Learning About Change – Doing Drugs

Monday mornings can be a drag. Time to put away the weekend’s freedom and get back into the excitement or boredom of whatever work brings.

Lying there, he was not able to sense whether he’d been dreaming or not. Light flooded the bedroom, filtered only by the horizontal slats of the Venetian blinds. There it was again. The mobile rattled on the polished wooden floor where he’d put it the night before, no tone but definitely ringing. He picked it up. It stopped. Thirty seconds later, the buzz tone of a message.

“See you at north Rockhampton depot, 8:15, Mike”

An unexpected message, Mike was based in Melbourne, so being here was slightly strange. Perhaps he’d come over the weekend and stayed at his mate Andrew’s place, up on the highest  ridge in Rockhampton where the well heeled resided.

“Well, postpones the drive out to the site 80 kilometres south anyway” I thought, loads of time for breakfast.

Soon enough it was time to go. 

The yard at north Rocky was a dusty grain handling terminal, part rail, part road. The bitumen extended only far enough onto the site to serve the few offices under the silos to the left. On the other side a miss-mash of  demountable offices. In these cabins Cheetham the salt company held some space. A town base when one was needed.

“G’day Mike, surprise to see you here so bright and early. Did you come up over the weekend?”

“Yes, stayed last night at Andrew’s, flew in yesterday afternoon,” he replied.

The white sheet clad demountables were sparsely furnished, and we were seated on either side of a laminated lunch table, no frills.

“Yes, I needed to talk with you before the work day,” he intoned.

It kinda sounded serious but I let the feeling pass.

Andrew was seated to his left, with a somewhat furtive look, avoiding any direct eye contact.

“I’ve come up to look into some matters at the plant today before I head back to Melbourne this afternoon. There’s been some accusations made about you, which will mean you won’t be going down to Bajool today.”

I was stunned!l

No work today?

“I need to go to the works and speak to people there,” he repeated.

“What about,” I interjected, “what’s this all about.”

Mike prevaricated. I’d seen him in action before and as urbane as he was there was a decidedly slimy streak about him.

I’d realised this when I came to Rockhampton for the job initial interview, and had asked how long the role had been vacant. There was no direct reply really, vague hand waves that the dilapidated plant was being managed by a guy named Henry, and that there’d be a three week handover. It was consoling then as the plant was way in the sticks and renowned for its interesting IR climate. After I had accepted the role and within a week of being there Mike had paid a visit. On the 80 km drive back to the airport I’d said to him,

“If I’d known it was this bad, I’d never have taken this. By the way where’s Henry now. He was here two days and I haven’t seen him since. He said he wasn’t returning cos he’s got his money.”

“Is that right?” I queried.

Mike replied,”Well I think you’re better off without him here, you’ll pick it up ok,” a sly grin creasing his lips. Henry apparently was the manager I was supposed to take over from and had been in the salt game for more than 30 years. Perhaps naively I thought I might learn a trick or two from him. I never heard from Henry again, although the accounts office continued to pickup the remnants of his abuse of the Amex card for months later. 

Mike said, “You should go home now, I’ll call you this afternoon”

I shook my head to clear it. “Go home,” echoed once or twice, then faded in my ears.

Had I heard him right,”go home?”

“We don’t want you in the plant today while we investigate these issues, so it’s best you go home. I’ll call you when we ‘re done, should be this afternoon.”

Looking back I figure there was more to the eighty minute conversation than my feint recollection, but that was its essence.

I left. A cruel blow to one’s dignity. Not knowing why you’d been sent off, the questions swirled yet my persistent questioning revealed nothing from Mike or to a lesser extent Andrew. 

Leaving the office and crossing the gravelled yard beyond which my car was parked I could sense the slowness of my pace. My feet barely lifted one foot ahead of the other. There was really no where to go but back to my rented house. I knew no one there, had made no friends in the two years I’d been in Rockhampton, I might as well have been on Mars.

A day became a week. A week of depressing solitude. I determined only I could find a way out. 

A road trip south, skirting the inland wild rivers ultimately found me at my longest friend’s home in Central New South Wales. We took stock of my situation, and he thoughtfully advised that moving on was the best option. I decided to do that.

The report commissioned by the company related how I had rolled around on the tarmac in front of the offices at Bajool on the weekend before the Board was to visit. How I had taken little green and blue pills in my office during office hours, and that I was not well liked by the employees. A farrago of untruths, somehow cobbled together from interviews with sometime colleagues. As a change manager I accepted that I was not well liked by some employees, especially those the company required to be retrenched after thirty years service. Soon enough it was three months later. I had not worked in that time though paid. 

Graeme, the manufacturing manager I had recruited from New Zealand, placed my few personal possessions in a soggy cardboard box, delivered them to my rented seventies chamfer board house one afternoon, and I was gone.

In the months following, Andrew, Mike, Graeme, Roger the operations manger in South Australia, the operations manager in Victoria, Bill the CEO were all gone. All victims of the winds of change which swept through Cheetham after the ex Australian Wheat Board executive takeover of key roles in a once great company. 



