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The Contract: Bedtime Stories #5

Saturday mornings were a special moment for us youth in our little group back in the mid-1960s. This was in the days of our mid-teens, too young to go to the pubs but old enough to have a motorcycle licence. All of us, to a lad, were apprentices … most of us were in the building industry … a couple in the Auto industry. Our take-home pay was such that we had to make our own fun, fortunately, petrol was at such a low price (relative to our income) we could go tear-arseing through the hills playing at boy-racers, like our heroes on the Isle of Man TT Circuit.

What has one gained

When a tally done?

Are pelf and possessions

Worthy of time gone?

If a smile is lost

And bright eyes grow dun.

We would meet at a certain cross-road and take off into our favourite “runs”. If it was a short run, we would go through Coromandel Valley / Clarendon … if it was an all-day affair, it would be the Murray Bridge run on what is now the “old road”, through Mt Barker, Nairne, Kanmantoo / Callington. With long straight stretches where you could unwind the bikes to see how fast they would go. On the winding roads, we’d make a single file, snaking through the corners on what was understood as; “The Right Line”, after a short film of the era that featured a racing bike on a circuit, with the camera fixed to the front and it took you through the “line” most suited to the fastest speed in the corners … I believe the bike was a Manx Norton … I remember the throaty big-piston sound that they had … a thrilling ride … then!

Sometimes, on those long straight lengths of road we would ride side by side and exchange chatter, my Japanese two-stroke a higher pitch than Ron Parker’s BSA or Russel Hamby’s Triumph … those British bikes had a certain smell of hot oil and a distinctive hum of chain driven gears … those Brits loved chains! … But I loved that smell of burning oil … it also was prevalent on the old steam trains, a smell of steam and oil would sometimes shisssh out from the front drive of the train as you walked past … shishhhwhoosh! … and there was that smell.

So I am now clasped in a hold,

I cannot stay young,

Dare not grow old.

But cannot stop feeling

What my heart be told.

Was life,

And all its promises,

But a Judas kiss!

This idyll went on for many years in my youth, work was there, a sense of permanence was there, routine was in place and the reward of the inviolate weekend to relax permeated through the whole of society. Mums and dads were at home, doing things in the garden or the house, dinner, mundane as it sometimes was, was always there. Kids were climbing trees or running over paddocks and we teens were going to the beach or the pictures watching banal American “teen-flicks” with Annette Funnicello, Gidget, Eric Von Zipper and a host of rhinestone cowboys and other ghastly indoctrination pieces. We were being shown “the good life”, the “American Dream”, like when television came along and we got “My Three Sons” or “Leave It To Beaver”, ”Dysneyland” … then those series of “Crime doesn’t pay” gumshoe-detective genre I believe was in the mix also. One is inclined now, with the wisdom of age, to ask; “What were the adults thinking!?”

But now, we do know just what “they” were thinking.

They were showing us “The Contract”. An unwritten agreement that “all this” could be yours if you stick to the line and the terms of the contract and just do as you are directed. It was the age of wall to wall Conservative Liberal Governments … Federal, State, Local, one great big broad church of conservatism with a capital “C”. The endless long-weekend with work aplenty, radio, TV, the flicks, sun, surf and an endless horizon that seemed as if it could have gone on forever … an endless; ”Come Saturday Morning” … and it wasn’t us workers who broke the contract.

Bring me no roses

Bring me no roses, on this sad day.

No fancy words, no bright eulogy, pray.

Bring nothing but your tears,

Your regrets and fears … for what has gone awry,

And what is now come into play.

My people are dead, their works repealed,

Their strikes, their rights, their hard-won wages reviled.

Their lives of toil and camaraderie forgot,

Traded away as an auctioned lot,

Along with their “crude and clumsy jot”.

Their fumbling demands for rights at work,

Dismissed by “class-less” finishing-schooled jerks,

With soft, crème’d hands and a tongue that is forked.

No .. bring me no roses on this, such a day,

For I am still weeping for my lost comrades ..

