Rocky ground, rocky soil, rocky water. There is nothing here for me or my kids or my wife.
Devastation in the cities and across the land. Land of my father, his father and his father before him. A land stripped bare of the cedars. All gone to furniture, and ships, leaving bare rocky land. Looking about the scene of nothingness, no sense of a future, but an endless nothingness stretching into the unknown.
He opened the letters, from far away, which he had done so many times before. Retrieved from the pockets of his threadbare trousers, they were first folded in a different land. The grime of his hands traced his many refolds, each a reinforcement of resolve. He squinted against the sun and read.
“There is much opportunity here, it is the future. Come brother, come!”
So often he had taken these letters from his pockets daring to read them in the solitude of the land.
Hard times and harder to follow.
And so heavy hearted he decided as he knew he must, to leave. The family would respect his decision. A matter of honour. Much depended on this. Bombed cities, poor schooling prospects no future, so he became an immigrant always a foreigner in a new land. It didnt worry him. His lack of language did, but his hands were hard. The shock of the shovel and the pick on stony ground had strengthened his grasp.
He was a gentle giant. No malice, no attitude.
In his mind he knew what must be done.
Make a new life in a new land irrespective of the cost..
Working at labouring jobs he maintained his dignity and his family thrived. Schooling and the chance which this over green land provided, eased his homesickness. Honest toil sweat and no tears.
The production line had little need of his strength. He learnt by rote what he needed. To get on kept he to himself but was recognised as having a steely determination. It was there in his eyes. Deep dark pools of a past he never spoke of. He applied and was selected to take on one of the key operator role in the plaster mill. A labyrinth of machines and noise. Vast kettles of steaming plaster, the hiss of pneumatics controlled from a single panel.
Slowly he gained the knowledge.
“Mansour, good to see you it’s your night shift again.”
He made no passing conversation his focus on the plant was total. He needed to make the targets. Keep the panels within limits. Tend the plant in the way he tended his fields.
Mansour developed the pride so long past from that which his fellow workers had long ago eschewed. Keeping the plant in limits was a delicate balance between feel and chemistry. He moved through the plant as if in a forest. Touching here and there sensing the rhytmn of the shift and rarely asking for advice. A man in control.
At smoke he came back to the operator room and set his aluminium panikan in the stove. He’d take a break as the kettles discharged their load into the hot pits and wait till the results of lab tests showed that transfer to the silos could take place.
He sat back in the swivel chair and took in the scene. The monster lights high in the ceiling sixty feet above cast the glow familiar on a partially lit secondary road. The plant hummed. The Lopulco mill whirred separating then grinding to dust the incoming gypsum. He knew everything was alright.
He pushed back in his chair thinking about where he was not quite thanking his luck that he was here. His eyes scanned the controllers he knew where each indicator should be and they were his eyes caught the clock and the thirty minutes waiting the lab results were barely five minutes gone. Time for dinner.
He rose to the oven, crossed the room and opened the door downwards.
“Where’s the phone,” he heard from the door, “Where the fuck have you put it,?”
The portable phone which he carried was at his belt. Carried by an operator in a sole operator operation it was a necessity for safety to be with him at all times. A life line for accidents.
His visitor stood at the door blazing attitude.
” Where’s the fucking phone wog,”
Mans our slowly turned to look at him. A slight twenty something year old he’d come from the plasterboard side of the plant and should not have been there.
“Mista David, the phone for if something got wrong in da faktory, not for people use.”
“Ya think I give a fuck. Now gimme the fuckin’ phone I gotta call sum one,
No mista David this not emergency you go see mista Les if you need phone,sorry.”
“Look you wog cunt I need the phone. If me dad wos here I cud use it all fuckin’ night.”
Mansour looked at him. The lad was half his size and about his son’s age.
“I eat my food now, you go.”
And he said this in a way which he felt should be the end of it.
“What is that shit you eat anyway it stinks the whole place out. My dad can’t stand it either and we have to leave the place to air whenever you’ve been on.”
Mansour wondered quickly what he meant. It was clear that coming over here and bludging away a shift was how things were when his dad Greg was on the night shift.
” When your father here he let you use phone?” Mansour asked.
“Course he fuckin’ does. You think the bloody bosses know?,
Mansour sensed that the lack of respect being shown was deeply ingrained. Nothing he could do about that.
“I not want trouble with you. You want the phone you go see mister Les. Ask him. This phone not for you.”
They stood apart but the distance was shrinking.
“I want the phone now ya fuckin’ goat eating wog,”
By now the distance was face to face. The older man towered over the younger who was not intimidated.
He lunged at the phone hanging from Mansour’s belt dislodged it tumbling to the floor. He’d grabbed Mansour by the shirt and with the other hand pinched him square in the chest.
“You fuckin’ muslim cunt give me the fuckin’ phone.”
Mansour backed away taking a defensive distance.