Passing Aunty

Apparently it was 2011. I’ve forgotten the exact date. Vague shadows of memories started to coalesce. Fragments fleetingly recollected, of the cramped student studio in a pigeon holed high-rise apartment, the gaunt Indochinese umbrella salesman at Lidcombe railway station, then the sumptuous family wake following nibbles in the red tiled pagoda imitation shelter in the heat haze of Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney’s multicultural heartland.

But something was amiss. The western  chapel was not the same as before. The opaque narrow glass windows were shorter, though the harsh sunlight pierced them with the same soft burnt orange brown hues as it had four years earlier.

Was it really four years later? It seemed like yesterday. 

I noticed the head of the coffin faced in the opposite direction. My guess was it faced the furnace, the fiery furnace being central to the whole complex. Ah this was the eastern chapel.

The crowd was subdued and muted. It was less of a crowd than back then. I’d expected it to be larger. There were few I knew.

What is the feeling one has of a memorial crowd being smaller than expected? Is it a reality check for yourself. That the fondness in which you held the person being memorialised is not shared by others? It’s not something that can easily be verbalised. Is it the sense that the distance I’d travelled for the event seemed large compared with that covered by others more local? A kind of superiority arrogance on my part? Was it disappointment, and if so for who? A missed opportunity to pay respects, an opportunity which passes but once. Her grandkids had returned from Europe, New York and Malaysia, much further than I. 

I knew my uncle less than my aunt and her guidance to me over the years had been far greater. Had my uncle been accessorised in my mind, somehow lionised but seen only as my aunt’s extension? 

From the tributes, the esteem and love with which he was held by her shone through, married 67 years. He was her ducky. My heart was very warmed.

After a visit to the fading blooms of the rose memorial for him and their son, we departed for the same lounge room where four years earlier we’d shared in a typical Australian Chinese cook up. For me it was homely. This time though there could be no “on the way home” visit to Aunty, for her daughter an existential realisation that she was the only surviving link to her growing grandkids and the past generation. I’d had felt the same burden of being, the last survivor of a generation, perhaps a load I still bear. We live to bear witness.

Sitting at the table picking at the food I said in passing to the three grandkids,

“Been back since when granddad died?’

And they let me know that in various time frames and periods they had.

“And Mum’s been over to see us all a few times too” was the consensus,

“Do you get up here to Sydney much?” they asked.

“Yes” I replied, “probably a few times since your granddad passed away.”

“So is your wife Anne the same lady you came with last time?” asked Andrew.

At that moment past recollections and present reality separated.

Four years now seemed an eternity.

Easter 2015, it’s nearly over thank God!

“Christ is Risen”

“He is risen indeed”

This traditional greeting on Easter morn, clashes with the Easter egg hunt, the iPhone and hot cross buns. Mixed traditions and meanings lost to many, save for the holidays they allow. Am I saddened, do I care?

Traditions passed on through generations are a replication of the things that matter to you, they form the basis of what makes you who you are.

Somehow the greeting “Christ is Risen” resonates in my mind but it’s an echo of a time barely remembered. It’s part of the tradition I recall immediately. Was it said outside the Presbyterian Church at Adelaide Street, Ringwood, or the tiny Chinese Church in Melbourne  on the corner of Heffernan Lane and Little Bourke Street? I can’t tell now. My memory fails me or is that a failure? Is it a failure if it never happened?

Little Bourke seems more relevant. Closer in my childhood to the migrants we schooled with who came from a Greek Orthodox tradition. Theirs was a clear understanding of the resurrection greeting for Easter Sunday. The response,

“He is risen indeed,” affirms the joint belief in the resurrection. 

For me it was a welcome addition to the sacred times for which these days are celebrated.

Now hot cross buns sold are from Boxing Day, chocolate hot cross buns without the cross, double fruit hot cross buns. Oh are there gluten free too? With Easter Sunday out of the way we might imagine Christmas tinsel should already be on display.

So why hunt for eggs? Typically chocolate eggs, part of the three thousand tonnes of chocolate consumed at Easter, a chocolatiers delight. We should also bless the colourful tin foil manufacturers who bring that metallic chewiness to melted chocolate only tasted at Easter time. Who is this Easter bunny? Easter bilby. How many more animals or causes can get on the band wagon. Is it so hard to recall why we have these traditions rather than rush to  replace them with something of less longevity, less meaning but more short term marketable.

I’m rushing back to think of 2014 enthusiasm for tipping a bucket of ice cold water over your head. Why the fuck did we do it, allow it, promote it? Does anyone do it now? Or do it annually, or biannually, or plans to do it in a decade? We can shave our heads, grow a mo, all in the name of something or other, rather than just give to a quietly to a cause, or better give our time selflessly. 

It’s really quite remarkable how in a generation we have seen the rise of iEaster, the relentless pursuit of chocolate eggs.