Took me ages to come to terms with Harm. I mean the name, Dutch I recall, but then again there’d been a the name Joop way back in my past, but Harm!
As trainees we worked under the tutelage, what would be called bullying of Mr O. Ray O, a long time manager of the Plaster Mills, a man with a well earned and fearsome reputation.
Harm was a chemistry certificated guy, out of the sugar labs. He came to plasterboard for god knows what reason though some thought they knew. Sharon his girlfriend was gorgeous, upper north shore and somehow sophisticated, though not in a stuck up way.
We worked the plaster mill and plasterboard lines, and mostly it was good. When it wasn’t good, it really wasn’t all that bad.
We tried different processes, we learnt our trade dealing with the myriad issues especially about unions which might in future stand us in good stead. But for Harm there was always a sense of difference. I could never pick it exactly, but time would tell. In fact it always does, though in unexpected ways.
Whilst all of us were going through the mill we were buffeted by the bullying bosses and petty union officials. Complex complex rules with no meaning were imposed by those who could, on those who couldn’t afford to resist. We bucked and resisted as junior managers, though for Harm there was always slightly more.
He took things more to heart, he had a properness about him that caught us off guard occasionally. Not that it mattered and so long as there was an appearance of industrial peace all stayed sober. He had a tougher time dealing with Neal C down in joint cements, than Doug, or Rick or I did. He delighted in catching Neal at his little scams whatever they were. In fact it was Neal’s general laziness and cocky assuredness which got further up Harm’s nostrils than ours.
More than once Harm took on Little Georgie T the delegate for the Federated Ironworkers Union who held sway over the metal workers. Harm revelled in these goings on, but it was somehow clear in his heart of hearts, his heart wasn’t really there. None of us could say he wasn’t cut out for it. He appeared to be somehow different. In an obtuse way we learned Sharon was Rupert’s daughter and Rupert was the General Manager. Meant nothing to us down in the land of the minions, but it did at Ray O’s level.
Like Ray, Harm didn’t progress up the success ladder. There was always a reason, an operational glitch, which meant that the promotion which his service demanded, never arose. Our immediate boss Richard ( don’t call me Dick ) Smith always managed the staff appraisals with aplomb. His appraisals somehow always left Harm at a point of tipping. Should he leave or be should he be pushed.
Harm had a social life beyond work which few of us could aspire to, or perhaps didn’t want to. Anyway we were great mates very good mates.
Then he resigned, set himself up in a fencing business and for thirty years never looked back. Full order books and over that time repeat business. He was good with his hands, direct with customers and always got his price, Skills which we never needed where we met. And he worked alone, outside in the elements, his element.
We all stayed friends for years after, many years after, though as with all networks they disintegrate under the blowing wind and rain of the years.


A Letter of Hope

What do you do when you read something that stops you, makes you think on the purpose of life? Well for me its to share that moment here, a letter sent to me for review by my son, and so without further comment here it is :


Thanks to Teresa Packwood for helping facilitate my visit to Arusha, Tanzania to meet my sponsor child Imani. I have attached a few pics (2 more pics to follow in a separate email as they are quite large) and notes about my trip below.


I have been sponsoring Imani Molusari Yohana for about 6 years and had always hoped to have the chance to meet him one day. That day was Thursday 23rd February 2012!


In the weeks and days leading up to meeting Imani I experienced a raft of emotions. Anticipation. Nervousness, would he like me? Would he accept me? Apprehension. I sort of knew what to expect living condition wise – though how would I cope? How would I feel? My overwhelming feeling though was of great excitement.


Jane from World Vision picked me up from my accommodation and I immediately felt at ease. We chatted and naturally spoke about where I had travelled from, via where, and what my next stop would be….“Are you just going home after this? Yes”. I couldn’t help but think my airfare to “just get me home” equated to the average Tanzanian yearly salary or thereabouts. The vast majority of people in the area was unlikely to holiday too far from their village let alone outside their home country.


