11. Manufacturing ’Black Fellows’ At The Workshop.

The turning point for my handicapped workers and me came when a contract was successfully quoted and gained from the Australian Defence Force for the manufacture of silhouettes for target practice. They consisted of a helmeted full-size head, two full-size heads helmeted with a machine-gun held in between them, and a complete full-size shape of a helmeted soldier, and to maintain that contract the specifications had to be adhered to. The three samples were of 4 mm plywood, wood-stopped flaws, sanded both sides, matt black painted and bundled and strapped in packs of ten. 2 400 x 1 200 x 4 mm sheets of ply was the material used, and to achieve economical mass production methods and a dead line, four sheets at a time had to be cut in one operation. To accomplish that I had to first set up a jig with rods, markers and spacers so that the ply could be gun nailed four at a time together, which had to be done that way because the majority of them couldn’t count, read or write.

The woodworking machinery at that time consisted of a single tabled combination saw cum boring machine, a drill press and a hobby band-saw machine. Because of that, the single table had to be extended length and width wise with a wooden constructed one to accommodate the ply sheets that had to be first ripped to size and then ripped again to standard sizes in length and width. A movable table panel saw for those operations would have been applicable, but we had to do with what we had. Next was to ascertain which of them were capable enough to perform those procedures without constant supervision, and that took time and training. When after trying out about six of my workers, I found one who seemed capable and confident enough. So by jigging up the stationary extended table whereby four workers, one on each corner, could hold the ply against the stoppers and straight edge, and then push it along the table while being guided by that particular worker, it was cut slowly and carefully to the required size with the saw-blade not cutting into the nails because of my predetermination with the first jig. Again time and training was involved, and more so because of the safety factor.

With no overhead router machine to set up a shaped silhouette jig that would have produced an exact copy and a 200 per cent output, I had to revert to basics. With a pattern of the sample, two clout nails, a hammer and a carpenter’s pencil; the teaching of the first operation took half a day of repetitive learning to another six. The pattern was placed in the centre of the cut to size ply with emphasis of it not to overlap the ply, for they had no idea what the centre meant, and the clout nails were tapped one at each end through the pattern into the ply to hold it in place. The exact holding and placing of the carpenters pencil intrigued them. The lead point had to be kept hard up and at an inward angle against the pattern to mark the exact pattern onto the ply, and it was difficult for their minds to comprehend that the outline would be enlarged if the pencil were held at an outward angle. After many attempts by the various workers, one was found for that very critical operation, for the finished article hinged on that precise as damn-it outline, and it was a relief for me when the procedure of removing the pattern from the ply and continuing was accomplished with no supervision.

The next operation was the most difficult skill for them to grasp. To operate a jigsaw is simple, but to cut along straight lines and then into curved and inverted angles was another ball game if never done before. First the functions, mechanisms and safety factors had to be explained, followed by the teaching of the process for a successful product. By gathering all of them around me while doing the process myself for a whole day, and having a different worker assist in operating the jigsaw, I soon found that because they weren’t skilled and accustomed as I was in holding the ply down with one hand while operating the jigsaw with the other, they couldn’t cut along the lines. Operation G-cramp became my next innovation. By securing the top and bottom ends of the ply to overlap the workbench with the G-cramps, they were able to hold and control the jigsaw with both hands and cut accurately along the straight lines until they reached the curved and inverted angles. That was at first a problem because the jigsaw blades were snapping off with their forced pushing around the curves. Again it had to be demonstrated. The method taught of widening the cut to accommodate and allow the blade to travel freely around the curves overcame that. The inverted angle cutting was another story, for although it was straight lines it was also short, obtuse or acute ones, and the method had to be retaught of removing the jigsaw and approaching the angles with a new cut side on, and to divert the cutting blade from different angles for the inverted angles. It took me one week before having four intellectually disabled workers, two of them with downs syndrome, deft at that task with occasional supervision. Next came the operations of prising the four cut outs loose, removing the nails, wood stopping the nail holes and other flaws, sanding back the dried wood stopping and the sanding smooth all around the cut out edges. Splinters and Band-Aids were the call of the day, but because of pre-training in that task it became the easiest operation.

Two coats of acrylic water based, matt black paint was the specified application required on the cut outs for the silhouette effect. But imagine training six women of various intellectual disabilities from other departments whose work skills comprised of component sorting and packaging, and leaflet folding, to manhandle a roller paint brush efficiently and effectively for a quality finished paint job. There were spills, drops, runs, streaks, patches and globs. On one side only paint cut-outs, head or body painted only cut outs, wet finished painted cut outs stuck together because it was stacked flat together instead of individually placed in drying racks, one sided single coated painted silhouettes, plus the work benches and its surrounds, and the workers and their aprons were all soon looking like silhouettes. With constant quality control on my part and a good sense of humour on both sides, we succeeded eventually to satisfy the army inspectors of a quality product that was an ongoing contract for thousands of those ‘black fellows’ as we called them.

