Friday, 27 June 2008

Succeed as a contract labourer - PART 5

(Return to - PART 1, PART 2, PART 3, PART 4)

You’re going to get hijacked. This happens when you are inserted into a lazy crew who won’t do their job. You’ll be judged on their performance but they won’t appreciate you working harder to pick up the slack. Either they’ll leave you to it, or make the job harder. You can only give certain hints that you’ve been working. Are you covered in sweat and dirt and the others clean and fresh? Hopefully your boss will be able to work this one out himself.

You never, never, dob in your workmates. No matter what kind of arseholes they are. Karma will get them eventually. People are always found out for what they truly are in the end. If that’s not good enough for you, too bad. Getting a name as a dobber will ruin your life and, quite frankly, you’ll deserve it. It’s better to rise above any problems until the end of the job. If it’s a temporary position, what does it matter in the long run? If you’re there for a while, take the first opportunity to be transferred to a decent crew. If it all becomes too much, fucking leave and find something better.

Working with a tight knit team is great. They go hard when it matters and know when to back off when it doesn’t. They will be less likely to score the shit work and the boss will trust them to use their initiative and have more leeway. The bosses are less likely to ride them. A good crew will have a drive and motivation that probably extends to their private lives making them more interesting to talk to as well.

Do your job properly, no matter what crap task you get. Word filters up eventually that you can be trusted and are pulling your weight. Your good name is a large part of what you have to trade with. Don't let your name equate to moron status.

(Like it? - See – PART 6)

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Succeed as a contract labourer - PART 4

(Return to - PART 1, PART 2, PART 3)

Everyone loves to talk about him or herself. Shut up and LISTEN for a change. I don't mean clam up and sit in the corner but listen more than you speak, you'll learn more. While getting to know the long term employees, don't match everything they’ve done with something you've done better, faster and longer.

Everyone has their dramas. Sympathise with your workmates but don’t get involved. The guy that hates his wife today loves her tomorrow, and might not appreciate your assessment that all women are bitches. Be vague when giving opinions or putting shit on other employees too. You could be talking to the guy’s brother. Whenever you run someone down, they will inevitably be standing behind you. I don’t know why that is, just don’t do it. Who needs that gut clenching experience of having royally fucked up?

Forget the PC, (political correctness), bullshit, don't make racist remarks for no good reason. We’re a Nation of mixed races, get over it. If you have trouble associating with people who don't look like you, find an enclave somewhere and start building a wall. If the person in question can’t or won’t do his or her job, that’s an entirely different matter. I’m an equal opportunity idiot hater.

While we’re on the subject of talking about people, be aware of the 2 way radios. Turn them OFF before having a whinge session about your boss. At least check you’re not sitting on the hand piece. Accidentally transmitting your dissatisfaction across the site is embarrassing and could affect your long-term job prospects.

Take great care who you choose to associate with in the first few days. Inadvertently connecting with the site loser/whinger/dobber, may shorten your period of employment or make your remaining days a nightmare.

(Like it? See – Succeed as a contract labourer - PART 5)

Monday, 23 June 2008

Succeed as a contract labourer - PART 3

(Return to - PART 1, PART 2)

Every new job requires a site induction. Keep your mouth shut, unless you have a real question. Nothing sounds stupider or more annoying than that one person who insists on adding a personal story for every point the Safety Officer makes.

The Safety Officer doesn’t care. He wants to get through the induction and have a coffee. He particularly doesn’t want to hear about how ‘my mate Johno dun some stuff while no one was looking and he never got hurt’.

The Safety Officer is employed to save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation insurance. He is not your friend and doesn’t give a fuck that you can’t wear all the PPE in all situations.


They tread a fine line between allowing their company to maintain production while trying to keep the site safe. Agree with everything they say and sign their little books and papers then sort it out when you get back to reality on site.

These days, even your supervisor won’t allow company rules to be bent anymore. Even if the rules are stupid, HE KNOWS HE IS PERSONALLY LIABLE AND WILL GO TO GAOL AND LOSE HIS HOUSE TO PAY THE FINES IF YOU ARE KILLED OR BADLY INJURED.

