Concord Plaster Mills – Bye Bye Mansour

Night shifts were long. Longer when alone. Vast machinery controlled by one man. Mansour had climbed the factory floor hierarchy to the most senior role in the plant, leading hand. A long way from the flinty land he was born on in war torn Lebanon.

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Justifiably he was proud of his achievement. He shared the leading hand role with two others, each with an offsider.

When his night shift offsider was a no show, a fill in labourer, the son of Greg Randell, another leading hand, was pressed into service. This was David, a little runt, cocky and with an attitude that screamed “fuck you wog.”

An inauspicious start to the evening!

David lolled about in the control room playing with his phone, letting the feed hoppers run empty, even whilst the low level alarms blared. His job out on the loader should have kept him mostly away from the control room and Mansour.

“Whata ya doin’ in here?” Mansour asked. A reasonable question when the feed into the mill had run out. Maintaining process flow was critical to the continuous operation. David was responsible for keeping this running.

” Fuck you, wog! “was David’s reply, which really wasn’t a reply to answer to Mansour’s question.  It also reflected his father’s attitude to having a new Australian taking a role which had traditionally been the preserve of true blue Aussies.

“Well ya needa to best go an filla da bins cos they empty, day showin empty! So plees go now an fill, pleese.”

” My fuckin’ sandwich’s not done in the fuckin’ toaster and I’m on the phone to Sue, so shut the fuck up,” Dave shouted back. Any way whose gonna fuckin’ make me! ” Dave snarled back.

Mansour moved over towards Dave. His six foot three bulk was that of a man used to farm labouring work, sinewy arms and broad muscular shoulders. David was wirey, with a shock of ginger hair, in fact true blue.

David rose from the plastic chair he was lolling back in on its two real legs, and puffed himself up to his full five foot five height.

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“Go on, make me, cunt,” he snarled, ” Make me, I dare you, wog cunt.”

Mansour, pushed past him and opened the control room door.

“Out you go an geta the bin full!” he said, his voice rising.

Dave grabbed at the door and tried to shut it. His strength could not match Mansour’s. They tussled there, Dave thumping on Mansour’s back.

” Close the fuckin door it’s getting cold” he screamed with a push to Mansour’s chest.

Mansour raised his hand to defend himself, the glancing blow catching Dave in the jaw.

“Shit wog, you hit me, I’m reporting you!”

The next morning my office was buzzing with tales of the incident in the control room. Greg, David’s dad was in full flight having had the episode related to him when David got home from night shift.

I went in to work with a heavy heart that night just as night shift started.

Listening to both sides of the story, half of which I relate above, my heart sank.

Honest as the day is long, Mansour admitted yes he had hit David, but in a moment of retaliation for a provocation.

They both admitted to fighting.

Factories have rules.

I applied them.

They were both sacked.


Tasmanian Health Service – Para training and Chinese Scamming

Some things can only be learnt from experience.

How best to survive high altitude sky diving and internet scams might be two of these.

Hardly though the skills acquired from the Tasmanian Health Service, one would have thought!

You’d be wrong.

Settling into my first job ever in a public service at about three score years, I reckoned keeping a low profile was de rigeur. In the 2020’s open offices are fading, with the virus and hotdesking going the way of the dodo. But back in these days a few years ago, cack coloured wool partitions were all the go.

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Situated twixt the secretaries and the data guys, I was in a prime location. On the one the one side, Bill Gates’ failure as a Word processing program were offset on the other by boat chartering down the Chanel or making heaps on e-bay  or attack sky diving. I stuck to trying to understand how to draft policy and make sense of spreadsheets, possibly done by chooks. A set of noise cancelling ear plugs were a lovely self present. I got them on mother’s day, couldn’t wait till fathers day.

On a day burned into my psyche, the floor next to me shuddered . This was no mean feat for a concrete floor overlaid with standard issue government carpet. Experiential techniques to void limb damage on parachute  landing were being demonstrated from the adjacent office desk. Unfortunately the top of the three draw filing cabinet was unavailable to allow a better tuck to be achieved before rolling out, both hands crossed over the chest. Perhaps on second thoughts fortunately not.