Through that we also obtained a further army contract to manufacture long range, bulls-eye target frames for heavy artillery, and although that too was a slow learning process for them, for me it was a pleasure teaching them the fundamentals of my skills. The pre-assembly of rough sawn timber that was square framed shaped and affixed at the top of two rough sawn pine posts, which the extended lengths was for the placing into the ground, was as per specifications tautly covered with stapled on hessian to secure a bulls-eye on. Although it took four workers to manoeuvre it around and to carry it, we were all grateful that there was no painting involved. That too became an ongoing contract for hundreds of target frames because of product quality and schedule fulfillment that snowballed into further government contracts in the areas of hospital, electricity and postal. Also, ongoing contracts from City Councils, manufacture’s subcontractors, contracted manufactured products and in house salable products that became most of my department’s workload. The acquisition eventually of a free moving panel saw, radial arm saw, industrial band-saw, overhead router, spindle moulder, wide belt sander, drum sander and dust extractors although a necessity became a burden. Because there were only two qualified tradesman in the factory, which my department had then become, of which I was one and the other was the supervisor that worked only in the hardwood section where the stakes and pegs were machined and painted, I was once again back to the whole manufacturing process. Designs, prototypes, cutting lists, setting boards, samples, machine and assemble set-ups, maintenance, safety and quality control, dispatch and the teaching and training of streams of workers who were filtered through my woodworking department so that they could comprehend, learn, retain and execute all work disciplines.

Now it wasn’t all work and no play, because functions, public entertainment and outings, open employment, community living and marriage became my agenda for them, with some of it done openly and others discreetly because of bureaucracy. Functions given at the workshop consisted of quarterly theme dances that were scripted with the paraphernalia that went with it all done by me. Rock ‘n roll, Halloween, Tropical Paradise, Beach Party, Pajama Party, Spring Festival, Winter Carnival and other appreciated nights was what they enjoyed and looked forward to. My artistic skills that had been dormant were then resurrected for their delight and admiration, and it always gave me a buzz. At those dancers I unashamedly danced with all the disabled female workers, which was much to their delight, on the other hand, the other supervisors only danced with those who looked normal and danced the same way. Some of them had absolutely no rhythm and would do the most outlandish gyrations and steps out of time to the music. To me that added flavour and excitement to the night for them, for otherwise the majority of them would be just vegetating in their hostels, which to me was a constraint. Christmas lunches and annual end of year breaking up parties was another one of their joys, for by quietly organizing the musically inclined, the movers and shakers, the poetic and would be singers, they would appear and give impromptu performances to the amazed and enthusiastic management, staff, parents who cared and the rest of the workers. Public entertainment arranged and choreographed by the supervisors and performed by the workers brought back memories and skills of my youthful stage performances. With the combined talents of a very artistic and skilled seamstress supervisor who whipped up costumes, our plays and concerts that combined all of our accomplishments were then directed by us and performed by the workers, except for one addition. One that still stands out in every body’s memory, which they remind me about when on meeting, was on doing the ballet Swan Lake with an all-male cast and with me as the black swan. It was hilarious because we all wore tights and tutu’s, had the full makeup, the dancers were of staggered heights and had huge blown up green balloon busts. We also had the music and scenery, and at the finale they bust their balloon breast one at a time as I laid flat on the stage as if dead, but jerked whenever a balloon busted, which brought the house down.

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The Black Swan Ballet with Moi as the Black Swan and my all-male ballet dancers in their tutus.

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The Black Swan doing a port de bras…the arms thingy that swans do, with my dancing ballerinas joining in.

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A cameo shot of The Black Swan in full flight.

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Captain Harry, (Ginger) a workshop supervisor and (Gilligan) a workshop disabled employee on one of the cruises on Surfers Paradise Broadwater.

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Because my workers requested of me to have a Winter Christmas theme lunch, this is part of what I made with cut out ply for the mountains, snowmen family, polar bear fishing and penguins. Then I sprayed it white and painted the features on them. The area used was my assemble shop and back of that was my timber machine shop.

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This was part of a Winter Carnival Theme Dance organized by me with  the Yeti, pine trees, snow and mountains my creations.

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This is where my artistic drawing skills came to the fore again to amuse the disabled workers.

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10. ‘Over the hill’ but still climbing mountains.

