Happy Christmas

I’ve never seen a person so broke. So hopelessly, completely broke.
“How much have you got in the bank?” I asked him.
“Nothing.” He said. “I don’t have a bank account.”
“How much money do you currently carry with you?” I asked.
He opened his wallet and peeked despairingly inside, counting through some coins at the bottom.
“Three dollars seventy two.” He said.
“Credit Card?”
“Ha. No”
“Any other assets? Furniture…?”
“…monies owed….?”
“No. Nothing.”
We were working our way through the bankruptcy schedule. The bloke was putting himself in the hands of the Public Trustee in Bankruptcy. His mate had suggested he see me to help him work through it.
“Where do you sleep?” I asked.
“On my mates couch. He feeds me most of the time as well. Great mate. Lets me grab the odd can out of the fridge.”
“Clothes? I asked.
He once had a business. A very good one. He was an entrepreneur. A talker. A bloke who made sales by helping people to buy. Apparently in his day he could sell sand to the Ethiopians. His business was in an industry that’s been swallowed up in Australia’s new economy. We’ve hitched ourselves to one wagon and watched countless others whither. Prosperity slipped past him. Yes he made mistakes, got cocky, probably spent money unwisely. The happy days looked like they might last forever.
I got to know him very well over a number of weeks as we dealt with the various public sector bodies he was liaising with. He’s a straight shooter. No bullshit; a proud man who’s taken the ignominy of losing the lot with all the dignity he could muster. House, wife, business, even the respect of his children (which he is working to regain) all left him. He was empty. I can’t imagine the torment. The bounce left his stride, the tax authorities set about crushing him relentlessly, the walls caved in. He decided to hide from it all and not confront it. He dangled his legs over a bar stool for months on end.
“What will you do?” I asked.
“My mate will let me work with him. Crappy labouring work. Shit pay. But I can’t wait. I want to feel some notes back in my wallet.”
He’s 68 years old and he’ll be doing some labouring work. He could get the dole, Newstart, the pension, whatever. He could get some or all of these, and we’ll help him to get them. But he wants to work. I suppose he needs to feel pride in something again.
He won’t shed a tear, he won’t whinge and gnash his teeth, there will be no narcissistic Facebooking, and he won’t lie on his mate’s couch and hope that the world will come to him. He’ll work.
After our last meeting he left the room then a few moments later returned.
“Make sure you send me a bill.” He said poking his head around the door.
“Yeah” I said, “No worries.” I had no intention of doing so. How on earth would he pay anyway?
A month or two passed. Not long ago my secretary came to my desk and said,
“There’s a bloke at the front desk. Says he wants to see you; hasn’t got an appointment.”
I went out to the front and there he was. Jimmy. Standing in our reception with a fresh grin.
“Got a minute?” he asked me.
We went into the meeting room. As I went to sit down he put $200 on the table.
“I’ve been working.” He said. “Got a bit of cash.”
“I don’t want your money.” I told him as forcefully as I could.
“Mate” he said looking directly at me “If I have to fight you I will. Take the fu**ing money.”
Then he approached me, took me in a hardy embrace and slapped my back.
“Thanks for your help.” He said.
My Christmas came early this year.

About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. Cracking read, Dips.

    The tax department’s joie de vivre in relentlessly pursuing the bloke who’s on his knees, never ceases to amaze or disappoint.

    Great to read that they didn’t break his will.

  2. Bloody good piece of writing

  3. John Butler says

    And a Merry Christmas to you too Jimmy.

    And to all Knackers.

  4. Andrew Fithall says

    Lovely story Dips. But how does a bloke have $3.72 in his wallet? Okay – just call me a heartless cynic.

  5. Wonderful. Work (for the social connection it brings more than the money),pride, humility and self honesty are so important to a good life – whether you are a millionaire or busted. I’ll bet Bondy doesn’t have too many of those qualities, much to his detriment.
    Made my heart sing to read the last few paragraphs.
    On a related matter I heard an interview with the Club President of the Mullewa Saints. Ben Cousins is going to play a couple of games for them in 2013, but it was what he said about the work he is doing that made me think “he’s got a fighting chance” for the first time in years.
    He has been working with Travis Gaspar (injury riddled ex Eagle and brother of Tiger Darren). Travis is an Occ Health Manager with one of the biggest construction companies in the NW of WA. He runs the Advantage Coaching Company on the side, doing work on footy and life skills in schools. I have seen Travis around town a few times and he seems a very solid citizen.
    The thing the Club President said that gave me hope was that Ben had asked for his match payments to go straight to Travis’ Academy.
    Solid friends, humility and a cause thats bigger than yourself. Thats the foundation for a better life.
    Well done Dips, Jimmy, Ben and Travis.

  6. Cheers everyone.

    AF – re the $3.72. He was being facetious. He didn’t actually count the coins. It was probably less. Maybe 90c if the truth be known. I can’t imagine being that broke.

    Litza – sadly our tax authorities seem to think that the taxpayers’ purses are bottomless pits. The Tax Office no longer just protects the Commonwealth’s revenue, it now engages in bullying on a regular basis.

  7. Great stuff, Dips.
    I wonder just how many Jimmys there are out there who have fallen through the cracks, never to get back on their feet.

    Litza: the Tax Dept goes after the “little man” because they are an easier target and cheaper (i.e. will not tie them up in the courts). After all, didn’t Kerry Packer say that anyone who pays full tax “needs their head read”.

  8. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Great work Dips. After going backwards, looks like things are looking up for Jimmy “going forward”. Uplifting piece, mate.

  9. Hey all, Dips, great story well told. Thank goodness for friends and as many chances as we have in life to live a bit better than we have.

    A safe and happy Christmas to u all…


  10. Lovely stuff Dips & nice to meet you at the launch yesterday.

    I reckon accountants are underrated in this world!

  11. Sweet read Dips, makes you smile leading up to Chrissy.

    Did the $200 go to a good cause?


  12. Paul Daffey says

    Great story, Dips, superbly told.

    There is great meaning in work.

  13. An interesting story, but it needs to be kept in perspective. If you want to experience serious poverty you need to travel to parts of Nepal, Bangladesh and Cambodia where there is very little public social welfare, education services and jobs provided to disadvantaged and poor people. There are also many Aboriginal people living in remote areas of Australia who are much more disadvantaged than any person living in any Australian city or town. There are also parts of Africa where some people are living in conditions which most Australians cannot appreciate; one of my sisters and her daughter were in Ethiopia early this year and their experience was heartrending.

  14. An interesting reply… but the perspective of the piece, as I read it, was not poverty.

    I took it as a man’s connection to work and responsibility.

  15. Mark – you assume I haven’t been to these places of which you speak. See litza’s comment. But, for a man to give more than what he had us truly uplifting.

  16. Andrew Starkie says

    Well done Dips. Christmas is about many things – including looking after eachother. In the culture of avoidance and abdication of responsibility we live in, just stopping and taking the extra time for someone or going out of your way for someone, is reassuring.

    THere is real poverty in Melbourne but mostly hidden.

  17. Fantastic Dips, uplifting story.

  18. Touching story Dips. I work in a sector that assists Jimmy and many others besides find meaningful, sustainable employment. Work, as Jimmy and you note, is about something much deeper than the pay check. I wish Jimmy all the best in what is a difficult struggle but worth it. And keep up the good work yourself, observing the little moments that are hardly of little moment at all.


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