He almost definitely doesn’t want to go to gaol and arguing with him about safety procedures probably won’t help you out in the long run.

(See - Succeed as a contract labourer – PART 4)

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Succeed as a contract labourer - PART 2

(Return to - PART 1)

Before starting a new job, work out where the hell you have to go beforehand. Do a dry run if you have to. Check out parking and find out if you need to report to the main office or the work sites. Some companies have complicated layouts. The stress of being late because you couldn’t find the office is avoidable. Being late on your first day looks especially bad.

It’s a strange fact that your Labour Hire representative will almost certainly be a wanker. I’ve run into trouble with ‘Handlers’ who resent my payslip. They have had every opportunity to take these jobs for themselves and have decided to forego the 4AM start and hard work. They can still be very unhelpful if you have a problem and can be deliberately vague about the details of your job. Don't rely on them and don't piss them off.

Regardless of the fact that each employer is supposed to supply PPE, (Personal Protective Equipment), bring your own gloves, earplugs and safety glasses. Some companies can be amazingly tight-arsed about supplying these basic, tax-deductable, items. Also, having to search for PPE means you aren’t working. Looks bad.

Take everything you need to be comfortable while you’re at work. I take a micro First Aid kit with a few headache pills, tweezers, bandaids, antiseptic cream, spare contact lenses, and a couple of alcohol wipes to clean cuts. Consider taking spare clothes and a blanket for the car seat in case you get filthy.

Never assume you’ll be working near amenities you’d normally take for granted. Water, toilets, fridges, or shelter. Be prepared. The basic kit I bring has minimised my discomfort on many occasions. Relying on someone else’s charity can be irritating and disappointing.

Get into the habit of taking a crap at home before starting your shift too. Don’t laugh. You might be sent out to work out in the bush for the day? Wiping your arse with glossy magazine pages behind a tree isn't a suitable substitute for toilet paper and the comfort of your own home.

Take a six-pack esky and freezer block for your food. Bring a water bottle with your own water and ice in it. Food thieves are quite common on large sites. If you use the communal fridge use a paper bag or non-see through container and write your name on in. Keeping your food out of sight will minimise the possibility of a snatch and bolt by these food-thieving opportunists, (arseholes). In the past, I have found that loudly telling people there might have been food/genital contact usually keeps it pretty safe.

Turn up early. A lot of places have toolbox meetings at the start of the shift. Turning up late will always be noticed and you may miss important information. Your boss won’t like having to explain everything again just for your benefit. Keep in mind that constantly arriving early will not be rewarded but, being late once will often be punished. Unfair as this might be most bosses don’t give a shit what your problems are. They want you at work, on time, doing something that makes or saves them money.

(Like it? See - PART 3)

Friday, 20 June 2008

Succeed as a contract labourer - PART 1

Having recently left the Labour Hire industry after a varied thirteen year stretch, I felt I might be able to pass on a few pointers. This is a sincere attempt to help new starters in the industry and have a laugh. Some points are very obvious but they are all sound principles and make life easier when followed.

I refer to myself as an industrial cleaner. I do the dirtiest, most difficult, uncomfortable and tedious jobs that companies can't, or won’t, get their own employees to do. There is no shame in taking up this slack. I made a great deal of money doing ‘leftover’ work. There’s other perks too if you’re willing to play the game. Here’s how:

(If you don’t like strong language, do not continue reading. Delicate natured people aren’t a good fit for this particular industry anyway so I’ve just saved you a great deal of time.)

Everyone hates the first day of work. You don’t know anyone, you can't find anything and nobody will help you out. Well, get used to it, Contract Labour Hire will consist of hundreds of first days. You’ll need to prove yourself again and again and again. You’ll have to learn how to tolerate all types of weirdo’s. You’ll need to effortlessly change your duties on the boss’s whim without showing annoyance. If you’re still with me after that, read on.

Don't be a brown-noser. You won’t get any respect from bosses or other employees following that path.

