Many years ago, in my days as the bachelor tradie in my twenties, I was subbied as a contractor to do “shut-down maintenance” on the old Metro Meats abattoir at Old Noarlunga over the Christmas holiday break. It was my job as the carpenter to fix and make good a list of jobs from office doors to the replacement of thick wooden slats on the sheep slaughter conveyor line.
In the progression from one sector of that place to another … from admin’ offices to different sections of the “factory”, I got to know other trades involved in the maintenance schedule and they explained the workings of their particular section … like the cattle killing box and the equipment used and the hydraulics that handled the carcass etc … I won’t go into it here … it is a brutal procedure even in its necessity. I was proudly told that the time from the beast entering the killing pen to the cold room was so short that some carcasses could still be seen quivering with nerves reaction after being skinned and on their way to the cold-room.
But it was the sheep killing system that most intrigued me … the wooden slats that I had to replace were on this twin conveyor system set in a “V”, where two “belts” of these wooden slats, wide at the top and narrow at the bottom to let the trapped legs go through when the animal was driven onto it, so that the slats carried the animal in a least resistance method with it’s legs penned and the animal’s body supported by this “V” combination toward the person who then slit the animal’s throat … a concise, predictable and perhaps considering the requirements of the deed, a neat conclusion. And given that what we have heard about the absolute brutality of live sheep export these last months, the quick dispatching of those beasts in the most “humane” manner would be the most acceptable method.
There was a day toward the end of the contract where I stood in the approximate centre of the killing-floor operations and did a 360-degree turnaround to just absorb the complete methodology of operations … it sent a chill down my spine, and I thought of those pics one sees of the Nazi years of concentration camps, where the human hand and mind exercises its natural bent toward the most efficient method of “getting a job done”. I saw the mechanised procedures as a metaphor of the politics of management and while I was unsophisticated then, I can now look back and compare that killing floor of flesh and blood with the kind of “killing floor” of right-wing economic rationalism, where a large section of the working population is “sacrificed” to the profit-motive of banking corporations and now has no chance to become an owner of their own home, yet is still driven at breakneck speed with deluded illusions of perhaps … perhaps being able to one day … one day … and those managers of corporate business and politics, in their concern to not ( very much like those animals to slaughter ) create nervous apprehension or awareness in the populace of their hopeless inevitability, lest they get too excited and cause themselves and society damage.
There is so much “killing” being done, one must become insensitive to the slaughter, both on the abattoir floor and the economic houses of the world .. There must be a brutalisation of both the butcher of the animals and the financial speculator toward their environment … there MUST be.
The manager of operations, when I went to sign off on the last day of the job, sat back in his chair and asked me my personal opinion of what I thought of the efficiency of the operation … I answered truthfully that it seemed to work in a most efficient, streamlined way … and then he asked if I would like to stay on in a full-time position as a maintenance staffer …
I politely declined, claiming (again, truthfully AND thankfully) other pressing engagements. And I have to add, that all the while I worked there, in whatever capacity, and although the abattoir was completely shut down so that the only sounds were the mechanical clatter of maintenance work being carried out, I was continually haunted by what I imagined was the cacophony of bellowing of the fearful animals being sent to slaughter … yet there I was at those very conveyor belts that carried the poor things to their inevitable doom with nothing about me but silence … the silence of the lambs.
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