CHILD LABOUR. You don’t realise how important a job is until you don’t have one. I started work at the tender age of 13 ½ years old. Here in Queensland at the time (1965) you needed the permission of the Minister for Education to leave school at that age. It was granted only under conditions of great hardship in the family. Actually it was so I could help in saving up money so the family could return to England. No thought had been given to the fact that I loved school and was doing quite well, or, that I would be starting High School the following year. No, out to work with you. I already had Saturday morning casual jobs, cutting up potatoes for chips in a takeaway shop, the only lurk, a burger with the lot and five shillings (50 cents) pay. Cleaning the driveway of the service station at the end of the street, at least home was three houses away. No, I needed a real job in an Abattoir. Oh the bliss the joy, the smell, the blood. I can only say it toughened me for the real world. I was the ‘offal boy.’ It involved collecting buckets of livers, kidneys, brains and hearts etc. take them to the packing room, wash the buckets and take them back up to the kill floor. A job I did with skill and speed. The wages were better, however my mother decided she didn’t like me coming home covered in blood every day. Besides I now had to take on the job of carer for my father. He had decided that life looked better from the bottom of a glass and took to heavy drinking with a vengeance. Mother went out to work, mainly to support his habit and I had three younger siblings, one still a baby to look after, a house to clean and meals to prepare. I can honestly say I know how young mother’s feel. The child rearing wasn’t a problem. I’d spent all my ‘free’ time keeping them away from the house after school and on weekends. We were something of a fixture in the nearby park: leave home after breakfast, take sandwiches and fruit, and come home about 4.30 for dinner. My eldest sister was smart, she ran away from home.
Being Mister Mom lasted about six months and we moved house again, to the caretaker’s residence at a Woollen Mill. This suited my parents, father could keep drinking but they made sure I had a full-time job which I actually enjoyed. Although I had to hand over my weekly pay, out of the $15.00 I earned I saw $2.00. My weekends weren’t my own even though I was now a working man. You guessed it, babysitting. Someone must have been watching over me though, they decided after a while that the next brother down should take on the mantle. Freedom – sort of, I then had to take on the job of Milkman’s off-sider. So after a full working week, hard work at that I had a little sleep on Friday evening then start work at 11pm until 7am. My first taste of night work felt good, being out and about while most people were sleeping has a certain feel about it. The Milkman, I forget his name must have come out of the same mould as my parents. The man only needed a whip and he would have been a slave driver. He did however let me have a pint carton of iced coffee a shift, his treat. The night I fell six feet down an uncovered drain and broke a dozen empty milk bottles has never left me. There I lay, stunned, confused looking up to see him peering down the hole, “Stupid bastard you broke twelve bottles, they’re profit you know.” Go figure. After being injured moving wool bales on a barrow and taking two days off work the Mill boss fired me. I soon found myself working the late shift at a service station, six miles away. There were no buses for my start time so I walked into work and took a lift home. Three weeks after my seventeenth birthday I joined the army, and had never felt so free in all my life. The point of this preamble is I had a job from 1965 until retirement in 2001. I know people in their late sixties and seventies are still working and I would be too, if not for my new job.
NIGHTSHIFT GLORIOUS NIGHTSHIFT. If you have read part 15 you can appreciate why I grabbed hold of the offer to work as night supervisor and what a job it was. Patrol the camp, perform three head-counts during the shift, stay awake and be there to answer the phone. The prisoners were an assorted bunch, the majority being in for drug offences ranging from possession to importation. The rest were made up of those serving time for a variety of reasons not including sex offences or violence. This didn’t make them boy scouts by any stretch of the imagination, the drug users were without doubt the most devious, troublesome prisoners I had ever worked with. The compound would have been about an acre and a bit in size, and the supervisor’s office had been situated so that you could only see half of the camp. This was the accommodation for the transient prisoners who would spend a weekend in camp and go out on leave of absence for five to seven days. The old army barrack room housed prisoners who came in the weekend before going out on the western rotation again. It usually ran smoothly, most of them wanted to bed down at night, a small number of them were sleeping off their drugs. Prisoners could leave their rooms after the first headcount but only for the toilet, or to get medical assistance. I’m happy to say I never had an escape on my watch, or an overdose.
