Punch On Punch Off
by Geoff Goodfellow
guide complements the study of Punch On Punch
Off by Geoff Goodfellow, for Senior Secondary,
VET and Adult students.
On Punch Off is a powerful, often confronting
book about what it feels like to be a worker, both blue and
white collar, and the impact the workplace can have on workers
and their families.
The guide offers a range of activities and information to
help students form a deeper understanding of some of the issues
raised in the collection of poems. Punch On Punch
Off aims to alert students to some of the potentially
hazardous, inequitable conditions of the workplace. It also
celebrates the rich cultural diversity that exists in the
Australian workforce and challenges students to delve more
closely into where this all began.
poems have been chosen to work with:
Mum Told Me in 1964
Violence of Work
Luxury of Work
What Mum Told Me in 1964
is a poem about the brutality of hard, physical work.
before most students reading these words were born, and Geoff
was 15 and leaving school to join the workforce. Like Geoff,
many young people took this option rather than pursuing further
education. There were more jobs around and less focus on qualifications.
Now, 40 years later, students have to deal with the ever-increasing
pressures to stay at school in order to compete with their
peers in the job market.
begins the poem with his mother’s stoic words,
hard work never killed anyone
the work ethic, particularly of the working class of the time.
then discover the agony that resulted from this ‘hard
work’ as Geoff tells us of his debilitating back injury.
Alarmingly, the same injury is repeated in other members of
Geoff’s family for similar reasons.
Geoff expresses his frustration in a relentless list of different
practitioners he visited in an attempt to ease the pain, but
in the end calls them all,
a range of freaks who took my money
He finally ‘finds his smile again’ after treatment
by a manipulative physiotherapist. However, Geoff never returned
to hard, physical work again, choosing instead to wield a
Geoff’s mother’s words did not take into account
the fact that serious injury can destroy a person’s
quality of life, through not only having to live with constant
pain but having to cope with a shortened working life.
Research the employment situation in the early 60s
—Compare it with today.
What is OHS [Occupational Health and Safety]?
—Try the ACTU website www.actu.asn.au
the specific schools site.
The poem addresses safety issues in jobs which require
hard work and heavy lifting. Find out what OHS standards
exist in these types of jobs. How could they be improved?
There is a lack of understanding among young workers
that they can do something if they experience an injury
while on the job.
—What is a Union? List some examples.
[SA unions] | www.vthc.org.au
[Victorian Trades Hall site] good for history of unions,
general worker info and how to join a union | www.council.labor.net.au
[NSW Labor Council site] ‘Ask Neal’ a
specially designed question and answer feature for
—How can Unions assist workers who suffer injury
because of their job?
—see ‘U…who?’ YOUNG WORKERS
LEGAL SERVICE www.utlc.org.au/youth
—here are some more young workers’
—Present a PowerPoint or produce a written report
on the topic.
Explain the line,
young men are always invincible
Can you think of any examples of this, maybe from
your own or friends’ experience?
Find out about different forms of rehabilitation.
Do you know anyone who has suffered an injury at work?
Try to tell their story. Ask them to help you if they
don’t mind. Then either write it down or share
it in a group. Perhaps you could write a poem.
lines in Geoff’s poem indicate the depression
that a severe injury can cause?
at workplace safety standards in other countries.
Try to find some examples eg. construction during
the Olympic Games in Greece.
I have written a poem about my father, Len James, a canvas
worker who was blinded in one eye because of a work injury.
Here it is,
would sit waiting
in the green Holden ute
loving the smell
of the canvas
tipping the wooden spirit level
waiting for dad
to finish his quote
what’s a quote?
I quote the price
I make the blind
then I nail it to the window
so that’s why you’re blind
dad looks at me
with his one good eye
the other milky white
copped a piece of steel
flew right in my eye
hardly felt it
but it stayed there
till the doctors
took it out
and my sight with it
I learnt never to
jump out at dad
or play tricks
on his blind side
I didn’t mind
I had my own real
Len James's work van
Len James after his injury
The Violence of Work
poem, like the previous, tells of the brutality of the workplace,
but the brutality is more subtle, yet just as savage.
describes the monotony of many ‘unskilled’ jobs;
process workers, factory hands, machinery operators. Geoff
shows us how this monotony,
with feelings of powerlessness, alienation and frustration
can lead to domestic violence.
repetitive nature of this type of work is conveyed by the
repetition of the lines,
Monday to Friday
punch on punch off
after each verse, like a plaintive chorus.
