Rush to judgement

Stigmatising the homeless in Nowra

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  • Published 20170727
  • ISBN: 9781925498417
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

NOWRA SHOWGROUND IS a ten-minute walk from the centre of town: past Best & Less, Jolly Olly’s Discount Variety Store, the Postman’s Tavern, the Bowling Club and along a wide, tree-lined residential street. The gateway is a towering, seven-metre-high sandstone structure with four entrance archways, topped by parapets and crenellated towers, built just after World War I. A life-sized bronze statue of a soldier, added after World War II, stands in front of the gate. He’s depicted without rifle or helmet; as local historical material explains: ‘His country’s freedom secured, but forever on alert to safeguard the future.’ Inside is a sprawling seventeen hectares, fringed by eucalyptus bush to the west and the Shoalhaven River to the north. Nowra has been holding its annual country show here, over two days in late summer, since 1887. In the between times, it’s a place where locals walk their dogs and community groups meet; children go to scouts and gymnastics in the same place their parents once did.

Sometime around early 2016, the showground’s role in the community underwent a radical transformation: it became a destination for growing numbers of homeless people. During winter, some bunked down in the stables, but by late spring, a cluster of around twenty tents had sprung up on the grass. Some people came of their own volition, others were given tents and directed there by desperate community service providers in town. ‘We didn’t want to do this, this was the last resort,’ one worker told me. But ‘there was nowhere else for people to go’. Many people came and went; others started to look more permanent. One tent had a washing machine beside it, plugged into the showground’s power supply. There were men, women, old, young, couples, singles and dogs. Lots of dogs.

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