Friday, September 19, 2008

Aussie grit

As some of you have noted so ruefully, I have been posting a fair few photos to this blog lately. I could never be bothered messing around with darkrooms and negatives and trays full of that funny red liquid, but now that the advent of the digital camera has transformed photography into a lazy person's artform I can't help having a crack.

I only realised how far off the mark my efforts with the camera have been when I looked at this set of new photographs by trade unionist and labour (or should that be labor?) researcher Kirsty McCully, who has been snapping merrily away in her new hometown of Sydney. The photos reproduced in this post were taken on Cockatoo Island, which was for decades the hub of Australia's boat-building industry.

Many of the Australian navy's gunboats, frigates and submarines were built on Cockatoo Island; ironically enough, the site was also a major power-centre of the pro-Moscow Communist Party of Australia. During the early stages of World War Two, party members on Cockatoo Island organised industrial action which slowed down the construction of new naval vessels and provoked consternation in Canberra. After the Soviet Union was attacked the party made a U turn on the war, and its cadre began setting up 'production committees' and urging workers at Cockatoo to turn out more and more weapons of war. In 1989 the Hawke government annnounced that the dockyards on Cockatoo Island would close; in response, the workers and their supporters occupied the island, demanding the preservation of their jobs. After fourteen weeks they were defeated.

Now Cockatoo Island is a world heritage site, and tourists flock to walk its rusting staircases and photograph its galleries of ancient graffiti. Fading advertisements for the 'Party of the future' have an ironic ring today, but the Australian trade union movement is stronger than it has been for decades, thanks to the successful campaign of resistance to John Howard's anti-union industrial relations legislation. Today, of course, the heavy industrial sector symbolised by Cockatoo Island accounts for only a very small fraction of the Aussie workforce; the fastest-growing parts of the union movement, like the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union that employs Kirsty, represent the service sector.

In a hundred years or so will our descendants be traipsing through ruinous call centres, photographing the graffitti on the walls of claustrophobic cubicles and workstations?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i notice the sickle in the first photo faces the 'wrong' way - eg the right. on 'official' soviet iconography the blade points the other way. some trotskyists turned the sickle around and made it face the 'werong' way as a means of differentiating themselves from stalinists. could it be that there were trotskyists active on cockatoo island, and could one of them have painted this sickle?

quentin bird

3:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


3:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful photos. Haunting.

3:21 pm  
Blogger Blaize said...

In terms of your success with the "lazy person's artform" (snortle), I don't know if you've done it already, but I found that after I actually read and understood the manual that came with my digital camera, and then learned how to use both my camera and google's photo editor, suddenly I took some pictures I liked.

Not as good as these, necessarily, but still ones I liked.

5:16 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"successful campaign of resistance"!! What the fuck are you talking about? Complete and utter failure would be a more accurate way of describing it.

2:06 pm  

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