LEAD Action News vol 1 no 1 Feb 1993
Lead in Literature: extract from THE LEMON TREE
by Rae Desmond Jones.
'The skimp dumps over there.' He indicated with a finger the direction of the black mountains of waste that ran through the centre of the town and dominated the skyline. 'They set hard a couple of years ago, so we stopped getting that black dust on everything with the wind. Now the unions are weak. The companies been moving in trucks and hauling it away. You remember how big they was?' John stared. The dumps did look altered.
'The old ones they're taking away. But if you look over the side, they're building a new one.' There was another mountain, rising almost as high as the first. New gunmetal-coloured sand, glittering and dull.
'The dust is worse now than it was in the old days. The lead gets into the tank water. '
'Mrs Keenan down the road, the old woman although she wasn't that old then if you remembered her, she kept on blowing the fuse in her electric jug. Every month or two she had to get a new fuse. Once she had enough of that so she brought in an electrician to look at it. He looked at it and said, "You're using rainwater eh." "How did you know?" She asked. "It's the best water. Come out of the sky, got nothing in it, no problems." "Problem is the dumps," says the electrician. "I's not supposed to say it because nobody's proved it yet and the mining companies, they all say it can't happen. Healthy enough so babies can live on it, they don't need mother's milk, they reckon. But take it from me Missus since those dumps been shifted and those trucks been working, anybody who uses rainwater in their electric jug gets trouble." "How does that work?" asks the old woman. So he holds up the core, where it's all corroded. "See that," He says, "if you take that down and get it analysed I'd take a bet they'd say it's lead." "They can't do that, lead's poison," she says. "Don't get angry with me, I didn't put it there," the electrician reckons. Mrs Keenan, she went up and down the street telling everyone, but they don't care. All scared of losing their jobs. For me, it don't matter, I retire in two years. But they got everything on time payment. They can't afford it. When she come up to me she looked real shitty, "They can't do that, it's not legal." She waves this piece of paper at me. "They're doin' it though, and there's not much you can do about it." She always was a bit funny, Used the tank water because she doesn't like fluoride only now the tap water is healthier. '
While the old man was speaking John ran his eye along the top of the dump. Trucks moving slowly along the top of the skimps, and dust.
Rae Desmond Jones was born in Broken Hill in 1941, and left there in his mid teens. The Lemon Tree is his first novel, after 3 books of poems and one of short stories. He has been involved with a number of urban environmental issues
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