The 1950s - Working Conditions

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Frank Hardy’s Black Diamonds returned to the familiar territory of the coalfields, its subject a stay-in miners’ strike at Cessnock when owners threaten to close a mine because of a drop in profits. The mine owners were portrayed as harsh plutocrats, the miners as the oppressed with a long history of struggle.

Despite a slick publicity campaign Black Diamonds did poor business at Sussex Street, but was seen as suitable for out-of-town performances organised by the CPA and miners’ organisations.

In Lithgow locals suggested the language be toned down, and in Cessnock (where the actors and crew expected to be billeted but weren’t) that swearing be eliminated altogether. In 1960 Black Diamonds was staged by the Berlin Ensemble in East Germany.

Frank Hardy also acted in the show. One audience member was teenager Noeline Brown who was impressed that he could talk and smoke a pipe at the same time.

Mona Brand’s tributes to ordinary workers included the Pay as You Enter bus driver’s nightmare:

It’s when the peak hour comes around

I really get my fun

I’m cashier driver traffic copper

All rolled into one.

It’s: Here’s your change, move down the bus

Now leave the gangway clear

No, lady, there’s no tramlines now

They dragged them up last year.

And a later version, beginning:

You’ve heard about that Argus chap

Who had a thousand eyes

And all about that Dancing God

The Indians so prize

They say he had a dozen arms

But, hell, what’s all the fuss?

Those blokes got nothing on my form

I drive a one man bus.

Brand paid tribute in song to the dunny man:

Night and day

I am the one

Only me beneath the moon

When daylight is done

In the dead of night I creep

When the families are fast asleep

I work for you

Lousy pay!

Day and night

Stronger than roses now

There’s an oh such an awful ponging donging the nose of you

And its torment won’t be through

While you let me spend my life emptying pans for you

Night and day

On my pay!

And the shopkeeper’s lament:

Out at the door the greengrocer stands

Watching the customers throw up their hands,

Notes how each housewife is gazing her fill

Glory if he gets one, won’t he make her ring the till.

High go the prices high high high

Wise is the housewife when she goes by

She sees the price of cabbages and gives a mighty hiss

And curses old Bob Menzies who’s responsible for this.

High go the prices high high high

Sad is the housewife, I hear her sigh –

She’d like to buy some beans and she’d like to buy some peas

But 3/6 a pound is far too much to pay for these.

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