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Practising parachute roll out

This at least provided some relief from the commentary on how shit Word was, and how Bill was gonna hear about this! We wondered if the rest of the office computers had been infected with a virus which allowed their networked copies of Word to work perfectly. Sometimes Word worked ok, and the conversation turned to being an ice skating Mum, and the perils of eisteddfods.

A scheme to turn a 900+ % profit on some hardware devices not easily available in Hobart was cooked up. I heard nothing more of the whispered scheme until a DHL courier showed up with a parcel addressed to a company no one had heard of. All other street address details, including floor  and  building were correct. The receipt inside though identified the delivery had been correct.

The data guys ripped open the packing. The packing slip though detailed a delivery address in Peru. The devices had most of the right ports and connectors. But most ports and connectors ain’t near enough. The devices were going to sell for about $1000 each in Hobart, shipped cost $200 each. Frantic phone calls to the disconnected number in Hong Kong proved useless as were the $1000 worth of useless hardware.

I got on with the policy writing.

Melbourne – Graft!

Working away in the bowels of Melbourne Plaster  Mill, time passed without me noticing. The cold light cast by the neon lights hung high on the ceilings became brighter as the evening set in, though it just lit the floor on which I was working. Everybody else had gone home, an eerie quietness crept between the pale green silos and steel frame works. The whir of cyclones and dust collectors pulsing filled the space with the breath of a slumbering creature.

As I tuned into the stillness, I could hear a random rattling, Just occasionally. It would start then fade away. I listened to several cycles, well not rhythmic cycles but jagged cycles. The cycling of a ball bearing pin ball being punched back into play on a pin ball machine.

Slowly it dawned, that a piece of metal was being flung around in the whirling airstream of an air cyclone, rattling its way round and round on the walls then falling out to the base rotary valve. The rotary valve was separated from the collection bin by a Mucon valve. Mucon valves we called arsehole valves, for their sphincter like operation.

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I climbed into the maze of bins and cyclones. Each time a cycle started I was closer to identifying the offending, cyclone. I knelt beside the noisiest cone.

“Clatter, clatter, clatter, clatter, ” this was surely the offender.

Disconnecting the arse hole valve from storage bin below, I gingerly thrust my right hand into the nearly closed opening.

Proctology was not a medical speciality I’d have considered if I’d not taken to engineering.

“Mmhh,” I thought as I groped around, ” nothing here.”

Then it was there again.

“Rattle, clatter , bang rattle clatter, clatter” just at my ear level  as I crouch with my arm up the arsehole valve.

I reached in a shade further, just enough for the rotary valve above to shear off the top of my middle finger.

“Fuck!” is what I thought,  terminating my examination by pulling my hand out real quick.

Thrusting the bleeding digit into my mouth I clambered down from the third floor grid platforms, making my way into the empty despatch office. I could feel the raw bone on my tongue.

The lights were going out, well it was my sight fading from full technicolour to black and white. It was the blood loss. Dialling for the foreman way over in the Gyprock plant, he told me to meet him at the midway first aid post.

“Aye laddie, ” Les said, in his broad Yorkshire accent, looks like a trip to the hospital.”

I couldn’t have cared less. The tea towel he’d wrapped my hand in soaked through with blood after six minutes and then again before we arrived at emergency.

Triage is a wonderful thing. Waiting four hours to be seen isn’t. By now the throbbing was incessant. It stopped when several anaesthetic needle blocks were jammed into the base of my finger.

Fifty years later the scars of the botched skin grafts are just visible.

The finger tip pad is thinner and lacks complete sensitivity.

The skin graft never took, went putrid after two weeks covering.

The finger healed itself.

I learnt two things

  • Keep fingers out of arseholes.
  • I’m hard to graft.

Richard Blaxland – Concord Plaster Mills – Electricity Flows

The concrete top floor of the mill was shrouded in mystery. Few went there.

