The suburban Southport share house did not, theoretically, offer ideal living conditions for someone of my disposition. My name was the only one on the lease, when I first moved there in order to take up a geographically convenient position as president of a political group not officially engaged in domestic Australian operations; but whose main focus was to raise financial and in-kind support for our colleagues in Greece. The rotting, rusting, overgrown backyarded Queenslander had three other bedrooms I wished to fill mainly for financial, but also socio-studious purposes. The housemate wanted ad I put on Gumtree requested only a passport-sized photo, and answers to three questions: what is your sexual orientation, what is your political affiliation, and of what denomination is your faith? I well knew the questions alone risked legal action. But it was a risk I needed to take.
Shaima arrived slightly smiling of bright white teeth for our lunch interview at noon on a summer’s day, her high-cheek-boned face encircled by a green hijab highlighting lighter coloured, feline-shaped eyes. After placing a bowl of tofu salad between two plates facing each other across my dining table, I asked her to sit, then took my place opposite. Follow-up questions elicited these responses: Shaima was 23, the general manager of a local women’s shelter, single, attended the Arundel Islamic Society of Gold Coast mosque once a week, and on special occasions, and was able to provide the house with a fridge. I had been using a large camping esky, and was eager to cease walking to the local service station for ice every morning. When I asked what brought her to Australia, she said she was an Afghani Hazara who’d paid people smugglers for a three month journey to Australia that ended by boat. An ordeal her husband and one-year-old girl did not survive. I gave her a set of keys and she responded with promise of a month’s rent in advance and an equal amount of bond money. Then she thanked me for lunch, bowed slightly and left to immediately start organising moving in.
My second housemate-to-be arrived by bike in the mid-afternoon, wearing bright yellow Lycra and a broad, reassuring grin. Tim vigorously shook my hand while never losing contact between his blue and my brown eyes, profusely thanked me for the cup of black coffee, and we settled in for an interview on the cooling front balcony. We – or, more accurately, he – talked for two hours. The highlights were that he worked at a bike shop. Which made sense. He was also studying a graphic design diploma at TAFE. And a good hour of our exchange involved hearing about his partner Matthew, to whom he said he was openly devoted but wished not to live with yet as they’d been together only two months. Plus, neither of their parents were entirely supportive. Tim was 19, and said since moving out of his parents’ home he’d lived at only one sharehouse – whose other occupants he described, simply, as misguided. But, and with a wink I interpreted as indicative of a healthy sense-of-humour, he reassured me that he was mature for his age. He also said without prompting that he’d paint the aging Queenslander’s peeling interior. I welcomed him to his new home.
Janelle was candid with me, as we started talking in the local park after a tour of the house in which she’d remained almost totally silent. She looked up at the tree branches dancing in the wind, smiled, levelled her now serious gaze at me and said she’d just been released from prison. It had been a one-month sentence after an arrest for protesting logging in her native Tasmania. I responded that the only crime, in my eyes, was that she had been persecuted for her beliefs and convictions. Her smile returned. Janelle absent-mindedly played with her dirty-blonde dreadlocks as she went on to tell me she was recently 21, had secured part-time work tutoring environmental engineering at Griffith University, and was looking for a more full-time role in the local construction industry. When I joked that our backyard was overgrown enough to be deemed a national park, she promised to turn a section of it into a vegetable garden she would maintain and we could all enjoy. I said her tenancy had my “green thumbs up”, she laughed, said thank you and left. I remained in the park long enough to enjoy a cigarette, savouring the prospect of returning to a house that would not for much longer be so empty.
‘I’m president of Golden Dawn Australia – an organisation which does not officially exist in this country,’ I replied when queried as to my employment, during our first dinner together as a full house. Naturally, a period of stunned silence followed during which I took a bite out my taco. Tim, being the one who asked about my job, was the first to enquire further.
‘So,’ he started, slight creases forming between his eyebrows, ‘what are your principles?’
‘Well, I’m anti-homosexuality,’ I replied, looking directly into his wide-eyes width-ways across the rectangular table. ‘I’m anti-immigration and multiculturalism,’ I said looking left toward Shaima, who avoided my gaze. ‘And I’m all but militantly socially and financially conservative, pro-development and anti-conservationist,’ I concluded while shifting my gaze right toward Janelle, whose relaxed expression, to her credit, did not falter.
‘Do you not . . . I mean, do you think that I fully deserved, sacrificed for and have since earned my new life in this wonderful country,’ Shaima said, and from whom I was shocked to hear first.
‘I do, now, since meeting and living with you.’
‘Do you think we should wipe out every tree on this planet, every animal, every living thing except those other humans who share your, and I won’t apologise because they are, hateful views?’ Janelle chimed in. ‘What will you eat when there’s nothing but buildings, roads and money?’
‘I’ve learned much from what you’ve told me. About what we’re, by which I mean humanity, doing to the world. And that much of it is needlessly destructive.’
Tim then coughed, and attracted my attention. ‘Go on,’ I encouraged.
‘I love Matt. Deeply. And, within a romantic context, exclusively. You don’t respect that?’
‘I don’t share your sexuality. But yes, I do respect your relationship.’
‘Well how can you not just belong to, but be the president of a national chapter of a far-right and, to any reasonable mind, neo-Nazi and fascist group?’
‘Well’, I began, before rising, collecting our empty plates and heading for the sink, ‘I’m going to write a letter to my Greek colleagues tomorrow. Within it, I will tell them your stories. And also tender my resignation.’