The words are relentless just like the rhythm throughout the
poem. You can almost hear the regular beat of the machinery
in the background.
The tone of the poem is robot-like, each verse beginning in
the same way,
told to work faster
We feel his isolation, he is not interacting with a group,
i have smoko with Billy
This isolation is reinforced by the line,
i play euchre at lunchtime
Euchre is a non-verbal activity, requiring no significant
still had my fingers last
Monday to Friday
These lines tell of a worker who has lost his fingers in a
Geoff also expresses the worker’s helplessness and perhaps
his acceptance of the situation,
i just do my best
I don’t complain to the boss
The rhythm and tone only break at the end of the poem when
Geoff changes from
punch on punch off to
to punch on punch on
The worker takes his boredom, frustration and feelings of
low self-esteem home to his partner. The message here is that
home is the only place he feels he has any power, any control
over his life. Unfortunately this has a devastating effect,
with him resorting to violence while his partner and possibly
children become unwitting victims of The Violence
What is a ‘rotating roster’?
—What is a ‘tally’?
—What does ‘i’m paid the award’
Which line in the poem tells you of the potential
hazards of the job?
Domestic Violence. How serious a problem is it in
our society? Present a report to the class.
Read 'Poem for Annie' in Bow Tie &
—This is a poem Geoff wrote about his sister,
Annie, herself a victim of domestic violence. Write
your response to the poem or discuss it in a group.
What is ‘the cycle of violence’?
—What can be done to help those affected?
—see Women’s Information Service www.wis.sa.gov.au
Do you know anyone who has experienced the effects
of domestic violence? Can you write down their story
or share it with the group. Make sure it’s ok
with the person you are writing about first.
The workers Geoff talks about in ‘The Violence
of Work’ all experience dissatisfaction in their
workplace. Can you make any suggestions that would
improve their conditions and relieve the:
boredom, repetition, lack of control, isolation, pressure,
Could workers make use of their unions to assist?
workplace violence is particularly direct. Geoff's
brother Brian suffered horrific facial injuries
as a result of a workplace accident
Turning in Circles
Australia is a country rich in cultural diversity. Apart from
the original inhabitants of this land, the Aboriginal people,
our ancestors all came from ‘somewhere else’ many
from England, Scotland and Ireland, the original ‘boat
people’. In this poem Geoff celebrates the contribution
made to this country by the ‘new Australians’,
migrants and refugees from many different lands,
In the 1950s
when the doors crept open
The deliberate use of the word ‘crept’ conveys
the hesitancy, the fear behind the first waves of migration.
These were the dark days of the White Australia Policy when
the Government got to pick and choose whom they allowed into
the country, mainly on the basis of colour, their colour —
underscores the bitter irony that Aboriginal Australians ‘old
Australians’ were not even counted as part of our population
until 1967. He goes on to acknowledge the invaluable work
done by migrants in post-war industry in Australia. He also
acknowledges the racism these people had to put up with:
bogs, wogs & dagoes
But again the irony, newcomers to the country were given jobs
but not our ‘old Australians’,
blacks were still discriminated against
Geoff then lists people from his neighbourhood, Semaphore,
and beyond, who came from ‘somewhere else’. I’m
sure we could all make similar lists.
Finally he hits us with the ultimate irony,
a nation full of wogs & bogs & dagoes
& boat people of all persuasions
are scared by a container full of wogs
referring to the Tampa refugee incident. Why, Geoff asks,
do we feel so threatened by these newcomers when we are all
Geoff ends the poem with a dig at both political parties saying
their response to the incident was to,
turn in circles
in concentric circles
in other words their response went nowhere because their real
priority was to court public favour. Has much changed since
here to see material on the White Australia Policy
What was the Snowy Mountains Scheme?
—Do a research assignment on the scheme and
present to the group.
What are ‘hands and feet industries’?
—List the ones mentioned in the poem.
—Why are these jobs often filled by migrant
What are some of the barriers that migrants face in
Racist language is ugly language. Do you hear it in
the schoolyard, workplace or at home? Is it ever directed
at you? Share your stories.
