feature 406 

The view from Down Under Australians living in Whistler find discrimination commonplace Outside of society there're waitin' for me! Outside of society if you're lookin' that's where you'll find me: Outside of society. — Rock 'N Roll Nigger, Patti Smith By Chris Woodall You love to have them work for you. Everyone does. But you don't want them living in your house, your suite, your apartment. "They" are Australians... And they are the white niggers of Whistler when it comes to housing. On the one hand, this isn't news. Mention that Whistler's landlords actively avoid renting their properties to Australians and you get a sage nod of the head: "Oh yeah, I've heard that." When I came to Whistler nearly three years ago, the first piece of advice I got — and this from one of the company's managers — was "don't rent to Australians, they're nothing but trouble." Over the two years that I rented a place in Emerald Estates I had six Aussies sharing the house among the large number of other co-tenants. The Australians were all nice, friendly people. The problem co-tenants were two stinkers from Ontario and a severe pothead from the Lower Mainland. In the past two months I have interviewed more than a dozen Australian men and women who have had a touch of the lash: despite their college-educated backgrounds, despite their work ethic, despite their friendly dispositions... they have direct experience with landlords who have treated them with prejudice. In most cases, these people tell of simply being denied housing once the landlord discovers they are from Australia. In some cases, all the landlord has done is listen to the accent and suddenly changed his story about the availability of an apartment. Whatever the scenario, this behaviour is repugnant at best. And illegal. The province's Human Rights Act, for example, is specific about discrimination in tenancy premises. Section 5(1) says: "No person shall deny to a person or class of persons the right to occupy, as a tenant, space that is represented as being available for occupancy by a tenant, or discriminate against a person or class of persons with respect to a term or condition of the tenancy of the space, because of the race, colour, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, or age of that person or class of persons, or any other person or class of persons." Despite that being clear, a foreign visitor may not realize they are protected by the Human Rights Act, or feel they can do anything to confront the landlord. It's the nature of the situation. People in a foreign land feel helpless to do anything about discrimination aimed at them. The second is that the visit here may be relatively short. Even if you knew what to do to complain — and that you could complain — the temptation is to shrug it off as a bad experience and count the days until you move to a new land. "It's not our country, it's not our place to complain," said one Aussie when asked if he'd ever sought help. It seemed easier just to put up with it and not rock the boat. With that in mind, the Australians quoted here are not identified by their real names — they may have to move again in Whistler. As well, the comments were repeated by several of the people interviewed, so a comment by one person is not necessarily an isolated feeling. The greatest enemy to Aussies being accepted for accommodation is themselves, those interviewed said. There's a stereotype out there of Aussies as wild drunken louts, which Whistler's Aussies say may have been the experience of some people, but doesn't justify putting them all in the same picture frame. "I think we get this from the first couple of Australians who came out here," said Shayne Hills. "They probably did have a reputation as a party-hard type, and that gave us all a knock." But that shouldn't be a knock on everyone personally. "Exactly. How can landlords know us, how can they judge us without taking the time to check us out?" Hills said. "Certain nationalities do something for you: you think such and such are nicer people, or they're not going to do something like trash the room or get into fights or what have you," said Mark Leeds. As an example, he talked of one apartment he went to see. "Swiss applicants at one house didn't even get asked for references. Definitely, where you're from determines your chances." For others the stereotype rankled at a different level. The image of Crocodile Dundee — some outback dude dressed in leather with crude manners and armed with a knife the size of New South Wales — has imprinted a picture that hurts the reputations of Australians abroad. "I think he's trashed it because he's made us all out to be bushees: we wrestle crocodiles and live in grass huts more or less," Hills said. "It's an image they're trying to portray of us and it's a wrong thing." Foster's beer ads in Canada showing a guy getting his teeth pulled by a truck, or bragging about the size of Australian beer cans may be fun, but they don't help when you're face-to-face with a landlord deciding between an Australian and someone else. "Can you blame someone trying to rent a house and they see these ads?" Leeds asked. "The Australian stereotype is someone who's a bit thick, or who drinks lots," agreed Aaron Melbourne. "Even some of the Australians I've met out here, I wouldn't rent a place to them. They're just giving Australians a bad name. It's really sad." "You get to the point you don't care about it anymore. If you want to think that, well fine, but that's not what we're about," Hills added. "They're not looking at the person, they're looking at where you came from," Melbourne said. It doesn't seem to matter that an Australian may have already been here for some time and is committed to being here for the long term — once a landlord hears the accent, you're pegged as potentially jumping the lease. "Even if an Australian wants to live here for three years, the landlords don't want them because they think they'll only be here a few months," Melbourne explained. "So they've just stereotyped a whole group of people and just cross them off the list." In some cases, Australians have had to