Be assertive. Don't accept abuse or other demoralizing tactics commonly aimed at labour hire employees. You decide how to deal with this type of problem in your own way. Being friendly and helpful and doing your job will help you avoid this situation. Your work and attitude should speak for you. If that doesn’t impress your employer, move on. There’s always another job.

The dead-shits who have preceded you into this line of work, are the reason you will face a lot of negativity when you start a job. I define dead-shits as the group of people who float from one company to the next, stealing and bludging and causing trouble. Employers now automatically expect you will be the same until you prove them wrong. Make your boss think there’s still a few of us left who are trustworthy and hard working.

(See - Succeed as a contract labourer - PART 2)

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Underground Mining - PART 2

(Return to - PART 1.)

My boss only asked me if I’d been underground before when we were packed into a small cage ready to drop down the shaft the next morning. I made the casual comment that I hadn’t. I felt very small as he exchanged meaningful glances with the other miners. As a young bloke, a new employee and a driller, (reduced status according to ‘real miners’ like airleggers and jumbo operators), I could only have taken one step further down in their eyes. Admitting to being a green-hand had successfully done that. Moron.

The rattling cage rushed down the shaft at high speed. The miners had stirred up the winder operator about going too slow on the previous shift and he was retaliating with a free fall ride. I felt them watch me, hoping that I would lose it. (It happens. I’ve seen blokes freak out as they go down the hole over the years since then. Embarrassing for them and any witnesses.)

Disappointingly, (for them), I made it to the plat, (the opening to an underground level), without crying. A Mahindra 4X4 ute waited for us. A Mahindra is a cheap, Indian made, Suzuki Sierra and this poor little rusty overloaded ute had spent its entire life underground. It had the thousand dents and scratches to prove it. I’d only ever seen this many men stuff themselves into a micro car when I’d been at the circus. FOURTEEN of us climbed in or on it. No one wanted to walk several kilometres to their drives. We were hanging off the sides and back, and a couple rode on the bonnet. The little workhorse was a happy sight at the end of the shifts as well. Walking up the 7 in 1 decline when you’re knackered had zero novelty value.

We were drilling in a deserted part of the mine and had to walk another kilometre or so deeper into the maze. I didn’t think I’d find my way out if the driller broke his leg and mentioned this. He pointed out the services, (air, water, electrical cables), hanging from the backs, (roof), and told me the valves all faced the direction of travel. If I followed them in reverse I should get back to the plat.

Dewatering was only considered important in active mining areas. Exploration was not active mining so these drives were mostly semi-submerged. If you slipped off the higher rocks you’d end up with a boot full of hyper-saline water. Nothing like starting a shift with wet feet. The treacherous floors of loose boulders had to be carefully managed. Tripping resulted in spending the next 7 hours soaked and freezing.

Huge vent doors closed off certain areas and redirected air around the mine. They were a hazard my brief induction had not made clear enough. At least my driller took them seriously. As we struggled to open one massively reinforced barn door a howling gale started up and tried to slam it closed. Even with a counterweight it was bloody hard work. He held it open while I went through and stood back, but not too far. He let go and ran past me down the drive, giggling like a school girl. The air screaming through smashed the door shut. It sounded like the Gates of Hell had closed. I instantly gained great respect for the potential damage a vent doors could do to legs and arms by that display. Aside from attempted murder, the door also brought a tidal wave of filthy water. Before I could run the wave flowed halfway up my crotch. At least the driller had a laugh.

The rig I would get to know well was a Kempe U39 compressed air rig. They were basic and required manual labour at every stage. An offsider had to work damn hard to keep up with it. The motor, its largest piece, weighed over 100 kilograms and I couldn’t lift my side. Withering looks from the driller gave me the incentive to help drag the lump of metal into position and ineffectually help him lift it onto the rig. I knew I’d have to go hard to impress this man and keep my job, so I threw myself into the tasks enthusiastically if not very effectively. I had the muscle mass of a flea and the stamina of a 90 year old.

I was absolutely frigging rooted by the end of the 7 hour shift. I’d made heaps of mistakes and the extreme noise of the rig hadn’t allowed much conversation. The driller screaming requests to get this or that and spending valuable rest minutes desperately fixing my fuck ups occupied me fully.

