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.


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


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


A cameo shot of The Black Swan in full flight.


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


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.


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


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


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