:: Article

Great Works

By Oscar Mardell.

Great Works (available here) consists of thirteen poems, each about a different freezing works in Aotearoa New Zealand. Satirising the colonial-pastoral mythologies through which the local landscape has often been interpreted, the collection gives due attention to an industry which, in spite of its centrality to the nation’s economic history, has remained conspicuously absent from its art and literature. Here, as in Bataille, ‘the slaughterhouse is linked to religion’: Great Works offers a darkly-comic view of sacrifice and slaughter in ‘God’s Own Country’.


Preface: Burnside Freezing Works, Dunedin
Architect Unknown, 1882-2008

& did tht ship in 82 / alight on londons desperate docks
& ws tht frozen cargo sold / for double wht it wouldv got

& ws new zealands little lamb / to britains highest tables led
& were th final works performed / out here in godsown killing shed

bring aprons boots & hats & gloves / th sticking knife th steel th saw
th skinning knife th hook th hammer / th spreader th chop & th claw

for all of us r from th stock / of bell & colemans patent cold
& from th holy seamen all / aboard dunedins freezing hold


Belfast Freezing Works, Christchurch
J.C. Maddison, 1883-

did he who set a compass
to port levy & amberly
who traced th wooden hymnhouses
for st pauls / divided
& th holy innocents / drowned

set another
to these hundred eighteen acres
define th brick & iron freezing rooms
th stores th cooling rooms
th tallow works th oleo works

th slaughterhouse preserving house
manure factory fellmongery
th chimneystack & railways
to connect thm

ws evr such a shambles so designed
colonial goose so close to th realthing

Picton Freezing Works, “Picton University”
Architect Unknown, 1900-1983

th hallowed halls tht took
th hull from th edwin fox

so lets get gaudy
while the rough edges r all knocked off

do her up in garish hues
in glistening beads & such liquor

none in pinot noir
but buckets of it here

our nourishing mother flourished once
drank evry drop bathed evry vein

she brought it out of us
& flocks in all of us


Ngauranga Abattoir, Wellington
J.C. Maddison, 1908 –

sometime before his minor revelation
& getting all worked up for murdered lice
hemi / sometime before he was hemi
dossed a couple years in the capital 

sterile whore of a thousand bureaucrats
he called th place & worked its killing season
picking tired tongues from the pristine floor
& stooped before his desk during th off

but was hiruharama seen out here
in bent backs knackered faces vacant eyes
or hanging w/ th pale carcasses
or scattered w/ th offal in th yard

& did tht laughter bellow thru th scrags
th red light evr flicker from th vats




Oscar Mardell

Oscar Mardell was born in London and raised in South Wales. He currently lives in an urban commune in Auckland, New Zealand where he brews beer and practices Aikido. He teaches in the English Department at St Mary’s College, and volunteers for English Language Partners NZ. His work has appeared in War, Literature & the Arts, The Literary London Journal, and DIAGRAM. Great Works is available here.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, June 29th, 2021.