I was sure he’d sack me. Back topside we stripped off our soaking wet, grease covered clothes and washed ourselves with caustic truck wash solution to get the grease off. (You had to be careful not to get truck wash on the more sensitive parts of you.)

He said. “You did alright, I s’pose. It’s quick shift tonight so make sure you have a sleep. We’ve gotta be back in 8 hours.”

Still tired after 4 hours sleep, and in pain from torn muscles, cuts and bruises, I got ready to go back down the hole. I kind of wished he had given me the arse.

(Like it? See - PART 3)

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Underground Mining - PART 1

My first working experience in the real world took place after taking a redundancy payment and leaving my flaccid Government job.

I went gold mining. Underground. Bit of a change really.

The early 1990’s were a time of opportunity so I jumped in my Torana and left Darwin on a whim. The crossroads at Katherine made me toss a coin to choose which way to go. I went west. Western Australia.

It took a while to get to Perth as I drove down the coast looking for a fishing trawler to work on. I found it’s a closed industry. You’d have to kill someone to get on one. Once in Perth I decided to be a miner. I found the shonkiest mob of mine-worker trainers in the paper. They promised high paying jobs at the end of their course. The trainer, an ex-surface driller, knew it all. No worries, here’s my money, teach me to drill.

The course lasted two days and consisted of the most basic surface drilling information.

An introduction to the drilling equipment. (Slide show.)

How not to get squashed or killed. (Shows us missing fingers on his hand.)

How the various rigs worked. (Noisy, dirty and you buggers better move your arse to keep up with the drilling rate.)

And how to use a massive pair of steel Stillson wrenches to break out rods. (We had no rods so we took the paint off all the veranda poles at the training facility and left sharp metal splinters for the next person who leaned on it.)

None of us had ever driven a truck before so the trainer hired a 12 tonne rigid and let us take turns grinding the cogs of a Road Ranger gearbox in an effort to get the truck moving. We were expected to sink or swim if we scored a job and had to drive one for real. His way of weeding out the useless ones. Fair enough. Using the Eaton box came naturally to me after years of battling with the gearstick in my Torana's rooted gearbox. Some of the other guys couldn't work it out. Less competition.

At the end of the course we were handed a badly photocopied list of drilling companies. I naively thought we got to choose which one we wanted to work for. That wasn’t the case. They’d pulled the names from the telephone book and had no prior relationships with most of the companies.

It dawned on me that we’d paid out good money for a worthless certificate and were in no better shape for preferential employment than a bloke off the street.

Not to be discouraged I sent my creatively reworded resume to every name on the list. A week later I scored a job. I didn’t even know I’d applied to an underground operator. I didn’t know what a Kempe compressed air diamond drilling rig was, and I’d never heard of the small town that I had to find on the map.

My employer probably could believe his eyes when a young skinny bloke turned up on his doorstep with zero experience and a big mouth.

He probably didn’t think running around the massive storm drain system under Darwin, ‘inspecting it’, counted as underground experience either.

(See - Underground mining - PART 2.)

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

James and the Blair Witch

I met James and Nadine in Kalgoorlie. James worked with me at the Super pit as a Diesel Fitter. Nadine as a Registered Nurse. (Free medical advice from her consisted of, "You'll be right", or "Toughen up.")

I first got to know James on a night shift. At the start of shift I told him about a weird, low budget horror movie I’d just seen. The Blair Witch Project. The film creeped me out you might say. James’ mind busily filed this information to use against me later.

I started my shift fuelling mine equipment while the sun went down. I’d almost forgotten about the movie as I drove back to our busted-arse shed. We used a deserted, dark, back haul road for access. As I neared the gate I saw the fitters ute stopped in the middle of the road. All the lights were on and both doors are wide open. No-one is in sight. The quiet moonlit scene was quite eerie, and the Blair Witch movie quickly came back to me.

