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.
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.
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 …
Like what we do at The AIMN?
You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.
Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!