the slaughterhouse, the cooking room.
A dark passageway, all the walls wet and over there a young man racking up a firehose. He watches you pass by. The smell in here is overpowering, warm and fecund, and all around is the hiss and clank of superheated boilers as they cook up the slaughterfloor waste. Two massive iron cylinders sitting a metre off the floor on concrete footings.
A mezzanine up there where two men take up the trollyloads of waste, tip it onto the floor in a jellied up mess of skulls offal flesh hooves and bones – thigh high. They shovel these remains into open boiler hatchways that belch great gusts of superheated steam.
The boilers have their internal revolving thrasher arms engaged, great swinging iron arms that pulverise the waste as it boils and breaks down into a bubbling red festering mud.
Curly runs the cooking room. A cocksure fellow with clean hands and twenty years put away. He takes you over to the gauges and the chains that govern the temperatures and pressures. He walks you around to the boiler face and shows you how to open the discharge hatch and take a sample of the cook.
The other men stand around the walls watching, smoking, grinning. Some of them you remember from the Great Northern that night everybody was beaten. Five minutes of pure mayhem, playtime for the local men.
The discharge hatch lock had to be kept on, the hatch opened only millimetres, a small drool of cooked matter caught on a hessian rag, the hatch refastened and the drool tested by folding the hessian over and seeing if it sticks to both sides.
Take down the pressure, stop the flailing arms, open the discharge hatch wide and watch the superhot larva belch out onto the enclose steel tray at its mouth. Close the hatch, restart the machinery and take the hydraulic controls that swing over a centrifuge container. Settle this onto the floor close by and take a shovel and open a side of the receptacle tray and shovel the cooked matter into the centrifuge container. It bubbles like bolognaise. Spits. Here is how we are dealt with in Hades.
When the container is full to its edges lift it over and settle it onto the centrifuge mechanism, lock down the lid. Flick it on. Listen to the centrifuge grumble up its revolutions to a great metal groaning roar, guard against the container lid coming off its fasteners and being flung up and into the room.
Apply the brake when necessary, that’s the wooden post by the side of the centrifuge. You have to stand on it and apply leverage, and keep bent over in case the lid flies off. The container is being whipped around inside the centrifuge at an ungoverned speed, metal screams against metal.
Let the machine slow, then remove the lid and lift the container out and dump its dried contents into the milling pit.
That’s it, that’s what you have to do. Tomorrow. The process removes tallow from the waste. The dried matter is then milled up as fertiliser.
There is a doorway off to the side of the cooking room and it leads into a small alleyway that is cooled by the north easter, this is where Curly and his two offsiders stand as you take to the job. The room itself is subject to an almost unbearable heat and the crash and roar of steam and machinery drowns out all other sound. We work bare-chested with only hessian rags to protect our hands from the cooked material and hot machinery parts.
Small cuts and abrasions gather up into blood poisoning (sepsis) but there is no first aid, no workers compensation, no sick leave.
We work twelve hour round the clock shifts and after three months there is an unqualified acceptance. There is room on the breezeway wall for the Sydney boy, a place in town on saturday night when the Brisbane surfers come roaming down from their city.