—Find out what the law says about using racist
language and discriminating against someone because
of their race, particularly in the job market,
—see Racism. No Way! www.racism.noway.com.au
—Equal Opportunity commission of SA
—Celebrating Diversity Coalition www.cdc.org.au
—United Nations World Conference Against Racism
—Human rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
is the difference between a migrant, a refugee and
an asylum seeker?
— see ‘Face the Facts’ produced
by Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
Access online at: www.humanrights.gov.au/racial_discrimination/face_facts
—Refugee Council of Australia www.refugeecouncil.org.au
—United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
—Amnesty International www.amnesty.org.au
—Department of Immigration & Multicultural
& Indigenous Affairs
—Refugees Australia www.refugeesaustralia.org
Consider the inherent racism in the intolerant attitude
of government as well as many people in the community
in regards to the refugee situation.
—Think of the language used: ‘queue jumpers’,
Organise a debate; SHOULD AUSTRALIA ALLOW IN MORE
is the Equal Opportunity Act?
—see Equal Opportunity Commission of South Australia
Find out what avenues exist for people who feel they
are being discriminated against. What is the Racial
—see Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity
What is a census?
Make a list of foods, drinks and customs that have
come to Australia from other cultures since the 1950s,
the humble Lebanese cucumber
was virtually unknown and rarely seen at the greengrocer,
now there is a vast array of fruit and vegetables,
breads, pasta as well as cooking utensils. Kangaroo
steak and ‘bush tucker’ have now become
trendy, high class restaurant dishes.
Find out what most ‘white Australians’
ate and drank before the influx of migrants to this
country. Which would you prefer?
How many different cultural groups are there in Australia?
—You might like to choose one to do a research
assignment on and present as a PowerPoint. See Australian
Bureau of Statistics www.abs.gov.au
What do all these cultures bring to ours?
Make a list of people you know at school or in your
neighbourhood or workplace who are from a different
cultural background to yours. If they work what is
Research the White Australia Policy.
What is a ‘tariff’?
—Explain the line,
till tariffs took their
How does the removal of tariffs affect employment
—Find some examples from current times.
Workers on a drilling jumbo inside a tunnel in the Snowy Mountains
Changing the Image
This poem is written from a female worker’s perspective.
The entire poem is in italics indicating that Geoff is using
the voice of the young woman who has chosen to be apprenticed
on a building site. In so doing she has gone against the stereotypical
image for girls and chosen a trade.
Working in an all-male environment she experiences a degree
of sexual harassment,
no Barbie doll
but i do get whistled
on the job
The men are not used to seeing a woman on their territory
doing the same job. Are they just teasing or are they a little
confronted? Are they out of their comfort zone?
The young apprentice decides to retaliate by challenging the
men’s stereotypes even further. She posts a male centrefold
in the lunchroom thereby asserting herself as an equal, and
they leave her alone.
Research women in non-typical careers.
—Choose one to write a report about.
Research sexual harassment in the workplace.
—What are the laws?
—What can an employee do if he/she is being
—by a fellow employee
—by an employer
— see www.eoc.sa.gov.au
[SA equal opportunity site] and www.humanrights.gov.au/youthchallenge
the federal human rights commission website link for
young people. A great site for young people interested
in human rights.
do some female workers not report incidents of sexual
Is there equity in the job market?
—Do females get equal pay with men?
—Do employees think twice before employing a
—Think of some reasons.
What is an apprenticeship?
What is a traineeship?
girls get teased at school if they talk about entering
male dominated fields?
—Survey your friends.
again is a poem about the savagery of work and the different
ways workers deal with the trauma of a serious work accident.
Geoff takes us outside the oil refinery fence where the maintenance
crew gather in solidarity every Friday afternoon for two hours,
& though it’s knock-off time
no-one’s going home
He tells us that they perform this ritual to remind themselves
and the boss, of the dangers inherent in the job and to pay
their respects to the men who were injured or lost their lives
of boiling oil
They don’t take their ‘beer & bundies’
protest over the top, they ‘respect their limits’.
They don’t need to crash through the boss’s mirrored
windows for him to get the message. They’re drowning
memories but at the same time keeping them alive and strong.
