Something I don’t think I’ve emphasised, or affirmed enough, is my grounding in the working class. Possibly with the exception of the years of my youth between 1988-1991 (a period of relative comfort ultimately conspired against by family break-up and the effects of high interest rates), I couldn’t in any way be reasonably accused of having had a middle class lifestyle.
I’m not ashamed of this.
To convey a little bit about myself to you, in this respect, allow me take you on the first stage of a photographic tour of a portion of my own working class history.
Out back of the Exide factory, Elizabeth West (2011).
A pretty ordinary sight. What wasn’t ordinary, or at least what’s become rare, is the dog shit half-turned-white just out of frame. Insincere as it may be, I thought I’d save you the experience.
The first time I went to work in this area, trying to find the lay of the land, I found myself wandering around near here, across the road. While it’s at the edge of the industrial park, it wouldn’t be something I passed close-up on a regular basis, but the rest of the factory was always visible from a distance.
What can I say, I like the alignment of the smokestacks.
I don’t know what this used to be, I only passed it on a few occasions taking the back way to work. I don’t know who the graffiti artists are either, but I find ‘APEC’ ironic, spray painted on an abandoned warehouse. And is that asbestos roofing? Wonderful!
It only recently entered a state of disuse, judging by the state of some of the wooden palettes out back.
Oh, how much I could write about the history of this place! Not Barossa Fine Foods – I’m sure they’re all fine and above-board. I’m talking about my stay here from 1997-1998.
Not that the usual suspicions people have about poultry factories are accurate – Joe’s Poultry was as clean and safe when I worked there as any other. Nobody ever died from Ebola after eating one of their chickens. (Although it is true, as you may suspect, that working here triggered my first attempt at vegetarianism).
This place really ground me down. In my section, I’d go through a least one new employee a month, and I’d be carrying a good part of their workload. I just couldn’t crack the whip like I was expected to.
Normally, in the wonderful Northern Wasteland, if a bogan went back to Centrelink after quitting a job, they’d be penalised through a reduction in their welfare. But even under the then Howard government, Centrelink staff would find a way to make an exception if someone, anyone, said they’d quit working… at Joe’s. (I only found out later of course…)
At any rate, we were all casuals, and it came to the point that a bunch of us were going to undertake a mass sign-up as union members. No point putting our heads up above the parapet one at a time to be picked off accordingly, right?
A bit of advice (for Australians). Go talk to the Miscos (the LHMU*) before searching for a union to join. They’ll point you in the right direction. Scanning the yellow pages may sound fine at the time, but it risks hooking you up with a rogue union going through its final death throws, destined to disappear within a couple of years. Or at least, that’s what it seemed like at the time…
(I.e. feel free to learn from my mistakes!)
Calls were not returned. Time passed. People meeting in the change rooms with the intent of possibly joining started to disappear from the workplace altogether.
And then (quite accidentally I’m sure) I was progressively poisoned. Occupational health and safety tried passing the buck back to me, despite my not being in control of the source of the problem, and no intent to change the source of the problem (overuse of a particular chemical) was indicated by those with the power. Everyone else who wanted to unionise having by this point been coincidentally winnowed away, I quit.
I’d later be told by a lady who was fired around the same time, a lady who’d worked for Joe’s since its inception, that the change rooms where the talks about a sign-up were discussed, were bugged. That being said, she also lamented the rich for ‘…brothers and sisters marrying and having Mongolian (sic) children.’ Take it or leave it.
From then on, it was pretty much a case of joining the relevant union around the time of the first paycheck from any given employer. That and joining the protests against the various waves of industrial relations reforms proposed by then IR Minister, Peter Reith.
(Funny story – I once sat in the lunch room reading Dawkins’ River Out of Eden, and one of the laundry workers asked me if it was a romance novel.)
I could swear this thing had more of a roof on it back in the day. Maybe it was always this dingy.
Did I mention that I used to walk to and from work? Well, I did. This is what would great me on the way out from work in the late morning. Did I mention I woke up for work at 3:15am?
Oddly enough, I’ve got this associative memory thing going on with this photo – I couldn’t really see the place in the morning before sunlight, but in the light of day… Looking at this photo now, I feel like I’ve just knocked off. It’s relaxing. It probably just looks like shit to you.
Anyway, the tour continues along the old walk home…
Now if you can’t see how this is pretty, you’re too big a snob for me. This is just around the corner from work mind you. It didn’t have this much foliage back in the day, but I do recall the tube-stock being planted. I should have taken some video footage of the running water. Serene. This would have been a nice bit of scenery after a long day.
And for a bit more perspective, if you want this to be authentic, consider that you’re walking home with some guy who’s just been working for hours in a chicken factory, someone who hasn’t had a shower. Security was such that if you abandoned your wallet or keys long enough for a shower at Joe’s, you’d lose them. You couldn’t even leave anything in a locker, other than your clothes.
Oh, and while I want a bit of authenticity to be available to you here, don’t sniff too deeply, NAWMA Elizabeth West is just out of shot…
If I were a gambling man, this is where I’d leave you to go off and play pokies… Too harsh? Pfft. Black humor got me, and a lot of my lumpenpals, through shitty times. You’d understand if you’d been there as well.
Still, I’ll leave you here for the time being. The Lumpentour will continue in part #2…
* Update: The Miscos/Missos/LHMU have had a name change this year to ‘United Voice‘.