The younger man reached to the phone, punching out with his free hand to keep the older away. Several blows landed and rebounded but the older man didn’t feel them.
Muslim cunt had enraged him.
In the multicultural land he was born in such would never have been said.
David raised himself and swiped at Mansour’s face as the Muslim insult was worming it’s way into his brain.
“You disrespectful and I tell your father when I see him.”
“Who cares what he thinks he’ll be on my side anyway” and he tried to land a punch to the older mans right cheek.
Mansour raised his left arm defensively catching his opponents head and rocking him backwards.
“You punched me you cunt. That hurt. Wait till I let them.”
Who they were was not apparent but as he backed out the door he added.
“I’ll tell Les you fuckin’ punched me. Then you’ll see wog cunt.”
Mansour sat to wonder what had happened.
This was serious and in his best words wrote in the log.
“Fight with Dave Randell at 0130. Nothing hurt”
At seven he handed the plant to the day shift operator and found his way home.
At seven the next morning I read the log.
The manager’s dilemma.
I knew I should have never employed the son of an employee in the same plant to avoid the problem now fairly on my plate, in fact it was a lesson I didn’t learn well enough here. But thats a tale to tell later about Ivor and his son in Brisbane. A tale for the future.
So what to do. The rules are clear but extenuation of circumstances might provide an out.
I call Mansour’s home phone about lunch time, after allowing him time to sleep. I ask
“What happened mate. What fight? You ok?”
He is wordless, then words trickle then cascade out.
“Missa David, I so sorry, but he cumma to the control room and he fight with me, he swear, bad language at me, make bad bad words, and for me very shameful”
I can’t believe what I am hearing, this man who has the disposition of a gentle giant, diligent and one of our best workers.
“Mansour, can you come in early tonight, I need to speak to you”
“Sure, Sure Missa David, I come in and see you, it’s very bad, I not want trouble, you know me not bad man, is there trouble for me?”
I sense there is trouble but dare not say, it’s the tension between job and friendship, uncertain I say, “Not sure, but come in and we talk.”
“Ok, ok ” he says, ” I be there five o’clock, I come your office.”
“See you then” I reply though not convincing myself.
Greg Randle the combatant’s father has already been to see me. He’s full of bile and anti wog sentiment.
” He hit David last night, he’s lucky I haven’t seen him or I would have decked him” he had told me when I had made the rounds of the plant mid morning.
The story was around the plant, dividing the workforce along Anglo and others. The resentment towards the harder working migrants was never far below the surface. The little schemes and bludging scams were inapplicable to those who wanted to do a days work and get paid for it. Others seemed to want to attend and get paid or worse paid penalties for doing normal work.
” That wog hit David for no reason, when he went round there to use the phone for an emergency.”
When I asked what the emergency was, he couldn’t quiet make the connection, there seemed always something to be something else to which the focus shifted.
I knew that this was something that needed to be squashed pronto. I called David’s home after calling Mansour. A surly sheila wanted to know who wanted to speak to her boyfriend, “He’s fucking sleeping if ya must know, he might ring ya back if I tell him”.
Apparently he woke pretty quick when she told him it was his boss, calling back almost immediately.
“I bet that cunt lied bout what happened last night”
More of the same, then more again.
This was a conversation going now where and I told him so. As he said he wouldn’t be coming in early I told him
“Ok, I’ll see you tonight at start of night shift “
He sneered as he didn’t think I’d bother.
11 pm came quickly enough, the conversation was tense.
“So tell me what happened then David,” I asked in front of Les, his foreman.
“I had an emergency, couldn’t get into the fore-man’s office to use the phone so I went to the plaster mill”
I heard him out, though not convinced.
“And then what happened?” I enquired.
“Well the fucking wog wouldn’t let me use the phone, me dad always does!”
His enraged sense of entitlement bristled. I could see that there was no room for compromise and this little bag of tricks needed to be disappeared from the site for the good of all.
The situation was deciding itself. There’s a tide of decision making when the strongest berm no longer stands against the onslaught of the battering sea. The dye had been set all those months ago when the young runt had been allowed to pierce the wall of employment standards, that no relatives should be appointed because of their familial connections. It had all seemed so easy. The plant was short of unskilled folk for labouring work at the end of the production line manually loading pallets of gypsum board. Rather than take the trouble to seek out the best person for the role Greg had recommended that his unemployed son be put on as a trial. Some trial it turned out to be. A trial not of Dave but the trial of ten thousand cuts, expertly administered by Dave, his dad and a compliant union on a company hoping for the best but reaping the worst.
So there it was, two people fighting, punches admittedly thrown by both. Dismissal the only option for both.
For years after I’d see Mansour in his corner store, just down the road from where I lived in Five Dock. He never understood why he was sacked as well.
Dave was never heard of again.
Never again were family relations employed in operations I controlled.