pay more in rent than others might. Sometimes they are told to put up an "Aussie bond" as one guy was asked to do when he had to pay an additional $50 a month; or they may be told the rent is much higher than it should be simply because the landlord knows the Australians he's renting to are too new to suss out the real situation. "Eventually we rented a one-bedroom place for $1,100 a month down in Tamarisk," David Sydney said of his first Whistler accommodation experiences. "We had to take it, but we put in eight people... six people officially. "We later found out that no place in the complex rented for more than $800 a month, so we got ripped," Sydney said. "They just knew we had no choice. The first place that says 'I'll take you,' you're on it because there are so few places to rent. It was either that or go home. "And then in summer, the guy wondered why we were going to move out and lose our damage deposit when we could rent other places for a lot less," Sydney said. The point was — and this is repeated on numerous occasions by other Australians — if the landlord had been less greedy, a lower rent would not have forced them to squeeze as many people in a place to make it half-way affordable. In those situations, it doesn't matter how neat and careful a group is, simple wear and tear is going to be worse than otherwise. Several Australians found that the nasally twang in their accent gave them away and killed any accommodation chances. "If they heard an Australian accent we'd never get an interview," Tate Gold said. "When I was looking for a house, I'd try to put on a Canadian accent, leave my phone number and I'd get a call back every time," Sydney said. Other Australians echoed the effectiveness of this vocal magic trick. "Even passing yourself off as English ups your chances here," Melbourne said. An Australian couple lost what seemed a sure thing when the landlord discovered he was going to be renting to Brits. "We were applying for this one bedroom place and Dave left messages several times," said Tonya Coast, referring to her partner David Coast. "When the guy called back he told Dave he's got 50 calls for this one place, but he decided to go with us. "When he rang up to set a time to meet, he asked for David and I said 'no he's not in, can I take a message.' He said well it's rather urgent, it's about renting a house. So I told him I'm David's girlfriend and that I'd be living with him so what he has to say he can tell me. "Obviously my voice has a more Australian accent than Dave's, so that's when it became a problem," Coast said. "He started umming and umming and then he said 'Well what nationality are you?'" Coast said. "I said 'Australian, is there a problem with that?' "He hemmed some more, and he said, 'well we don't like to rent to Australians because they always break the leases and some people have had some bad experiences with them'," Coast said. "I told him we were quite willing to take a 12-month lease if that's what it took because we were so desperate for a place. But he hesitated some more and then he never called us back even though we tried to reach him for four days," Coast said. Whistler's landlords who want to see the bad side of Australians deserve what they get, Coast added. "If the town has the attitude that Australians are all bastards, then we're going to take the attitude, 'well screw them'," Coast said. "But if given a chance to see that we're respectable, we can prove them wrong." Whistler's housing problems are starting to be reported on in tourist guide books and in newspaper articles. Those warning bells might dissuade anyone — including Australians — from Whistler, but the spirit of adventure and "gotta see it for yourself" brings the unsuspecting here anyway. "An article in a Toronto newspaper talked at length about all the good things Whistler had to offer, but it mentioned a little thing at the bottom that there's a housing crisis, a real bad accommodation situation, and people were living in a van," recalled Dan Reading. "But when you read that, you think that, well, that's just that type of person and it won't happen to me." "Everyone has different stories," agreed Hills. "One person says it's really good and one person says, no it's really hard. Who are you going to believe? So what you've got to do is come here and check it out. Then when you get here you find they're right (about how bad it is)." And when they eventually leave? Australians said different things about what kind of word they would pass around back home. "When someone asks me what Whistler's like, I'm going to say Whistler's really great but it's too expensive, you're not going to get a place to stay, and employers mess you around," said Leeds. "That's the impression I've got." "I'm going to say it's a very beautiful place, but if you're coming here to make some money, you have to get here very early; you have to have lots of money with you to set yourself up; and be prepared not to work for a few months," said Melbourne. "I'd say to not bother," Hills said. "It's a beautiful place, but the shit you have to go through to get a place to live, to find some work, it's just not worth it." Others also say to forget Whistler and try some of the smaller ski resorts. "Go to Nelson. Go to Fernie. Don't go to Whistler, because as soon as they find out you're Australian they think you're right off the boat and they have a bad attitude toward you straight away," said Harry Narrabeen. "It's just the accommodation," disputed Gold. "I wouldn't give any bad reports back to Australia. I think you should come here if you want to have a good time." Any other advice? "Come in April," said Coast. "Don't save just $4,000, save $10,000 because you'll spend too much on accommodation. "Don't dare be honest, lie about having accommodation," she added. "Especially if you go for a job on the mountain, they want you to be as vibrant and as full of shit as you can be. They don't care what you are trained to do, they'll give you a job in something entirely different," Coast said. "Be persistent. Bring your resume," Coast said.


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