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By Colin Ramsden, October 2005.

I was apprenticed (as an electrician) to an alcoholic master, and we visited the nearest public house (pub) at lunch and after work 5 days a week, without fail. Our typical working day was very physical and tiring, with an early start and an early finish. We started work on-site with tools in hand by 7AM, which meant we were often on the road an hour or more earlier to beat the traffic, unload our days gear, get a parking space as near as possible, and be setup and ready to rock by 7 on the dot.

In the early days, as the youngest apprentice, it was my task to collect morning tea (smoko) orders and money from the guys, make my own way to the nearest takeaway food shop, and have the food back on-site hot and ready for consumption at exactly 9AM. Turn up too early and the hot food got too cold. Turn up late, and there wasn't enough time to eat. Fifteen minutes for smoko, including cigarette and toilet stop. If you weren't back on the tools at 9:15, or in practice at least heading back to your work by 9:15, you were reprimanded. Hence the strict need for the gopher (go for this, go for that) to have the food ready on time.

When we were working on sites which were far removed from civilizationas determined by the nearest takeaway being more than a quarter hour drive awayspecial circumstances purveyed, and we had to rough-it and prepare food for ourselves. On the rare occasion such as this, I was required to boil up a billy can of water (for tea) over an open wood fire, and toast bread (white of course), and fry sausages, chops and steaks (as available) in a BBQ style (on a portable steel plate), having constructed the BBQ surround from broken bricks, and scrounged wood scraps from the building's timber off-cuts.

There was never a shortage of broken bricks and timber off-cuts, but sometimes there was a shortage of fresh water, (no town mains available) and electricity (not yet connected) so we had to make do with what we had available, and on a typical building site, there is much to hand.

I learned to carry milk crates in the work van to store: an electric jug, a container of water, tea bags, instant coffee, sugar, instant milk powder, mugs, spoons, wash bowl, detergent, wash brush, wash cloth, and tea-towel. A second milk crate held the portable BBQ plate, the billies, the billy frame, tongs, spatula, matches, paper, and a small hand axe. A third milk crate held the portable LPG gas cooker and gas bottle, toast frame, and gas lamp (with spare mantles).

When we were working on sites near to a pub (within 15 mins drive) we would alwayswithout exceptiongo to the pub for lunch. Most often, this was for a serious half hour of beer drinking, so that we arrived at the pub at 12 midday, and left it at 12:30 sharp or thereabouts. Those were the rules. To do so, we commonly left the job before 12 appropriate to the time it took to travel to the pub. So if we were 10 minutes away, we were in the vehicle and left the site at 10 to 12. Appropriately, we returned to site in the time it took to return from the pub after 12:30. If the site was 10 minutes away, we'd typically return at 12:40 or thereabouts.

In all my time (4 years) as an apprentice electrician, I don't think I'd ever worked on a site more than 15 minutes from a pub more than twice. Both were far out of Sydney: once was in Redmont (near Newcastle), and the other was in Braidwood (in the lower Blue Mountains).

In all other cases, I visited many many pubs as a requirement of my employment (with my master), frequenting many to the point where I became recognizable to the bar staff by name. Those were the days when the barmaid knew what she was doing, and by that I mean she could single-handedly pour several beers at once, run a tab for regulars, know what brand of beer and glass size you regularly used, know what the drink order was for your complete group, and would also sweep the floors, wipe the tables, and clean the ashtrays between demand surges at the bar. Female barmaids were the only women allowed in the public (men's) bar, and swearing was acceptable in their presence, but not when directed at them personally. Women were only allowed to enter the lounge bar, also known as the "women's lounge" or the saloon bar.

In fact, thinking back to those heady days of the 1970's, it was a time (in Australian society) when women were only recently legally allowed into public bars, but were still actively discouraged by the then male predominated occupants, so that should a woman insist on her right to enter such a place, she was met with much hostility and given viscous looks and snarky comments from the male occupants, and all such female visitors were told (encouraged) to visit the saloon or "ladies lounge" instead. I remember my mother ducking for cover in her efforts to retrieve my holiday pay packet from me in the public (men's) bar to save it from being stolen from me in my drunken stupor (should that happen—her fear, not mine).

After having regularly attended the local public house under the auspices of my master for the previous half year or so, upon the occasion of my 18th birthday (the legal drinking age in NSW) the present manager of our "local" (watering holepub) upon hearing of my birthday, surprised us all in a frenzy of benevolence by "buying" (supplying without charge) me a drink (pint of beer) in honour of my birthday, asking me "how old are you?" Now understand that it is illegal to serve alcoholic beverages to minors under the age of 18 years in NSW, and that there are severe penalties for those that do, such as large monetary fines and even jail sentences for repeat offenders. After hearing that I had only just now turned 18, and with consideration that he and his staff had been serving me for over 6 months, he just glared at me with that stunned caught-in-the-headlight wide-eyes as he considered how he'd been serving a minor and the potential consequences of the liquor licensing laws on that matter. And that this bastard was smiling back at him across the bar as he collected his free beer!


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