After a short and at times very bumpy ride we arrived at World Vision (WV) HQ. Here I learnt heaps about the nitty gritty of exactly how WV run the Arusha Development Program. It was comforting gaining an understanding of how wisely and efficiently sponsors’ money was being used to construct wells, train teachers, develop vocational training programs and provide farming plots.


From there it was a short drive to a traditional lunch. All the while I was treated like royalty, they insisted I sit in the front seat whilst everyone else crammed in the back. Then the big moment. We arrived at Imani’s school and parked on the oval. Hundreds of faces popped out of the classroom windows and doors….gawking! I later found out that I was the 1st sponsor to ever visit the school. Imani came out of class immediately. Smiling, excitedly we approached each other, his head slightly bowed, a tradition I had not encountered before. I touched Imani’s head as is customary and there we were, 6 years of letter writing and now side by side.


I met Imani’s School Principal, much revered by students and society, somewhat different to some western cultures where education more of a core to kids than a privilege. We toured the school grounds and saw huts/ houses and the toilet blocks WV helped build. As we walked I noticed Imani stealing glances at me, though he would avert his gaze whenever I looked back. Shyness, respect, I’m not sure? What had I done for him to view me on such a pedestal? I felt undeserving, such a small sacrifice, relative to my life, meant so much to him.


Upon learning I planned on giving Imani a few small gifts including a mini football (with an Aussie Flag imprinted on it of course!), the Principal allowed all of Imani’s Grade 5 classmates (all boys) out of class to come and play on the oval. I tried to teach them Aussie Rules….without much success. Though it mattered little. Absolute madness on the oval! Kids running everywhere, shouting, laughing, falling over each other as they tussled for the ball. Hard, but fair – the Tanzanian way is the same as the Aussie way after all. We also played some Frisbee before I gave Imani a rubber ‘blow up’ beach ball. Embarrassingly it wasn’t a blow up one, though more of a soccer ball and needed a pump. Resigned, I began to apologise….but before I even got half a sentence out someone had whipped out a pen, pulled it apart, nicked the top off, jabbed it into the valve and started blowing up the ball! I was amazed. It took a while but it worked a treat – what resourcefulness from an 11 year old. Such a stark reminder of that ‘make do with what we have’ kind of attitude that is all too often lost.


After we were footballed out, I visited Imani’s house and met his family. His Mum, 3 brothers and sister were at home. His Dad at work and 4th brother at school. My eyes wandered as we shared stories. Again the resourcefulness, layers of newspaper as insulation. I met the cow afforded to the family by WV, learnt about their daily routines including walking for a couple of miles each morning to fetch water for the day. As the time drew near for me to depart I noticed a tear in the eye of Imani’s Mum. I understood her. So little to me, meant so much to them.


My final stop was visiting another (all girls) school that WV helped build. On the way we drove past the farming plots setup by WV for those least fortunate. As the rains had come recently they were “green”….though to you or I, they were more brown, arid and dusty, than ‘green’. Children as young as 3 years old, farming, running errands, carrying water. Though all the time smiling and waving as we passed through. Many people could not imagine living like that; they know no different. Two enduring images of the girls school remain with me, one quite sombre and the other uplifting. They were on the Principal’s noticeboard. One table had every child listed by name and grade with 2 columns adjacent –“Mum” and “Dad”. Some had no parents, many a Mum or Dad, though no-one with both. The other graph showed the enrolment numbers and percentage completion rate – both were steadily climbing.


That is the message I left with, one of hope.




On Being Freshly Pressed

I saw in Freshly Pressed, about OMG, a learned blog, and then chanced upon a tale of stories written in six words.

            Which blogger would not be touched, I hear you ask! The chance to be free of this dreaded compulsion to blog in six words. It certainly touched a chord with me. My eight ball seemed potted, after being snookered for so long.

            Trolling the Freshly Pressed catalogue, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed at the variety of subjects bloggers range over. Bee-like we hover with our mouse over a headline wondering whether to alight and scoop from the story bud some nectar for our writing journey. It’s distracting but a necessary part of the dream, the dream to write better, maybe even well.

            Is the distinction of being Freshly Pressed the aim? Perhaps, it’s certainly sweetly seductive. Read what others do, tag well, and know why you are writing.

