Workers Online
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  Issue No 29 Official Organ of LaborNet 03 September 1999  

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Review

Trains of Treasure

By Mark Gregory

A new CD of poems and songs pays tribute to our rich locomotive history.

 
 

Railways seem to run right through the art of the industrial era as surely as the iron road spanned the continents themselves. This CD celebrates the poems and songs that sprang from Australia's railways over a period of 162 years.

"My sole address at present is a battlefield in France/ If it's ever going to alter there is only just a chance/ To dodge the "Jerry" rifles and the shrapnel flying around/ I've burrowed like a bunny to a funkhole in the ground/ The floor is just a puddle and the roof lets in the damp/ I wish I was in Aussie where the Sleeper Cutters' camp" DAN SHEAHAN (1917)

Most of the 31 poems and songs on this CD come from railway workers, while some come from our famous poets. Francis MacNamara, the convict poet, Henry Lawson, himself for a time a Sydney railway worker, Will Lawson, John Manifold. Two outstanding modern day poets, John Dengate and Denis Kevans, present the poems along with a couple of their own.

"Yes, the second class were waiting in the days of serf and prince/ And the second class are waiting - they've been waiting ever since/ There are gardens in the background, and the line is bare and drear/ Yet they wait beneath the signboard, sneering "Second Class wait here" HENRY LAWSON (1899)

The songs and poems have been culled from a much larger collection of writing, photographs drawings and cartoons that railway worker Brian Dunnett brought together for the Combined Railway Cultural Exhibition Committee in the early 1980's, a time when some government money was available for Art in Working Life events of all kinds.

"Janet Oakden, Janet Oakden/You should be very proud/With the odds stacked against you/Your spirit was not cowed" PIP JAMES (1976)

Railways were made giant in two industrial revolutions, steam and electric, and rational economists (as distinct from economic rationalists) still see in rail a solution to our transport problems as we enter the computer revolution. The loyalty of railway workers to their industry and its future has always been evident. It certainly made the railways an ideal breeding ground for in-group folklore.

"If you talk of locomotives and would like to know the star/ Step up here on the footplate for a trip to Waratah/ Oh, I drive the finest engine - I can prove the statement true/ They've neither man nor engine equals me and Twenty-Two" JAYVEY" OF MURRURINDI (1880)

Railways in Australia nurtured particularly Labor politicians. NSW Premier Bob Carr's father worked at the Eveleigh Workshops in Redfern, a place where over 30 State and Federal members of parliament began their working lives and careers. Railways were at times at the cutting edge of industry and provide through apprenticeships much of the training of a skilled workforce for public and private sector alike. Railway workers were, of course, a big part of the union movement.

"Well the Navvy has demanded a shorter working week/ And an increase in his wages, and made the bosses squeak/ About the mighty big deficit, and revenue being light/ But these excuses do not help the Fettler in his plight" ANON (1939)

These songs and poems come from railway worker newspapers, union journals like "Railway Union Gazette" and "The Railway and Tramway Officers' Gazette", agitational publications like "Magnet" and "Eveleigh News" as well as the field recordings and collections of folklorists.

"What deed can you account for, To gain admission here?"/ "Why I worked at Eveleigh Loco, until my dying year"/ The gate swung open sharp, as St. Peter touched the bell/ "Come in" he said "and take a harp, you've had enough of Hell" ANON (1954)

Trains of Treasure CD is available for $15 from: Rail, Tram and Bus Union, 83 Renwick St, Redfern NWS 2016


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*   Issue 29 contents

In this issue
Features
*  Activists: Virtually Here - Eric Lee
From the Kibbutz to cyberspace, Andrew Casey profiles the work of an Internet class warrior.
*
*  Interview: Net Benefits
Sean Kidney has been combining business savvy with social justice for more than a decade. He gives us his take on unions and the Net.
*
*  International: Dateline Dili
As the United Nations attempts to begin counting the votes from East Timorís independence referendum, the capital Dili is rapidly spiralling out of control.
*
*  Unions: Secret Herbs and Spices
Read KFC worker Claire Hamilton's speech to last week's Second Wave Rally.
*
*  Politics: Loosening Laborís Links?
Is Labor under Kim Beazley fundamentally changing its social appeal and turning itself into the Australian equivalent of Bill Clintonís Democrats?
*
*  Labour Review: What's New at the Information Centre
Our regular update on papers and articles for union officials and students.
*
*  History: Immigration, Racism and the Labour Movement
An upcoming conference asks some hard questions about the politics of immigration.
*
*  Satire: Crime Figures Down: NSW Elections Postponed
The release of statistics showing decreasing crime rates has threatened to delay the next NSW election.
*
*  Review: Trains of Treasure
A new CD of poems and songs pays tribute to our rich locomotive history.
*

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