Then I turned 50 and was given a monster surprise party bash.  My sneaky brother-in-law Arthur had phoned to ask me out for a drink at my favourite water-hole on my birthday, and of course one led to another, which kept us there for quite some time. Unbeknown to me, my wife Joan, my daughter Gina and my sister Rita, as a co-conspirator, had been partying our home up with food-stuff and decorations. It was the biggest surprise of my life when all the unexpected people there came out of hiding to shout, ‘Surprise, Surprise’, and to top it all; they were in fancy dress customs. They really had pulled out all stops to make it a memorable occasion because there was so many surprises with great presents, a fantastic birthday cake with sparklers, which I couldn’t blow out, a funny birthday poem by my sister and the party that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. Now here is a stupid, vain thing that I had done two days before my birthday because my hair had been turning completely white and I had thought that it would make me look younger if I did a bit of home dying. My condescending attitude thought that it would be a breeze to re-put tinges of black in my hair by dying it myself. Wrong! It turned out a disaster for it looked like I was wearing a black skull-cap as seen in the photos.

Seeing how I was really jacked-off with the cut-throat manufacturing business, I began putting out feelers for something more lay-back and simple. My next employment position was precisely that, for I was employed by Endeavour Foundation to instruct, teach and instil my woodworking knowledge and skills to lay-back and simple intellectually handicapped employees in a woodworking section at a workshop. At my interview I was told once more of the many applicants that were still to be interviewed over a period of days, but the very next day I received a phone call to advise me that my application had been successful.  What seemed to have clinched it for me was not only my woodworking expertise but also my son Neil. He was one of my three sons that had worked with me at Fairline Furniture in Melbourne, and in the interview when they inquired if I had had any experience with young adults who might have had any disability, he was my answer. He had in South Africa attended a Special School for slow learners due to attracting meningitis when very young. My explanation of how he had been nurtured with no special favours shown from all the family under my instructions, and that with normal integration it had benefited his whole life completely to the extent that he was always employed, had a car, lived on his own and was inundated with girlfriends, which now has eventuated into him as the father of three of my grandsons, which must have made them sit up and take notice.

I found the next day, on starting, that the handicapped workers skills consisted of collating and packaging commodities, so drawing on all my expertise in programme planning and teaching techniques to introduce, induce, and motivate a reaction to non-existent skills in woodwork, my knowledgeable skills were put to the test. Frustration and perseverance was what both the workers and I encountered at first. What contributed to alleviate further difficulties though was when I acquired further knowledge in the form of two, four semester diploma courses on the handicapped. It gave me a theoretical background in hereditary aspects of genetic and biological variables, and psychological programs and techniques. The former related to genetic constitution in the areas of DNA, chromosomes, genes and recessive genes. And one was Down’s syndrome that was a condition caused by a chromosomal abnormality in the presence of an extra chromosome that in humans produced mental retardation.

The biological variables covered the science of living organisms in anatomy or body structure. Physiology: the functions of living organisms and their parts. Cytology: biological cells and their functions. Ecology: the relationship between an organism and the environment in which it lives. Biochemistry: the structure and reactions of proteins such as enzymes, nucleic acids, carbohydrates and lipids. Biophysics: the physical properties of living organisms and their constituents. Embryology: the study of an unborn offspring in the first eight weeks from conception. The studied latter related to the systematic and diverse areas of study and application in the roles of instinct, heredity, environment and culture. The processes also of consciousness in the areas of sensation, perception, learning and memory, which is the basis of motivation and emotion, and the function of thought, intelligence and language in the continuous evolving level of suspended consciousness with the mind as the one overall governing factor.

From not knowing which end of a nail was hammered into wood to eventually manipulating all electric and pneumatic hand-tools, all precision woodworking machines, assemble, sandpaper and to spray-paint all products for local, state and government contracts was an outstanding achievement for persons with minimum motor skills, education or work skill levels, and their workmanship was on par with competitive products. The workers at that workshop ranged from the age of sixteen to fifty-five, and their intellectual disability varied from mild to border line. There were those with chromosomal disorders, manic depression, spina bifida, schizophrenia, brain damage, dyslexia and autism, and behaviour problems. They were all together in that one environment that consisted then of sewing, gardening, packaging and the woodworking section. One manager and five supervisors coaxed, cajoled, encouraged and at times pleaded with workers to keep products and production at a reasonable accepted level while trying to accomplish the skilled work that was required and done by staff.

The sewing section were producing stuffed toys, tablecloths, napkins, cushions, aprons and various other fabric articles, and in down time the girls were taught to hand sew and crochet. The gardening section propagated and potted various plants and scrubs, which were sold at fairs, kept the grounds well-trimmed and had the task twice weekly of setting up tables and chairs at South Port Community Hall for bingo games run by Endeavour Foundation to implement funds. Because of able-bodied workers required for that type of work, most of the semiskilled workers in the factory were delegated for that task and the repacking afters, which left production almost none existent during those times in certain departments. The packaging section produced a variety of packaged articles that consisted of drinking straws, household water taps, posters, plastic ice-cream teaspoons, skipping ropes and various other components that were either poly-bagged, shrink wrapped or blister packed. That department also processed the sorting and collating of mail, pamphlets and magazines. The woodworking section produced garden stacks, survey pegs and markers, and toys, with the painting also done there. I was employed to work in both the packaging and woodworking sections, and at first that adult looking but childlike thinking workers confused me. The challenge though to instil some of my skills and knowledge for their benefit that I had done over the years to so called normal tradesman, apprentices and process workers, became a main factor. Like all children their confidence had to be gained, and to get respect you had to give respect, and I also found like with all children if you brought yourself down to their level, you became slowly accepted. If you showed heartfelt kindness, empathy and were genuinely pleasant and cheerful towards them, you received it back twofold. My workload was slightly eased as they eagerly showed their gratitude by trying to anticipate my every want. Tools, materials, and equipment were fetched and handed to me when required. Carrying, fetching, packing and cleaning up by myself seemed to be considered not on, and they would vie amongst themselves for those little acts of kindness.

