White overalls, rubber boots and a hairnet
a red surname sewn into the chest pocket –
I was ready. To sacrifice sunlight
for the punishing noise of steel clanging on steel,
revolving guillotine blades carving lengths of cheese
the pressure on my feet
from eight hours of standing beside a conveyor belt,
checking steel containers clasping blocks of cheddar
shunting past like minutes, each one counted,
then hands whirling over steel in the washroom,
overalls soaked and inventing jokes with the Yank
from Detroit who hates cheese, work and Aussies,
both of us shouting above the clamour
as if opinions ever matter
when the stainless steel is piling up around you.
A week later, the shifts have become ingrained
jobs so familiar, I finish them in my sleep –
checking valves, testing rennet, twisting
stainless steel taps to switch milk between vats.
For the permanents, extended tea breaks are ignored.
The supervisors take walks between 3 and 4am.
The seasonal casuals- hungover, love bites on the neck –
wheel 44-gallon drums of cheese off-cuts
under the crusher. We are paid above the award.
One night, after two weeks on late shift
I fell asleep, clipped a white post, did a 180
on the crest of a hill, shimmied up an embankment
slammed into bluestone rocks, headlights
shining in my sister-in-law's bedroom.
Next week in the tea-room, it barely rated a mention.
We lived for the buzz of our pay slip
dragging each other off as we left the car park,
racing the train to the road crossing.
We were laid off at the end
of each milking season,
our faces turning pasty
as the hunks of cheese
we kicked around the concrete floor.
- 96: NO THEME IXSUBMIT NOW with M Gill and J Thayil 95: EARTHwith M Takolander 94: BAYTwith Z Hashem Beck 93: PEACHwith L Van, G Mouratidis, L Toong 92: NO THEME VIIIwith C Gaskin 91: MONSTERwith N Curnow 90: AFRO AUSTRALIANwith S Umar 89: DOMESTICwith N Harkin 88: TRANSQUEERwith S Barnes and Q Eades 87: DIFFICULTwith O Schwartz & H Isemonger 86: NO THEME VIIwith L Gorton 85: PHILIPPINESwith Mookie L and S Lua 84: SUBURBIAwith L Brown and N O'Reilly 83: MATHEMATICSwith F Hile 82: LANDwith J Stuart and J Gibian 81: NEW CARIBBEANwith V Lucien 80: NO THEME VIwith J Beveridge 57.1: EKPHRASTICwith C Atherton and P Hetherington 57: CONFESSIONwith K Glastonbury 56: EXPLODE with D Disney 55.1: DALIT / INDIGENOUSwith M Chakraborty and K MacCarter 55: FUTURE MACHINES with Bella Li 54: NO THEME V with F Wright and O Sakr 53.0: THE END with P Brown 52.0: TOIL with C Jenkins 51.1: UMAMI with L Davies and Lifted Brow 51.0: TRANSTASMAN with B Cassidy 50.0: NO THEME IV with J Tranter 49.1: A BRITISH / IRISH with M Hall and S Seita 49.0: OBSOLETE with T Ryan 48.1: CANADA with K MacCarter and S Rhodes 48.0: CONSTRAINT with C Wakeling 47.0: COLLABORATION with L Armand and H Lambert 46.1: MELBOURNE with M Farrell 46.0: NO THEME III with F Plunkett 45.0: SILENCE with J Owen 44.0: GONDWANALAND with D Motion 43.1: PUMPKIN with K MacCarter 43.0: MASQUE with A Vickery 42.0: NO THEME II with G Ryan 41.1: RATBAGGERY with D Hose 41.0: TRANSPACIFIC with J Rowe and M Nardone 40.1: INDONESIA with K MacCarter 40.0: INTERLOCUTOR with L Hart 39.1: GIBBERBIRD with S Gory 39.0: JACKPOT! with S Wagan Watson 38.0: SYDNEY with A Lorange 37.1: NEBRASKA with S Whalen 37.0: NO THEME! with A Wearne 36.0: ELECTRONICA with J Jones