I started at the steelworks when I was 16 in 79. I had hoped for an electrical apprenticeship although I was offered a boilermaking one. I didn't mind the welding but I had no experience with technical drawing and felt out of my depth.
During my high school years, I use to tidy the lawns for an elderly widow whose husband worked most of his life for the steelworks. I continued ?mowing? this lady?s lawn after I got the apprenticeship; when I told her that I had been chosen for an apprenticeship, she said "You will have a job for life at the steel works.?
Its hard not to be nostalgic, sentimental in this post.
To be truthful, I do have ?bittersweet? memories of my time [life] at the steelworks.
Anyway, after a month or two, I decided that boilermaking was not the vocational path I really wanted to follow. Fortunately, for me, the supervisors believed I was a good worker and found a place [overlooking the illegality of the action I was 16 and I gather you had to be 18!] at the Merchant Mill No2. as a labourer.
A fellow named Ernie Reynolds took me under his wing, and for the first couple of years, I was mainly involved with cleaning, then moved on to ?bundling,? and later the operation of machinery.
I spent most of my time at the Finishing End of the No2 Merchant Mill under the supervision of Fletcher Christian. Then, I moved to the Rod Mill, and Finally, at the Cold Rolling Mill.
Having started at such a young age and working for such a long time [9 years], I can not deny the influence the steelworks has had on my life.
On the one hand, it provided an income that enhanced our lifestyles [and future generations]; on the other it was a very dangerous place that took many lives. Hence the ?bittersweet? association.
Like all dangerous environments, mining etc. mateship is a key factor and what I really miss. As many of the workers I associated with over the years were ?fair dinkum? and really considered the well being of their mates. I do not know if this was widespread over the plant but I found this ?mateship? in the departments which I worked.
Like old school friends, you always wonder what happened to your work mates?
Only recently I ran into Kerrie at a supermarket and found out that a true mate from that time, Mark, Kerrie?s husband, got killed in a motorcycle accident on his way home from work. . .
What happen to all the workers. . .
I was working recently at the Hunter Valley Research Foundation at Tighes Hill and went for a walk over to the old steelworks site. I must say I had not been near the area for a number of years. And, in amazement looking through the fence I only saw the old medical centre standing. Remembering the noise - sirens, dust, heat. . .I found myself walking past the old Apprentice Centre at Ingall Street, and eventually stopped up at Koppers near Toule street.
I used to `walk to work down through Woodstock beside Titans and Koopers, past the limestone kiln and over to the merchant mill. And, most of that has gone, even the ICI plant.
You wonder where all of those people went. . .I moved to Tasmania for a number of years after leaving the steelworks but I returned mainly for friends and family.
Earlier, when I was a young child, at Mayfield West I assisted in painting a mural of ?children at play? in the playground at the back of the school which over looked the industries. Little did I know the limestone kiln smoke stack I helped paint would be part of my adult life.
Grandfather was there 51years, Dad was there 42years
and I was there 38 years. ....I understand.....Aub
It was a rainy night on Feb 12th 1961 when
Dad arrived home from the "Mad Miners Pub in
Wickham,"Aub he called" I was talking to Employment Officer today,you start tomorrow
in the Waggon Shop tomorrow,be ready we catch
the 103 bus at 7.00.No more no less you never spoke back to Dad in those days, things for boys of fifteen were different
than boys of fifteen today.The next day we caught the bus at Datie's pub,every one the bus new Dad and he told them I was going to be a RivetCook,When I asked whats that "you will see" was the answer,the date was 13th Feb,1961 my life at Big Harry's begins.The first week was very interesting,I was the first junior on the plant,and the Waggon Shop was full of people who wanted to teach me the ropes,like Aub go to the store and get me a left handed ring spanner.
Aub get me some Ferocraft Wooden Welding Rods.Aub go to the store for a Long Weight.
Aub clean the Forge Chimney so the smoke would go out easy,Aub have you had your Iron Ore Dust Needles yet? and of course there was the shower where every one liked to pat you on the bum.There were 3 unions in the shop F.I.A,Vehicle Builders and A.M.W.U. The Boilmakers were from the old school and if you were cheeky or smart mouth them you soon found a Ball Payne Hammer coming your way.
There were many tasks carried out in the shop in those days,to list a few........
The building of Rail Waggons,Waggon spare parts,welding riveting,oxycutting and general fabricating that Boilermakers would carry out.The Vehicle or Woodbutchers as they were called,worked with timber
and bolts they oxycut but did not weld and were not[at that stage] tradesmen,the Ironworkers were trades assistants. Nick names were very popular,Zeke the Wolf,Bones, Narragut,Tubby,Slim,Diamond ,Pothole,Bluegum,Walkie,Shotgun,Jungle Jim,Greenie,Dinkie,Picks,Twaddle and old Stoker [who said he was a
fireman in a submarine]
Starting times were 7.30am to 4.00pm and Clipper Clive the Boss would dock you if
you were a minute late. [6 minutes]Showers were to about 10 men to the shower,if you were there early get wet ,stand back and soap up wash off get dressed and run for the 400 bus home,My wage was Four Pound Three Shillings per week ,Mum charged me Five Pound a week board [I could never work that out]There was lots of overtime about in the 60's and Friday was mend your "work boots day" In those days work boots were not supplied and we used to glue Nylex on the soles to save money put them in a vice all weekend good as new on Monday [Nylex was a nylon /plastic cover that covered large elect cable]There was many strikes in the 60's and 70's looking back some were just for a day off but on the other hand as unuionist, we fought for many conditions,and now its all gone.
September 20 2004 @ 12:37 PM
Wise words from my old mate. "John the Shunter"
The last reunion in 2005, 350 Men and Women of Steel
attended,the next one is on the 9th September 2006
at the Mayfield Sport and Rec Club..12.30
Spread the word...
As you say its been 5 long years since the closure and to see the place where work mates stood side by side and friendships maybe became parted, time will only tell how people that attend these re unions stay in contact with each other and have a ever lasting bond of friendship that shall forever last.
To see the place as it stands now , naked to the ground where buildings once stood, the quietness at night, and to tell what areas buildings stood and the work that had taken place within those buildings, is very queer to process the thought of my 20 years growing up from a boy, experiencing the knowledge past onto me by men with dreams and experience that could build mountains and cross bridges, with stories from times that have now past and some people that have past on. Quietly a achievable passing in anyone's lifetime.
I look forward to seeing you at the reunion aub
See you there spread the word....Aub
Good to see you back on the site avior
Hi all; hope all is well..
Hi mate, get ready for the reunion...Aub
Please let all your contacts know.
Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association - Forum