Then we changed managers at Endeavour Foundation Workshop, and because he was uninitiated in workshop procedure and the handicapped workers, he had to rely on our expertise to assist him. Because of the changeover, production orders slumped. That though gave me the opportunity in down time to teach different basic woodworking skills to the workers. It was a laugh a minute experience because all of them had never used a hammer and nails, a screw and screwdriver or sanded a bit of timber. To see what their capabilities in those areas were by handing them timber off cuts, an assortment of nails and a hammer, and telling them to hammer the nails into the wood really brought home how much they had to learn. Some placed nails with flat heads on its head onto the timber with the point facing upwards, and proceeded to grasp the hammer with both hands and then hammer the nail point. Others who used longer nails grasped the hammer by the head and not the handle to tap the nails ever so gentle, which kept on falling over. I thought they were screwing with me when handing them predrilled wood off cuts and an assortment of screws and various screwdrivers with heads to suit the screw heads. Some got that right the first time through sheer luck, but found it difficult to turn the screw in because of using both hands on the handle while the screw kept on falling over. Others used the handle as a hammer and knocked the screws into the holes; however, they had learned from the nailing exercise that the points went into the timber so that no screws went in inverted, and that other objects could be used for hammering. A good and observant question was also asked of why holes couldn’t be drilled for nails too. They found sanding timber the most difficult, for their hands were not accustomed to the constant friction of sanding timber back and forth. Some caused hollows by sanding in one spot only, and others used the piece of timber and sanded the sandpaper, and they all wore Band-Aids that day.

After many repetitive learning programmes and hands on assemble work, some became skilful in those tasks. There were others though at the generic age of fifty who still had the learning capacity of a child of twelve and the retention of an eight year old. Others again at the same age or fifteen years younger may have had the learning capacity of an sixteen year old and the retention a few years below that, and again there was those that had a short memory span, so that every task had to be shown and taught continuously, on the other hand you had the border liners who were only slow learners and they excelled. The use of drill guns, nail guns, staplers and jigsaws were the hand tools that I next concentrated on as a skill to teach them. That involved a one on one bases teaching with task analysis. Every function of the tool had to be explained, and so too had the safety precautions to be considered and taught, every operation of a task had to be shown, explained and taught, and the task broken up into an understandable and workable model that would suit the worker. At first I found that very frustrating because of considering myself an expert on work ethic with diplomas, certificates and references accumulated over the years to attest to it. Time and motion study, technical and practical production based methods were my forte. Whatever I had drawn designed were formulated to specifications on cutting lists and drawing boards to prototype stage. Patterns, jigs and systems were implemented for coordinating labour to achieve efficient production planned targets, and my procedures were adhered to by the workers or else.  There couldn’t be an or else with those workers, for what I had and saw was what I had to contend with. To ascertain their capabilities and what skills were possessed to implement systems, procedures and appropriate training to improve knowledge and learning to reach realistic goals, and to maximize their flexibility stared me in the face.

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Harold, no peeking!

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Bloody woman is always surprising me…love you Joan!

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My daughter Gina the co-conspirator.

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Party time for the birthday boy.

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Joan and her BF as a garbage bag.

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Joan and our sexy lady friends.

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Blokes shouldn’t sit with their legs open and Joan and her BF shouldn’t encourage it.

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Oh shit! Now all the blokes want to get into the act…and I’m loving it.

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Oh God! Who are these decadent people.

9. ‘The Three Stooges’ Make A Comeback.

We hadn’t forgotten our love of family partying because of living in Surfers Paradise where it was like party time every day, so  because it been Christmas time, we organized one for New Year’s Eve at our home. By this time too, my sister Rita and her family had also moved from Melbourne to Surfers, as too Joan’s niece Gladys and her family and of course all of our family had come home to roost. We made it a fancy dress one with a Surfers Paradise motif so as to keep it in that flavour, and it was a blast. Unbeknown to us also was that our backyard neighbours had also organized one for themselves, so it ended up with all of them joining us that really shook up the neighbourhood with a Happy New Year into the wee hours.