            But I find myself a distracted bee, ADHD I flit, as if the Nose of a perfumery has uncorked a vast array of writing scents amongst the titles, to distract blogger bees from their personal search for the single blog, the scent containing the nectar essence of blogging.

            “Hhmm, and what might that essence be?” I found myself wondering.

Could it be a distillation of recognition, the sweat of finding topics to devour and regurgitate as blog honey? Or is it to venom in the sting for readers, which provokes, amuses or is the antidote to boredom?

            I found myself, turning the compost of my mind over and over, trying to add even further cute phrases to add to the nectar formula.

            Whatever that nectar is it’s darn mighty powerful! The search fills minutes, hours, days searching for the event, interaction, thoughts, observation that might just be blog-worthy.

             I swarm on. The OMG blog was where I started. Eventually it’s a treatise on the descent of western culture away from Christian values. I demur. Seems more likely to me that OMG fits the category of “Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should”. There’s a plethora of these, and some might even be blog worthy.

            For example, what about the disappearance of “please”. I refer to the loss of “please” after “Excuse me.” I wonder where it’s gone. I suspect it’s gone because folk could abandoned it, and cock a snoot at those who might timorously remind them of the full phrase,

“Excuse me, please”

Perhaps today we should start a support page on Facebook for the forgotten “Please”

Her Second Request

Working as a volunteer crisis worker, strange tales oft happen across your path.

So it was that Margurita’s second request. It was to do with her car. It had been damaged in an accident. The details were jumbled and sketchy, so Margarita’s request of me was imprecise, but about insurance.  Clement, the Swahli interpreter, helped me decipher the story, and here it is!

When ‘someone’ drove her car to the Plaza with her permission on Sunday he [cos a someone would be a male…wouldn’t it??] backed the car into a wall at the motel.
She said the car was still driveable. This precipitated her true request. She needed a person to drive her car from the motel to her new house, the house which I had spent all that day setting up, the Centrelink pays, the rent, the utilities etc… but that’s another story.

Margarita had tried to get on to numerous community friends none of whom could assist to relocate/drive the vehicle. But she ultimately got on to Golam. Golam is otherwise known as ‘someone’ [ at this point the reader may gasp and sotto voce repeat ‘Oh my God’!!!!!]. Praising the Lord for small blessings, Golam was unavailable.

Margarita then advised me that the car was undriveable and secondly that when she had gone to her newly acquired unit there was no power.

I thought this could become really complex so why not go to the motel and on the way get some electrical jumper leads.  At least we could get jump start the car and get it out of the motel. The motel owners could then relet the room.

We approached the motel, a late sixties, early seventies monstrosity with brick units and carports down one side, a long drive down the other. Her vehicle was parked in front of the unit she had been staying in for several weeks. She has been there courtesy of the government unable until now to source any form of rental accommodation. The rear end  of the car looking like it had been stationary when hit by a big Mac truck at about 60 kph. It was as they say ‘severely damaged’.

I went to the motel manager to find out some more details and end Magurita’s occupancy there. The motel manager was extremely pissed off. She seemed to contain her rage and any danger she might have threatened me with was kept behind the door of her locked office fly screen door. She spat her words at me through the mesh. Thank god for that mesh, cos the wire screen filtered most of it. Spittle clung to it across several of the mesh holes, and as gravity took hold it trickled downward. I watched fascinated

The motel owner related that last night, very late, her slumbers were broken by a tremendous crash, which when she investigated she found to have been caused by someone driving into the parking spot in front of Margarita’s unit. By reversing and then going forward at speed, braking, then reversing back at speed though not braking, he finally had his progress impeded by the substantial block retaining wall along the driveway. He repeated this minuet until the car could take no more. Ms Spittle made hand gestures at 10 and 2 o’clock making the 10 rock up and down between 8 and 12 and the 2 simultaneously and synchronously rocking between 12 and 4.  She made some comments about how someone didn’t seem to be able to do anything like turn. This confirmed her belief that all African people don’t know how to drive.

