The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 66 : 66


64 vox to us – to Dave in particular, carrying his camera bags – and rode with us on the sidecar scooters that are the main means of getting around where he lived. We met little Francine, whose Australian father sent two lots of money to her mother, Susana, before disappeari­ng. We met Pedro, who had Australian citizenshi­p and an expired Australian passport. He and his mother, Grace, had visited his 91-year-old Australian father in Noosa Heads a couple of times, but the man had found another Filipino girlfriend and stopped paying child support. The modest house he had bought them in Angeles City kept them from abject poverty. Then there was 11-year-old John, whose father was acknowledg­ed on his birth certificat­e. We traced the father to a block of flats in Melbourne’s east, but he refused to talk to us about why he had stopped paying child support. Meanwhile, John was being raised by his grandmothe­r’s cousin. There was enough money to feed him, but not enough to keep him in school. John was angry, and running wild. We asked the Australian government why it didn’t make it easier for these mothers to claim child support, and received no satisfacto­ry replies. Crazily, we did things like clip Kevin’s hair and fingernail­s, thinking that perhaps one day it would be possible to match them to a criminal database and find his father. Those samples still sit in my filing cabinet. The police are not interested. Our July 2015 story went on to win a Walkley Award. More important, the story touched hearts, and people wanted to help. They sent us money, and we began to send it to the children and their families. Two and a half years later, our nascent, unofficial charity has just been incorporat­ed and is directly helping nine children of foreign sex tourists – mostly Australian­s – and another three or four families through intermedia­ries. Journalist­s usually fly in and fly out, maintainin­g profession­al distance. Despite ourselves, Dave and I are now committed. We want to see these children grow up. They have come to expect our visits, in which we quiz them and their families on their weekly income, ask the children their ambitions and take their pictures. And on this visit, we shouted a party at Jollibee for the children and their mothers – past and present sex workers. Most sex tourists never see where the women and their children live in the district of Hadrian’s Extension. The sex workers go home from the pole dancing and the low-rent glam of the red-light district to a tumble of corrugated-iron and concrete-block slums on the slope down to a littered, nameless stream. It is the smell, like souring milk, that hits you first. Closer to the dump it is more pungent. Here you find the poorest of the poor – including women too old for the sex trade – earning what they can from combing through the fetid piles for plastics and metals they can sell for recycling. by Margaret Simons Angeles City revisited striped in yellow and red. His wings are tiny appendages. This bee will never fly. He wears a white chef’s hat and big yellow boots, and he is always happy. He is the eponymous mascot of the Filipino answer to McDonald’s. Jollibee is a fast-food chain that serves sweet spaghetti, fried chicken and the Amazing Aloha Yumburger. The Jollibee shook my hand and gave me a high five. His assistants – two young men clad to colour match the bee – hauled me and photojourn­alist Dave Tacon to the front of the room and asked if we knew any words in Tagalog, the local language. Dave could think of only one word, which is the term for what police do in President Rodrigo Duterte’s lethal war on drugs. Journalist­s tend not to know nice words. Literally, tokhang means “knock and plead” – or visit drug addicts to ask them to surrender. It has come to mean being shot dead by police. This was a children’s party. Dave decided to tell the bee that the only Tagalog he knew was the word Jollibee. That earned us another high five. Then the children and their mothers danced and sang. We had returned this year to the neighbourh­ood of Hadrian’s Extension in Angeles City, the centre of the Filipino sex tourism industry. We were in the Jollibee restaurant near the red-light district. This was our third visit to the region since we came to report on the abandoned children of Australian sex tourists for in July 2015. It was a story about abandonmen­t, responsibi­lity and consequenc­es. We had met Kevin, then 10, the son of an Australian paedophile who groomed his mother, Rochelle, online before visiting and getting her pregnant. When he heard she was expecting he cancelled his Yahoo email address, and she never heard from him again. Kevin was living next to a rubbish dump in a humpy shared with his mother, grandfathe­r and uncle. He was illiterate and not attending school, but he clung The Jollibee has a big bottom, tokhang, The Monthly the monthly — vox

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