I’m an immigrant to Australia.
An ex-pat American, born in New York City.
Who fled the ‘greatest country on earth’ in 1970 because . . .
. . . of . . .
The assassination of John F Kennedy. . .
The Vietnam War. . .
The assassination of Robert Kennedy. . .
The shooting of Martin Luther King. . .
The drug culture that lead to The Manson Murders. . .
And to escalating crime. . .
Especially to the thrill killings by people not known by the victims. . .
And the race riots fuelled by hatred. . .
. . . all of which absolutely and unequivocally takes the gloss off of living in a big American city.
A pair of Magpies at sunrise
As a young woman, not long out of university, I love being a big city girl.
My last port of call in America is the nation’s capital, Washington DC. Working, at the time, for one of the loveliest institutions in America.
George Washington University.
Even though GW is an insular community, events around the nation jar to the bone when listening to them on the nightly news.
My dad suggests that if I want to continue to live in a big city, it might be best if I look for a safer place to live outside of America.
And Australia is my first choice.
And is still my only choice.
Australia of 1970 is a vastly different place to Australia of 2013.
I land in Sydney on a PanAm flight from the warmth of Hawaii into a cool, crisp July morning.
A Customs Officer boards the plane. Sprays us all with DDT. Smiles. And welcomes us to Australia.
And I’m immediately struck by the sheer craziness and laid back, laconic nature of its 11 million citizens.
Welcome Swallows sit on a wire to watch the sun rise
Those vibes are still imprinted on my brain.
‘She’ll be right’ is the rule everyone lives by.
Inflation is less than 4%.
There aren’t enough people to fill the job vacancies.
And just about everything you purchase in the shops is . . .
. . . Made In Australia . . .
Well known American, European and English brands.
Manufactured on Australian soil.
Today’s Telstra, known as Post-Tel, then Telecom, employs 60,000 people.
BHP, which has a finger in every pie, employs 90,000 people across the country.
CSR has never sacked an employee.
And small to large manufacturing plants are everywhere.
You can’t walk through the streets of Pyrmont or Ultimo without hearing the click clack of the knitting machines behind the brick walls of the textile mills.
Clouds billow up over the woolshed fence at first light
Darling Harbour is a dingy mass of rail tracks owned by NSW Railways. It’s the central marshalling yards and freight consolidation centre for Sydney.
Surry Hills is the centre of the rag trade.
Cars are bottle necked on its narrow two way streets. So narrow, cars park on the footpath and there’s only enough space for one car to pass through at a time.
Car horns blare in impatience.
Waiting for yet another rack of designer clothes, manned by a junior employee, hidden by the billowing fabrics, to finish weaving its way through the street traffic. On its way from a fashion house to a photographer’s studio.
Marrickville smells of leather from the shoe makers.
Botany smells of the chemical fumes from the tanneries.
Homebush smells of the tallow from the abattoirs.
The sky in the industrial suburbs is thick and smoky from the unclean air from all the dirty industries.
Ditto for the waterways that flow past these industries.
And the most serious health hazard of all? Untreated, raw human sewage is regularly dumped into Sydney Harbour by the Water Board, bobbing along with the swimmers at Bondi Beach.
Peter Rabbit has a quiet moment in the morning sunshine
It is a time of extreme disregard for the environment.
But for its citizens, everyone who wants a job.
Has a job.
The work ethic is paramount.
Does not mean everyone works hard.
Does mean that it’s important to . . .
. . .have.a.job. . .
The single income, credit card free, nuclear family reigns high.
The average wage is $55/week. Dad works. Mum stays at home. Have one car. A Holden or Ford. Little Kevin and Kylie walk or take a bus to public school. The family takes four weeks annual holiday every year.
And own their own home.
Home ownership is at 78%.
If you have a steady job, you can buy a house.
There are no apartments. No need for them. Couples couple early. Get married. Buy a modest house. Have children.
A Crimson Rosella nibbles on wild blackberry in the paddocks
Everyone does it.
A private school education is for the very elite.
The families from the eastern suburbs. And wealthy farmers.
Goods and services are purchased with cash. If you can’t afford it. And you don’t Lay-By it. You don’t have it.
Credit cards are yet to be introduced.
Swift change happens in the 1980′s when Paul Keating does away with the protectionist tariffs that support Australian industry and its workers.
Floats the Australian dollar.
And opens up Australia to ‘the level playing field’.
The greed is good era takes hold.
Credit is the new cash.
Making money is the new god.
Cheap imports into Australia from developing countries quickly swamp the shops.
And shoppers are seduced by the ‘Lowest Price Best Quality’ mantra that importers plaster over all their advertising.
A Willie Wagtail in the paddocks on my rustic rural fence
Mr and Mrs Australia embrace buying cheap with the same verve as John Belushi embraces cocaine.
And the retailers are suddenly gobsmacked by the mega profits they are making by buying inferior products, sans tariffs and import duties, from third world developing countries that pay their workers $1 a day. If they pay them at all.
