Interview: Life After Keating
Industrial: That Friday Feeling
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Unions: Off the Rails
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Environment: Brown Wash
History Special: Learning from the Past
Corporate: Will the Bullying Backfire?
Technology: Danger Lurks For The Passive
History: In Labour’s Image
Politics: Without Power Or Glory
History Special: A 'Cosy Relationship'
Culture: Blood Stains the Wattle
Satire: Iraq Pre-empts Pre-emptive Strike
Poetry: The Executive Pay Cut
Review: Time Out
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Deadly ‘Slave Labour’ Racket Exposed
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Labor Council of NSW
Blood Stains the Wattle
Extracted from Blood Stains the Wattle (Central Queensland University Press)
"Hold the fuckin thing, it won't bite yer!"
Jesus help me! I took hold of the drill with my right hand and brought it back to the rock face. A jet of water squirted from the end of the drill into my eye. I blinked, squeezing out the shit from under my eyelid. I blinked again hoping I would wake up, snap out of this nightmare.
A staccatto burst from the jackhammer shattered the hope, reverberating in the narrow underground corridor like a man running mad with a machine gun. The drill began to rotate in my right hand, the water jet pinwheeling round the drill tip soaking me again. I placed my left hand over the drill tip, blocking off the spray, and then, concentrating on the job to be done, brought the drill tip up against the rock face until the cushion of my left hand was planted firmly against the rock. It formed a protective sheath over the pitching point, just as I had been told.
Rookwood had favoured me with a two-minute tutorial. 'Put yer hand against the face like this, just above the pitch.' He thumped his large meaty hands against the jagged rock face. 'This does two things', he explained. 'it cuts orf the water'n it guides the drill.' His hand was like a steel gable, immovable, indestructible. To demonstrate further he reached over and selected one of the spare steels leaning up against the wall. 'Y'grab the steel'n bring'r up into the cup of yer left hand, see.' He did so. 'She can't move. You let'r turn but you don't let'r walk'. He concluded by saying it was simple; like shitting in bed!
The jackhammer itself was a heavy, solid-steel instrument with a hand grip at the back and a long snout like a crocodile. It was driven by compressed air, piped down from the surface and delivered to the machine by a heavy-duty rubber hose. Another hose coupled to the hammer forced water through the drill in ordr to remove the sediment from the drill hole in the form of a sludge, rather than as dust. Dust was a killer underground. It caused miner's phthisis, scourge of the old miners who used hand steels.
A five-foot steel drill was inserted into the chuck of the hammer and locked in with a spring latch. At the other end it widened into a hardened chisel bit which penetrated the rock by a combinatioon of rotation and percussion. The jack-hammer was suspended on top of an air-operated telescopic 'air-leg', swivelling up and down on a hinge arrangement. The air-leg had a shoe at the bottom which secured a foothole in the mine floor. It both supported the heavy hammer and pressed it into the rock face as the air pressure was increased. In skillfull hands it was weightless, in clumsy hands it was dangerous and back-breaking.
Rookwood crouched behind the apparatus like a commando, left hand holding the hammer grip, right hand operating the valve at the top of the air-leg. The air-leg was at a 45-degeree angle to the ground, the drill exactly parallel, aimed directly at the rock face.
This time I was determined not to fail. The big problem was the way the drill, before it pitched and locked into its own hole, tended to wander over thje rock face. I found out later that many miners used a special pitching drill without the chisel-end, but Rookwood said they were 'carryin on like a pack of ol' women!'
As the bit began to bite it spewed out little fragments of rock and powder which mixed with the water, forming a dirty grey gruel. This gruel accummulated along the spinning drill, tearing at the flesh of my hands. Despite Rookwood's earlier assertion that it wouldn't bite me, it seemed to have very sharp teeth indeed! I found out later that many miners used leather gloves to protect their hands but my mentor's view was that such people were 'fuckin' ol' women!'
As the hole began to take shape, Rookwood reached up with his right hand to the lever which stood up on the jackhammer head like a Kangaroo's ear, and caressed it forward. The roar intensified. It combined with the percussive clang of the drill against the rock to create an overpowering noise lacerating my eardrums. I found out later that some miners used earmuffs but Rookwood said, 'whattayer think this is sonny, a Sunday School picnic?'
An oily emmission belched out of the exhaust holes and spread a film of oil over my right cheek. The pummelling fumes created moving patterns in the oil like shifting sands in the desert. God help me! I gritted my teeth.
Rookwood shouted through the roar that it was OK now. 'Shove a spare steel in the cut son,' he yelled. 'In the first hole there, give me a line to work on.' Then he pushed the lever right forward and roar was deafening, the drill tore into the solid rock and the effluent spewed down the rock face.
Hole number two. Twenty-two to go. How the hell did I end up in a godforsaken hole like this? I hadn't even come here to be a miner, I was a footballer. That bloody football party, it seemed so innocuous at the time.
From "Blood Stains the Wattle" by Keith De Lacy (Central Queensland University Press)
Order your copy from the Central Queensland University press website at http://www.outbackbooks.com/Books/BloodWattle.htm
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