I stopped and got out to look for them, wondering what the hell was going on. Mostly I worried they might be setting off explosives without me and I didn’t want to miss that! As I walked to edge of the road, James’ offsider Chris leaped out from behind a bush and let out a scream that took about ten years off me. I’m pretty sure James had something much worse in store. If he’d had the time to arrange it my nerves would still be screwed. I don't know how long they’d waited there for me but I hope it was worth it, you pair of bastards.

One thing James and I, and our wives, have in common is our love of cars. Especially V8 Holdens and Chevs. He had a 454 big block in a HJ ute. His pride and joy. As you’d expect, a a truck engine in a car with no weight over the back wheels will have predictable results. The impressive twin sets of black rubber leading from the ute’s parking spots didn’t surprise me. We were taught ‘Safety First’ in our many inductions, and James considered warming the tyres as an important safety preparation to maintain grip.

James signed the street in front of our house on a few occasions. Never in the troublesome Candy-apple red 400 cube Camaro though. It spent so much time on the back of a tilt tray the owner and James knew each other well.

James and I talked about going to Lake Gairdner for the Dry Lake Racers Speed Week. I was struggling to build a car to race there at a later date but I didn’t want to commit to anything until it was finished.

James said, “Screw waiting, let’s go now”.

To pull this stunt off he had to combine our awesome trip with a marriage proposal to Nadine. I’m assuming the way he explained it to her went something like this:

“How about we go to Adelaide to get married? Before the ceremony Coops and I will bugger off hundreds of kilometres into the desert where you can’t reach us by phone or mail while you organise the wedding. I’ll come back within the barest minimum of time to get fitted for the monkey suit to say “I do” then we can look at all my photos salt lake racers.” She said, “that sounds okay”, so he booked us room at a sheep station near Lake Gairdner, hired a plastic 4X4 and we went.

Some of the dialogue above may not be accurate but, in my opinion, it’s pretty close.

People might think letting the groom disappear days before a wedding might be a mistake. They’d be wrong. Those same people also might think he chose a strange venue for a buck’s night. Wrong again. It suited both of us not to go to strippers and get blind drunk. We could do that anytime. Seeing and hearing cars, trucks and motorcycles being thrashed to their limits seemed a far better use of our time.

(Jokes aside, I am still indebted to Nadine for allowing us to do this while she organised the wedding. I don't know many women who have the confidence and trust in their partner to allow them to drive several hundred kilometres AWAY from the impending stressful day. Especially when the less stable partner has to choose between a suit fitting or sitting on a salt lake watching a twin-turbo Hayabusa achieve 400kph.)

Luckily both our wives are keen on the car scene so we’d take our holidays together at the SummerNats car show in Canberra. Even drunk, virginal kiddies screaming, “show us your tits”, at them couldn’t ruin those awesome three days of horsepower heaven.

James and Nadine aren’t ‘wanna-be’ people. If they say they’re doing something, they’ll be working towards it. Their projects may have the inevitable disasters but they never give up.

Currently two kiddies and resurrecting a 57’ Chev from a stripped shell in a remote mining town are keeping them occupied.

(Like it? See - Friends)

Thursday, 5 June 2008


(Skip to - Chilli and curry - the same thing?)

When selecting your friends ensure you balance your needs. Obviously some friends should be more outgoing than is socially acceptable, for entertainment value. You can live vicariously through their actions even while you’re saying, “I don't think you should be doing that”. A couple of your friends should be slightly saner to prevent the crazed ones going too far. One of these steadfast blokes, (or shelias), will also be on hand to stop you from joining the craziness, without being gay about it.

The dullest tasks become bearable when accompanied by friends. It’s good to have a few mates around to drink your beer and watch you dig that new swimming pool by hand. Their advice on how to hold the shovel and their uncanny ability of spotting any mistake you’ve made is invaluable.

Some of your friends should have specialised skills you lack, and be willing to use those skills for your benefit on the odd occasion. At mates rates. All friends should own different tools and freely lend them to each other. The friend should come with the tool to help if the job requires it. Borrowed tools should be replaced with new tools if damaged, (unless the damage takes place after they returned your mower with smashed blades. It is then acceptable to run over their grinder and return the pieces in a small box).

