Working on the Council
I began a stint as a truck driver for the Brisbane City Council in the 1980′s. Initially I started as a spare driver working out of Newmarket Road Depot at Windsor, an inner Brisbane suburb. The BBC had depots scattered all over Brisbane and my job was to fill in at a particular depot if a driver was away sick or on holidays. There could be just one or two, or sometimes half a dozen spare drivers at Newmarket Road at any one time.
After clocking on at 7:00 am we congregated in the lunch room until the boss came over with his clipboard and surveyed the ‘talent’ he had at his disposal for the day. If he needed to send a driver out to a particular depot he’d try to work it so it was near to where the driver lived. I lived on the outer Northside so hopefully I’d be sent to Nundah, Zillmere or Sandgate. From there I’d catch a train home to Petrie without having to clock off back at Newmarket Road.
This ‘spare driver’ caper was a fair dinkum bludge. If the boss sent you to an outside depot for the day he’d organise a Yellow Cab to transport you there, and if the job was in the opposite direction to where you lived, a cab would bring you back to Newmarket Rd. What made it a bludge was that by the time the cab arrived and got you out to the other depot it would be nearly smoko time. Then in the afternoon you’d have to get the work gang back to their depot by 2:30 pm to organise a cab to get you back to Newmarket Rd in plenty of time to knock off at 4:00 pm. Of course, if you had your own vehicle you were paid a car allowance.
If you were ‘unlucky’ enough not to get posted out to a depot, a relaxing day was in store. Newmarket Road was a holding yard for new council vehicles to be fitted out before delivery to a depot. Once the boss sent any designated drivers out, the rest of us found a comfortable vehicle (with a radio) to relax in, or read a book or take a siesta. Newmarket Road also housed a huge workshop so the monotony was sometimes broken by your name being called over the intercom to deliver a vehicle out to another depot. On wet days we sat in the lunch room and read a book. It was a bit like a holiday camp with a nine day fortnight thrown in.
Morning smoko was at 9:00 am so at about ten to nine we began to wind our way between vehicles and up through the yard towards the lunch room to wait for the pie van. Pie and peas was the order of the day. I never found out how long smoko was because we didn’t adhere to any set time. After a week or two of this inactivity, I made it a habit to grab a broom first up and sweep a section of the workshop where the boss had his office. One reason being to let him know I wasn’t a total bludger, but mainly to refresh his memory that I was available if any jobs came up.
It must have been twelve months later that a permanent driving job came up at Nundah Works Depot. This suited me down to the ground because it was a little over twenty minutes by train from home. I was assigned a two ton Toyota Dyna with a crew of two labourers and a ganger, although shortly after one of the labourers left and wasn’t replaced. We were one of two bitumen repair gangs, and I might add that no one was ever overworked at any stage.
The first thing I learned as a driver of a work’s truck was that you weren’t supposed to touch a shovel. Under the Transport Worker’s Union rules you were there to drive the truck and that was it. Naturally, some drivers took this to the nth degree and never budged from their cabins. But boredom alone drove many drivers, myself included, to grab a shovel or broom and assist the boys. Although if a cold Westerly was blowing, it seemed silly to venture out into it for no reason.
A typical day went something like this. At 7:00 am wander down from the smoko room and head towards your truck. Say g’day and have a yarn to everyone you meet. Sometimes there’s a delay because the overseer wants to assemble the men and give them a serve about not working hard enough. This will fall on deaf ears. Drive up to the petrol bowsers to fuel up, check oil and water etc. Continue to have important conversations with other blokes such as whether they got their end in last night.
Arrive at job site and wait for backhoe. Have a yarn to the backhoe operator even though you’ve just had a yarn to him back at the depot. While the backhoe is digging up the road the fat ganger grabs a broom and allows the labourer to do all the shovelling. Whatever house you’re digging outside of, it’s always the one where someone wants to drive out of their driveway. Take old bitumen to the dump with the ganger riding shotgun. The boys nickname him ‘the Tourist’. If it’s close to 9:00 am, drive back to the job and have smoko.
After smoko drive down to the bitumen plant at Eagle Farm with the Tourist on board, even though he’s supposed to stay on the job. This takes anything from forty minutes to an hour depending how many trucks are ahead of you. Back to job and fill in the dug up section of road with hot bitumen. If there’s time before lunch, drive back to the dump and fossick for paperback books, or in the Tourist’s case, comics. Drive back to the depot for lunch even though it’s miles from the job site.
After lunch, head straight for the Edinburgh Castle Hotel and grab a few stubbies. Drive to the old quarry in Shaw Road and fill in the afternoon. Throughout the afternoon most of the depot’s trucks and men will call in for a drink and a yarn. Vacate the quarry around 3:30 pm and drive the one kilometre to the depot ready to knock off at 4:00 pm.
Arrive home and grab a stubby and tell the missus how good your first beer tastes.