“They only know how to drive in a straight line,” she insisted and raised her eyes like headlights between her arms, flailing like a kid driving a dodgem at a fairground. By now after several previously unsuccessful attempts, the mudguards were now imbedded in the tyres, the boot reduced to half its length and no taillights shone through the shards of broken brake indicator and backing light covers. Someone was tumbled from the car. Someone? Pissed as a fart, drunk as a judge, stoned, under the weather, sloshed, wasted, he was drunk, very. Ms Spittle called the police but said she didn’t have someones licence or address but had the car rego,That would be used to fine the owner for the towing fee to move the vehicle. She said someone was a frequent caller over the past few weeks.

I scurried away to my car and told Margurita her car was a write off, and that without insurance she should consider seeking restitution for the damages from Golam [fat chance I thought]

The advice I got was not to report the matter to the police, to ensure Margurita’s version of events was on the record and that she was not responsible for the damage to the car or the motel property, and importantly to record Golam’s role in the debacle. Problem solved huh. Was there more a volunteer worker could do? Well maybe.

What about the lack of power at her new residence.

I could see there was no power in the unit and that all the switches were properly set at the unit switch board.

With the help of the man in unit 4 whose tee shirt bore the message not to screw with pitbulls, we unscrewed the hasp on the locked main power board and flicked switches up and down till they all looked the same in all the units.

I checked with Country Energy to advise a supply interruption and they called back to say it would be an hour or so as there were no other calls in the  area.

I decided to SMS home.

sms reads: Still stuck here. No country no energy. Getting dark sea clouds rolling in. Street lights on

I called Country Energy again at about 1920 and at 1928. Aaron told me there were more urgent faults at Corindi Beach and we would have a further wait.


sms reads: Good to hear the crew is up Corindi beach so just hang on in there mate we will get to you some time

By now it was dark, and we were hungry, so I went up to Maccas and got Margurita and I a good feed of 4 McDouble’s and 2 Double cheeseburgers.

sms reads: I bought the mcafrican lady a suite of fried patties between sesame seed buns plus gherkin. We liked them full and fat

An hour later at 2017 I called Country Energy to be told that

“Didn’t I know they had prioritised work on and that heaps of people were without power and that they’d get around to us sometime tonight.”

More waiting!

Well I thought what’s Margurita going to eat in the morning and it’s a bit glum without light so I went up and got some candles, Monte Carlos and scotch fingers at Woolies before it closed.

On return we lit the candles, one for the kitchen and one for the bathroom, which gave a nice atmosphere, very restful. Best of all we could then see our way into the dunny!

Margurita got some kip on a thin checked blanket on the floor of the unit while I waited in the street.

sms reads: Poor lady she has gone to sleep on the floor on a rug in the flickering warming glow of the pillar candle (scentless) while i keep watch for the energy men.


 sms reads: She is fast asleep. Mild here by the sea. The light from yon windows beams shafts slightly illuminating the gloom

Then at 2108 a vehicle turns up with its search light on scanning the letterboxes for the numbers. I think its the energy men but a passenger gets out of a taxi. He stands on the kerb and scans around. I see his face lit by the face of his mobile phone as he makes a call. Margurita’s phone rings from inside! He prattles in dialect a little, and then walks past me without acknowledgment and down the right side drive of the unit block.

Together they settle in, while I wait outside until 2145 when the men turn up. Feel kinda like a pimp guarding a whorehouse, scanning up and down the street hopefully.

sms reads: Now a taxi arrives. He gets out and makes a call. Her phone rings making me superfluous. D’oh!

When the van, and then an enormous truck pull up, I guess these are energy men. They tong everything, tong this, tong that before deciding its a fault between the main board and the internal board so there ain’t nothing they can do. I leave a note for Margurita to take round the corner to the agent first thing in the morning. The note urgently requests an electrician to attend.

sms reads: My guess is the candles were a good choice tho rose or lilac scented might have celebrated more carnally her first night in new home

sms reads: Heading home. Margurita and paramour to sup on the monte carlo and scotch fingers she and i were to enjoy 


sms reads: Maybe but more likely the distillation of the dew of success and tears of failures

By 2155 I am homeward bound.