The Guardian 20 July, 2005

Book Review by Phil Doyle

Black Diamonds and Dust

Greg Bogaerts' useful book, Black Diamonds and Dust, takes us into the workplace of the 1880s, and into a working-class culture that is still remarkably familiar.

Not that Australia's first coal mining novel is full of modern sensitivities, far from it, but the characters exhibit the same reluctant and frustrated engagement still found across a lot of Australian working class communities.

The anti-hero of the piece, Edmund Shearer, and his fractured, muddling but surviving family would be at home in the Western Suburbs of Newcastle today.

It is a graphic and sometimes violent work that exhibits a style of writing that familiarity with TV and film has tended to banish. There is plenty more showing than telling in this yarn.

There are surprises here but they are not contrived, but rather very human. It lauds a knowledge that comes from bitter experience, from failure. It is also remarkably illustrative of the double bind many people still find themselves in today.

Shearer is a coal miner in Newcastle's estuarine collieries, the ones that used to jut out under the harbour, metres below the water level. It opens with the inevitable cave-in from burrowing too close to the sea and continues on through the life of a community, finding its feet in more ways than one.

As a fable it bears a remarkable parallel at times to Icarus' flight too close to the sun, teasing out the relationships between fathers, sons, daughters and mothers. But don't let that put you off, it is also a ripper read; a gut-wrenching page-turner with its fair share of humour amidst the grinding life of Adamstown before it was a weatherboard suburb.

The fact that this book is published at all is a cause for celebration. It has been put out by that unashamedly working class publisher, Melbourne's Vulgar Press. It is hard to see this sort of story being valued or so exquisitely crafted on Penguin's list since the advertising copywriter Bryce Courtney mortgaged their values.

Boegarts himself is a scion of the 'castle. A sometime taxi driver who has worked at BHP and this is his first novel. Not that you'd know, it reads like a modern classic. Let's hope it's not his last and that Vulgar can keep the bank manager away for long enough to see him in print again.

Buy Black Diamonds and Dust, read it, and learn something about who we are and why we are.

Workers Online

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