The centre sat between two closed jails, there was nothing but farmland between the back fence and the river, and the frontage looked down over a paddock, a road then into more bushland. Ahh, the serenity of it all. A possum lived in a tall tree behind the office and would come and sit out on the veranda waiting for fruit. An old man kangaroo, who had seen better days lurked around the fence most nights eating bread scraps that prisoners threw out for him. He actually kept you awake, if you didn’t see him as you patrolled the fence line he would jump at you and hit the fence, a real heart starter. Large red Meat ants had set up a nest in the corner of the camp behind the gym, now I didn’t know that they had sentries waiting inside the holes. I’d shine my torch down and there they were, night shift workers just like me.
Headcount one would be done within the first hour after lights out. Bad boys being what they are didn’t want to go to bed, they had their mates to visit, cards to play and the stupid had dope to smoke. Not all the time though, it depended if they were leaving camp in the next day or so. Those suspected of using were urine tested and that will be another story. You felt like a Den mother going around and chuffing them off to their rooms, the whingeing and whining reminded me of kids on sleepovers. My favourite saying became, “Don’t make me come back here.” Let’s face it if you are going to act like kids expect to be treated like them. It felt like rounding up ducks. Back to the office, put the kettle on, settle down and have a read of the paper, Knock! Knock! at the door, “Boss, I’ve got a headache, Boss I’ve got a toothache, Boss I’ve got a…….” The list was endless, though understandable, being in a confined environment anything going around hit hard. In my first week a prisoner sneezed in my face when I walked past him, the following morning the flu hit – more than the man flu let me tell you. The camp would settle down and the hardest part of the shift became trying to stay awake. The following morning hand over to the day shift and head home, ahh the bliss.
THE HONEYMOON NIGHT. For those who have followed this blog you know I don’t pull the punches when it comes to sex. It is a wonderful thing to have in one’s life; I could go on – back to the story. People living in jail have needs too, now those who went out on leave obviously had these needs attended to and were the happier for it. When prisoners returned to the camp they were allocated a room, most had a preference for who they wanted to bunk with. At any given time we had several Vietnamese drug dealers in the camp and they always wanted to share with each other. Who were we to stand in the way of friendship? One safety aspect that we always cracked down on was fire safety, they weren’t allowed to smoke in their rooms, or have lit candles. The demountable cabins were old, made of timber and six rooms long. the barrack room had been built in 1940, imagine a fire sweeping through one of them? They had smoke detectors but the prisoners kept disabling them, or hid their drugs in them. So once again you would be the bad egg, “Smoke outside, put the scented candle out, blah, blah, blah.” I think after a few weeks I could have qualified for a degree in kindergarten supervision. Back to the story, I had a full camp of about 180 and was performing the first headcount of the night, of course I wore my tennis shoes. Silent, Ninja like I made my way around the accommodation, open the door check for heads – no bundle under the blankets for me. If I couldn’t see a face I would go inside and pull the blanket back. I had a worksheet that showed me who lived where and I would tick it off after checking each room, “Hmm, here we go the Vietnamese who insisted on a double suite.” Let’s call them Minh and Vinh, I have no idea what the names mean so don’t quote me on them.
Homosexuality has been a contentious issue in prisons for centuries, when it was still a crime prisoners caught in the act were charged. I’m heterosexual and I don’t judge people by their sexuality, my view is if they are consenting adults they can do as they please. The sight that greeted me kind of tarnished my view of a honeymoon night forever. The first thing I noticed were the reflections from purple scented candles flickering on the walls, a lot of candles. They highlighted the tableau before me: the double bunk had been decorated with coloured ribbons and paper lanterns, two cans of cola sat on the bedside cupboard with two glasses, a mosquito net hung from the wall giving a feel of some Asian bedchamber. Minh stood there naked in all his glory, like any other groom through the centuries, ready to take his bride. Although I think it knocked the edge off when he saw me. Vinh the blushing bride that he was laid on the bunk naked with a bridal veil made from some gossamer fabric on his head. Heavy makeup covered his face, reminding me of a temple dancer. Soft mood music came from a cassette player under the bunk. I won’t go into detail here, suffice to say I intruded on a beautiful and tender moment. I nodded at the candles and Minh fell over himself to put them out. Smiling broadly I looked from one to the other, congratulated them on their nuptials and softly closed the door. I have a warped sense of humour, and the whole scenario tickled my funny bone. The day shift supervisor reckoned I should have charged them. If it wasn’t consenting it would have been a different matter. I’m also a romantic and besides it was Valentine’s Day.
Next week I’m taken on board and become a fully-fledged supervisor.