I upped myself at my next place of employment through my application for a Production Manager’s position that saw me back into furniture manufacturing. When commencing at Don Juan Waterbeds, which was owned by the partnership of two blokes with the one called Don and the other Juan,  that was about all they produced, but they were good at it though with a few local and interstate owned businesses, and they had a day and night shift going. At my interview they were trying to impress the importance of reconstructing their business because it had become stagnant, that their expenditure was beginning to exceeded their returns and that they didn’t have the time to expedite a solution. After perusing my credentials and advising me that as they had other applicants to interview over the following days and that they would get in touch, they phoned me that same afternoon to meet with them the following day to discuss my salary and my modus operandi. It seemed that Reg my former employer in Melbourne had sung my praises to high heaven when they phoned him. Because of what seemed to me a real hodgepodge business after walking around in the factory proper, I requested my new employers not to make mention to anyone of them about hiring me yet because I wanted to suss out the place at my own discretion. My early nights and mornings observations outside the perimeter of the factory sussed out (searched out) the employers comings and goings. It was then a simple procedure in finding out the name of the workers who were starting late and those who were leaving early by discretely checking their clock cards during the day. The night-shift workers drifted in at their leisure due to their friends clocking in early for them, and they took it in turns. They also took it in turns to find a quite spot to kip (sleep) on the job when I began to wander around to see what else they got up too. The day-shift must have been made aware by the night-shift of somebody checking them out for they were falling over each other to impress me how productive they were. Old habits die hard, and my quiet and unexpected wanderings throughout the factory caught them at most times unawares because I was keeping my own timetable for a week by coming and going whenever I pleased.

They employed seventy production workers for the day and night shift that was slackly supervised by an Administration Manager, a Factory Manager and a foreman. The Administration Manager was actually more the purchasing officer and gofer for the owners, so he was seldom seen in the vicinity of the factory proper. The Factory Manager either paced the factory floor as king of his domain barking out orders or sat in his office reading the newspaper and going over the racing form. The foreman buzzed around like a blue arse fly (disorganized and frantic movements) touching on everything but never settling down because he was run off his feet trying to do everything. Taking also guarded notes of stock in hand when prowling around worked that lot out on how the night shift to cover up their unproductive shift they would remove completed stock to replenish orders. Dispatch was doubling up on some of its outgoing orders by doctoring the invoices. The storeroom was left at the discretion of the workers who reigned supreme. The day-shift though was a bit more productive, however, they again required a time and motion study with workstations reorganized so that their work movements could go from a to b instead of from a to z. They would also think nothing of breaking off work to have a chat for yonks (a long time) about mundane things, and smokos (tea breaks) and lunch times were the longest I had ever seen.

The owners called a meeting of staff and workers to introduce me on a Friday morning because the nigh-tshift workers received their wages then, and for me to say my piece. It was short and to the point. My telling them that I was the Production Manager and in charge of all the production and dispatch, and that they would receive a fair go because I was a fair person even though I was dark of complexion, which brought a laugh, but that there were changes to be made for the firm to stay solvent, which caused them to shift around uneasily and look at each other. When continuing that there would be a day-shift only with the night-shift incorporated into daytime employment, they all stood like stunned mullets (a fish, and someone who looks shocked like that). Even the owners, for when they were told before time that there were going to be harsh changes, their response was not to tell them but to surprise them with results that would get the business viable again. Their bewilderment still showed when getting back to the office, and on telling them that there would be retrenchments they still didn’t want to know why or who. When summoning the Factory Manager to their office and my telling him that he should reorganize the workstations to accommodate the night-shift for the Monday morning, he became all flustered with question of why and how. When pointing out to him that if both shifts were producing at their ultimate level, all that had been done was the combining of the two and I expected the same output, we could all see by his expression that he didn’t know his arse from his elbow. When handing him an occupational list of the night-shift workers with a bit of assistance to get him motivated, my telling him that if he found that there were excess workers, space wise at workstations, to utilize them as assistance to fetch and carry during the transition so as to move production along at a steady pace, he couldn’t thank me enough. Then I stood back to observe the rest of the preparation that was expected of him as a Factory Manager. With no forward planning, he was flitting around like a blue arse fly too, and not accomplishing anything effective in his futile attempts as he harangued the workers to reorganize their departments. The foreman though through his own initiative had begun immediately creating space by moving components on pallets to one area of the factory and reading unused workbenches.

