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This Is Northern New South Wales

The Hide Room – Peter Bowes

Words by Peter Bowes

Down and away from the killing pen and through the industrial alleyways, and past dark empty sheds, and back into the sunshine, then along walkways alongside overgrown yards, scattered with tossed white bones and bolt-hammered skulls, and through a small door and into a room ceilinged with massive asbestos covered pipes, where the six or so men gathered there are bent hard to stacking freshly taken hides flat and layering with salt in between.

One old Dutchman alone off to the side bent low over a stack of calf hides and biting the cured testicles off between his teeth Ned Kelly style, lunching there, closer to the door a full salt bucket and three rusted handshovels are set ready for the new man.

Outside a railtruck lets slide another dozen bloody hides onto the ground, fresh cut away from the slaughtered beasts, flayed away, rough cut and streaked with roped bloodlines, heavy, slippery, they slither to the ground in an enfolding mass.

The topmost one is dragged into the room and flapped sheetlike flat onto the pile already accumulated there, innerside up, veins and flesh and uncut fat and slowly seeping blood ready for an inch or two of salt to be scattered with one of the handshovels.
 Flinching onto the raw meat.

Cattle ticks pastured deep in the dead hides shrink from their bite as the salt liquefies around them and turns their host corrosive.

The other men slowed down now and watching the new lad doing his untaught work, watching him smoothing the steaming hide flat, watching him glissade over the glistening pile from corner to corner on his knees, countenancing no tucks or folds or creases, they wait for the jagged edges of the hand shovel to make a wound in his soft hands and the raw salt to burn the cut out wide.

A greasy haired youth plunges his hands into a salted mound of severed pizzels, digging up the largest, the maggot ridden, and stretching his prize this dead flesh everywhich way for his own personal and obscene pleasure, and all around this place is a decay of time and the cackle of men without any notion of goodsense.

Three hides only salted and the metal wheels screech again outside of this doomed tabernacle as another dozen skins are dumped on top of the old nine and an acrimonious blowfly cluster rises up there and settles back.

There is no help for the new man here as his peers bide for his failure, hidden there amongst the old whale station pipes they chuckle and chaff and smoke the wet nubs of their cigarettes down to their nape and watch as the pile of salted hides leaks cured fluids that trickle in slow streams into cesspools and pits around the walls that are blackened like pitch.
Lightless ponds that rise from time to time and issue a swell of virulent discontent from a deep rupture unmeasured.

The bitter end of the salt shovel bites hard now into the soft creases of his hand and what was a sting early burns a festering hot late and truck after truck leaves a rumpled count of the day’s killing outside the hide room door.

Alby, the foreman, comes by in the mid-afternoon and watches silently from the doorway, he leaves word that the new lad is to start with the loading gang at 3 am the next morning.