by Davide Angelo and Stephen J Williams

1966 | He could not write

When my dad came to Australia he went to work
in a spray painting factory. He was there for eleven years.
He worked hard. After a while the foreman
who was ready to retire
said dad should become the foreman.
It meant more money. He wouldn’t have to work overtime.
He would no longer have to spray.
My dad turned it down. He could speak English
and understand it and read it.
He could not write. This terrified him.
He was stuck.

1992 | Time stands still

I worked for a union. You worked on a process line.
There was a time in the lighting factory
when there was an engineer on your left and a doctor to your right.
It was the 1990s. It could have been now.
Immigrants turning screws on pieces of metal ten hours a day.
The president of my union talked about how a video cassette recorder
could make movies play a frame at a time or make time stand still.
It was the 1990s. It could have been now.
I was there when the ‘workplace’ became a science
when the continual improvement of work
could be the continuous improvement of ourselves.
When I was a waiter, when I was a clerk, when I was a cleaner,
when I washed dishes and when I sold shirts,
I was too tired to think.

1995 | The floor above

The process line workers were separate.
The sales people, on the floor above
didn’t move, didn’t eat, didn’t smoke
between the ringing of bells.
They had a different clock.
Sometimes a person on the process line would be given a promotion
and leave the factory floor to work upstairs.
He would be trained in sales, arranging deliveries
and acquiring new business. He got a new haircut.
He could see the sky. He wore shiny shoes.
These promotions were only for certain types: males without accents.
The owner was the main man at a football club.
He had a promising junior player working on the floor above.
I say ‘working’, but he did fuck all and spent his days sitting
in a toilet and reading the paper, like a champion.

2007 | Intervention

Little children are sacred. Everyone agrees.
In order to protect me, a national emergency

cordons off one million three hundred and forty-seven thousand
five hundred and twenty-five square kilometres and

brings justice by taking my father’s land
a second time. I was inspected in the morning

and forced to speak English. I practiced this
new language counting times the law mentions land

and times it mentions me: six hundred to none.
Irony bridges what was said and what is done.

2016 | Swallowed

I am thirteen. My people were the first here, but I have no union.
I spat in the face of the whale that threatened to swallow me.

The old men who put their knees in my back want to kill
my pride. When I am abandoned by my country

I am the Pip spat out in the desert, castaway and lost.
Could you use your vote now to put a hook in Leviathan’s nose?

Does it speak to us in gentle words or tell us to work and shut up?
Will it make us beg for mercy? Will we have to fight again?

Nothing in our dreams is its equal. It swallowed me up
and I wait there for the one who made the whale to free me.

Note from the writers

These lines began as a conversation about work. In July 2016 news and images emerged from Australia’s Northern Territory of the mistreatment of children in the ‘justice’ system. Leviathan has for a long time been the symbol of the commonwealth and a lawmaker. In the Tanakh (Job 41) this monster is a pride-killer. (26 August 2016)