And so easily resell them with such super high markups, they pinch themselves.
And the new mantra for OZ is ‘The Clever Country’.
Ditch the making of products that use brawn power in favour of industries that use brain power.
Leave the stuffing of tissue boxes, and all other menial tasks, to the less advanced countries to do.
The writing is on the wall.
Australian manufacturing, with its high labour and on costs, becomes an endangered species.
It starts out small.
As does all decimation of species.
Eastern Rosellas and a Magpie share the treetops
With one company loss at a time.
Until one day.
We notice that we make nothing worthwhile in Australia anymore.
Chesty Bonds singlets and Bonds Cottontails knickers move offshore.
Nissan and Mitsubishi car makers close down.
Blundstone Footwear – Since 1870, the boots on the feet of every farmer, are now a Chinese import.
And we become aware that we are no longer enchanted by cheap. And question the value of the ‘Made In China’ sticky label on the bottom of most things we buy.
And hanker for better quality. Made in Australia.
It’s like how we miss the budgie that flew out the window when we left its cage door open.
As with the decimation of all species, if the infrastructure that supports it is no longer there, the species can’t survive.
And that’s the state of Australian manufacturing today.
A paddock sculpture. Artist. Mother Nature
The infrastructure that supports the making of things no longer exists.
When we launch the Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover in 1994, all of its 13 components are made in Australia.
I still buy from my original suppliers.
But my makers are now importers.
And only the cover itself is still made in Australia.
My fabric supplier for my Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover has shrunk from occupying several square blocks of buildings in Surry Hills to inhabiting just one building. From warehouses in every major city to just one major city.
My choice of fabrics from them is now limited. And what we do buy is at risk of being deleted if we’re the only buyers of that line.
It’s no longer easy to make a prototype for a new product. The textile mills we turn to for fabric samples are closed down.
Spotlight is our best alternative.
And we’re not enamoured.
The eastern hills at sunrise on a cloudy morning
They got to where they are by importing cheap fabric. And closing down all the quality fabric shops. And the textile mills that supply them.
Because the public embraces cheap over quality.
The haberdashery and accessories suppliers have dwindled to less than a handful.
Choice is not part of the design equation.
Then there is the making.
From the moment we realise the Fitz Like A Glove™ Cover is a real business, we commit ourselves to making in Australia.
No where else.
And with the help of the Industrial Supplies Office of NSW, we find a sewing company in our rural region which employs men and women with special needs.
We’ve been a partnership since 1995.
Because my products are simple to make.
Which is why I can say ‘made with love and care in rural Australia by men and women who have a disability’.
This is not so easy if a designer requires advanced sewing skills and tricky assembly techniques.
A conversation today with the Chief Financial Officer of a fashion house in Victoria laments the fact that although they design here. And supply to their own retail stores. They can’t manufacture here because the sewing skills needed are hard to find. And the number of people required to sew their garments just doesn’t exist for the volume they produce.
Because the rag trade is no longer vibrant, sewing is a lost vocation.
This is confirmed by my sewing company.
Trying to find skilled sewers for the more difficult sewing tasks is frustrating and hampers their growth. And mine.
So as much as we now yearn for the good old days of ‘Made In Australia’, we have about as much chance of achieving this as 45 year old Nicole Kidman does of conceiving naturally.
But highly unlikely.
A huge change in mindset is required if we want to bring back manufacturing to Australia.
And the jobs that go with it.
The biggest change is . . .
We have to be prepared to pay more for our manufactured goods.
You and I don’t work for $1/day.
And neither do people who are willing to work in Australian industry.
A female Hooded Robin. Framed by arching blackberry branches
What we pay workers – that’s you and me – determines the price we pay for our goods and services.
Just as you want a quality lifestyle. So does everyone else.
If you work full time, your employer pays for 4 weeks annual leave. Sick leave. Public holidays. Maternity/paternity leave. Superannuation. And other costs that go beyond what employees see in their wage packet.
The reality check is this.
If you want to be looked after in this way, you also have to be willing to pay for these benefits when they’re added into the price of goods and services ‘Made In Australia’.
It’s hard to find a product made in Australia today.
And if you’re lucky enough to find one, the reason it’s surviving in the current retail environment is because it’s head and shoulders above whatever else it competes with. It’s never inferior to a cheap import. My experience, as a shopper, is that Australian made is now a very high quality, desirable option.
Every time you choose a cheap import over an Australian produced product simply because of price, you’re killing jobs in Australia for the next generation.
A Kookaburra in the soft light of first light
You’re also telling the market that you prefer supporting businesses that only pay their workers $1/day. A wage that I know you would never agree to work for.
The ‘level playing field’ is a myth. Australian industry cannot compete on price with countries that pay low wages and provide no safety net for their workers.
