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In defense of the petty thief

By Brian Holden - posted Friday, 11 February 2011

You come out of the shop and your bike is gone. On the ground is the severed security cable. You take your anger to bed that night and lie there imagining the “lowlife” clamped in stocks on the steps of the town hall. Is there another side to the story?

Lowlife - or victims of circumstances?

At school we learned about the convicts of the early 19th century who were transported for many years to the colonies for stealing some simple item - such as a dress which could be sold to buy food.

As children we felt sympathy for the desperate and anger at the establishment of those times. We did not define the thieves of London in the 19th century as “lowlife” hovering on the periphery of a camp like jackals - as the propertied class of the times saw them. From a distance we were able to see a bigger picture.


However, the dress may even have been stolen by a man who could no longer tolerate being a nobody and craved to give his ragged girlfriend what he believed she deserved to have.

This is an important concept to grasp. Man can be driven to desperation not just for the want of food - but to escape the feeling of being a nobody.

Today our poor are not starving and in rags. They also have access to free medical care. However, everything is relative to what else is happening in the social environment. Because the propertied far outnumber the poor in the Australia of 2011, our poor now can feel more deprived than the poor did in 1811.

Imagine a young man who has been on the dole for over a year. If he averages two job interviews a day, then the public transport involved to widely scattered interviews will leave him with little time to do much else with the day. He becomes increasingly more aware that each day of failure is a completely wasted day of his life.

The longer he is out of work, the less employable he appears to be in the eyes of an interviewer. Before he can get into the workforce, he now has the hurdle of prejudice to jump over - and each rejection reinforces an image he has of himself as being unwanted. His low self-esteem is now reflected in his physical appearance and mannerisms.

The radio shock-jocks’ promotion of an image of the chronically unemployed as not wishing to work reinforces the psychological divide. “Get off your backsides” as John Laws talking into a golden microphone and on a multimillion dollar contract liked to say.


The day may come when the conically unemployed young man can no longer present himself yet again to the humiliation of rejection. That will be the day that he decides to cease looking for employment. The humiliating Centrelink processes may also contribute to driving him into escaping the whole system.

Now, without a family willing to support him, how does he survive?

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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