Geoff then tells us the shop steward’s story, how he
was first on the scene of the accident and how he is still
trying to deal with the trauma.
This accident occurred at the Mobil Pt Stanvac Oil
Refinery in South Australia.
Is the refinery still in operation?
What is an oil refinery? What work happens there?
Why is the work so dangerous?
How many oil refineries are there in Australia?
Which country is the largest oil producer in the world?
Life-threatening experiences can cause Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder [PTSD]. The shop steward, having witnessed
the horrific scene, is exhibiting many of the symptoms
—nightmares, difficulty sleeping
—difficulties with relationships [often family]
—feelings of vulnerability
—fear of dying
he still can’t escape
the recurring nightmare
flat out holding
out as much as you can about Post Traumatic Stress
What exists in the form of compensation for workers
who experience PTSD?
Consider another group of workers; army, navy, air
—Do you think people who work in these jobs
may suffer PTSD, not to mention civilians caught up
in wars! Discuss with your group.
Also see Geoff’s poem
'Mirror to my Childhood' in Poems for
a Dead Father. Write your own response
to this poem. What does it tell you about PTSD and
the effects on the person and their family?
Sometimes people with PTSD try to blot out the painful
memories by ‘self-medicating’; drinking,
taking drugs etc.
with beer & bundies
Do you think this is a real solution? What else can
Where can people go to get help?
Being part of a Union can be a way for workers to
feel a sense of belonging in an environment which
is often alienating, harsh and dangerous.
—Discuss in your group.
What job does a shop steward do?
The young woman Geoff describes in this portrait poem chooses
to invent a more exotic, interesting profession as she feels
stuck in ‘the grind’.
A young, single mother on a pension, she works 3 jobs just
to make ends meet:
but she sometimes claims to those who don’t know her,
to work for a funeral director, ‘embalming corpses’;
sure to get a reaction!
Geoff paints a mischievous picture of her early on in the
poem with lines like these:
bright sparkling eyes
little piggy tails
But later he reveals a darker, more troubled side of this
young woman. She has done it tough and continues to battle
every day, never knowing if she can pay the bills, always
feeling the pressure of time and responsibility.
She lies about her job to cover her self-consciousness about
her lack of education and social status.
She is proud of her ‘working class credentials’
& their blatant greed & disregard
for anyone other than themselves
These are values that are unfamiliar to her and the way she
was brought up.
So the mischief comes out again as she,
with her graphic fantasy stories from the funeral parlor.
speaks of her,
mounting mobile phone bill
the issue that, even though she has little money, she has
to have a mobile phone in order to be ‘on tap’
24 hours, in case shifts are changed.
And her car is a constant pressure too; it is not in good
but she needs it for work as she does 3am shifts, so public
transport is not an option,
listening for her disc pads to grind
to a halt
wondering aloud if she can get another week
out of them
knowing that another car payment
is already overdue
& the insurance is less
than a week away
that the tyres are just about
as worn down as she feels after yet
another early start
Notice the structure of the poem. Geoff has made it
a bit like a puzzle. You are not sure who this young
woman really is for a while. Truth and lies are mixed
—Why has Geoff used this technique?
What is a ‘porky pie’?
—Make a list of some more examples of rhyming
—Where did it come from?
What is anorexia?
—Who is subjected to it?
—Is it just a female problem?
—Research and discuss.
What type of pension do you think she was getting?
—Research pensions and produce a PowerPoint
or give a talk to the group.
It is a hard life for single working parents.
—Research child care and out of school hours
—How have these services changed over the last
—What services are available and how affordable
Is enough being done for working parents?
Find out the government’s policy on:
You might like to try to write a poem about someone
you know who has to battle to go to work, pay the
bills and bring up the kids on his/her own.
you think it’s fair that a young worker has
to have a mobile phone even if he/she can’t
afford to meet the payments, or is there a fairer
way a boss could arrange shifts? Discuss.
Geoff again brings in the issue of the savagery of
work, a theme which runs right through Punch
On Punch Off.
—He tells us about the young apprentice plumber
who died tragically while on the job. He tells how
the accident was reported in the morning paper,
in an article not much
than a cigarette packet
Why does such a tragic event attract less media attention
than a car accident?
How old was the young apprentice plumber?
