Kim Swan came to Emerald to work in the town. Now she is forced to sleep in her van because of the rental squeeze.
Kim Swan came to Emerald to work in the town. Now she is forced to sleep in her van because of the rental squeeze.

Home hunt horror

THE sign outside her window may say Welcome to Emerald, though for the past six weeks Kim Swan has felt anything but.

In fact, if she had a shotgun, Kim said she would shoot the sign in the hope of regaining some self-respect in the town she has branded "disgusting and degrading".

It's not the people, she said, but the rental squeeze which she, like so many others, is feeling which has forced the 43-year-old to live in her van and rely on public bathrooms and laundry services.

"The town is breaking me - I'd rather go back to Brisbane and have no money but a roof overhead, than live here earning good money and be homeless," Kim said, sitting on the bed she's set up in her van parked at the Caltex service station.

"All I wanted when I got here was a house and place to lay my head down at night.

"Instead, I don't have any self-respect left today because I am forced to live here while I work."

Six weeks ago, Kim packed up her belongings and drove up from the Glasshouse Mountains, north of Brisbane, in search of work in Emerald, a town she knew desperately needed service workers.

She got a job - two, in fact - and earns more than $1000 a week, but despite her hard-earned money coming into her bank account, she still can't find a rental property in town.

It's the mining bosses, she said, that are doing the town an "injustice" by snapping up the rentals for their workers, and Kim holds fears Emerald will become a ghost town when more people face the same reality she is living.

That reality is not being able to cook any meals, not being able to keep food fresh for more than a day, having to pay $4 a load for washing each day, then another $4 to dry her clothes, and having her van attacked by people walking past in the early hours of the morning.

Before moving to the Caltex, Kim was parked on Hospital Rd under the streetlights when a group of people rocked the van and yelled out. It terrified her, and she moved the next day.

"My life is in danger every time I sleep in my van on my own," she said.

A night-time security officer, she works through the night with the idea of sleeping during the day.

But the van has no insulation to protect the inside from the heat, and although Kim relocates it throughout the day and chases the shade, the temperature inside is still unbearable.

It reached 52 degrees this week, she said.

Her partner, a truck driver, is away for five days out of seven and when he is in town, chooses to sleep in his truck because it has air-conditioning.

Kim said the living conditions forced on her was putting a strain not only on her relationship, but on every aspect of her life.

"I haven't dared tell my kids how I'm living," she said.

"They would be horrified. The hardest thing I have ever done is tell them I'm moving to Emerald for work, and they understand the decision, but if they knew how I was living..."

Across the road from the Caltex is the Lascorp development which promises to deliver better shopping options for the town and reflects the growth spurt Emerald is undergoing.

But Kim fears that when the shops open and the owners are forced to hire people from out of town, they will face the same prospect because they will be earning a retail wage, not a mining income.

"These are worse than Sydney prices, and the homes aren't worth it," Kim said.

"If these same houses were rented in Brisbane, there is no way they would get the $480 they are asking for. They would be flat out getting $350."

Her qualifications could take her to the mines, but Kim decided when she moved to Emerald, she would work in the town centre.

"I know if I was to get a job at the mines, they would give me a donga or something, but who is going to help protect the town?" she said.

"I made the choice to work in the town, because not a day has gone by when I have been here that I haven't seen some sort of sign in a shop window asking for people to apply for a job.

"Emerald needs people like me who are willing to work in town and not go to the mines, but with rents like this, how the hell are people meant to do that?"


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