Green as grass

One evening near the end of March as the crew were sitting down for dinner, a tall skinny guy wandered into the camp. As soon as he spoke, I knew where he came from. He had a strong North of England accent and was a shipyard welder from Hartlepool who’d arrived at Perth Airport three days before. He was offered a welding job in Narrogin and here he was.

John’s complexion was white as snow and he was as green as grass. He had never lived away from home before and like me had been catapulted into the wilds of the Australian outback! As a relatively ‘old hand’ I took him under my wing but soon regretted it.

I ended up doing the job his mam did for him ‘back home’. John could not get himself up in the mornings. He had to be wakened repeatedly and needed help to get his gear together before the truck left. Now I knew how my Mam must have felt trying to get me off to work each day.

After he had settled in I showed him around and then went for a walk into town. Many of the front gardens had peach and orange trees growing.

“How come there are no high fences? Doesn’t the fruit get knocked off?” he inquired. In Teesside all fruit trees had to be protected with high fences and barbed wire.

“No-one bothers, everyone has a fruit tree,” was the reply.

He walked up to a front door, knocked and asked if he could have a peach.

“Take as many as you want,” came the bemused reply.

The following Saturday, I took John to the local pool. It was very hot and the pool surrounds and the lawn were crowded with young families and groups of teenagers. When John took off his shirt, everyone stared. They had never seen anyone so white. Soon the young kids began teasing him and took his towel. After a number of warnings he picked up all of their belongings and hurled them into the pool. Dripping towels, shirts and thongs were recovered from the water by their owners. We beat a hasty retreat and red with embarrassment, I vowed never to go with him to the pool again.

The Ventures – ‘Pipeline’  1963

The guys from the hostel knew about my industrial experience and gave me the telephone number of the employment officer for Constructors John Brown, sub-contractors for the American multi-national Bechtel Pacific. They were building a titanium plant down the South coast outside Bunbury.

The job was secured and I informed the PWD foreman that I was leaving. Friends threw me a going away party and I was not allowed to buy anything as they said they would look after the organization. That was a big mistake!

The Beatles – ‘Twist and Shout’ 1964
You know you twist little girl
You know you twist so fine
Come on and twist a little closer now
And let me know that you’re mine

The refreshments turned out to be flagons of sweet sherry. Eight young guys sat around in my tent. Evan played his guitar and the group sang. As no glasses were available, the flagons were passed from hand to hand. The contents soon disappeared and as the pub was now closed, old Frank was wakened and persuaded to sell a flagon of his ‘special stuff’. He reluctantly agreed and it wasn’t long before we all succumbed to its effect.

The next day everyone staggered from their tents looking worse for wear. I felt shocking and spent most of the day asleep under the pipeline with the welding screen over my head. It was years before I could stand the smell of sweet sherry without feeling sick.

After many handshakes and promises to keep in touch, I was on the way to a new adventure in another strange town.

Next: 2007 – Walking the pipes

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