This is a creative piece I wrote when I was at university. It was based on memories – both real and quite likely assumed, as some are quite old – and the senses that came with them. I thought it was quite expressive and interesting, a different look at a particular place, an abattoir. I’m sure there would be many other ways to describe this particular place, this is just the way I remember this day…
Cacophony. Dogs barking constantly. Sheep baaing, sometimes low and unconcerned; at other times frantic. The cows too, mooing as their hooves clatter up the wooden ramp, the three pronged electric prod sometimes poking them sharply in the rump. The loud machinery jangles and clangs, chains moving mechanically in rows, fans whirring.
If you are in the right area, you can hear the guts and intestines slapping onto the concrete floor. A manned hose, thick as a rock-climbers calf, noisily squirting away the blood. If you listen carefully, you can hear the rugs manually being torn from the beheaded sheep carcasses.
The sharp bang of the gun shooting the steel bolt; the dull thud of it penetrating the bovine forehead. Added to the animal and mechanical sounds is the human language, both body and verbal. Grunts, heavy be-gumbooted feet stomping. The signaled, thought, whispered and shouted constant profanities.
The smells are empowering. Not always disgusting, but not often nice. Raw meat, blood, cow shit, sheep shit, dog shit. Strangely, cow piss is the worst. Mixes of sweat, chemicals and cigarette smoke. The aromas waft from the smoko room, pies, hotdogs and coffee. In the mornings, a little soap and aftershave on the men’s skin. Such an amazing mix of smells and sounds that amalgamate to form something that could never be mistaken for anything else. Ever.
The feel – both physical and emotional – is mixed. The ‘large size only’ gumboots are giant on anyone but a grown man. Each step taken drags when small feet inhibit them. Fluffy protective hats sit elastically on heads, wrapping across foreheads so when removed, a comical wiggly line is left indented in the skin. They start out white, end up brown and yellow, smeared with dirt, blood and sweat, true marks of a hard day’s work. Gentle cold spray occasionally settles on skin when hosing is in progress. The giant coolers and fans keep the interior of the factory almost refrigerated. The insides of human visitors are often as cold as the atmosphere around them. Even with eyes shut, the sounds and smells of death and fright can affect.
Touching the dead bodies in different places is like being in a sensory fun park. Bare animal skin is waxy and smooth. Clean bones, slippery and shiny. Sheep’s wool, surprisingly un-fluffy and coarse. Innards and intestines warm and slimy to the touch, oily almost. You can run your hands through like it’s spaghetti bolognese, leaving the sauce behind to stain your skin. The beasts lifeless legs are often stiff and unmoving, hooves and trotters still hard and unyielding, but odd to be felt upside-down.
The lick and sniff of the drover’s heelers and kelpies wet noses on your leg, begging for a pat. The polished, hard wooden bench seats in the smoko room, slippery enough to make it difficult to keep your backside in one spot. The helping hand of a worker; patiently lifting a tiny visitor over a drain, or thoughtfully shielding her eyes from the stunned sheep’s throats being slit. Beautiful, gentle caring emotions mixed with fear and pain. This is a part of life.