It was well lit, being  three floors up, windows on all sides, covered in plaster dust and uncleaned for years, if not decades. Bucket elevators transported products made in the kettles below to the tops of large bins, whose tops penetrated through the concrete floor.

It was a solemn place for gravity. Gravity allowed the flow of products where needed in the plant for bagging, the Hosakawa mill, impax mill or plaster grinders. The products flowed from the bins through an intricate network of swishing air slides and creaking screws to their destination. Breakdowns of equipment on this floor were rare. No one regularly tended the space. Cobwebs ruled.

Richard Blaxland, the HR trainee was rarely in the plant. His forebears had explored the inland of the New South Wales colony, crossing the Blue Mountains in 1813, searching for more grazing land. Some said his dad was on the CSR Board. The family had significant rural farmlands where Richard had spent good part of his life.

He was a knock about sort of guy, shirt tails perpetually flowing out over his dark belt. He always seemed in a rush, on this or that mission from the HR and Safety  manager, Bill Hart. He debriefed us whenever an employee left, and based on our chat, marked the file before stashing it away. There was a whole code of letters. Written in red biro NSFRE * always stood out.

So, for engineering types Richard was an obvious target.

The plant was hit by electrical outages.  Severe site wide ones though were rare. A large rat rampaging across the main buzz bars in the main electrical cabinet, without lifting his feet off of the bar he was running along caused a site wide blackout. Exploded rat remnants splattered the blue door electrical switch room, the uninviting aroma of  roast rat barbeque filled the upstairs offices for a week.

Richard enquired casually one day, in the canteen at morning tea.

” Why is the plant down so often?”

This wasn’t the type of scrutiny we could abide.

” Oh, we’ve run out of electricity, ” someone quipped.

“Run out!” he pondered, “Really?” his eyes widening.

“Yes, the head tank empties out every so often if we use too much and we can’t keep the supply up to it,” the quipper quipped again.

“Shit,” said Richard, “is it hard to refill? Where is it?”

” Where is it?” I pondered, creating just enough time tto think up a porkie** and opening my mouth.

” Up on the third floor of the mill,” I replied, then continuing,

“Like to see it next week Richard?”

” Sure,” he said, ” come get me from Bill’s office anytime.”

Construction was furious. Near the roof of the third floor, we constructed a square tank on top of the main plaster elevator. It could only be reached by a 4 metre vertical ladder. A few electrical cables were stuck into the base of the tank as outlets. We stencilled the sides  ” Electricity Head Tank, “then chucked a few broken bags of plaster over our handy work to add a patina of unkemptness, in keeping with the surroundings. The tank was visible through the criss-crossing air slides and screws from floor level.

” You wanna change before we go up?” I asked as I picked Richard up for his Engineering 101 Practicum.

” No I’ll go as I am, ” he replied, taking off his suit jacket, ” They’ll re be no climbing ladders, will there?”

“No Richard, of course not,” I responded,” it’s pretty dusty but all visible.”

We traipsed over to the mill. Cec*** watched the band of office types wander through his domain from his central office on the first floor.

When we arrived in the heat on the third floor, Richard’s face said it all. This was a world totally different  from the classrooms of Economic Theory 204, or  Feminism Studies [for Commerce].

” So where’s this Head Tank?” he asked.

” Up there, ” I said, ” but don’t get too close, you can just see it from here.”

He peered up, and moving his from side to side, he could see the Electricity Head Tank.

“Wow,” he exclaimed,” just like the water tanks on the farm.”

Standing there all I could say was,

“Yes Richard, just like the water tanks on the farm.”

Editor’s note :

*NSFRE         Not suitable for reemployment

**Porkie,      Aussie rhyming slang for lie, untruth.


Ray Osborne – Concord Plaster Mills -Learning the Importance of Data.

Ray Osborne, surveyed the forecourt to the Concord Plaster Mills Canteen. It was not a place he frequented.

 Junior staff *did.

Each morning the junior staffed traipsed into the canteen over the site change rooms, up the concrete linoleum stairs for their 10 minute morning tea.

Ray watched with an eagle eye. Once or twice a month, as they returned he’d berate them for tardiness, exceeding the 10 minutes allocated. From the slit window let into the brick office façade he wasn’t visible to the observed.

