How an air-conditioning mechanic in Sydney Australia became an award winning broadcaster in Britain Part 21.


MarsdenOilRefinery_Pipework (1)

Although I was thousands of miles from home, there was something familiar about Kalgoorlie. I presented the 7pm to midnight shift on the local radio station 6KG, for two weeks in 1993. Kal, is a mining town in Western Australia. I found it easy to relate to the mainly blue collar workforce that listened to my show at night. Maybe that was because I came from a similar, hard hat and safety boots background. From the age of eighteen to twenty-one, I’d worked on an oil refinery construction site in New Zealand.

It was an expansion of the existing Marsden Point Oil Refinery. The expansion project was about ten times the size of the existing plant and was the biggest of what the New Zealand government called the “Think Big” projects. Over 10,000 people worked on the expansion from start to finish with as many as 3,000 of us on site at any one time. Locally, it was known as the “Drink Big” project.

Marsden Point is New Zealand’s only oil refinery. The entire country only had a population of three million people at the time. It was an agricultural economy. That meant there was a shortage of what they call the “black trades”, the skills needed for such a big job, so workers were brought in from all over the word. Most of them were industrial hobos, chasing the big money on construction sites around the world. Specialist welders from Italy, Japan and Australia, riggers and sheet metalworkers from Britain, supervisors and piping engineers from the USA, Holland and the UK. There were also people on site from the Middle East, China and Germany. As well as that, local workers were quickly trained-up to become welders, riggers and pipe-fitters.

I got a job on the site as a T.A. which stands for “Trades Assistant”. That meant I worked along side boilermakers. My job was to grind bevels on steel pipe ready for welding and generally help the boilermaker I was assigned to. After the first few months, I was accepted into the on-site pipe school. Five weeks later, I was told I was now a pipe-fitter and given my own TA.

Finding myself on a construction site on the other side of the word at the age of eighteen gave me a fantastic education. I learned how powerful trade unions are, I went on strike many times, I saw police riot squads escort an armoured van containing eight strike-breaking scaffolders past angry pickets and a wooden gallows at the gate with eight nooses hanging from it. I worked twelve hour shifts during the “shut-down” and found out what it feels like when you’re told that one of the blokes you work with has been found dead inside a thirty-six inch diameter pipe. (Tony Waipori was asphyxiated when he went inside the pipe to inspect a weld, not realising that the pipe was filled with nitrogen).

On that job, I’m sure I met some of the funniest, most talented people on the planet. There were orators, politicians, word-smiths, poets, artists, musicians and comedians, true characters. The migrants would tell tall stories from working on other sites around the world and share their philosophy on life. The Kiwis brought a different perspective all together and were just as interesting. Whether it was hundreds of feet up on a flu stack or sheltering from a violet storm in a portacabin, I was lucky enough to get to know them and be entertained by them.

I hope the mineworkers of Kalgoorlie enjoyed what I did on the radio there because the truth is, they probably worked with people a lot more entertaining than me.

Craic on!

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