The Unknown Industrial Prisoner
"In his 'preface' which comes near the end of this extraordinary novel David Ireland says:
'It has been my aim to take apart, then build up piece by piece this mosaic of one kind of human life...to remind my present age of its industrial adolescence.'
"Piece by piece, David Ireland portrays a kind of life which is lived at an oil refinery in Sydney - from its highest tower from which one of the workers plunges to death, to the secret hide-out in the mangroves where the men refresh themselves with such ladies as the Sandpiper and Never on Sundays. He takes apart this vast industrial complex and its multitudinous characters, then reassembles it into a mosiac fiery and macabre, whose crazy patterns are lit with grim humour.
"The huge structure becomes an image, at once amusing and appalling, of the whole industrial society in which modern man is trapped."
"A harsh and remarkable work...it will leave you shaken mildly or terribly according to your life experience." - National Times
It was the same every morning. At ten to six reveille sounded. Mostly a broom handle was applied to the green dented side of a locker, one of sixty to hold the clothes of the men of the four shifts. This time someone with a sense of humour had taken a length of two-inch plastic hose and used three or four lockers as a gong, producing a deafening, heart-stopping crash. This was a bad thing to do; it split the hose used to get hot water from the taps over the handbasin into the mop bucket. Finances didn't run to another tap or to the employment of cleaners. The echoes died quickly into the concrete.
'Spread out!' roared the Glass Canoe. His voice was throaty and rich and greedy as if his words were cream. He'd taken his wake-up pill. 'Stand aside or lose a limb!' He was always nasty when it wasn't his turn to go down on the night shift. His face smiled when he bashed the lockers with the hose, but that smile was for the Glass Canoe, not the other prisoners. He advanced into the narrow floor space between the lockers with mop and bucket of hot water. Red-faced, faces puffed and pouchy, hampered and confused by early morning horns, the sleepers were up, desperately scrambling to get hundreds of pieces of scrap rag - their beds - up off the concrete and back into the rag carton before the Glass Canoe could spill hot water on them with the legitimate excuse that the cleaning roster had to start on time. He was a large and formidable man with a history of mental illness; his head full of ambitions, his pocket full of pills, his mouth full of other men's words. He had no trouble getting past Doctor Death when he came up for his medical. Doctor Death, who would pronounce a prisoner fit for work if he could stand unaided, breathe and had a detectable pulse, was a paid company man in the best understood sense of the word: he knew what his modest two hundred dollars a month was worth and gave service to that amount, making three short visits a week. Six hours. Put out your tongue. Drop your tweeds. Cough. He wasn't paid to look for nervous disabilities, just cripples and dead men.
From the Angus and Robertson hardback edition, 1979.
This novel won the Miles Franklin Award in 1971.
This page and its contents are copyright © 1998-2001 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to David Ireland page.
Last modified: May 16, 2001.