|Sidetrack Theatre interviews
(Shop Steward at Chullora Locomotive Workshops)
Brian, a lot of people probably don't know exactly what happens
at Chullora - what's done there now and how's it changed?
Brian: Chullora is a complex of six shops. There is a variety
of work connected with railway maintenance. There's a rolling stock
workshop, the boiler shop, and the electric car workshops, and others.
The specific shop where LOCO was made is the locomotive section of Chullora.
There seems to be a lot of romance about those times.
Brian: Well, there is, as far as engines go. Steam's a live
thing whereas the diesel engine's very cold. Steam by its very nature
people look upon as being very much a live thing.
What about the conditions though. Somebody at Chullora said that
there's a lot of romance about steam, but that they were "dirty
Brian: Oh, well, conditions were pretty bad in that respect
- though even now around diesel engines there's diesel oil, it sort
of gets everywhere and the place is still not very good for conditions.
But certainly, yes, there was steam and smoke and soot and dust and
sulphur fumes, as well as the dirt, so in some ways conditions have
improved. And it certainly was never easy working during the steam period,
it was more physical work.
Brian: In some ways yes; in other ways no. I personally found
it more satisfying because very often for the jobs that you had to do,
you saw a physical result; whereas, for instance, in the electrical
side of diesel, you might spend weeks on a panel and don't feel any
great results and then the next engine virtually repeats itself. It's
more repetitive work.
Brian: Yes and no. I don't underestimate it. I mean there's
a lot of creation involved by some people in knowing what a diesel is
about. It was easier in the steam era to know all about your particular
work area. Things tend to be broken up more now. There are very few
people who have the skill to know all about something.
Brian, your monthly "concert" lunch hour was really
the major thing that made the LOCO project possible. Tell us about that?
Brian: Well, as I said before, during the war the rolling stock area became an aircraft factory and it was then that the concept of concert hours started and expanded into other sections of the railways. We were treated as war industry and, of course, they had concert parties and other "morale boosters". Eventually it was worked into agreement right throughout the industry and has continued as a feature since the end of the second world war. It made it possible to put on a show of the length of LOCO. One of the problems of a half hour show is you don't get sufficient development of the theme, the activity, or you back up the next day. The hour gives people much more performing time, much more ability to express what they're on about.
But you said it's only been used for films recently.
Brian: Mainly. We still continue, at least once a year to have
a concert and certainly since the Art and Working Life program has been
developed we've had a series of people come through. But even before
then we had a lot of people come here. For instance, one of the best
things I think was a fund-raising activity by a group of Chilean artists
who came in just after the Chile coup. They put on a tremendous concert.
It was a really packed thing. I suppose we can also claim to have launched
people like 'Redgum' before no bastard ever heard of ,em. We've used
Q Theatre, they came out and put on two plays.
Was that successful?
Brian: Extremely so. One was THE CHOCOLATE FROG and I forget the name of the second one. But you know they were ideally suited again. They fitted into that hour concept.
That's more bringing theatre into the workplace. How do you think
that compares with what was done in the LOCO project where we made a
play in the workplace about workers.
Brian: Well, it was a different sort of concept. Again that
was sort of ideal for a number of reasons. It was very useful in building
a situation where people saw their work or themselves represented and
that has been commented on. In fact, I think that some are only now
realizing the significance of it. I've had numerous requests about a
repeat of that same play. Maybe at some stage we ought to consider putting
it on one evening somewhere where they can bring their wives and involve
other people. If you look back on that first day there were about twenty
people involved. Well, that built up right through the project to a
significant number of people. I suppose there would have been at least
three hundred at the opening performance, so the concept certainly worked.
What we're about to enter into now are two areas - professional theatre
and doing things in that way, but also the concept of people being creatively
involved personally in activities. So there's a range of those things
that have got to be worked through yet.
What we tried to do with LOCO was to give a voice to the workers'
ideas and to express that in the form of a play. What are your thoughts
about the success of that?
Brian: I think that it was certainly a success in that regard,
there's no doubt about that. It did centralise a lot of thoughts and
the workers I have spoken to certainly did recognise the characters
that were involved and I think that they have been very much aware,
particularly in that year, in continuing to ask the sort of questions
that relate to the future of the industry, where it's going, etc.
Do you think we should have been more forthright in the issues
that we confronted?
Brian: Well I don't know. I think that, at this stage, it went
as far as it could go. I read one of the only criticisms of the play
where the person felt that the Arts should have given a line about,
or answered, the problems rather than just present the problems. But
I think that the question of solutions, problems and where it's going
is very much the prerogative of the workers concerned. I think that
needs to be emphasized!
Yes, I think that's the reason we didn't do that. We became very
aware, during our research on it, that we didn't have the answers.
Brian: Yeah - well, I think that's right. That's the real issue
that's involved there.
What about the future., Brian, of these sorts of projects. Do
you see a future?
Brian: Well, yes I do. I think that it's. only in its early stage. There's a need to project where this is going in the future. I still think that it's an early thing in the trade unions, that no-one's had a great deal of experience. I think we should be extending that experience.