Monthly Archives: April 2009

My First Published Column

The following is the first column I had printed in our local newspaper, The Gladstone Observer.  Earlier this year, Amy Glass, the reporter who used to do the Monday column, asked for contributions, so I sent her some samples.  Long story short, she used one them, and asked if I was interested in contributing regularly. 

“Why, yes.  Yes I am.”  I refrained from hugging her at the time… but I was pretty stoked. 

Anyway, I present it here, as it was printed:

Clothes Maketh the Man

 

Fashion has never been one of my strong points.  My wardrobe looks as if I’m exclusively outfitted by the Dishevelled Gentleman, and my hairstyle has been described as “birds nest chic”. 

 

Of course I like to think that my clothes are functional or practical, well suited to our climate and perfect for a bit of fishing, painting, skidding down grassy slopes etc.  One of the things I like about living in Gladstone is that most blokes here dress in the same ultra casual way I do.  They also have their ‘at home’ thongs, and ‘going out’ thongs.  And on the odd occasion I’ve even strolled through the mall barefoot, and in Summer I can tell you it’s deliciously cool underfoot after galloping through a scalding hot car park.   

 

But there have been some changes.  The hairdo went first, followed by a trip to a real clothing store for men, where I was steered firmly past the bargain bin by my wife.  After much fussing, fidgeting and fiddling, I appeared outside the shop a brand new, and slightly poorer, man.   

 

I recently read of an ‘experiment’ conducted by a man who lived a dull and lonely life in an apartment in New York.  No one took much notice of him as he made his way around town.  Then one day he appeared at his building in a tailor made soldiers’ uniform, resplendent with medals, braid and officers cap.  Doors were opened for him, people pointed him out in the street, seats in restaurants became magically available as he was ushered past cues of waiting people.  Such was the impact of his ‘new look’.   

 

When this alleged experiment was over, he returned to his normal clothes, and to his amazement discovered that people continued to treat him with respect.  His entire manner had changed during that brief time.  While he was in uniform he looked like someone who deserved respect, and after he took it off, he continued to act and feel like someone who deserved respect.  And he got it too.  The clothes had changed him.  I bet he kept that uniform for the odd occasion when he wanted to feel a little higher than the herd.  I would have.   

 

I’m experiencing the reverse side of that experiment.  Even though I make an effort to wear shoes in public, my hair is tidy, and my clothes are not only neat, and actually made in this decade, I have a nagging feeling that people watching me know the truth.  That under the shiny, well dressed exterior is a bloke who is still wearing his old Gladstone uniform; shorts, thongs, and tatty singlet.   

 

I like my new clothes, but I love my old clothes.  Unfortunately, as my old clothes finally become comfortable, or worn in, they also tend to fall apart.  Many times I’ve approached my wife with a bundle of rags clutched to my chest, and pleaded with her to sew them back together.  She ignores me, until I skulk away.  I always end up wearing them for a little bit longer, and it’s only when they look as if I’ve had a serious accident with a bottle of acid, and are the mere ghosts of threads held together with spots of paint, grease and food stains, that I consign them to the rag bin for polishing duties on the car. 

 

But in the spirit of continuous improvement there may be another change soon.  If, in weeks to come, you find yourself bumped to the back of a cue by a dapper gent in a flashy foreign Air Force uniform, feel free to smile at him, or even pat him on the back as he passes by.  I really won’t mind at all.

 

Published Feb 09

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When I Grow Up I Want to Be A…

I have a mate, (Hi Rob) who I met years ago in a job down in Brisbane.  He was in his late 40’s at the time, and I learned that he’d been around a bit…  to say the least.  One day he made me laugh my head off when he said, “You know what, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up?” 

I’m not laughing anymore.

Since I left high school waaaay back in ’83, I’ve had a succession of jobs.  Mostly they’ve been hot, dirty, heavy, and dusty.  Occasionally they’ve been fantastic and I’ve learned a few things:

1.  The good jobs don’t make the papers.

2.  The best jobs pay crap wages.

3.  Most bosses would sacrifice their own children to make themselves look good, or to save a $, so don’t even think for a moment that they’re on your side.

