Poetry from Stephen House


at twenty years old i worked as a contract labourer for an engineering company. we would be sent out for stints of doing hard manual work in a range of places. the money was ok, and the other blokes were too. at that time most of us were doing life tough in some way.

one job we were on, we were instructed to pull down old buildings on an industrial sight in an outer suburb. the bosses of the company stood back watching us from a distance.
it was as if this urgent building demolition was undercover. nobody else came near as we smashed and bashed and sawed and stacked.

many years later it dawned on me one night as i watched tv, those old buildings had been made of asbestos. the air had been thick with particles and our lungs were also.
we were breathing it in daily, sniffing and coughing at the end of each shift and at home every night.

we had been used for months to destroy what they had seen as a health risk. there had been no protection or information for us; no masks, warnings, or concerns about the long-term outcomes. we had been completely sacrificed by the companies involved; seen as unskilled losers with no value or worth.

now decades later we old past labourers must be walking time-bombs. i’ve read it takes this amount of time for deadly lung growths to occur. to date i’ve taken no action; how can i? i don’t even remember the name of the employee it was so long ago. i know that seems ignorant but it was forty years before.

i feel angry about how thoughtlessly we had been sacrificed; question, where were the bodies to monitor treatment of workers? was there a union i didn’t know about? we were sent to all types of dangerous sites, and we did anything they asked us to do.

i don’t think it could happen in current australia or could it? and does it still occur in other hidden ways? do workers continue to be sacrificed? how many of those original blokes are sick or dead? it was out of our control. we are innocent victims

BIOGRAPHY Stephen House   

Stephen House has had 20 plays produced. He has won many awards as a poet, playwright, and actor. He’s received international literature residencies from The Australia Council and Asialink. His chapbooks “real and unreal” poetry and “The Ajoona Guest House” monologue are published by ICOE Press Australia. His next book drops soon. He performs his acclaimed monologues widely.