My last recession ever…….

22 10 2012

On the roeoz Yahoo list I started all those years ago (eight and a half to be precise…!) I recently started a heated argument partly by stating that in the Great Depression “everything ground to a halt”.  Now of course, I have to admit not everything ground to a halt way back in 1929, food continued to be produced, and there wasn’t a famine on any scale remotely like some of those we regularly see in Somalia or Ethiopia.  But metaphorically speaking, things did grind to a halt, especially for those who lost their jobs and for their families.  The economy did contract for a decade.  Some people never even realised how bad things got, because their lifestyle was secure; in fact, many people got rich off the back of the depression……..

It got me thinking about “the recession we had to have”.  In a previous life, I was a very successful professional photographer.  I slowly but surely started winning awards for my work, eventually reaching the rank of President of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography’s QLD Division.  I was elevated to judge at the National Print Awards, and won so many awards myself (no, I didn’t judge my own photos!!) I almost made it to Master Photographer status.  Except I woke up to myself.  Or rather I was pushed……

During the unbelievable excesses of the 80’s, this young photographer was making money hand over fist, and it seemed like it would never stop.  Just like every other bubble.  By 1989, I had a studio equipped with over $100,000 worth of photo equipment, a nice car or two, I was flown all over the countryside by the AIPP to attend conferences or Print Awards events, and I was fast reaching the pinnacle of my career.  In more ways than one….

I remember needing an expensive bit of kit, a 5″x4″ CAMBO super wide large format camera that cost $2500 at the time, not chicken feed in 1989.  There was one in the country, and I signed a lease to get it.  I leased everything back then… debt was not an issue.  My cashflow at the time was such that this camera paid for itself in the very first month I owned it…..!  Not even I could believe it.  How could this ever stop?  But stop it did, and spectacularly at that.

My biggest client in 1989 was a multinational advertising agency (you can’t believe you’re reading this, right….?) who at the end would send me for day shoots (at $1000 a pop) to the Gold Coast to do insane things like photograph male models wearing suits in the surf at sunrise shaking hands……  I think they were supposed to pretend they had made a multi million dollar deal on Gold Coast real estate, or some such crap.  If you can’t believe you’re reading this, I can’t believe I’m writing it….

Agencies like these would do anything to drag out paying you for at least 90 days, and I always had to ring the accounts department to get my cheques from them….  talk about crooks!  By December 1989, they owed me enough money to buy eight of those cameras, Christmas was coming, the twins were two years old, and I had no cash, and I wanted what was owed to me.  I don’t know how many times I had to ring them until I was eventually told to come and collect my cheque for $7000 from their office…..  where the bastards were holding a Christmas party no one had invited me to.  I was made to wait half an hour as they partied on within sight, but I walked out with my 1/3 payment.  I drove straight to the bank and paid a fee to have the cheque cleared on the spot, insight which to this day I still pat myself on the back for.  Because over the Christmas break, the agency went into receivership…..  and I never saw any of that other money they owed me.

In 1990, even though I had a sign on my desk that read “I refuse to participate in the recession“, things got worse….  my second biggest client, a small agency owned by an old experienced guy with ethics, closed down.  Brian simply had a gutful, and in his sixties decided he’d had enough and pulled the plug.  At least he had the decency to pay me everything I was owed, but none of his clients ever used my services ever again.  They simply stopped large scale advertising.

At this stage, I had moved into a very large studio with another photographer, we were going to kill the market.  Except the market killed me…..  with half my turnover gone, and shrinking by the month, my overdraft growing incessantly, the bank eventually said there was a limit to how deep in the red they’d let me go, and we sold the house.  Of course we got twenty grand less than it used to be worth.

In retrospect, absolutely none of this surprises me now.  This is how capitalism works.  Boom, bust.  But as Bill Mollison famously said, the problem is the solution.  A dictum I now strongly follow.  I learned a lot from all this.  Or rather I learned a lot thanks to all this.  As bad as things seemed, it was the change I needed.

We moved to Mt Nebo where I eventually met Bruce who introduced me to solar power, blacksmithing, and home milled timber, and more importantly, lent me a copy of “Abandon Affluence” by Ted Trainer.  The book that changed my life…..

Ted Trainer

The one thing I really learned from this was that I would never ever be involved in a recession ever again, and I would never be involved with capitalism ever again either.  Soon after that I read the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth report, and my outlook on life was never going to be the same again.

It’s because of what happened to us in this recession we had to have that I can understand what’s in store when the inevitable crash occurs.  Only this time it will be huge, and there won’t be a recovery.  This is as good as it gets…..

Tomorrow I leave for Tasmania to look at real estate.  No one will be shaking hands in the surf at sunrise.  Watch this space……!

Post Scriptum

I did in the end manage to screw my bank……  at the height of the bubble, we bought a block of land at Mt Nebo, borrowed the lot.  Of course!  There was a clause in the mortgage contract that said that if we paid the loan off early, we’d have to pay three months worth of interest as a penalty.  After selling the house, I paid something like 97% of the loan off (can’t remember the exact numbers), leaving one or two payments left to be made at the regular rate.  When I made the last payment, some ridiculous amount like $20, the interest owed on that payment was like $2.  The teller went to the manager to establish how much my penalty was going to be, and when he realised what I had done, walked to the counter and told me to go away….!!  That was so sweet.  I closed all my accounts, and I did go away.  With a big smile on my dial….