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Smoko: bring the boys home, Soorley's train of thought and the end of an era

By Ern O'Malley - posted Friday, 22 November 2002


Smoko time, people! Down tools, get the cards out and put on the kettle. Time again to be a fly on the wall as the world’s problems are solved by those most qualified to do so – the blue-collar worker.

As with the rest of the country, Bali has been the leading topic of conversation here at Concrete Warranty Motors over the past month. Primarily, discussion involved what Australia’s response should be. While our working-class heroes were previously vacillating on Iraq, the Dirty Dozen are now unanimous in their opposition to Australian involvement there. But it might disappoint the Left that this is not because they link the Bali bombing to our role in the War on Terror.

Redheaded Vietnam veteran Elvis raged against the prospect of Australian soldiers leaving our shores again: "We have more important problems closer to home. Indonesia is a powder keg about to let go, and we are virtually defenceless. We don’t want to get caught out as we did in 1942!" He favours the ‘win the hearts and minds’ style of campaign that defeated the communists in the Malayan Emergency.

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The Snowman put forward a practical solution with a wry smirk: "These terrorists are Muslim, right? Just bomb their training camps with pork fat, and watch them starve to death."

As licensed Sporting Shooters, Elvis and the Snowman were both outraged by John Howard’s proposed handgun restrictions in the wake of the Monash University shooting. Sounding like the NRA’s Charlton Heston with an Aussie drawl, Elvis was quick to link gun ownership to national security: "An armed population is our best defence. If the government takes our guns, we will be sitting ducks for any attack!" I can just imagine him leading a contemporary Eureka Stockade.

The Snowman advocated conscription and a Swiss-style armed populace, and again pointed to the inevitability of a war with Indonesia, something on which the Dirty Dozen all agree. The rest of the guys chose not to participate in the conversation, clearly feeling a little uncomfortable with the forceful pro-gun rant. (One of them later quietly told me that he actually supported Howard’s position on handguns.)

Brisbane Lord Mayor Jim Soorley came under attack for his Airtrain scandal. This time it was the turn of Saltbush Bill, JP, to go on the attack. "It is just jobs for the boys," he proclaimed. "He’s just feathering his own nest. Anyway, who can trust a failed priest?"

Taff chimed in: "These politicians spend too much time setting up their cosy little deals. They forget that their job is to represent people. Instead, they can be rewarded with a lifetime pension for doing nothing. Just look at Bill O’Chee."

Soorley comes in for regular attack at smoko for some of his questionable ideas and his perceived arrogance. Yet, much to my surprise, it turns out not one of the Dirty Dozen lives within Brisbane. As they all reside in surrounding shires, they feel powerless to do anything about the City Council, whose decisions impact upon their ability to travel, shop and work within Brisbane.

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Sadly, downsizing at Concrete Warranty Motors has led to several of the Dirty Dozen, as well as your correspondent, losing their jobs after weeks of uncertainty. Such is the nature of labour hire contracting. Some of the guys had worked here for up to 13 years, and were very put out by the abrupt end of their employment. Naturally, shop steward Taff was the most vocal, exploding with language so vile it is normally reserved for Holden Camira water pumps or bent dozer-track pins.

Our boss, Broccoli (smarter than the average cabbage), was taken aback: "Doesn’t your agency still keep paying you?" he said, once again proving his lack of understanding of the real world.

Taff’s tantrum aside, most of the guys took it in good humour. They surprised themselves when they kept running into each other while seeking alternate employment. Sanjeev, the hardest worker there, was philosophical about the break: "The sad thing about it is that we are forced to compete against each other for work, when we all used to work so well together." He thought it would be particularly difficult to find work at this time of year. "No one wants to hire before Christmas."

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About the Author

Ern O'Malley works in a mechanical repair shop in NSW. Of course, this is not his real name.

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