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.


Harold, no peeking!


Bloody woman is always surprising me…love you Joan!


My daughter Gina the co-conspirator.


Party time for the birthday boy.


Joan and her BF as a garbage bag.


Joan and our sexy lady friends.


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


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


Oh God! Who are these decadent people.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s