Talking to Pulpies

When you sit down with the men and women who once worked the floor of the Burnie pulp mill - the 'pulpies' - and you turn your recorder on, you open yourself up to a flood of information and impression beyond the actual words that you are capturing in your magic machine. You realise, for one thing, how brilliantly articulate - and inventive - is the speech of these fine people. They are born poets, nimble spinners of metaphor and image, all delivered in the wonderful vernacular that is the lingua franca of ordinary people.  I was going to say, 'of ordinary Australians', and some of their speech rhythms and word choice are alike to the speech rhythms and word choice of Australians everywhere. But what struck me as I talked to them is how much of their way of speaking was generated by work and social relationships within the mill itself. The mill had its own practices, processes and culture, and these were coded within a mill-specific linguistics. Now the mill is gone, and with it a rich industrial culture has been relegated to memory. The mill constructed the lives of an entire town - the ways in which people understood themselves, and the meanings that they attached to their lives. That this should be switched off as a tap on the pipe of history is no small thing. Separately, and then collaboratively, Tony and I set out to give enduring life to the ways of work and life on the mill floor, and Last Days of the Mill is the result.  Well... the opening gambit, perhaps.  We have not necessarily done with this yet.

Pete Hay

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