Ray was a stickler for data.

The staff drank a variety of tipples, white tea with or without sugar, some black tea or a can of soft drink. Some even lashed out with a Peter’s chocolate ice cream Heart.

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Without exception the black tea drinkers, were always dawdling!

In the days before Excel, hand drawn charts tracked the temperature at which a boiling hot cup of black tea, could be sipped tentatively, then gulped.

Les Lawrenson, a black tea, no sugar  guy, was chosen to calibrate his mouth for the task. After several scalding moments, leaving that delicious hangey down skerrick of upper palate skin in his mouth, the experiment began.

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” Ok Les, let’s do it,” we all encouraged. This was the equivalent of “taking one for the team” before it became a thing.

Les blew across the top of the tea cup, hoping for evaporative cooling.

In the first few minutes there just a little sipping possible.

He sipped each minutes, as measured by the calibrated laboratory stop watch. We measured the remaining content of the cup.

The original data is now lost, I present a facsimile of those results.

The data clearly shows that at 10 minutes after the start of morning tea a black tea drinker still has more than 100 ml of tea to drink.

We were elated and I was nominated to present the findings to Mr Osborne. We sought an extension of morning tea on Workplace Health and Safety grounds .

To say my presentation was given short shift would be ……. an understatement.

  • Rick Shorter, David Poon, Les Lawrenson, Neil Chaplin, Harry Page, Dave McMillan, Ron Stobie, Doug Parrish, Dave McClelland, Eric Chan, Jenny Lang, Greg Neil,, Mario Russo, Harm Drenth.



ack when I was in sole charge of a large manufacturing plant south of Brisbane I enjoyed relative autonomy. The site was large, 40 acres, with a large plant building to the north, and up front near Coopers Plains Road a converted house turned into an office amenity. To the east ran Stable Swamp Creek

When the new Group Manager for Queensland moved into the office up front of the site, there wasn’t much change. I didn’t report to him, they were our site tenants really; we were pleased to accommodate them.

“I’m Eric and I want to see you up here in my office.” the new Group General Manager said down though line. Of course I thought I’d love to meet him, having not done so.

“I want to know why the gardener up here is wasting water hosing down the front entrance of this office with a half-inch hose. And besides that there’s lantana  growing up through the soffit of the outside veranda.”

“Mmhh” I thought serious matters for a General Manager and a State Operations Manager  to discus.

I’d heard that Eric was a cost cutter and had already cut the morning and afternoon tea budgets for the front office dramatically. Of particular concern to staff was the elimination of chocolate biscuits, plain and no name brands now predominated.

“Ok, I’ll be right up,” I said.

As I wandered through the leafy glade to the left of the main entrance roadway I waved to the waiting truck drivers. Sure enough Eric had come out of the office and I could see he was berating the gardener Frankie.  Frankie looked perplexed. His English wasn’t that good, good enough though to have served faithfully for thirty years.  He’d retired from working in the plant several years before and his pride and joy in his retirement for the past few years was maintaining the grounds. They looked like a garden.

“Me, I usea the tree aight  hose huh” I overheard him saying . “ But it not sqwerta da leafs right away propa,” I caught the twinkle in Frankie’s eye as I mounted the two steps to the entrance.

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Squirting with a 3/8″ hose

Eric stood there, legs spread arms akimbo. The stance of a short man General Manager.

“What did you say?” said Eric back to Frankie not understanding the Slovac filtered  English

“I saida dat I try to usa tree aight hasa but it not squirta da leafs away proper” he said in a raised voice bordering on a shout. It was a volume he’d heard many a time as a migrant. Not a bad chance to get his own back.  Aussies talking to him would raise their voice and shout at him when he did not understand what was being said to him.

Eric had been giving him he third degree about why he was using a half-inch hose to blast away the leafy detritus in front of Eric’s palace, concerned that this was a significant waste of water.

I got it straight away.

“Eric,” I said in an appropriately deferential tone as befits a lowly State Operations Manager.

