Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Last Days of the Mill by Pete Hay and Tony Thorne

I bought myself a book the other day! Not something that happens very often. The soccer kids gave me a voucher as a thank you at the end of the season, so I went and grabbed a copy of Last Days of the Mill by Pete Hay and Tony Thorne, as it's just come out and I have heard people talking about it. I know both Pete and Tony slightly.

It's about the APPM pulp and paper mill in Burnie, the town where I grew up. (I mentioned it once before when it was the subject of a contemporary opera, for heavens sake) It was generally called the Pulp. Generations worked there alongside one another - grandparents, parents and kids. We were not a Pulp family, although I did have a brother-in-law working there during the dark days towards the end of the mill's life. It was a very unhappy place to work then.

APPM  was the big employer in town, and at the time I was in high school, it was still where the average Burnie lad could expect to spend his working life. My dad was a teacher, and so as a middle-class kid I didn't have as much to do with the place. It stank, and we would wind up the windows when we drove past it in summer. It had a cloying odour that somehow combined bacon with burnt sugar and burnt hair. I could rabbit on more about my recollections but this is a book review.

The book is a collection of stories based on interviews Pete Hay conducted with former mill workers. A lot of them talk about the strike that happened 20 years ago. It was a very nasty strike with a lot of militancy on both sides. Hardline union outsiders and hardline free-marketers on the company side decided to make it a test case, and the locals were caught in the middle having to choose to strike or scab. 

Pete Hay has tried to reflect the way working men of that generation speak, and I think he's done a good job. These are men with dignity and self-respect, who are quite eloquent in their way. Here is an example - this is from a time before OH&S had much real importance on the shop floor.

I went through th machine
Clean through. 13 April 1968.
Four operations.
That was no-one's fault but me own.
I seen a fault in th paper go through
and I look up t'see where th break was
and put th ticket in without watchin.
And through I went.
There wasn't guards and things like there was by th finish
but it were still my fault.
And th company looked after me –
brought me pay in, and when I was back fr skin grafts and that
someone frm th mill come in every week …

In the early days, although safety was pretty rough and ready, the company was very paternal, and looked after it's people. I remember the annual Christmas party for all the mill kids was a big thing in town, although we never went of course.

I really like this bit;

Now, a lot 'f th drives had carbon brushes
and they was bloody high maintenance.
Y'cleaned em with compressed air
'brush n blow' it was called,
shitty stuff, bastard 'f a job.
This bloke, he'd been on th brush n blow and he was filthy.
And here he was, sittin in th canteen eatin cream buns.
And he was black –
th only white on him was th tips 'f his fingers
where he'd been lickin the cream off …

I learned a lot about life at the Pulp from this book. Having grown up there, surrounded by people for whom the Pulp was their life, I suppose I have a deeper understanding of those people now.

I met Tony in about 1984, when he was taking a school holiday cartooning course at the Burnie Adult Ed. He is an amazingly talented illustrator and animator - I believe he worked on some of the Harry Potter films. He arranged to spend time drawing at the mill before it finally closed for good in June 2010. He was supposed to have 2 weeks but ended up having only four days, as different processes shut down forever around him. 

Tony, his father and grandfather all worked at the Pulp or on the docks shipping paper. Tony's mum Pam worked with my mum for years as paper artists. The works in the book are mostly digital prints - which I guess he has done from sketches using a graphics tablet. The 2nd image above is the exception, its a big watercolour wash/ink number. If you'd like to know more, the book has its' own blog here.

I think it's a real treasure of a book, and a model of how this sort of vernacular history ought to be done.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

A tough day at the Showgrounds

The Central Region U/10s were knocked off their perch today. They won the last tournament in Devonport in fine style, and came into this one fairly confident. The boys won both games yesterday (against Eastern Suburbs and Devonport) fairly comfortably, but the coach Atef saw a few things he didn't like. He warned the boys they would have to change their ways today or they would lose their 3rd game to the big threat, the representative team from Launceston.

And he was right. There was not the usual teamwork - too many boys deciding to do it all themselves. There is a some immense talent in the team but a few egos to match. They had shots from miles out, or acute angles. The keeper did a good job but he wasn't often required to stop shots on target. Our keeper Ethan made a really stunning save, tipping the ball over when it was destined for the top corner. A few minutes later another shot dipped under the crossbar, caught by the wind, and he just couldn't reach it. The wind was horrendous throughout the two days (and is still howling about the eaves as I write). Down 0-1 at half time, a few boys dropped their heads and we never looked like equalising really. It finished 0-2.

The result in the 4th game against Western Schools was much better, about 7-1 in the end, but I didn't think that the lesson of game 3 was really learned. Boys were still attempting goal-of-the-year with their backs to goal rather than laying it off to a better-placed teammate.

