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March 10, 2008 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Dole Days

In the year two thousand and seven I enrolled on the PACE scheme, colloquially known as ‘the artist’s dole’. While there, I attended numerous benefit-related meetings and seminars, some of my most treasured memories from which are chronicled here.

The woman who ran the WINZ In2WRK seminar had a strange verbal tick;

“If you see a job where that you’d like to work … ask why that they asked that question…The only time that you can answer your phone in an interview is if that it’s something personal, like your parents are sick or something…”

We discussed how to handle a job interview;

“When that they ask ‘what are your major achievements?’ it doesn’t have to be saving the world…”

She said that she would be providing us with “hard hitting information”

We watched a couple of episodes of Dragon’s Den and a reality TV show about a man whose one ambition in life was to be a Police Cop. He faced trials and obstacles, and I think ultimately he failed to achieve his goal.

Nick, the political guy from Vic, was there, his T-shirt read “The Beer Prayer: Our lager, which art in barrels, hallowed be thy drink…”

I arrived a few minutes late to the seminar pitching a six week job search / confidence building course at camp Kaitoke in Upper Hutt; Benefit Camp. My idiotic case manager had sent a letter saying I had to attend. The man who was presenting looked like an old American film actor whose resemblance I couldn’t quite place.

The first slide was made up of computer clip-art, including a deep fryer and a semi-animated digger putting logs on the back of a truck. At this point I knew the presentation would probably be hilarious.

The Presenter began by saying “many of you may be into drugs and alcohol… your days blur into one… you look forward to the next tinnie…”

What was my case manager up to, sending me to this? I looked round the room at the other people, a surly looking beefcake, a Maori teen in baggy clothes, a nervous, downtrodden-looking skinny guy, a couple of attractive girls, a grizzled looking Vietnam Vet who was somehow linked to the course, and next to me a Chubby kid in cargo pants and a camo hat.

The slides of statistics and ratty graphics complemented the Presenter’s speech perfectly,

And then he moved on to images of the camp;

…A group of obese Polynesian males and females running around what looked like a water filled trough, in a paddock, presumably one of the motivational exercises

…A gym with a basketball hoop and vertical black oblong panel leading to a hole in the wall, “where we practice abseiling in a nice, clean environment”

At this point a guy about my age with a skateboard came in late, said “Sorry sir” to the presenter, and sat next to the Vietnam Vet.

On with the slides;

…A rope swing in a forest where “you can swing through the trees like Tarzan”

…Someone abseiling a rock wall “with two ropes so you can’t fall…we wanna take you out of your comfort zone… not too far though”

Skater asked who funded this course, which the Vietnam Vet didn’t like; “that’s my business”

“That’s all I wanted to know, just curious”

The slides continued;

…A list of the disciplinary codes and regulations, including clothing and acceptable dress appearance, followed by…

…what could have been a publicity shot for an aspiring rapper; an African American man who looked like KRS ONE, wearing sunglasses and a black hoodie

The Presenter: “This is what criminals look like… and this guy is an actual criminal”

Vietnam Vet: “I’m not politically correct on this course” …A list of things forbidden at the camp, (drugs, sexual harassment, fraternisation)

The skater, who seemed to be there just to ask questions and aggravate the Vietnam Vet, asked if we were allowed sex in general, or were expected to go without for the six weeks. Vietnam Vet went off on a spiel about one in five New Zealanders having an STD, then fraternisation; “I’m really huge on sexual harassment…I don’t hit on any of the hot chicks that come on this course…”

The Presenter: “there’s nothing abnormal with me, I don’t have two heads or anything… well, when I was in the Navy, we’d be offshore for periods of five months…. Five months without sex. You can imagine…well, camels can go without water for a long time…Be a sex camel” Next;

…A slide of a dazed looking girl exiting a cave “thinking about what it’s like to be down in a black hole”

At the end of the pitch an Indian WINZ employee laid out the papers for everyone to sign (it appeared that you had to sign up if you were between eighteen and twenty four years old, and not on PACE), this is when some people became visibly emotional. …Nervous, downtrodden guy; “Let me ask you this, do you vote National or is that too left wing for you?”

Vietnam Vet: “No. National’s not too left for me”

Indian WINZ employee: “Think of this as a positive thing, we are all here to help you”


Chubby kid asked how he was supposed to run his business and go to job interviews if he was on a six-week course in the Hutt. The Presenter said “you really sound like you need this course…see, if I run into this wall, then get up and run into it again-” Chubby kid interjected “well I’d laugh at you now … you’re saying that I’m hopeless…I thought this was a confidence building course…you don’t know me!”

As we were leaving the Chubby kid said something to me like, “that was so frustrating! I was about to walk out!” I didn’t know what so say.


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