4.  The willing donkey gets loaded up until he collapses, then is flogged some more just to see if he is skiving. 

5.  Promoting your good workers will leave you with a crew full of crap workers.  Don’t promote your good workers.  Instead, get rid of your crap workers by promoting them off your team. 

Cynical?  Me?!  Naah.

Actually, I’m not 🙂  I decided long ago to abide by the rules, where possible, and make my own way in the workaday world.  Keep your head down, lay low, do your best, do a little bit more, then go home safe and sound.  It’s been a good policy.  It’s paid the bills and allowed me and my family to have a little discretionary income to buy the odd trinket, or take a  holiday, which helps keep us sane for most of the year. 

But there’s been some changes at work recently (Welcome to the Rio Tinto Family), and I’ve started thinking of late, “How much more of this crap are they going to dump on us?  Is this where I want to be in 10 years time?  Or 5?  Or hell, even next week?” 

Which lead me to start getting serious about my Dream Job.  And, what, you may be asking is my Dream Job? 

Before I answer that, in my last entry I wrote about doing work experience on the tug boats.  It was, and is a fantastic job, or I think it would be.  But I’ve learned that ALL jobs have a Price.  All jobs have a downside along with an upside.  I wonder what the tugs downside is?  It is this type of thinking that keeps most of us in jobs we don’t really like… well, that and the crippling debt, and fear of losing the weekly pay packet, and subsequently your house, your car, your marriage, and access to the beer fridge (with the small packets of chocolate stuffed behind the cans of dog food).   

So what is my dream job?  Well, to be a full time Writer.  Unfortunately, breaking into the writing game is a tad harder than say, starting some job where they hand you a shovel, point to a pile of crud and let you loose for 40 hours a week.  So, it’s been a long haul to get a foot in the door.  A door that is getting increasingly harder to find, let alone enter.  

But, having started out on this quest last year, I intend to see it through… or die trying… well, maybe go into an extended coma… or perhaps just lose a toenail. 

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.     

For those of you who are regular followers (Hello YOU!) I haven’t heard about my application at the museum yet.  Will let you know when I find out. 

And now, back to my novel…

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Joining the Gladstone Maritime Museum

As this post goes to air tonight, the members of the Gladstone Maritime Museum will be voting on my membership application.  It’s been a long time coming.

HMAS Gladstone - waiting to be placed into it's new home

HMAS Gladstone - waiting to be placed into it's new home

Several years ago I waddled down to the museum, and was quietly impressed with what I saw.  The shed housing the numerous items collected by a dedicated band of volunteers used to be the building where sailors would gather in the old days, drink heavily and fight like a bag full of cats.  I got to see some of the wild side of life as a 15 year old when I was given the green light to work on the tug boats during my work experience stint in high school.

I’d actually put ‘Sailor’ down on my work experience application, hoping they’d let me set off on one of the bauxite ships which run up and down the coast from Gladstone to Weipa, but it was deemed too dangerous by my teacher… clued up lady that one! 

My very limited time on the tugboats was fantastic.  I met some great blokes, learned to cook scones and pikelets, paint (everything needed painting), tie knots, and loved the shift work lifestyle.  Unfortunately to get a job on the tugs you needed to either:

a) to buy the company, or

b) stand in a very, very, very long line, and pray like hell that everyone in front of you meets with some sort of untimely accident that would eliminate them from the running.  Sort of like trying to crack a full time job in the coal mines during the 70’s and 80’s… and probably now come to think of it 🙂

On our way down to the tugs we’d pass the ‘sailors pub’, and it was pointed out to me as a place to be avoided at all costs.  Rumours abounded about some of the terrible fights and brawls that erupted all too frequently in the place.  My wide eyes would glimpse happy, laughing men gathered round tables full of empty glasses as we drove past, and my furtive imagination filled in the blanks…

HMAS Gladstone Crest

The pub closed, and years later re-opened as the museum.  The blokes running the place are keen on local maritime history, and even keener to share it with anyone who strolls through the doors.  It’s one of my top 3 favourite places here in town, and after much procrastinating (years working round the house, and taking the odd trip away) I filled out a form and handed it to one the smiling volunteers. 

