Friday, July 06, 2007

Faces of port

Following on from Of mice and those two-legged things

Each time I have returned to Port over the past dozen years, this is my third sojourn; the basic nature of the place has changed. First it was a family holiday town of around 20,000, fairly innocent but struggling to provide a steady base for local business.

Then the developers took charge and saw the solution not in family holidays but a more upmarket approach. So the quaint and rustic beach houses were steadily replaced by beige holiday apartment blocks and time shares. Prices were higher, of course, to discourage the riff-raff.

Now the town has been designated a regional growth area and new town centre construction and the ubiquitous suburban mac-mansions are putting a new face on the town.

Of course the sordid underbelly was here throughout these changes, the notorious rooming houses and private hotels. There was even a special pub for the local pissheads, now converted to a luxury riverside pub.

The ‘river rats’ were always in evidence, that hardy bunch seen littering the riverside parks around the clock, bottles discreetly wrapped in brown paper bags. Council ordinance, police action and inclement weather have all failed to dissuade this hardy bunch.

Ailing business might complain about the effects of the river rats on their trade, they have to blame someone. The town’s retirees might sniff and complain as the sight assaults their daily walk, preferring the town reflected their own orderly balcony gardens.

But the river rats remain as the most visible evidence of that sordid underbelly, in turn drawing and mingling with those lucky enough to have some form of subsidised housing allowing the guzzling, snorting, spiking or puffing to take place out of sight.

Like any community there are layers which might pass each other without ever interacting. The aforementioned retirees tend to stay aloof from the rest; traders are up to their ears in surviving as traders.

Cops and justice have the good side and bad side, but then the state is renowned for the levels of corruption in its police force. There are still some excellent cops in the system, but the murky edges creep into venue security, and allegedly drug supply.

But above and below – the movers and shakers and the sordid underbelly are said to have a strange symbiosis.

The basic fact is that someone has to finance the local drug trade and who better than those intent on progress – developing every possible financially rewarding activity in the town.

So there is clearly a vested interest in maintaining the underbelly, the market for illicit and abused substances. So having set the background I shall set my mind to storifying the local characters of the underbelly, the users and abusers of this seaside town.

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