And here’s Ash

Thing’s change in life. We think we know where we’re goin’, then they change.

All my life I’ve been guiding, when not guiding sleeping and hangin ‘ around. Twenty four seven as they say ready at a moments notice to be on call, to be a companion, a friend. Ever reliable and always on guard it’s been a dog ‘s life. I’m not complaining, whinging  or moaning. That ain’t me at all. I’m just a dog.

Walking through the streets of Melbourne I’m bombproof , non-distractable by the delicious smells and raucous noises coming right at me.  I’m on a mission, to get from A to B safely, in spite of the attention or the ignorance of those about. New places are the same as familiar ones, the hazards are my concern. The overhangs, the traffic lights, the steps and the elevators, I’ve seen them all. From down at my level, I can see what might be an issue. I know that if I couldn’t detect  them , he certainly wouldn’t. So I plod along, waiting to hear the command, left, right or follow. It’s natural to me in my harness.

One day a few months ago, a play friend arrived. Just like me when I was young, though golden silky coloured it was great to have a mate. We enjoyed each others company. It was wonderful to have a friend to come home to each night after working all day. We shared the warm house, the ample food and the fluffy, silly cats.

Fletcher was three, I’m ten years old. He had much to learn but I could see he had potential. He fitted in well and we got along. I was glad of the chance to relax on short trips to the supermarket when he was given the chance to strut his stuff. Mistakes! Well he made a few, tripping over steps and walking too darn fast. Well that’s how it goes. Spiritedly straining at the harness, anxious to impress. All the tricks of the trade passed on though. This might be a great outcome, sharing the load so I could rest my paws.

I was spending less time working and more time sleeping, at home. It seemed as though I would be pensioned off to a life of relaxation though in reality I’ve no idea of a future. The present goes on and on.

Through a series of complicated events I end up in Tasmania, colder and happier. All I have to do is be a dog.  I’m loved and grateful. It’s an easy life




Decline to passing

Walking a dog is one of life’s pleasures. Wandering along, thoughtless, thought filled memories of my mum ebb in my mind. Is it only the most recent memories that remain, the last few years when I got to see has a mum who depended more and more on me?

It wasn’t always so.

Mum was all those things mothers are to kids. Only in later years I realised the circularity of life’s trajectory, that we return, magically to where we started, dependent. Increasing incapacity of the ageing process gives the opportunity of those who’ve been raised to honour the sacrifice made willingly for a children’s potential.

And so it was, as Mum declined her ability to toilet herself diminished. Though facility careers dutifully assisted at other times, for me it was a privilege to see to her most basic needs in the dunny.

We come full cycle. We wash the nappies of children growing up, with never the intention that it’ll last forever.

Neither did this.

Cec, He Knew His Onions. Concord Plaster Mills –

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Onions, he knew his onions.
Strange phrase, I know it’s meaning who else does?
Grumpy, cantankerous, obdurate, offending were all ways he could be described. Was it the sweat-stained canvas floppy sunhat he insisted wearing inside and out covering a balding carcinoma covered scalp, or the knowledge within which was most attractive to me?
I couldn’t tell.
He had as his office a dust laden and paper strewn cubby hole on the mezzanine floor of the Plaster Mill, Concord Plaster Mills. Built during the World War, the second war in 1942, its construction echoed its times. Concrete and brick, but mostly concrete of an era when lightening a structure to save effort or materials was unheard of. Solid, like the men who cajoled tons of plaster from its bowels. When it was built metrification was not even contemplated. Mechanical gates and chutes operated by sinewy human muscle power, mostly migrant’s muscle who manned the plant post war.
Cec lived not far from the plant somewhere in Ryde on land which had not been squeezed by the urban sprawl. On it he grew onions of which he was proud. A strange thing to be proud of I thought, but his foremanship at the Plaster Mills didn’t define him. It was his onions.
Thinking back now over the forty-odd years since past, it’s the onions I recall. Lessons learnt from him about technical aspects of plaster making, brattice plaster, hardwall plaster, mine plaster, pottery plaster and curse of curse plaster for plasterboard manufacture are all but forgotten.

What of the man do I recall? Pulling off his boots after a day’s toil in the change room alongside the HR office, he could always be seen there right on knock off time. Though his going home clothes were barely distinguishable from his work clothes his demeanour on exit said one thing, I’m off now to do what’s important. It’s that which remains.
He started each day earlier than us office types. There at the crack of dawn for the change off of night shift he stayed abreast of everything that happened in his Mill. No amount of electrical then electronic monitoring said more about what was happening in Cec’s domain than what he intuitively knew. Being in harmony with the rhythms of production came from continually prowling the plant, listening to the creak of straining equipment understanding the stresses the plant could take. Most of what I learnt from Cec was by observation, his way of being, and his experiences. These were hard won, requiring a closeness of men, awkward for insular Cec and near impossible for a young Chinese lad to develop with a grumpy Anglo man.
But we worked at it, and slowly after various trials and many mistakes a grudging acceptance developed both ways. With long hours in the Plaster Mill, I learnt the lessons that only experience can teach. It was as though the apprenticeship I’d served under Arthur Collins at Brunswick Plaster Mills, Tinning St., Brunswick Victoria continued. Brunswick though had been brown coal briquette fired whereas Concord was oil fired. It was hot and dusty work, very dusty but my career was young and enthusiasm undampened.
Slowly the years passed and oil gave way to gas, the plant reshaped for the vast volumes of plaster now required for plasterboard. The proportion of niche plasters requiring art and craftsmanship slid down the production schedule. The need to know more about styling the product diminished till the Plaster Mill was merely an adjunct to a plasterboard plant.
And with this decline knowing how to craft plasters for customer’s specific needs gave way to producing tonnage.

The care factor diminished, the onions shrivelled and one morning in the change room as he pulled on his dusty boots for a day’s unsatisfying work he died.

Vale Cec.

Editor’s Note: Originally, published in Folkiknew and now updated