I don’t know how many applications they get each year, or what sort of activities they’d like me to participate in, but like anything in life, you’ll never never know if you don’t show 🙂

Wonder how the votings’ going? 
Maritime museum yard

Maritime museum yard

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Good Luck To You

It was the comment my wife made on the weekend – “I don’t believe in luck, it’s how you react to things,” that really got me thinking this week.  Then yesterday at work, we were having another run of bad luck when a workmate called out over the radio, “Mate, you bring this on yourself!” 

I leaned against a rail and caught my breath before racing up the next two sets of stairs to deal with the latest emergency, thought about it for a moment then asked, “How the hell do you figure that!” 

“Well,” he said, “if you didn’t go round finding things wrong, then you wouldn’t be running around all bloody shift.  Just chill mate, go have a drink, put your feet up and relax for a bit, the shit will still be going on whether you’re here or not.” 

“That’s just what we need,” I replied, “another bastard sitting on his arse doing nothing, that’s why we’re in this %^$#ing mess mate!” 

But, as I galloped all over the area chasing drama after drama, the thought kept rattling through my mind… ‘Do I bring this on myself?” 

I’m a glass is half full sort of person.  Normally.  But during the last few weeks, I’ve somehow slipped into the negative mode of ‘Why is my glass half empty?  Why can’t I have a bigger glass?  What’s this glass full of?  Why ME?’

Once I’m in this mode, then I tend to view the world through a very dark lens.  The only things I can see, or focus on, are negative things.  And while I’m in this ‘zone’ I expect nothing but the worst to happen.  And am unsurprised when it does, because it ‘confirms’ my expectations and belief that I am basically unlucky.

For years I have always believed, “I am a blessed man, but not a lucky one.”  Meaning that I have a lot to be grateful for (I really do), but good luck is not one of those things. 

Well, that particular belief has to go! 

The Vikings put a lot of emphasis on Luck.  Kings were either honored or reviled for the amount of luck they had, and their followers believed that if their King was lucky, then they would also benefit from following him.  And the more Vikings you have following you, then the luckier you get!  If he was unlucky… well, he wasn’t King for very much longer.

If I have learned anything during my short time here on planet Earth about people then it is this:  Those who expect nothing but the best usually get it, and those folk who truly believe in themselves usually do quite well.   

I have met people with far less skills, talent, or get up and go than myself.  They are loose with the truth, untrustworthy, and unreliable.  The only reason that they have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams is because they have never, ever, doubted that they were born for greatness. 

One person I know, who can barely walk upright and breathe at the same time, is today a rip roaring success ‘down South’, and was worth millions the last time I heard from him.  His only talent was, and is, an iron clad self belief that He, and He alone, is at the centre of the universe, and that He was born to be a Leader, a King among Men (his own words).  I laughed when he told me this, but he simply dismissed me as ‘an idiot’.  But he did it.  Ok, some of the stuff he did wasn’t what you would call ethical, but it got him to where he is now, to the place He has always thought was His birthright.    

Another mate who knew him often says, “He couldn’t do an an honest days toil to save his life, but look at him now, the Lucky Bastard!” 

Lucky?  Nope. 

Cunning, terrified of hard work, and lowly positions?  Yep.

He’s reaping the benefits of his own self beliefs. 

So, for the rest of this week, while I’m in this thoughtful frame of mind, I will be reviewing some of my self beliefs.  I will also be working on my Values worksheet again (thanks Tim Brownson).

Basically, I if I want to change my life, then I have to change my thinking, and the first step is identifying those thought patterns and beliefs that have been helpful, and the ones which have been hobbling me.  Then work out ways to re-inforce the positive, eliminate the negative, and replace them with improved beliefs and values.     

I’ll keep you posted 🙂

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Make Your Own Luck?

The last 4 days have been ‘interesting’. Things are still going wrong around the house, with the computer, my pushbike… actually the whole shooting match.

I actually cracked a shift roster which gave me Easter off this year, so I’d thought I’d be spending some quality time with the family, do some touring around the area, and spend time relaxing, take in a couple of movies, chat with friends etc.

Nope. 

The computer died on Friday night.  That was the beginnning and end of the weekend.  Saturday morning was spent backing up all my photos, documents, and email files.  This done, I inserted the Startup disc and wiped the old Windows, and renewed it.  Ok, because the laptop is nearly 5 years old, I’m missing a stack of updates from Microsoft.  I couldn’t download them.  Why not?  Because at some time on Saturday afternoon, my wireless modem decided to get some attention as well, and promptly committed suicide.