Give flowers to the “pretty people” as they go about their play,

The soft, sweet scent will hide the stench as they betray.

I was apprenticed to a builder who held a major contract with the then Housing Trust, and he ran one of those old family businesses, a Latvian whom I now suspect of being one of those Nazi collaborators in WW2. I worked in the joinery / machine shop. I was in my third year of the apprenticeship and I was keen to extend my carpentry knowledge with a stint on the job with roofing and wall structures. I asked if I could leave the joinery shop and go on the job.

I was told; no, as there was only sub-contractors on the job, not company employees.

I then asked if I could be assigned with one of these subbies so I could learn more about carpentry. I was told no, and that was the end of it … I was to stay in the shop.

I then started to wonder how this system worked … Why were there so many apprentices in proportion to tradie joiners? … Were these “joiners” really tradesmen or just bench-hands? I soon worked out that not only were the workers there not tradesmen, but that there were more apprentices as that was the cheapest labour … and when I queried both the “apprenticeship commission” and my union on the situation, I was told to shut-up and not to make trouble.

Our Father

That meager kitchen light

Cut his reflection on the glass.

He looks … the collar of his overcoat tugs,

A fumbling with the latch.

Another dawn interminably,

The workplace calls him down.

The trains, the jostle, the silent journeys

Through winter’s cutting edge.

Though visible within my memory,

No touch, no talk, no sound,

But an awkward gentle smiling,

That baleful knotted frown.

The evening family rosary;

Pray God maintain our health.

HIS prayers I’d say were directed

To stay the creeping stealth

Of years, that cut a swathe

Through the patience of the man,

The blocks, the bricks, the working tools

Raised welts of callouses on his hands.

When the cup of love went empty,

Would do to fill it up with wine.

He drank to forget the future,

He drank for Auld Lang Syne!

The weakness was his, they tell us;

The drink, the swearing, the hand

That struck us fiercely stinging …

But I see the courage in the man.

And though his “achievements” were empty,

And poverty enriched our band,

I’d do worse than esteem his persistence,

Nor prefer I memories of “better” men.

So there it was; the perfect fool’s paradise … The factory filled with cheap labour churning out a product for a conservative govt’ being run by a conservative opportunist with the permission of conservative govt’ authority overseen by a conservative / R-wing union … As long as the status quo was maintained, all would be sweet; Work would come in, wages would go out, “The Real McCoy’s” (with Walter Brennan) or “Rawhide” (with Ward Bond and Clint Eastwood) would keep repeating and every weekend would be another; “Come Saturday Morning.”

But the bastards got greedy, they got away with the shit wages and conditions for so long, they saw it as their privilege, so that when the workers did finally get some unions with balls like the BLF and did kick up about it, they got heavy and then the shit really hit the fan! It was called Vietnam and protest songs and freedom!

Time for a bit of protest poetry!

A Gap in the Line

He touched the medals tenderly, the ribbon colours sublime,

The case of burnished velvet, the soft attractive shine,

He touched the medals tenderly, an Uncle’s Great War “shrine.”

Posthumously given for courage, in “closing a gap in the line.”

In closing a gap in the line he died, in mud, gore and slime.

It was for these tokens of honour, he marched, to fill a gap in the line.

With Union men, many of them with those medals he’d proudly stride.

Union men, many of them and a title his Uncle wore with pride.

Himself, a Wharfie, born and bred, right down the family line,

His Uncle too, t’was always said, could lump a hundred-weight a time,

Bagged sugar, sticky with sweat, soaking wet, at eighty tons an hour,

The men would lug from those cargo holds with no break for tucker.

In the Summer strike of ’98 they marched for conditions fair,

When “Patrick” crawled to Howard’s Government to send the coppers there.

Along with the Farmer mercenaries trained by the covert; “Sandline,”

They sought to break the strikers … to break through a gap in the line.

In the middle of the night they sent in the thugs, the scabs and the dogs,

It was hard to tell which was which among the slavering, crawling hogs.

