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"Dossing Out" And "Camping"
by [?]

At least two hundred poor beggars were counted sleeping out on the
pavements of the main streets of Sydney the other night–grotesque
bundles of rags lying under the verandas of the old Fruit Markets and
York Street shops, with their heads to the wall and their feet to the
gutter. It was raining and cold that night, and the unemployed had
been driven in from Hyde Park and the bleak Domain–from dripping
trees, damp seats, and drenched grass–from the rain, and cold, and
the wind. Some had sheets of old newspapers to cover them-and some
hadn’t. Two were mates, and they divided a Herald between
them. One had a sheet of brown paper, and another (lucky man!) had a
bag–the only bag there. They all shrank as far into their rags as
possible–and tried to sleep. The rats seemed to take them for
rubbish, too, and only scampered away when one of the outcasts moved
uneasily, or coughed, or groaned–or when a policeman came along.

One or two rose occasionally and rooted in the dust-boxes on the
pavement outside the shops–but they didn’t seem to get anything.
They were feeling “peckish,” no doubt, and wanted to see if they
could get something to eat before the corporation carts came along.
So did the rats.

Some men can’t sleep very well on an empty stomach–at least, not at
first; but it mostly comes with practice. They often sleep for ever
in London. Not in Sydney as yet–so we say.

Now and then one of our outcasts would stretch his cramped limbs to
ease them–but the cold soon made him huddle again. The pavement must
have been hard on the men’s “points,” too; they couldn’t dig holes
nor make soft places for their hips, as you can in camp out back. And
then, again, the stones had nasty edges and awkward slopes, for the
pavements were very uneven.

The Law came along now and then, and had a careless glance at the
unemployed in bed. They didn’t look like sleeping beauties. The Law
appeared to regard them as so much rubbish that ought not to have been
placed there, and for the presence of which somebody ought to be
prosecuted by the Inspector of Nuisances. At least, that was the
expression the policeman had on his face.

And so Australian workmen lay at two o’clock in the morning in the
streets of Sydney, and tried to get a little sleep before the traffic
came along and took their bed.

The idea of sleeping out might be nothing to bushmen–not even an
idea; but “dossing out” in the city and “camping” in the bush are
two very different things. In the bush you can light a fire, boil
your billy, and make some tea–if you have any; also fry a chop (there
are no sheep running round in the city). You can have a clean meal,
take off your shirt and wash it, and wash yourself–if there’s water
enough–and feel fresh and clean. You can whistle and sing by the
camp-fire, and make poetry, and breathe fresh air, and watch the
everlasting stars that keep the mateless traveller from going mad as
he lies in his lonely camp on the plains. Your privacy is even more
perfect than if you had a suite of rooms at the Australia; you are at
the mercy of no policeman; there’s no one to watch you but God–and He
won’t move you on. God watches the “dossers-out,” too, in the city,
but He doesn’t keep them from being moved on or run in.

With the city unemployed the case is entirely different. The city
outcast cannot light a fire and boil a billy–even if he has one–he’d
be run in at once for attempting to commit arson, or create a riot, or
on suspicion of being a person of unsound mind. If he took off his
shirt to wash it, or went in for a swim, he’d be had up for indecently
exposing his bones–and perhaps he’d get flogged. He cannot whistle
or sing on his pavement bed at night, for, if he did, he’d be
violently arrested by two great policemen for riotous conduct. He
doesn’t see many stars, and he’s generally too hungry to make poetry.
He only sleeps on the pavement on sufferance, and when the policeman
finds the small hours hang heavily on him, he can root up the
unemployed with his big foot and move him on–or arrest him for being
around with the intention to commit a felony; and, when the wretched
“dosser” rises in the morning, he cannot shoulder his swag and take
the track–he must cadge a breakfast at some back gate or restaurant,
and then sit in the park or walk round and round, the same old
hopeless round, all day. There’s no prison like the city for a poor
man.