Thursday, 18 October 2012

Working Class Heritage

This is a repost from Multiply. It was originally an album post so I've had to edit the pictures pretty drastically. 

Lane Walker Rudkin

Yesterday, while in Christchurch for appointments, we found ourselves in the Sydenham/Addington area near to Lane Walker Rudkin (LWR). LWR is/was a very old clothing manufactory in Christchurch. In days past, while more educated girls were funneled into becoming teachers or nurses (suitable occupations for young girls before they married and had children of course), working class girls were funneled into shop work or became machinists in clothing factories. LWR was probably one of the largest employers of young girls and women in Christchurch.

I left school at 15 and went the shop girl route at Beaths Department store in the city centre but years later, from around 1989 to 1992, I did my stint at LWR. In the time I was there LWR was making the Canterbury brands, Adidas, Jockey etc among many other things. I worked in the Jockey part, sewing on crutches on jockeys for about 6 months and then attaching neckbands to T-shirts for the rest of my time there.

I was working here when the Employment Contracts Act (1990) was brought in by the far right wing National government who (having pledged to be nicer than the last lot) went to even further extremes to make low income working peoples' lives a nightmare. The Employment Contracts Act effectively broke unions and took away national awards, thereby driving down people's wages. This was made easier by the fact that the National Government had already cut benefit rates.

Our Jockey department was called to a meeting by our flash manager who had never ever bothered to learn any of our names - in fact he normally never spoke to us at all. He passed by us with his nose in the air. However this day, he was all affable. This day he was all set to explain to us the greatness of the new Employment Contracts Act (1990) legislation, which he said was the most far-reaching legislation since Richard John Seddon's (King Dick) employment laws of 1894. We are apparently supposed to be awed by this, I think, he clearly was as he stood there before us in his flash designer suit. The tie he was wearing probably cost a fortnight's wages for a machinist.

Richard Seddon's 1894 legislation, for those who care, outlawed all strike action by workers, their only form of power, instead allowing all boss/worker disputes to be settled by an Arbitration Court. Sounds okay until you realise that the Arbitration Court almost never ruled in favour of the workers. Well heck, they were all bosses too, weren't they.

The LWR group was bought by businessman Ken Anderson in 2001. LWR was placed into receivership in April of 2009 and the Christchurch operation was closed in November of 2009. I am not sure what the extensive old buildings have been used for since but on the 22nd of February 2011 they were clearly hit hard.

Don't be misled into thinking I am feeling particularly sad about this. LWR was not a nice place to work and I was very glad to leave.

Someone said that nature clearly doesn't like red bricks and is determinedly working hard to rid Christchurch of all the offending bricks. Many old red brick buildings (like LWR) have had their red bricks painted over but nature/earthquakes will still find them out.

Note: 18/10/2012 LWR has since been totally demolished.

Burke Street/Ruskin Street

We turned the corner from Montreal Street into Burke Street and entered a different world. No obvious major 'quake damage here although there were some windows with cracked glass. Forget the big buildings everyone is discussing - should they be demolished or not - what about the Christchurch historic heritage - here is workers historic heritage - still here and still dynamic and beautiful as well - a juxtaposition of miniature housing dating from the Victorian Age (one imagines thin bowed women in rollers and raincoats heading to the factory to work long hours on the sewing machines) side by side with newer housing dating up to the present day. All small, all with a tale to tell.

Under the towering eucalyptus tree we found this wee cottage (you can only see the roof) with an equally tiny "caravansei" in the front garden. It has to be an artist who lives here. Whoever it is they seem to be following an African/Arabian theme - the custom-made gate has centered on it and a window of the cottage features camels (not showing on pic, sorry). Note also the birds (flamingos?) cut out from the corrugated iron fence.

Remember that song, "Little Boxes". It must have been written for this wee house which hopefully has seen better days.

Over the road, this sweet little cottage, like something out of a story book I think. Still small in scale like the other cottages on the street but seems to have captured a bit more land, and a clever gardener has made the most of this, giving the impression of sweeping lawns within mature trees and shrubbery.

Pure Kiwi Victoriana. The car and trailer show clearly the small size of this wee cottage, the colour of which made me think of sunshine and apricots and oranges.

We came to a public space with a pathway leading from Burke Street through to Ruskin Street, a street of similar scale. Native grasses, dry creek bed which probably acts as a drain/soak pit when it rains and very solid wooden seating. Plus kiddies play area. Nice.

 A stone tablet informed us that we had stumbled onto something called the Literary Streets Heritage Trail (we later discovered that this had been in development prior to the earthquakes). Passionflowers featured on the tablet were to be a theme of the walk and are a link back to the old Addington Cemetery.

 Not a very good picture, really I just took it to remind me of the information. (As you do). And until this moment I hadn't heard of John Ruskin. There was a statue of John Ruskin but I didn't get a picture of that, just this old plaque. Anyway the plaque tells (because I am not sure if you will be able to read it on the picture) that John Ruskin was a pre-eminent critic of Victorian art and society. His philosophy expressed an extreme love of truth which prevailed over beauty, and through which, he saw, the decline of art as part of a general cultural crisis.

Therefore, in the face of the Industrial Revolution (I'm finding all this quite relevant on a small working class working street) his book, "Stones of Venice", (1853), was a warning to modern Britain. To Ruskin, the Gothic style (how fitting for Christchurch which, until now, has had so much Gothic-style architecture) possessed an inner moral quality that represented a finer, more upright society and means of production. It permitted freedom, individuality and spontaneity among workers, exposing the beauty of beauty and truth withing Nature and God. He compared the Gothic style to the Renaissance style of soulless factories (where we started from with LWR) of mechanical production and division of labour. These denied workers the spiritual element of creation by estranging the producer from the products of their hands, thereby enslaving the worker.

After all that, something pretty down Ruskin Street.

 We met this nice old bloke who was raking up leaves from his front lawn. He told me a friend had made him this butterfly one time. His house had just a few cracks (note the masking tape on the window pane) and of course he had lost his chimney but the powers that be were bringing him a heatpump sometime soon.


  1. I commented on this the first time around Iri.....I can't remember what I said except suggesting that the Camel Cottage be renamed Camel-Lot.....or something like that.

    Going from sewing on crutches on jockeys for about 6 months and then attaching neckbands to T-shirts is definitely upward mobility.... from tails to heads in one gigantic leap Iri.

    I seem to recall in my original reply I posted Factory Girl by the Rolling Stones .....or maybe I'm thinking about something else.

    It was always a favourite of mine so I'll post the link here again (any excuse), sorry for being such a boring old fart, but there you go, your blog just reminded me of that great song.

  2. Yes, I recall Camel-Lot. And I also recall a lot of extra info about Ruskin and his sex life I think. Excellent song.