The Monday morning saw everybody arriving on time and each one clocking on for themselves, which was a step in the right direction. It was chaotic though when the Factory Manager barked out indecisive instructions to the confused workers. That’s when I stepped in to restore order. With him looking on I took the night-shift workers one by one to their appropriate workstations, explained what was expected of them during the transition and that they would soon be operating on an alternative worker roster that had been compiled by me. The factory was humming then and my next calculated schedule was the dispatch section. They had already packed the trucks with daily delivery orders, which I was waiting for, and at my request for the delivery consignment and invoices, the person in charge had the audacity to tell me that he had been doing it for years without any complaints and that everything was in order. Ignoring him and going meticulously through every order and checking that the articles related, while he and the drivers went to the office to report that I was holding up deliveries, I found discrepancies with four orders and had it removed off the trucks. Coming back with the Administration Manager who was a born again Christian and thought that everybody was in his category of being good, but not knowing yet what he was good at, he demanded to know why the four orders had been removed. My adamant answer was that I would be doing snap inspections at all times and any orders that didn’t come near to correspond would be removed. There wasn’t any reason for accusations because they had gotten the message and knew the score.

The first to go was the Factory Manager followed by the dispatcher and those workers who left on their own accord due to finding themselves incapacitated by the new work regime, which were the night-shift workers who had slacked off.  With my work-stations time and motion study completed, the arrangement and setting out of the factory took on a different aspect. It wasn’t the hodgepodge of before but a smooth oiled running production line where workers didn’t have any excuse to stray away from their work areas. From then on I was called ‘the silver fox’ behind my back because of my shock of silver hair and silent approach, but it was used as a sign of respect for they were receiving a fair go (treated fairly), and production output had doubled. By setting myself up in the vacated Factory Managers office with a female office worker to compile, correlate and dispense production orders to different departments from my forward planning production sheets, and with the foreman then just having to buzz around and look like a busy bee throughout the factory, I found the time to set up an in-house manufacturing department for water bladder mattresses. The owners because they were completely solvent then were investing their returns for expansion of the business, and one of the owner’s had made a trip to America to wheel and deal for machinery and two American workers with the expertise to manufacture the waterbed bladders. Opposite the factory was a row of vacant, single small business factories, with one of them rented by the firm as a storeroom. My renovations converted it into a water bladder department, and with the two Americans installed on a permanent basis, the firm was not only manufacturing for themselves but also for the open market. They were also opening their own retail shops and expanding their franchises further afield, and the variety of produced units also increased. That’s when the increase in my salary was renegotiated with an added bonus of traveling expenses and car fuel.

What they also had in mind was to manufacture and add bedroom units as a complete ensemble to the waterbeds as bedroom suites. That though didn’t bother me, but what did was when finding out that there was not one tradesman in either wood-machining or cabinet making to undertake those measures, and I had to advertise for those qualified for the positions. With the purchasing and installation of the water bladder machinery and extra wood working machinery for the manufacturing of the bedroom units and upholstered waterbed frames, I also had to employ a fitter and turner cum electrician for keeping the complicated machinery operational. With all the increased production and products, the factory space couldn’t accommodate the capacity of products manufactured, and the increasing dilemma caused an increase of flooring across the buildings rafters to transfer the cabinet assemble section and to extend the storeroom and the upholstery section in that area. The factory then consisted of seven fully productive sections in the area of wood machining, assemble, cabinet making, burning and sandblasting, spray painting, upholstery and the water bladder division. The Production Manager and the one foreman were then both flitting around like two blowflies, and that caused me not to be able to keep my pulse on the overall operation. Consulting with the owners and telling them what was required for the situation not to deteriorate further was a working foreman in all the main sections and a permanent store-man was agreed upon. It wasn’t an ulterior motive; it was only a convenient way of also in having my son Harold, the spray painter, who worked in that section to be promoted as one of the foremen. What wasn’t convenient though was when the proprietors asked me to have stacked rows of solid, cut to size Huon pine used for the waterbeds shifted from the close proximity to and in the factory backyard to the far back of it. When explaining the inconvenience and time wasting of that exercise, the surprising explanation was that a complete new factory was to be built there for the water bladder and wood machining section.

They were really riding high and so was I, in the sky, for with the franchise outlets crying foul to damaged goods arriving or too late for fulfilling orders, part of my duties became to fly interstate and pacify the franchisees with dinner and drinks. Expense account, hired airport car, accommodation and attending the Royal Easter Shows in Sydney where the firm had a furniture display at the furniture stand was all laid on. They were also laying it on for themselves and going a bit overboard. One of the cabinetmakers had the expertise of shop fitting and boat building, and when the owners, one who had bought a house up in the hills and the other a restaurant and a hull of a twenty foot cabin cruiser boat that was housed in the then vacant single factory across from the factory, which a casual shipwright was building up in his spare time, they requested if he could be taken off the workbench and do work on their newly acquired projects. The built in cabinets and fittings of the house was constructed with only the best and expensive materials, and so was the restaurant and boat. The new factory was one of modern design, it though was only a shell with no innards for it seemed finances was again at a minim due to extravagant spending by the owners. When requested by them to attend a meeting there was also a financier in attendance, who was unbeknown to me, who it seemed they had dealings with in further financing the factory completion. From me the financier wanted to know my opinion of why the company’s profitable financial turnaround had deteriorated because he had been told that it was due to my production expertise that had pulled them out of their predicament in the first place. He also went on to say that he was told that I spoke my mind and said it like it was, and because drastic measures had to be taken again, what measures could I see that should be taken to get them back on track.