Launceston won the Hobart Cup with 4 wins from 4 games. Our Central Region development squad went through unbeaten to win their division, which is great for those kids who have worked equally hard as Marcus's team. In two weeks the Launceston Cup will wrap up the regional series.

Marcus played very well in defence in all four games. He has really made a step forward since the Devonport Cup. He took possession, looked up and used the ball constructively - which takes more confidence than just getting to the ball first then biffing it away up field. The defence have really become a good cohesive unit, with Ethan the keeper, and I thought could all hold their heads up despite the disappointing result.

Saturday, September 08, 2012


The boys and I went up the mountain on the spur of the moment to enjoy the fresh snow, mid afternoon yesterday. We had a great time, although the snow was too powdery for snowballs or snowmen. My hands were in agony from the cold when I said OK, that's it - lets quit while we are having fun. (I've learnt from experience you don't wait for the sobbing to start before coming back down).

The car was only 50 metres away, but as we came out into the carpark a genuine blizzard whipped up. The road was caked with ice and incredibly slippery - we had to walk backwards otherwise the wind was etching our faces with tiny ice crystals. I asked Michael to hang onto the wire rope, and just work his way backwards along it. It was actually pretty terrifying. I picked him up and carried him the last 20 metres.

I was so glad I hadn't locked the car so we didn't have to muck about, just dived in. We just hunkered down and experienced the blizzard for a while. The last photo here is us thawing.

Then I put on the hazard lights and drove down the mountain at about 15kmh with my nose pressed to the windscreen.

Thursday, September 06, 2012


I mentioned a few weeks back that the boys did very well in the Science Competition. They have just backed that up with the only High Distinctions in the school in the UNSW Maths Competition. I was at assembly today when they were presented with their Science Competition certificates (there is always a big lag between results and certificates).

As a bonus I got to hear both boys participate in marimba performances. The grade 4-5 group started hesitantly, struggled on gamely but then the music teacher, brave Mrs Stronach, stepped in and put tthe tune out of its' misery. The 2 kids on the bass marimba were going so slooooooow, everyone else had wisely decided to leave them behind. It sounded pretty chaotic.

So they took it from the top. And exactly the same thing happened. Mrs S recognised she was up against something too big to fight, and she and we rode it out to the end. Not pretty. If you ask me, when you start with the bass part soloing and everyone else has to follow it, you want your gun marimbistas on the bass. Surely?

[Note, the ch in Mrs Stronach's name is meant to be pronounced like stomach, but our dear principal always pronounces it like spinach. Just another of various crosses she has to bear]

Then the grade 3 marimba group came out and nailed their (admittedly simpler) piece beautifully. Michael was paired on a marimba with Corey, a famous loose cannon. I was expecting the unexpected, but they both laid down a disciplined groove. Once their bit was over they kept playing it in mime form, but managed not to clonk any unwanted clonks.

This evening we went out to the opening of a group exhibition of book and paper art, in which Mum has some work. Driving home with our superscientists in the back, one of them said, seriously; "Wow - look, there is like a star in the sky located right above each house!" This boy could probably name you the nearest five stars to us, in order. He can rattle off the moons of Jupiter. He probably has a theory about dark matter.

But streetlights are a whole new thing to him, apparently.

Marcus plays footy

I have been getting to a few more events at school since I have been working from home. Yesterday I was there to see Marcus play football (as opposed to soccer) for the first time. Not the first time he has played, but the first time I have seen it. School soccer has finished, and I now have the luxury of simply picking the kids up on Wednesdays after school, rather than running soccer practice.

If you have never watched Australian Rules football, there are 18 players on each side, arrayed all over an oval field. The taller kids play in central positions, "down the spine", and the slighter or shorter players out wide. I don't usually think of Marcus as slight, but in this company he did look quite fragile. I was the only parent there, and I tried manfully to keep my yelling to a minimum. As someone who has played one (1) game of competitive Aussie Rules, I really don't know what I am talking about anyway.

This was the last week of the Winter Sports roster. Six of the ten planned games were actually called off due to weather, or flu epidemics. South Hobart lost all of their previous three games, and this one was against the strongest footy school, Taroona, so there was a sense of foreboding.

At quarter time things were going as predicted, but South had a great second quarter, winning it out of the centre about five times in a row for as many goals. I think they were just 4 points down at half time. Soon after, the natural order reasserted itself and they ended up going down something like 10.6.66 to 7.8.50, their best effort yet.

Bearing in mind that a lot of readers of the blog are in the Phillipines and Moldova and whatnot, and this won't make much sense to them, I still am going to mention that Marcus kicked an unlucky behind and made a few terrific smothers.