"I have a lot more empathy for people who do have to resort to help from the government."
By
SBS staff writers

14 May 2020 - 1:37 PM  UPDATED 15 May 2020 - 9:11 AM

Four Australians who work in arts and entertainment, an industry that has been hard-hit by coronavirus restrictions, talk about how Covid-19 has impacted their livelihood, and what it is like applying for Centrelink's JobSeeker allowance. 

'I've had to rely on my husband to give me money'

Amanda Rohan-Shearsby, 45, TV Talent Manager 

The arts industry overnight has just stopped. I miss the people, the interaction and the camaraderie. I took eight years out to start and raise a young family. I have two kids I am now home-schooling. My husband works in IT, and is still employed. I have to take the back foot right now, which is really hard when you consider yourself an independent person, and you want to go out into the workforce and provide for your family equally as your partner. I think it’s important for my daughter to see her mum going out into the workforce. For me, growing up with a mum who is very 1950s (and I adore her to bits), you kind of realise what you don’t want to be when you’re older. From a young age, I never wanted to be the wifey. I never wanted to be the full time mum. I feel like I’ve been propelled back into that little place of wifey and mum because now the work isn’t there.

Before I had children, my identity was made up with work, to take time out to have a family was a huge decision for me. Going back to work the last two years, I’ve felt that I’ve regained that and now, to have it taken away from me, it feels like I’ve been knee capped.

I initially didn’t even consider Centrelink because my husband earns and I just thought, right, okay well I’ve got to be at home with the kids. But in this situation, I thought well no, I want to look for work. I’ve gone from earning my own money to now having to rely on my husband to give me money. It’s a horrible feeling for a woman. You do feel like you’ve been propelled back. You’re cooking and you’re cleaning and looking after children and just hoping that you can get your career back on track again. Sometimes you put the pressure on yourself to do all of it and to be a superwoman. I never signed up to be superwoman. None of us do. It’s just something you fall into.

 

'It's a mental shift for me'

Don Hossy, 24, Events lighting operator 

I was an events lighting operator - so basically concerts, gala dinners, events. The part I miss most about the events industry is mainly bringing people together and giving people joy and celebrating their achievements. It’s a very social industry. I was constantly working with people. It really suits someone with an extroverted personality and that’s who I am. Now my life has completely changed. I’ve essentially gone from being out and about 18 hours a day to being stuck in my house all the time, and it is certainly a mental shift for me.

I applied online through the Centrelink website after the 50 person limit was introduced and the next week I was in a centre. I never thought I'd be on Centrelink, because who can predict an event like this. I was really good at what I did. I had a very stable job and income and obviously this kind of thing is impossible to predict.

It was an impending sense of dread and anxiety. I’ve supported myself predominantly through my job and I was a lighting operator and questions to the uncertainty of my future, and my ability to pay rent, and my ability to afford food were all immediately in question.

I know of several colleagues who have put out messages for help saying, "I have nowhere to go now. I’m slipping into alcohol abuse and I’m trying to control it, I’m suffering greatly, I’m worried for my family." I know one guy who I worked with personally, he got taken to hospital a few days ago because he collapsed in his kitchen. He thought it may have been coronavirus and it turns out it was just anxiety. Everyone is trying to find coping mechanisms to deal with the situation.

 

 

'I was embarrassed to apply'

Tess Magill, 25, café worker 

I was doing an unpaid summer internship at a media company, so I decided to work full time at a café.  My boss said I wouldn’t get enough hours under coronavirus. It was a desperate situation, I really needed to get some money in my account to pay rent. I’d never been on Centrelink [benefits] before so I never really knew what the process was or how you would even apply. I wasn't sure I was eligible because I have the support of my parents, but I do live out of home. I never thought that I would ever have to go on Centrelink. I’ve always worked since I was 14. I worked at McDonald's, that was my first job. I always had enough money to pay for a car etc, and even worked full-time when studying full-time.

My idea of people who go on Centrelink was pretty negative. I thought they were 'dole bludgers' and people too lazy to work. Now that I’m on it, my perception has definitely changed. I have a lot more empathy for people who have to resort to help from the government. When I was lining up applying at the service centre, I met so many other people in my position - from chefs to people who work in retail or beauty. There aren’t really many other options. I saw a lot of young mums in there with kids, and also young families. I think that would be really hard. And I think, too, with carers for people who are disabled, and pensioners. I didn’t really realise the extent of how much Centrelink can really help people who need it. I feel pretty bad about passing all those judgements. Even though I was embarrassed to apply, I definitely feel like it’s a necessity. I feel lost and stuck at the same time. There are so many things going through my head. I don’t want to be negative and dwell but I’m really struggling. I think I’ve learned from this experience that family is definitely key for me. I don’t know what I would do without them. I think if anyone’s putting off applying or embarrassed, I wouldn’t be embarrassed. I wouldn't feel shamed from society. If you’ve lost your job to coronavirus I would just jump online straight away. Do whatever you can. Stick it out, apply, there’s no shame in it.

 

'I need money to pay rent'

Chad Henney, 30, TV producer

My life was pretty good before the pandemic. I live in Sydney. I was working in television as a producer on a lifestyle program. 

I knew that my job was going to be put on hold, or my contract cancelled. And then when we got the call, it was almost a bit of relief because I was in limbo, not knowing. I got a couple weeks and also holiday paid out, so it wasn’t all bad news. They also assured us that they’d love to re-employ everyone once they can. I called Centrelink the next day. I couldn’t get through, I was on hold for several hours. I just gave up after that. I did get a text message saying that someone would contact me from a private number - I still have not received the call.

This is my first time applying for Centrelink [payments]. I don’t feel any feelings of shame applying. I’m out of work. I need money to pay rent. I’ve paid tax and worked since I was 14. 

I never thought that my job was non-essential. There’s so many essential jobs that you would have never thought of, like cleaning or working in a supermarket. This pandemic has taught me to really think about what’s important in life. And that’s not status or what clothes you wear or what job you do, it's friends and family.

At the time of interview, only Tess and Don were officially receiving the JobSeeker allowance. Chad and Amanda had applied for it. Chad was awaiting a response, and Amanda was unsuccessful in her application. 

 As told to SBS Voices. Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Filthy Rich & Homeless returns for a third season, airing as a three-night special event between 9 - 11 June on SBS. Catch up on episodes on SBS On Demand. 

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