Sitting back and looking at the ‘Three Stooges’, as I privately compared the two owners and the Administration Manager too, for when everything was smelling of roses they use to go around with big grins and rubbing of hands, and had meetings behind closed doors with laughing and going on that never saw my involvement. Not that it bothered me, but I was receiving information from them second hand after they had made the decisions, and it would always be too late to get them to retract or cancel it. As in all businesses there has to be constructive criticism in management to iron out defects, and I had quit a few run-ins with those three. The Administration Manager, who had been with the owners from the conception of the business, had employed a few of his slack friends at that time, and again unbeknown to me they were the ones that had been retrenched. As management, one of the considerations was that any worker retrenched was to be seen as a combined decision, not him, for when his mates who were fired approached him; he would lay the blame wholly on me. At first I let it ride, until it came to a head on one occasion when balled up in the factory and verbally abused by just one such worker. Standing there and just letting him get it out of his system with the rest of the workers looking on wasn’t very pleasant, what I had in mind though for afters wasn’t pleasant too. The three of them were again behind closed doors when bursting in and leaving the door wide open. My outraged, angry sounding very loud thought out barrage was that he was a piker (someone who backs down from an arrangement), and if he hadn’t sat on his brains in the first instance the firm wouldn’t have been in dire straits, and that although he had seen the light as a Christian he was still in the dark ages where production and management was concerned, and that if they were only seeing me as one of the workers who they didn’t have to consult about anything when everything was smelling of roses, then I was out of there. When storming out and walking through the main office there were nods of good on you and a silent clap by an office worker, and the factory workers just grinned with silent approval. When requested to come to the office, I sent a message back to the effect that although not frequented they knew were my office was. Only the one owner had the balls to face me with apologies and question my flare up. When explaining the backstabbing, he assured me that there would be a severe reprimand, and added that a personal apology from the Administration Manager would be forthcoming.

The three of them at the beginning when production was up and running would wander through the factory and stop at workstations to stand, watch, criticize a workers mode of work and try to change it. The workers knew what my standing on that sort of interference was because at our monthly workers discussions where do and don’ts always reached a satisfactory compromise, and that one was a no-no. When approaching the three of them about their unhelpful behaviour they were quite taken aback because they were management. On pointing out that they were stuffing up my production procedures and undermining my authority it kept them far away from the workers. Also, when the owners were splurging their new-found wealth I took it upon myself to have a quite word to them about watching their cash flow, which didn’t go down to well because they were sorting out their own accounting and it was also costing them for the upkeep of the two Americans who had free reign. All that had occurred from the time of my employment there I reiterated to the financier who sat and shook his head in disbelief. He admonished them and told them that it wasn’t a club for the boys anymore, which with the inclusion of the Sales Manager it had become, and that if they had treated me with more respect, taken me more into their confidence and listened to my advice as he discerned hadn’t occurred, they wouldn’t have found themselves back in that predicament again. He also indicated that I hadn’t been hard enough with all three of them, and shut them up quick smart when they told me it was time to retrench more workers. He then pointed out the comparison of workers they had employed for the nil returns to the amount employed then for what had been achieved, and told them that they had their say which wasn’t very encouraging, but that he was sure that I would have a better solution.

If they hadn’t been so thoughtless and greedy to expand that rapidly a financier wouldn’t have been required, for the companies name and products itself was a requisite. I didn’t also have to then introduce a time and motion bonus system that was time consuming and involved heaps of paper work and calculations. That was the solution offered to the financier.  The end result was that some workers would increase their productivity by up to 30 per cent and incur a supplementary monetary bonus rate in addition to their wages. Of course the ‘Three Stooges’ didn’t have a clue what my suggestion entailed, and made inept comments that the firm couldn’t afford to pay extra money to the workers or that extra products were required. The financier though had seen the wisdom of an incentive bonus, and after jotting some figures down he told them to listen and learn. It was simply arithmetic, for if there were forty workers with an extra output of 30 per cent per week it would automatically reduce the required workers by twelve. With an average wage of $180 per worker, less the companies insurance and administration cost for them, plus the bonus rate for the remaining workers, they would be saving thousands of dollars. My other suggestion was to pull out and close their retail shops that were known not to be a cash flow success, and to have one of our qualified trade persons trained in the water bladder section so as to eventually take it over. The financier before leaving came around to my office and assured me that he would be keeping personally in touch with me.