It’s natural to want to compete with your friends but it is bad form to become an expert at that particular PlayStation racing game so you can kick their arses every time you play.

A true friend helps you hold it together when everything turns to shit. They will make fun of you when you screw up, and praise you when you do something exceptionally dangerous and get away with it. They are there for you, despite your faults and failures. Hopefully everyone has friends with these qualities.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to find good friends everywhere the wife and I move to. Although circumstances separate us from these excellent people as we move about this huge country, we stay in contact and meet up on the odd occasion. Looking at the map of Oz shows just how spread out they are. Almost every state and territory is covered. If I was paranoid I might think they are trying to get as far away from me as possible.

I value my friends very highly, therefore I’ll be kind enough to keep the really personal stuff to myself. The rest is fair game. Stay tuned for your individual acknowledgment.

(Like it? See - James and the Blair Witch)

Monday, 2 June 2008

Tanami Desert Diary - PART 2

(Return to – PART 1)

What’s in a name? I got my nickname (Coops) in the desert and it has stuck to me for the last 15 years. I barely respond to my real name now.

The necessity to give me a nick name came about at my interview for the Tanami Exploration job. The boss looked at my resume and said “You seem OK, but I don't know. We’ve already got a Mike, a Mick and a Michael out there. It might be confusing on the radio.”

I wanted the job bad enough so I said, “call me Coops.”

My brother worked at the same mine. He was also known as Coops, so I don't know that my theft of his nickname made identifying us any less confusing.

Arriving at a new job already labelled is handy. There’s less likelihood of being tagged with something a creative joker might come up with when you screw up royally. I’ve had good reason to worry about screwing up.

I knew one guy called ‘Whoremonger’. No kidding! He actually introduced himself that way.

I never thought too much about being called Coops until I met a bunch of traditional owners who’d broken down at Rabbit Flat. Another Fieldie and I gave them a hand to fix their car. They shook hands with us as they left and wanted to know our names. I introduced myself as Coops. The elder jerked his head back and said “What? Like chicken coop?” I shrugged and said “yeah, close enough”. My mate was next. Juck. A nick name from childhood when his little brother couldn’t say his real name properly. The elder looked amazed again “Juck? Coops? And you think our names are strange!”

(Coming soon – Tanami Desert Diary – PART 3)

Tanami Desert Diary - PART 1

(Skip to - Politics)

There are several mine sites and mining towns in the NT and WA that I’ve called home. The only one with any claim to fame would be the Tanami Gold Mine. It is, or was, the most remote mine site in Australia, slap bang in the middle of the Tanami Desert. This dubious honour does not make it any more desirable to visit but I guess it helps with bragging rights. I also met my wife after the place was recommissioned which gives it a certain amount of sentimental value.

The roster at one time had me living there for 6 insane weeks at a time with 2 weeks off to spend the money piling up in the bank. Legally it was my primary place of residence. This worked out well a tax time as we could claim a heap in zone rebates. Working with the same people for 6 weeks at close quarters didn’t always work out that well.

I’ve already mentioned some of the hell flights experienced while flying to and from this place so I’ll go from there. Landing on the dirt strip involved a very low approach over the end of a deep pit. The strip had a hump in it too so the landings could be rough, depending on the winds and the pilot. We had to refuel the plane with 44’s of Avgas using a hand pump. You always cracked the seal of a new drum if you were flying out.

The mining had stopped as the pits reached the edge of the leases and the company abandoned the place to five blokes who filled the Care and Maintenance duties. Another fifteen or so Exploration blokes used the mine as a base when they weren’t scrounging the desert looking for more gold.

The camp was a ghost town. I had hundreds of empty rooms to choose from when I moved in. They were all very poorly maintained 3m by 3m dog boxes. The mine owners had held off repairing or upgrading anything as the available gold ran out so everything had deteriorated to a condition today’s miners wouldn’t accept.