Australian iconic brands like Rosella and Letona go under because the price they have to pay for Australian grown fruit and vegetables plus labour costs is out of the question while the public is happier to pay for canned fruit and vegetables at cheaper prices from countries with questionable growing practices.
The use of human manure and dangerous chemicals to produce the food I eat is not an option for me.
And I opt out of buying these products.
But I’m in the minority.
Even Dick Smith, the champion of Australian made, struggles to put Australian grown and made products back on the supermarket shelves.
The decimation of the manufacturing industry is driven by cheaper prices and bigger profits for the major retailers.
Otherwise known as ‘The Walmart Syndrome’.
At a time when women enter the workforce with gusto.
Welcome Swallows roost in a Stringybark tree
Australia needs to create twice as many jobs to keep everyone employed.
But it doesn’t.
Millions of jobs disappear.
With ab.so.lute.ly nothing to take their place.
Let me explain the meaning of this.
When farm labouring on a big scale crashes in the 1800′s, because of the mechanisation of farm labour, the industrial revolution steps in and soaks up the farm workers seeking jobs.
World War II is the saviour of the depression of the 1930′s.
The dawn of the 21st century is marked by the sobering fact that children now grow up in homes where parents, grandparents and great grandparents have never held a job.
Families never before in financial strife turn to charities for food. And clothing.
What miracle is on the horizon that utilises brawn power to put millions of people back to work, today, in Australia?
A female King Parrot looking gorgeous
The technology revolution? So far, it sheds more jobs than it creates.
The mining industry? Is not the big employer the public thinks it is.
For every available job in the mining industry, there are hundreds of applicants.
Does not soak up every man and woman who wants a job.
Ask yourself this.
Are you prepared to make the sacrifices required to bring back an endangered species?
Are you prepared to pay more for better quality products ‘Made In Australia’?
Do you care if farmers get a fair price for the food they produce safely for us?
Does it matter to you if your fellow countrymen and women are in full employment?
The hills in the shadows of first light
Working a full 35 to 40 hour week. Not one hour a week, which is the current benchmark for being gainfully employed.
Do not be seduced into a false sense of security with the unemployment numbers.
4% unemployment does not mean that 96% of the working population works five days a week, 7 hours per day.
I’ll say that again.
4% unemployment does not mean that 96% of the working population is in desirable, full time employment.
It simply means they have some sort of employment. Part time being the current preferred status for employers.
The ‘working poor’ is not a myth.
Does it matter to you that not having a job affects the self esteem of most people in your community?
And the rate of petty crime.
That it’s the cause of many suicides.
A beautiful Wattlebird
And is the reason many people turn to alcohol and drugs to self medicate.
As with everything, there’s no simple answer.
There is a universal truth.
Most people are happiest when they know they are making a contribution to their own well being.
But most of us.
Many people I talk to in the manufacturing sector who are now forced to import to stay in business say it’s too late to ‘make in Australia’ again.
The investment in infrastructure is now too expensive.
And even more crucial, the people skills are lost.
I’m both an optimist.
And a realist.
Highly perfumed Stringybark blossoms hang over my farm gate. Not only loved by me. But beetles too.
When the public is finally fed up with sending jobs overseas. And can see no real future job creation for their children and grandchildren. And is ready and willing to pay the price to keep jobs here.
The makers will invest and cash in.
Until then, the status quo.
The status quo.
Don’t watch this space.
When it comes to the hip pocket, convincing the public to shell out . . .
And asking retailers to make less profit . . .
. . . is . . .
. . . so . . .
Very hard to do.
Join me next time?
Tell me what you think.
Your comments are always welcome.
Your stories, thoughts, experiences add to the fabric of the conversation.
And I acknowledge your comment with a reply.
All the best,
Photos are courtesy of Ironing Diva and taken at sunrise every morning on her rural property.
Go peek at ‘My Story. How I Built A Business From Broke’.
My beautiful rural property is in the picturesque hills of the Central Tablelands of NSW Australia.
This is the hook I hang my heart on.
When I’m not out in the paddocks in the morning photographing my beautiful Wild Blue Yonder, I’m the purveyor of the one of the world’s finest ironing board covers, The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover.
And 5 other beautifully designed textile products of excellence.
This is the hook I hang my business hat on.
Since 1994, my partner, Victor Pleshev, an architect and de facto product designer, and I have worked tirelessly to make sure each product is a joy to use. Every time you use it.
My website, InterfaceAustralia. The home of Simple Solutions For Difficult Problems! does all the heavy lifting. You can read about all my products in great detail just by clicking the link above.
When you own one of my products, you also make a huge contribution to the surrounding rural community because they are made with love and care in rural Australia by men and women who have a disability. They put their heart and soul into everything they do. And it shows.
You will look long and hard to find comparable products that are as well thought out for their design and usability. And of such high class, that our customers send us fan mail! Which finds its way onto Testimonials on our website.
Go peek. Every product truly is a joy to use. I guarantee it.