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“Hi. I’m Helena Pastor. I’m reading an excerpt from my manuscript ‘Iron Men: Alchemy at Work’ which describes my time with Armidale youth worker, Bernie Shakeshaft, and a group of young welders.
A few months ago, I saw a photo of Bernie in the newspaper, surrounded by a group of teenage boys, faces beaming with happiness and pride, and something stirred inside me. I wanted to be part of it: the Iron Man Welders.
The next day I heard Bernie on the radio, seeking community support for the project. ‘We’ll take any positive contribution,’ he said. His words sounded clipped and tight, like he wasn’t one for mucking around. ‘Whether you’ve got a pile of old steel or timber in your backyard, or if you’ve got an idea, or if you like working with young people and you’re prepared to come down to the shed and work one-on-one with some of these kids…’
On impulse I rang. I’d never used power tools, let alone done any welding. I liked bushwalking, baking cakes. I enjoyed order, cleanliness, silence. What was I thinking?
Over the past months, though, I’ve come to feel at home in the shed. Right from the start the boys were gracious in accepting me into their grimy world. They find easy jobs for me to do – like filing washers for candleholders or scrubbing rust off horseshoes. I sweep the floor, watch what’s going on, listen to what they want to tell me. The fellas who come along are the sort of misfits you see wandering the streets of any country town with nothing to do, nowhere to go. Once, I might have crossed the street to avoid them.
Most of the Iron Man Welders didn’t ‘engage positively’ with the education system. One was expelled in Year 11 for ‘kissing his missus’ in the schoolyard, another told a teacher to ‘fuck off’ on a ski trip because the teacher wouldn’t stop hassling him, and another finished Year 10 at TAFE because he was about to be kicked out of school and reckoned the teachers didn’t like him anyway. The welding shed is a different story. They love it. Bernie gives them the chance to take responsibility for their lives, to engage on their own terms with the community.
The first Sunday I joined them it was the middle of winter. I walked in carrying a tray of freshly baked brownies. Conspicuous in my new blue King Gee work clothes, I huddled from the cold in the open-sided tin shed. Music blared from an old radio, and thumping and grinding noises came from the machines. Sparks flashed; everyone dragged on rollies, littering every sentence with ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’. Taking a deep breath, I forced myself not to panic.”
ABOUT HELENA PASTOR:
Helena Pastor has had a number of short stories and essays published in various Australian journals including Griffith REVIEW, Westerly, Island, Hecate and Verity La. Through her work as an emerging writer of creative nonfiction she interweaves the personal with the topical to produce humane, reader-friendly accounts of life in our community. Her two memoir manuscripts have attracted numerous awards, most notably two Australian Society of Authors (ASA) Mentorships, four residencies at Varuna Writers’ House (including a 2010/2011 HarperCollins Varuna Award), and a 2012 Artist-in-Residence position at Bundanon. She blogs about the memoir-writing process at www.helenapastor.com.
HarperCollins Varuna Award for Manuscript Development, 2010-2011
Varuna Publisher Fellowship, 2009
Varuna NSW LitLink Residency, 2009
Varuna NSW LitLink Residency, 2008
“Four residencies at Varuna have shown me how much writing can be done in a supportive environment, and how important (and fun!) it is to develop an extended writing network. I am extremely thankful for these opportunities.” Helena Pastor
‘What’s Updog?’, Verity La, July, 2011.
‘Joining the pack’, Griffith REVIEW, Issue 28, Autumn 2010, pp. 246-250.
(also published in: ONLINE opinion – Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate)
Nth Degree: the 2010 Australian Association of Writing Programs Anthology, Arcade Publications, Melbourne, November, 2010.
‘Rubbing’, fourW Twenty, November, 2009, pp. 114-117.
‘The SMS Queen of Bali’, Hecate, 34.2, 2008, pp. 100-108.
‘Broken Glass’, Westerly, Issue 53, November 2008, pp. 146-151.
‘Where Are We Goin’ With This Shit?’, Re-Placement Anthology, Australian
Association of Writing Programs, SCU Press, November 2008, pp. 132-141.
‘We Only Fear What We Don’t Know’, ISLAND Magazine, Issue 114, Spring 2008,
‘Wedding Coat’, ISLAND Magazine, Issue 113, Winter 2008, pp. 102-108.
‘Lord of the ring made a name in pies’, ‘Timelines’ obituary for Tony Pastor, The
Sydney Morning Herald, June 30, 2008, p.14.
‘Lady Godiva’, Idiom 23, Vol. 19, December 2007, pp. 25-26.
‘The Flood’, Hecate 33.2, November 2007, pp. 76-80.
‘Yahtzee and the Art of Happiness’, Griffith REVIEW, Issue 17, Autumn 2007, pp.
‘The Flour Shed’, Hecate 33.1, May 2007, pp. 171-173.
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