top of page

Pumping Station

Bowler-hatted, unsmiling, moustachioed,

a group of men stands beside their machines;

apprentices crouch at their feet, caps awry as their grins.

The manager’s wife flaunts the region’s first car. 

In these huge posters by the ticket office,

it’s easy to mistake the time the shutter took to descend

for gravitas, as if watching us.


Once inside, the polished, gleaming semi-darkness makes

the glare barricaded at the entrance look cheap and flat. 

Huge pistons are poised, about to resume

their genuflections, giant flywheels stationary beside them

as though the parts of some celestial clockwork

had been dismantled and lined up.


The guide balances a coin on the casing

to show how smoothly the piston rods perform,

without the least vibration, in greased silence.

Our kids, from a world of few moving parts,

where whatever machinery is left

is so well-hidden it might as well be magic,

go back outside for better reception, unimpressed,


but we linger out of curiosity:

for all the size of these components,

there was an amenable logic

and purpose to the way rocking beams, cranks, rods

moved and pulled and pushed, visibly connecting

to the task or purpose

of lifting and conveying the most basic elements of a city

from one place to a much better place


and nostalgia too, for the reticent confidence

in machinery tooled with such precision,

yet still decorated, made beautiful in filigree and ornament

as though sludge had its sacral moments too

for all the boilers’ black, bulky

indestructibility; to make a machine

that could operate with such grace,

as if all that was needed to keep the world in motion

was someone in overalls proudly standing by

with a little can of oil.

First published in Westerly November 2021

Best of Australian Poems 2022

bottom of page