conducted while I was there with Bob, 72, giving me a tour of the place. Storming the Bastille, as it were, produced no secret revealing results, but it was an interesting snapshot into the pastime of Australian men.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Babysitting: A social study (and quick way to $$$)

    Remember babysitting? It was likely your entry into the money making world. Never mind that it paid significantly less than minimum wage, we were wage earners and that was cool. For awhile. Then we learned that minimum wage paid three times as much per hour and couldn’t wait to older and get a real job. Imagine: $2.35 to a walloping $2.65 an hour for non kidstuff kind of work! I started out at 75¢ an hour looking after the rabbi’s kids. My older sister, Anne, raked in 35¢ an hour on her first sitting jobs.

    It is so not the same today. Babysitting rates have surpassed the minimum wage. Greedy teens or is the minimum wage shockingly low? Admittedly, the avenues for teens to earn money seem to dry up as traditional jobs like paper routes are done more and more by adult contractors (‘paper adult’ sounds odd) or automation. A quick poll of friends in North America through a social network site shows that rates generally well exceed the Federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr. One friend with a single child is getting away with $6/hr but most are coughing up $10, even $12 for college kids. A much-older-than-13 former colleague wailed that some of these rates were more than he was currently getting paid.

     Curiosity turned into a social study when I started asking about babysitting rates here in Perth. I expected the situation to be exactly the same but with a higher rate. The government minimum wage here is $16 an hour. And well, teenagers are teenagers the world over, so the rate must be higher, right?

    Sort of. Polling people at church on Sunday came up with a big zero. None hired outside help. Junior was always watched by grandparents or the occasional switched favors with other couples. So I started asking people I did not know in church and they said pretty much the same thing. Well, all these folks are church goers and maybe that makes a difference. I accosted a few pram pushing people on the street and guess what? Pretty much the same story there also, although one suggested that I look up a particular babysitting website. Doing so came up with mature adults asking for $20-$25 /hour depending on the time of day. Not a significant jump from the $15 asked by one parishioner 20 years ago when he babysat as an older teen.

     What does this mean? Do Australians have much closer knit, highly supportive families than back home or are they just too cheap to pay the neighbor kid to watch theirs? One parent posited that maybe babysitting was an American thing, but her husband was not so quick to draw such a conclusion. Western Australia is heavily populated with people from other places and not all would have moved here with extended family in tow. Those folks will have to choose between not going out or shelling out .

     Whatever the situation, I’m brushing up on my diaper changing skills. Just in case…