Day four: 10 March 2016
Day four and I am still in Pirie hearing tales of the country, the sulphur smelter and the hot, dry summers. It is freakishly humid and it rained all night, creating a calming harmony with the air conditioner. I slept well and woke ready for my workshops: two sessions at the library on poetry and prose using the group members’ local knowledge to create a new beginning for our Jack Tale.
I wasn’t surprised that they were advocates for their town. I am working with people who have lived here all their lives so there is something about this place that holds them. It’s family and comfort and the known and the fact that everyone knows your business. This is seen as a good thing.
The people at the table mostly knew each other and if they didn’t they worked out how they were related or connected quickly, and so the group functioned beautifully. I went in to the deep end and everyone followed talking and writing about love, life, family, heartache and all the stuff that we rarely share with people we know just through location. There were poems, tears and laughter that were all loud enough to get you thrown out of an English library. The Port Pirie library doesn’t fear dynamic literature and nobody “tut-tutted” or looked over their glasses with distain.
The idea of place and ownership came up time and time again. Obviously this is part of the Australian conversation, and challenges us all to be comfortable in the space we occupy on this continent. Someone talked about living in a converted church and the guilt she had felt about removing coat hooks from a wall. She could feel the disapproval from the spirits of all the men who in the thirties had hung their hats on their way into the building. It made me think about the idea of spiritual spaces being converted into other uses. In England there are lots of small rural chapels turned into houses and large city churches into carpet showrooms. Port Pirie has something more confronting; a large central church which now houses a Barnacle Bill fish restaurant. The clash of aesthetics is all but lost under the dominance of the large smelter that sits at the centre of the town.
Pirie proclaims itself to be a city of opportunity and in our new folk tale Jack would travel from the country to find work in the town. Or perhaps he found work as a ‘shitcarter’. The narrow back lanes in Pirie are known as ‘shitcart lanes’ because of the weekly sewerage collection, in the days prior to municipal waste systems. There is a pub in Pirie still known as ‘the shitcarters’ because that’s where the men who worked the lanes would drink.
So Jack might settle for this hard and dirty work for a little while. He might still be grateful if the surrounding farms had a few bad years in a row and work was scarce. But he wouldn’t settle.
So Jack might settle for this hard and dirty work for a little while. He might still be grateful if the surrounding farms had a few bad years in a row and work was scarce. But he wouldn’t settle. Jack always takes a chance to better his lot and Pirie is the city of opportunity. So tomorrow we will present him with an opportunity and see how his dumb luck works out. – David
This is a SA Writers Centre project that will take place on the traditional lands of a number of Aboriginal nations in South Australia. We acknowledge Aboriginal people’s ongoing relationship and spiritual connection with the land, and pay our respects to their Elders past and present.
Supported by Arts South Australia’s Community Arts and Cultural Development project fund