—What clue does Geoff give?
Research the incidence of accidental death in the
a site about injuries and deaths at work and safety
The Luxury of Work
is another poem from a female worker’s perspective,
this time a ‘shop girl’. It is all in her ‘voice’,
indicated by the use of italics throughout.
It’s an angry poem, anger over the inequality she sees
between her and the shop owner. There is resentment too,
you get paid ten dollars an hour
& asked to stay on the dole
while they drive flash cars
& their shop girls ride bikes
She tells us she is not allowed to take breaks; to go to the
toilet or if feeling unwell or upset, sometimes even having
to go without lunch because of time restrictions or lack of
money due to low rates of casual pay,
it’s hard even
getting some lunch
unless you take it with you—
& most times you’re living so day-to-day
you have nothing to take to work
On top of all this comes the pressure of being forced to put
in her own money if the till doesn’t balance.
Then comes the final irony,
& yet they tell me I have the luxury
in other words, shut up, don’t complain, you should
be grateful you have a job.
The repetition of the line,
yeah it’s hard being a shop girl
portrays a tone of depression and powerlessness. She is angry
but she seems unable to change her working conditions.
The poem contains many examples of unfair, illegal
working conditions and practices in this retail job.
Make a list.
Research the laws governing work conditions in the
What could this girl do if she belonged to a union?
Geoff creates many powerful images in this poem. Which
one do you find the most powerful? Why?
The retail sector varies hugely in pay and conditions
for employees eg ‘cash in hand’ and the
practice of working for items of clothing in clothing
stores. Some employees have to put up with a high
degree of coercion.
—Give some examples if you can, maybe from your
own or friends’ experience.
Many workplaces like this exist, where bosses benefit
from the pain, the poor working conditions of others.
—Research working conditions in other countries,
particularly Third World countries.
the site for the New
Internationalist magazine which
fights for global justice, reporting on the unjust
relationship between the powerful and powerless in
both rich and poor nations.
What is a ‘sweat shop’?
—Who works there?
—Are some big brand names involved —
—see Sweating for Nike: Labour Conditions in
the Sports Shoe Industry:
What is fairwear?
—Fair surf wear www.awatw.arg.au/fairwear/action/fairsurfwear.html
is ‘outsourcing’ or ‘outwork’?
—Why did the Fletcher Jones clothing factory
in the South East of South Australia close down mid
2004, closely followed by the Levi Jeans factory in
Elizabeth, north of Adelaide?
—What impact does this have on local employment?
On a Roll
'On a Roll' is a poem about the hypocrisy of banks. It seems
the more profits they make the less service they give their
The poem begins with a statement by the CEO of the Bank of
Montreal in which he boasts of the enormous profit that the
Bank had enjoyed over the past 5 years.
Geoff then gives us a lunchtime snapshot from inside one of
their branches. We see long queues, frustrated customers and
equally frustrated staff due to understaffing.
But the customers feel powerless to do anything against this
monopoly, so they wait and wait.
Geoff on the other hand, demonstrates his dissatisfaction,
What can be done about corporate greed?
is globalization and how are we affected by it?
see ‘Beyond the Label’ Fashion,
Young Australians and Globalisation
Kathleen Gordon, Brian Hoepper, Suzette Mitchell,
Queensland University of Technology
Geoff has used the word ‘monopoly’.
—What is a monopoly?
—Does this practice conflict with the concept
of a ‘level playing field’?
all the ‘game’ images used in the poem.
—Geoff seems to be posing the question; are
we being taken advantage of?
—Discuss this in your group with reference to
the corporate world.
down the lines in the poem that make you see, hear
and feel the frustration of both the customers and
—Note the play on words,
few too few
Find out what qualifications you need to work in a
Bank as a teller, loans advisor etc.
Look at the profits that rich people make, CEOs of
companies, look at their salaries, payouts etc. Try
to find some examples.
—Do you think this is fair?
there any similarities between the Bank of Montreal
and Australian banks?
—If so what are they?
Suggestion for student writing:
—Notice how Geoff has begun his poem with a
quotation as reported in a newspaper. Try to find
a quotation from a newspaper or magazine and use it
as a beginning for a poem of your own.
—The quotation may also begin a group discussion,
debate, playscript etc.