Black GoldA Poem by David Lewis Paget
The Dad was dour, his face was sour
When he came home from the pit,
He looked like a furnace stoker but
That wasn’t the half of it…
His fists were like a couple of hams
And he used the blighters, too,
The Mam would hear his foot on the step
And hurry to serve his stew.
She wore his bruises over her face,
Her arms and her legs and more,
I’d seen her body all over then
For I was coming-up four,
I’d watched the blood run down her leg
As she cleaned herself with a rag,
Whenever he’d come home roaring drunk,
Use Mam as a punching bag!
My sister Else was barely ten
When he made her work at the pit,
She struggled to push a cart of coal
Until she was almost sick.
The manager was a brutal man
With a knotted, leather strap,
If Else was slow or got vertigo
He’d lay it across her back!
I never heard Mam complain to him,
I guess that she didn’t dare,
She’d rub some cream into Else’s wounds
And run a brush through her hair.
‘It’s hard, but you’ll toughen up, my girl,
He said, as a sort of scold,
‘You’d better respect what we’re mining here,
Just think of it as Black Gold!’
‘Think of it as Black Gold,’ he’d said…
(The sort that gets into your pores,
The dust that gives you a crippled lung
And your skin gets covered in sores.
The cough that’s keeping the house awake
When everyone needs to sleep,
The sulphur smell round the chimney-piece
As you watch your mother weep!)
He dragged me out, and he took me in
When I was only eight,
He said, ‘Now look here, fella-me-lad,
It’s time that you pulled your weight!’
They started me at tuppence a day
And sat me down in the shaft,
I had to open and close a trap
To help to create the draught.
The hours were long, the days were long
We worked a twelve hour shift,
It took me an hour to get to the face,
Clambering over the drift,
I didn’t get time to go to school,
Still sign my name with an ‘x’,
But I’m learning now at the Institute
Just to try for a little respect!
When I was ten, they sent me down
With a pick to the old coal face,
Where miners hammered and banged like hell
And they tried to make me race,
Poor Else, still pushing the trucks of coal,
Her back had formed in a hump,
The boys would whistle and jeer at her
For her legs were like two stumps.
New-fangled ships were coming in,
The ones of steel and steam,
‘It’s only good for the working man,’
The Dad said: ‘Good for the team!’
But some of the stopes were caving in
The mine was in full retreat,
We’d pull what pillars of coal were left
And send them up to the street.
The Dad was working the furthest pitch
While Else sat crippled and old,
She’d ripped a tendon and looked quite lost
As she sat by a pillar of coal,
She waved me away to the further stope
And attacked the coal with a pick,
The pillar came suddenly crashing down
And the roof - it followed it!
I never saw Mam cry for The Dad,
She cried for our Else instead,
‘She never had much of a life at all,
I’m glad the old bugger’s dead!’
Now the years have passed, and I understand
That The Dad was true to his kind,
He never had much of a chance at all
And he’s buried, still in the mine!
David Lewis Paget
© 2012 David Lewis Paget
David Lewis Paget
Moonta, South Australia, Australia
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