And deals were made and rights were trade between the ruling class,

That left the strikers on their own to hold the line tight to the last.

Howard set the dogs on the men and the women and children in kind,

Reith, the crawling bastard, banked the scabs through a mercenary company; “Sandline,”

And the journalist sucks and the Murdoch hacks lent their honour to that shameful crew,

And wrote of “overpaid wharfie bludgers” when of sweat and blood they never knew.

And he saw the hate in the breaker’s eyes, he saw that hate confined,

So clasping tight, holding the next striker’s arms with all his might,

He called and bellowed fit to wake in fright: ”Hold boys, Hold!”

“Hold my bastard boys! … We’ll not let them force a gap in the line!”

There comes a time in everyone’s heart, where honour and justice combine,

We must choose which side we’re marching on … what a sense of honour defines.

Would his uncle have him march for nought, but just a place in a line,

Or should he honour best his uncle’s pride with his class aligned.

Today he touches those medals tenderly, with a habit long refined,

But he’ll not march on Anzac Day … not while those Tory scabs declaim,

No … there’ll be a space where he held his place with the others marching time,

And owed in respect for his Uncle’s indebt’ … they’ll now see clearly outlined,

That in the place of his marching space … there’ll be a gap in the line.

There’ll be a gap in the line my fellows … there’ll be a gap in the line.

Owed in respect to an Uncle’s indebt’…Today there’s a gap in the line.

Now it’s time to make for some sleep, lest we wake the souls of the dead with our songs … So it’s goodnight and goodbye from me to thee …

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15 comments

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  1. Harry Lime

    Jesus, Joseph and Mary,brings back a few memories,good and bad.We’re in shit street at the moment,but,as always ,we will prevail.Our ‘masters’ have learned nothing from history.

  2. Phil

    Another great read Joseph.

    Talk about Deja Vu overload.

    It’s funny the wife and I go to places to walk the dog that in my childhood would have been a dream. Where are the kids now ? You see them at organized sporting events and on the bus coming home from school, but that’s it. Where do they go when they’re experimenting with their new found hormones, what no more wanking competitions, although as you know Joe, some on here would win it hands down. Do the males still chase girls with nothing else on their mind except, ……………………………………………………………?

    An motorbikes. If you ever get to the Birdswood museum Joe there is a 500 cc Sunbeam shaft drive m/bike in there that belonged to my eldest brother. If it fell over it needed two strong men to get it up to 90 degrees again. It was taken up there in about 1967.

    Your writing always reminds me Joe how little time we have on this planet. The good times of our youth are over in a flash, gone never to return. It’s a funny old world when you are young you felt you could do anything, the trouble was, we had no money to speak of. Now in my old age, I have money and I buy the odd meat pie whilst I’m out and about. But apart from music that’s it.

    Another great read Joseph. I will forward it to my kids’ Cheers..

  3. Joseph Carli

    Ta, Harry and Phil…Birdwood Mill…yes it has an enviable collection of old bikes and cars there…but to confess, I haven’t been there since the sixties..i probably saw it then, when the place was owned by an eccentric who was a magpie and he opened the Mill to the public to just meander about up and down…I remember one of the most sighted objects of his collection was a real shrunken human head!…but the place was chockers with all sorts of interesting shit!

  4. Michael Taylor

    Lots of Corro boys in my footy team at Blackwood. They bred ‘em tough in the Valley.