“No Worries!” thought I, “I’ll ring my ISP and get it tested.” 

We tested it.  It was dead.  “Do you have a replacement?” I asked.

“No sir, we don’t make that model anymore.  The new ones are 4 times the price.” (halfway to a new laptop!) “But any major electrical store will have what you need.”

I hummed and haaed, then took the modem apart.  Couldn’t see anything out of order, gave it a thorough clean and put it all back together.  It worked!  Yay me! 

It worked for an hour then died again.  This pattern repeated itself for the rest of the day, and all day Sunday.  So when I wasn’t mowing, running around trying to find bits for the house and yard, I was sitting in front of my laptop or modem banging my head on the desk. 

This morning I posted on Craig Harpers Forum, and the modem died just as I clicked the submit button.  Great.  So I wheeled out to the shed, got my pushbike ready for a ride, and stepped outside just as a shower of rain hit.  Back into the shed.  Deciding not to waste my time doing nothing, I pulled the wheels off and greased the bearings.  Not a hard job.  And usually isn’t a drama… until today.  Long story short, it was very late in the morning when I finally hit the road on my freshly greased and cleaned wheel bearings.  So you can imagine where my blood pressure was when a new cracking and crunching noise popped up from somewhere in my new, u-beaut, no maintenance necessary, long-life crank bearings 😦 

To add to my misery, two large dogs were loose on the streets, and I was the only traffic available for them to chase.  It was the one day I didn’t have my special stick nearby to deal with these deadly four legged weapons…

So, I got home, walked inside and was informed by my wife that the bedroom curtains had ‘fallen off’ the wall.  I had a look and wanted to start crying.  Two large holes in the plasterboard greeted me.  The point of no return.  I showered, and said to my wife, “Do you believe in luck?”

“No,” she replied, “it’s all about how you react to it.”

I muttered something under my breath, but really, I just wanted to drive down to the pub and start drinking doubles of anything.

Instead I drove down to the shops, bought a new modem, some serious hardware, and made my way home.  “This time, if it doesn’t work, I will be trying something different,” I said with a manic gleam in my eye, “and burning the house down is at the top of my list!”

Well, God had probably had enough of giving me the shits, and stuff, good stuff, started happening.  When I pulled into the carport, the first thing I saw was my pushbike, and the rear tyre was still inflated!  Good start 🙂

I got the internet working, had a feed, then tackled the curtains.  They went up, but not without a fight.  I’ve still got some plastering and painting to do, but the new holders won’t be coming off in a hurry.  I’ve gone so far overboard on the fittings that Tarzan himself could swing off the curtains to his hearts content if he wanted to! 

Now, I’m sitting in front of my laptop, the internet is working, I have a stack of space on my hard drive, all the programmes I use are working well, and the photos are safe. 

Now I can enjoy what is left of my weekend, before pedalling into work tomorrow…

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Life’s Little Annoyances

It’s been a fairly busy, and stressful couple of weeks here in Gladbloke Land.  Ok, let’s give it some perspective… we’ve still got a roof over our heads, food in the cupboard, and the beer fridge is doing ‘just fine’, so really, I haven’t got a lot to complain about by comparison with say, most other folk in the world. 

If I was going to be honest, the last month has been more ‘Niggly’ than stressful.  If you have ever read JRR Tolkiens ‘Leaf by Niggle’ story, then you’ll know what I mean.  Niggle, for that is his name, is a painter, who is constantly interrupted… by his neighbour Mr. Parrish, his friends, his own laziness or other distractions.  Small jobs turn into big jobs, big jobs lead to other jobs, and everyone around him seems hellbent on interrupting him whenever he gets motivated enough to get going.

He suffers from indecision, a kind heart which won’t let him say ‘NO’, and by his conscience, which constantly chides him for being selfish.  He always does the right thing.  Even though he suspects his time is short, and that he will never finish his important work. 

I know how he feels. 

Niggly.  That sums up the last few weeks.  Every piece of toast I’ve dropped is landing butter side down, 5 minute jobs have turned into all day affairs which left me too tired to do anything creative.  Reliable gear had suddenly become unreliable, my pushbike tyres are proactively finding every nail on the road, every thing I reach for is missing, and constant ‘interruptions’ have ruined the sparse time I did have to write, think or research. 