I picked a donga and deemed it habitable. The way it rocked on the besser blocks that held it up as I walked across the room was only a minor irritation. The room felt a bit small so I kicked out the partition between my room and the next with my steel caps to make a double room. I had a squeaky single bed with a thrashed out mattress, an old bar fridge and an air-conditioner that had seven different squealing or grinding settings.

The desert can be frosty in the morning and scorch you skin off at over 55 degrees during the day so you left your A/C on all day. The camp electricity came from a smallish generator so every now and then the cleaner would turn off the power to our rooms in order to use the oven without tripping the circuits. She could have cooked a chicken faster in our rooms after it heated up without the A/C on.

Most of the lads in the field were young Geologists straight out of Uni and Fieldies (also known as JAFFA’s. Just Another Fucking Field Assistant). The exploration team lived in tents away from the mod cons my poxy room afforded me. I slept 5 star every night in comparison. Technically I belonged to exploration but since I drove the truck that delivered fuel, food and water to the camp sites I usually returned to the mine every night.

Finding the exploration teams in the middle of a desert wasn’t that easy. They moved around a lot. I had to do a bit of GPS work and got some very basic instructions third hand from my boss who manned the satellite phone.

The morning instructions might go like this. “Go down the road to the big anthill, turn left and drive 30 kilometres in a straight line until you see a water tank, follow the left hand creek bed until you see the drill rig mast somewhere out that way.” The two-way radio sometimes worked well enough to use to fine tune their location.

My truck was an old MAN cab/chassis with VW motor. I ripped the VW symbol off. (Hey, I was only young and it embarrassed me to be driving a VW. I gradually built up a lot of respect for that motor later on.) It could carry about 7 tonne and was 4 X 4 capable with a diff lock that I wasn’t allowed to touch. No air conditioner. It wasn’t a bad truck but we severely overloaded it at times and took it places better suited to a proper all-terrain vehicle, like a tank. I managed to keep it in fairly good nick by taking it steady.

I did bend it once while using the rear mounted HIAB to pull out star pickets. Climbing in and out of the truck to move it, and then lower the leg, and then pull out the picket got tedious. I tried to get a picket that was too far out and didn’t put the leg down. That laziness bent the chassis. I was not popular with the mechanic.

Sometimes I’d push my own track through the desert. Every now and then I’d hit a grid line and use that. Either way the going was so rough I’d be crawling along at 20 kph. Sometimes for eight hours at a time. A day might consist of 16 hours driving and one hour of loading and unloading. I learned to pack pillows around my legs. The rough country tried to smash me to pieces against the door, dash, roof and gear lever.

Ultra-fine Tanami desert dust is famous for destroying electronics. After my 'dust-proof, O-ringed' walkman died after only a few weeks these slow trips became incredibly monotonous. The mine sparky hooked up a couple of speakers and a stereo for me. I asked him to put the speakers just behind my head so I could blast heavy metal into my head properly.

Happy again! It didn’t take much in those days.

(Like it? See - Tanami Desert diary - Part 2)

Sunday, 1 June 2008

The toilet switch

I swear the new toilet we installed has a switch that activates the phone. As soon as my arse touches the seat the phone rings. Sometimes there is a short delay to lull me into a false sense of security.

The sensor must know when someone else is in the house as it deactivates and makes my accusations seem paranoid.

Normally I’ll ignore the phone. The fact that it knows what I’m doing is creepy and annoying though.

Much worse are the times I’m waiting for a call-back. Do I snap it off and run, or bang my head on my knees and worry the neighbours with yells of frustration.

I’ve tried to use the toilet switch to my advantage. I thought I could force people to call me back by going in for a sit. Those experiments have revealed the following exceptions to the rule.

  • It doesn’t work if you take the phone into the toilet (and that’s not very professional behaviour either).

  • The phone never rings if I’m expecting a positive result from the call.

  • If I cave in and run for the phone it’s always a telemarketer and never the Lotto man.

It must be a wireless system. I’ve checked to see if it’s hooked up to the mains. Maybe it’s heat sensitive?

There’s a pressure pad in the garage too. It only activates the phone when I’m carrying something heavy.

(Like it? See - Recliner lounges)