Someone pressed a button and the whirring and fangling of the power shears broke the comparative quiet of the truck shop. For a few minutes the noise filled the long narrow building, then the big wheels slowed and it was quiet again.
Looking through the spinning fly wheel I saw the ‘Mount’ framed perfectly in the southern door of the truck shop, and my thoughts sped down through the years to Jacky and his ‘diamonds.’ Back to the times when wages were low; when jobs were hard to get, and when a job on the trucks was a penalty. A punishment imposed usually by an ulcer-ridden foreman — because your job time was excessive, because your rivets had sprung under pressure, because you had argued against his judgment, because your hair was parted on the wrong side. Perhaps you opened your mouth too wide in the wrong place. Then the ‘informers’ tugged the carpet and sent you on your way. Ulcers and informers — they wielded some influence in those years.
The penalty was not the job on the trucks — which, save for the renovating of the endless stream of trucks — wasn’t bad. It was the noise that punished. Now comparatively peaceful, in those years it was a seething hell of noise. Not the type you could anticipate — no rhythm, nothing regular — it was the screaming, thudding, booming noise. The big sledge, straightening plates, the whining creaming of the high speed reamers, the staccato rattle of the rivet guns, each with its different tempo: big slow-hitting ones for the channels, fast rattling ones for the small rivets. Above it, and complementary to the screams, the booms and the rattles, rose the sullen roar of the oil furnaces sending clouds of smoke, soot and oil fumes up to the low roof; there to spread and hang, dropping in imperceptible showers of filth all day long.
And through its open southern doorway, the truck shop spewed it noise — that never ceasing torment — out into the test road, to die away in reluctant whispers.
If there was a break in the noise, if an air compressor failed, or an oil pipe choked, you felt different — like jumping off a moving train. When it was on again you felt you could lean against it.
As I said, it was a punishment job, and Jacky was being punished on the door ‘spot.’ You created very little noise here, but you had to endure the guns, and the ‘spot’ was in a nest of oil furnaces. It was here that the noise cascaded; where it swirled, eddied and poured over you in its headlong rush for the south door and the test road.
A steam-tight, first-class helper, a graduate from the truck shop three years before, Jacky had spoken too loudly. The Informers had tugged the carpet, and at the end of the long tumble was the ‘door spot’ and a return to his nightmares.
No warning or explanation accompanied his fall from grace — just the brusque ‘Out in the truck shop, you! See if a month on the doors will quieten that clanging bloody tongue of yours!’
He asked for no explanation. The rapid gait of the foreman, the savage white face, the big-knuckly hands, wringing and washing — he’d seen it all before, too often. Now it was his turm, another victim to ‘informer anonymous.’ Some of us had landed in the truck shop by the same route years before, and had learned to accept the foreman’s ulcers and his ‘underworld’ as part of the job. Not so Jacky; he’d worked like a beaver to get out of the truck shop. When he was there, years before, he’d used his genius for sublimating with outstanding success. He just refused to become noise-happy, and concentrated on riveting little timesaving gadgets, and on getting into the Big Shop.
Now, he’d obviously lost the knack, and didn’t want it back again. He nursed and cultivated his grievance, until in three weeks he became a neurotic, and a damned nuisance. Always a scowl behind his three-days’ old sprout of whiskers, always a whinge. We’d had little Jacky.
Then it happened. He’d been away for a morning and we all thought he’d thrown in the towel. But he came back after lunch, and it only needed, a glance to see it was the old Jacky again. He strode across the main avenue — no slump in the shoulders, no whiskers on the jowl — and he went down into the Noise behind a big happy grin.
I asked his mate what had happened, and he pointed down through the truck shop to where the ‘Mount’ lay shimmering in the waves from the oil furnaces. Jacky used to stare out at it for half an hour at a time. His mate said, ‘He went out and found some diamonds,’ then explained.
It seems that he had tossed in bed all night, with the foreman’s sneer cutting into his sleep he’d threatened him with ten years on the Doors, and the little room was full of cracking knuckles. The Informers appeared, filing out of the wardrobe; poisonous whispers floating over to Jacky. Then the noise started — waves of it through the window, under the door. He’d struggled, but the Informers held him down and the noise seeped in under his finger nails and thudded and boomed along his veins, until his chest threatened to burst. He swiped a sledge and leapt from the bed to smack them all — then full consciousness was upon him.
He left the room before dawn, and it was still dark as he pedalled the rough road up the slope. It was a heavy white frost, and abandoning the bicycle he crunched his way up towards the paddock; big, black, sullen eyes facing the dawn. The foreman had been with him all the way — the Informers carrying him over the rough spots — looking back, whispering and laughing at Jacky. They were all there, in the centre of the paddock when he arrived. And Jacky was very miserable.
Three years ago, the frost-filled paddock had soothed his soul, and the diamonds had taught him to defy the noise. Now, the foreman and his friends came to worry and torment his nights.
The glow brightened in the east, breaking into his thoughts. A ray of light hooked on to the look-out, hung there, and with a burst of speed, tore down the slope, caught the edge of the paddock, and rushed to Jacky.
He saw the sunlight, and golden rays on a blanket of frost transferred the gleaming white mountainside into a field of diamonds. Hanging from the fence wire, here and there on the tall rushes, all over the grass, they twinkled at him with everchanging colours; and Jacky’s red-rimmed eyes, brightening in the sunshine, could see only his glowing gems. The group of Informers harangued the foreman, pointing to Jacky. The foreman sneered and waved his hands, but Jacky was lost in the glory of his sun-born jeweller’s shop. The diamonds sent out their sparkling rays, and in their brilliance his tormentors wavered, struggled again, and then disappeared in the sunshine. And in the strengthening sunlight and the solitude, the noise lost its terror.
Only the shadowy face of the foreman remained, and Jacky’s treasure was disappearing. The sun which had given, was now taking away; the blanket of frost was fast becoming a field of slush; the evergreen grass winning its right to rise and salute the sun. Only one jewel remained, suspended from a bent reed — it was the biggest he had seen. No Informers; the booming and screaming drained from his blood stream; the burden of resentment in his chest rapidly disappeared. Jacky sat and watched. The green and orange turned to red in the sunlight as the diamond tumbled. It ran an inch, hesitated, and silently joined its comrades below. And the foreman and his sneer mingled with it in the slush.
The little cottage on the slope came to life — smoke reached for the blue sky. And as he looked across awakening Ballarat a child’s laugh came across the clear morning air. Jacky’s answering chuckle was a delight to hear. ‘Another week on the doors — let him make it a year. I’d do it on my bloody ear!’