Still the glitter in gutters and rooftops, the petal that scalds
the cheek of the baby asleep in your arms, the shadow falls.
Falls faster now and faster – over bars, cars and lawns
so we yell – ‘hey gravity’ – in a brown cloud the shadow falls
in the playground where we shelter the bushes and the walls
from the knock-out tang, days of fire when no shadow falls.
Taught here forever, doing knee-bends in the sun, Mr Dawes;
while inside we sweat on the southerly. No shadow falls
just calculations and chemistry – the company ignores
the lead, arsenic, sulphuric, so it falls where it falls.
Built hard to our schools, homes and halls, in our blood?
our breath? Here’s all we could afford. The shadow falls
On politicians and officers, God keep them all.
Was it hope or a wage that paid for our silence? The shadow falls
on these gentle hands, on our bowed heads, over us all
both dark and bright, heavy and light, a bitter grace the shadow falls.
Images: top, Port Kembla Public School, c. 1920; bottom: Port Kembla street showing Electrolytic Copper Refining & Smelting Stack adjacent to Port Kembla Primary School, Mitchell Gordon c. 1990, from the collections of the Wollongong City Libraries and the Illawarra Historical Society. The Stack was finally demolished on 20 February 2014 to much excitement. If you want to read more about the residents’ fight against years of toxic waste, here’s a piece from the Illawarra Mercury. The school was relocated in 2000 and the abandoned buildings burnt down in 2013. No remediation of the site or surrounds has ever been undertaken.