” He said he’s ineffectively used a three eighth inch hose out here and this larger hose works better and more quickly.”

“But the waste!” Eric retorted, “It’s so damn wasteful. You need to economise and this isn’t helping.”

Stable Swamp Creek

“Eric” I replied, “The water is pumped from Stable Swamp creek and is unmetered, so where’s the problem?”

Eric turned on his heel and wheeled into the Office block.

Frankie and I laughed.

Editor’s note. Re blogged for your pleasure from

The Rental Renewal – How to be too smart by half

It all starts easily enough.
The notice for a house lease renewal. no big deal really, I’ve already been in the quaint little cottage perched on the hill for a year.

I’d felt fortunate to have found it so soon after my arrival in Hobart and settled in quickly. Slowly I added nick knacks to its white walled interior, firstly Ted Proctor’s brown ochre Australian landscape paintings, Japanese lacquered paper umbrellas and the unglazed off white slashed pottery vase in the fireplace.
“We must have a twelve month lease,” Bob said during those initial conversations.
He said it more than once.

I was worried, I was still in my probationary period at my government job, with no guarantee of permeance.
“There’s nothing being said by the department about job security past June, so I could be out of work by then,” I pleaded.
I offered to stay at the place on a month by month basis, having served the mandatory six month lease out already. Real estate rental usually work this way, but Bob told me again,
“We have to have a six month lease, its our superannuation.”
I gained the impression Bob didn’t share my concerns about being able to afford a lease without work.
“Well if you can’t sign a long term lease then we’ll serve a notice to vacate, anyway we need to inspect the property, so that will be next Tuesday,” he hissed through the phone. By Monday night he had slipped a notice to vacate under the front door and into the letterbox, as required under Act section 2 sub section 52 para 3G.
The conversation after the inspection was as a doozy.
Bob told me, “The boxes in the second bedroom might be causing structural damage to the floor, they were too close to the walls and needed to be moved to prevent damp, and he would move the white iron framed bed from the house to give me more room.”
Punitive I felt. I had moved the single bed into the second bedroom to accommodate my larger futon in the main. It worked well for the occasional guest.
“Besides that, you didn’t bother to wash the dishes in the kitchen sink for when we came through” Bob said, “The dishes were all there unwashed”

Gasping I told him, “Don’t tell me how to live, it’s a house inspection, get real.” fuming I went on “And besides that the tenants union say that I don’t have to sign a six month lease.”
I was inclined to tell him about the ants, the sloping floors, the drafts, the I hot hot-water but I tried to stay focused on the cleanliness of the floors, toilet and walls which is what I thought I was renting.
Bob went quiet then started mouthing on about his super and how he would be back for a further inspection to see if I had rectified the “breaches”.
“Cool it ” I thought.
Sun Tsu in the Art of War says “To know your enemy” and I could see he thought he had all the power. If I could find another place to rent, and there were many around, I could move stealthily and Bob’s super might suffer a several thousand dollar deficit from lost rent.
“Ok, Bob” I said, what about next week, say Tuesday.”
He foolishly agreed, the trigger for me to find the weekend papers and find a new spot post haste.
There was. Blessed surfeit of places, all wanting to suck in a tenant like soft drink up a straw. I could have taken either of two, but the third came with no lease, just a handshake, and my job uncertainty was not an issue.
A white rental truck was hired for the weekend, the boxes which had so offended we’re the first to be loaded. the shed emptied quickly, we’ll at least my side of it and numerous trips to and for had the bulk of me moved in a day and a bit.
Bob must have been resting on his most abundant laurels. With all the power, he sensed I would be cleaning and scrubbing to maintain the tenancy to his whim. I was. To get my bond back!
And so by Monday night I emailed him to say the tenancy would end on the Thursday next, the day on which he had formally given me notice, but for which I had been unable to empty the sink.
I said the keys would be on the dresser and my bond could be returned to my account, the one from which the rent was paid.
The bond came back.
The house stayed empty for at least three months.

Editor’s note : Reblogged from thehobartcinaman’s past, please enjoy