The Administration Manager had employed an assistant to aid him with his bookwork, and when advising the owners that it would be impossible for me to perform both production and the time and motion study efficiently, the assistant was transferred to aid me. When explaining to the workers the intended concept of the operation with times that would be taken of worked components at normal working pace, and that any worked components produced over an allotted time established for one and every component would be converted to a monetary value, and paid as a benefit over and above their normal wage. And also explaining that my assistant would be timing them with a stopwatch instead of me, with my reason given that they might want to impress me by working above a normal pace, but because they would be aware that it was only what his entire role consisted of they would work normally. Also, that I wanted no extra mucking about bunged (put) on to increase times taken, they were quite pleased to be able to receive an extra increment at last for when rushed jobs were at a premium. What they didn’t realize though was what the consequences would be. It was obvious that the workers most efficient would be excelling at the bonus system and producing more products, and would be doing those that were inefficient out of products to produce, and because the departments operated on a set weekly products production schedule there was going to be those really inefficient standing around doing nothing. They were the first ones to go and production was still on schedule with only twenty-eight production employers from the original seventy.

When the financier phoned and I advised him about what had transpired he was elated. He became annoyed though when telling him that the owners were still hanging onto their non-profitable retail shops and trying to flog them off as franchises, and where also trying to improve the company’s image with what I thought was wasted television and radio commercials, and a waste of money. Not wanting to put them down completely because they were relying on his finance, my information that they had installed one of the tradesman in the water bladder section and had requested me to put up a competitive bonus earned section board, so as to encourage the section with the highest weekly bonus earned in receiving an extra bonus, he became more tolerant. Delivery trucks came back over the follow weeks though with removed carpets, shop fittings and bedroom suites from some of their retail shops locally and interstate. The three of them were also treating me with more respect, management meetings found me becoming more involved in decision-making, and Joan and I were invited for socializing. The new factory was then fitted out with the best of mod cons and fittings, and extra new water bladder machinery with an additional new innovation from America of waterbed bafflers for stabilization. The wood machine section of the old factory never had a sawdust extraction system but that one did, which was a necessity because it was in close proximity to the water bladder section, but it was also expensive. The ‘Three Stooges’ were smiling again, so it seemed that everything was rosy again and the workers were also happy and earning a substantial wage.

With that year a bumper one, my suggestion to the owners of giving office staff and workers a breaking up end of the year luncheon party in appreciation for their efforts was well received, and I organized a hot lunch through caterers who served it up and a good time was had by all. It was a good time for Joan and me too, for with a substantial bank account we purchased property at Paradise Point, which is on The Broadwater and the tail end of Surfers Paradise, and then had a house built on the knolled property that overlooked Coombabah Creek; Aboriginal  meaning place of turtles, and Coomera River; meaning wattle tree, that was considered then the arse end of Surfers because of the distance to travel, which was only about thirty minutes by car, and due to that we didn’t have many visitors. We enjoyed the peace and tranquility though, especially as ours was the first house in that newly established area, and the family and friends called our home ‘The little house on the prairie.’ When in North America while in the merchant navy, prairie dogs would be seen from the ship when traveling up rivers through treeless areas of grassland. They were of the rodent type with a bark like a dog and had a peculiar mannerism of emerging out of their borrows to look around from left to right. I had become aware of that quite new mannerism from the ‘Three Stooges’ when they emerged from their office on sudden frequent walks throughout the factory. Very observant and long enough in the game, it became obvious that there was something they didn’t know and were trying to find out, but didn’t want to involve me. Keeping my eyes and ears attuned as the animals of Africa, it saw an earlier than usual complete stocktaking ordered, and the ceasing of the bonus system rang the alarm bells. It soon became very obvious that because of their advertising promotion on television and radio they had expected an inundation of orders, but due to having gone to an extreme extra expense of building up stocks of water bladders, bafflers, bed linen, bedroom suites and Huon pine by the truck load, the financier because of not receiving his promised returns had pulled out. They had really stuffed up that time and a Receiver Accountant was appointed. The downhill spiral went from retrenchments, shops closed, franchises lost, factory sale of excess goods and the owners on a weekly wage. They hung onto me almost to the end thinking that maybe I could pull one more rabbit out of the hat, but it was time for me to go.

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Pretty basic reference from the Administration Manager who just loved to see me go.

 

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Now this reference was from the Financial Controller after Don Juan Waterbeds was placed in the hands of a Receiver and Manager, and he really knew the score.

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Our son Chris toffed up and the life of the party as usual.

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Jose Gonsalves and Joan shaking their booty with me sporting my Surfers Paradise tropical shirt.

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Chris chatting up the back-yard over the fence neighbours with Joan, Greg in a blond wig and the rest of the gang encouraging him.

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Joan with some of our back-yard neighbours partying on.

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Hey! Hey! The gangs all here dancing up a storm with Joan, Chris, Gina, Debbie, Jose jnr and Toni.