  5. Joseph Carli

    And, Phil…didn’t we make some terrible mistakes in our search for that most elusive spiritual delight….women!…My kids don’t seem to have that same sense of urgency to seek a soul-mate or otherwise of the opposite gender…I’ve said to them that the ONLY reason we went to dances or clubs in our days was to MEET someone of the opposite gender!…there was no other reason to be alive as far as I remember…but there was one beauty in my mid- twenties that “got away”…and she holds my regret in her soul…I don’t wonder if she has passed away by now…as she was ten years older than me…Here..I wrote a lament for her..:

    Diedre.
    She was older, hair as red as an autumn sunset,
    With beauty would turn men’s eyes to adule’ ,
    And I was a young and impetuous fool,
    Laughter was my first love, with a youth’s frivolity,
    Hers was one silent, sincere and true.
    I joked of our relationship, I wasn’t ready for wife,
    I wanted the freedom of the world..a voracious hunger for life!
    Now, every woman harbours secrets, hers I never knew,
    My thoughts to her were an open book..I was an impetuous fool.
    But in truth, what has a young man to offer, a woman so refined,
    Save that rush of physical strength, an energy so defined,
    THAT, she embraced more eagerly, than any goblet rich with wine!
    She was older, with hair flamed as an Autumn sunset,
    With a beauty would turn men’s eyes to adule’ ,
    But I was a young and impetuous fool.
    And I remember I laughed when she bade goodbye,
    For the frivolity of youth has time and world on its side.
    Why lament one fish when we cast our nets so wide?
    But now, as old age whispers its dark, foreboding secret,
    And these last leaves of Autumn begin to fall,
    I yearn for a memory’d kiss.. just that one last kiss,
    From love lost..most of all.

  6. Joseph Carli

    Ah…it’s just another suburb now, Michael.

  7. Jack Cade

    Joseph

    If her name was truly Dierdre
    She’d have died of embarrassment long since…
    Girls copped some dreadful names in my mother’s era. Edna, Gwladys, Mavis, Gertie…
    In my Liverpool home boys were just called Billy, John, Charlie, Tommy, Jimmy.
    Interestingly, in my childhood in Liverpool boys called Charlie were often called Chuck or Chucky. It’s not an Americanism.

  8. Joseph Carli

    What’s wrong with “Diedre”???

  9. Michael Taylor

    One of my uni lecturers was a Deidre.

    She has 3 passions: Port Adelaide, unions, and Aborigines. 😀

  10. Michael Taylor

    Just another suburb!

    Geez, in the old days it was an outpost for the footy club. To get there you needed to take a cut lunch and a compass.

  11. Phil

    ” And, Phil…didn’t we make some terrible mistakes in our search for that most elusive spiritual delight….women!…”

    Indeed. I reunited with a girl a couple of years ago who rejected my advances as a kid. She three marriage’s later, kids on drugs, living in a rental. I also remember an Irish girl who I rejected. What did my dad say at the time? . ” You need your lumps felt son ” But as the great French singer Edith Piaff sang…….Non, je ne regrette rien No, I don’t feel sorry. Yea like f@#$ I don’t.

    The fickle finger of fate.

  12. Michael Taylor

    It’s enough to turn a bloke to drink, Phil. 🥃 🥃 clink

  13. Phil

    ‘ It’s enough to turn a bloke to drink, Phil. 🥃 🥃 clink ‘

    Aye it is that. I have just woke up here in the west and it is time for drinkie poos. As my favourite comedian Peter Sellers would say.

  14. Joseph Carli

    Not much comment from the Ladies of the site…..?…………shy…?….I doubt it !

  15. wam

    The car park was full of old bombs and a couple of mercs who belonged to the woodwork teachers all retired chippies. No 6/10 for those classes you got it right or did it again and again and a clip and help to get it right. Sadly when all teacher had to go through uni or teacher’s college these great experienced old men disappeared and woodwork joined the out of 10 group.
    When I started uni bob martin bought an ex-copper BSA olden flash, He rode over on the first Sat to take me for a ride.
    Taking the long shallow bend as tapley hill road crosses the old port road he panicked and went through the gate of the house in the middle of the two sides of the port road and out through the side roses but fortunately no side fence.
    I walked back home to the woodville the west trust home.
    My darling bought a trail bike in 75, the weird year for darwin, and I had a go but my nerves were still shot.
    As for women, my dad terrified me by his sex lesson. Remember son where you go in a baby comes out. No sex before marriage.

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