I found myself honouring long forgotten promises, taxi-ing children round town, and trying to knock over a list of jobs that would choke an elephant.  Why? 

Because I have to… I’m Mr. Reliable, apparently.

But sometimes good things happen to those of us with that ticking clock hammering away inside our heads.  Deciding that spending time with my youngest child was far more important than researching 15 century Portuguese naval voyages (for my novel… don’t ask, but it’s very important I get this right!) we ended up in the library the other day. 

caravel_espirito_santo_brazil

While she played with some of the toys, and fiddled with the kids computers, I sat and fumed.  I had little enough time to spare before heading back to work, and I really wanted to be researching and writing my novel.  The words are blazing trails across my mind, and each time I sat down to write, the computer would play up, the phone would ring, or visitors would arrive. 

The pent up frustrations were really starting to show… it occurred to me that no-one wanted to interrupt me when I was slaving away in the shed, mowing the lawn, or trying to dig through the rocky shale that makes up the ‘soil’ here in Gladstone.  Oh no. 

SO, there I sat in the peace and quiet of the library, pencil in hand, notebook open, trying to work out how the hell the medieval sailors managed to survive without filtered fresh water, and what sort of accomodation did they have, when my eyes did a quick scan of the bookshelves and stopped on a title called, “Ships of Yesterday” or, “The History of Shipping”, or something similar…  the fact is I literally reached forward and plucked a children’s book off the shelf directly in front of me and there were the answers to all my questions, WITH, drawings! 

Suddenly, the air about me was filled with the sounds of bluebirds singing, and I felt that God was in His Heaven and All Was Right With The World. 

It occured to me that we have bad days/weeks/months, because that is the way of the world.  These ‘downtimes’ make the uptimes all the more sweeter, the times when everything ‘clicks’, when, for no reason at all, things go smoothly, your plans actually come to fruition, and you are not frustrated by nagging interruptions that demand your entire focus to make them go away. 

I still don’t like having things go wrong, in vast numbers, over short periods of time, but I am super grateful that this isn’t a constant state of being.  It’s a nice thing to realise that nothing is forever, and that sooner or later the wheel of fortune will turn once more to Sunny Side Up. 

I sure hope it happens tomorrow 🙂

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Recession vs. Depression

“Dad, what’s a recession?”

Well son, that’s when your neighbour loses his job.

“So, what’s a depression?”

That’s when I lose my job.

It’s been a torrid time for a lot of folk here in Gladstone.  We’re a ‘Rio Town’ now, as the big miner owns pretty much every major industry here, (except for the coal facilities funnily enough). 

Yesterday I was having a late smoko at work when I turned on the radio to listen to the news and was stunned to hear that the first story was about Gladstone, and the loss of over 500 jobs in the local alumina industry. 

Qld Alumina, the largest alumina refinery in the world... (for the time being)

Qld Alumina, the largest alumina refinery in the world... (for the time being)

This is remarkable for a couple of reasons. 

The first is that the job losses came as a complete surprise to all of us.  I work in a sister plant to the Yarwun refinery, and we had attended a communications meeting the day before with our manager who assured us, that as a company, we’re not doing too bad.  Ok, things aren’t great, but they could be a lot worse. 

Someone asked a question about the future of the Yarwun site, and the answer was a little ambiguous.  Most of us have friends or family working out at Yarwun.  This time last year it was ‘the’ place to be for a tradey chasing big $ in town.  In spite of the lucrative money and the good conditions, workers were hard to get though.  How quickly that has changed! 

So now 600 Yarwun refinery workers have woken up in town this morning and are wondering what the hell to do.  Most of them are contractors, many of them probably came from other parts of the country and are looking to go home now.  But many of them were locals who were hoping to make a long term future with the plant, and are now looking at some very scant options.

Of course, some of my ever-practical colleagues had another take on the situation.  They were relieved that it wasn’t us, and one of them even mentioned that if you’re in the market for a good boat or car, then you’re sure to pick one up dirt cheap. 

It’s a mercenary outlook, but true.  It’s like the ghouls who were ringing real estate offices in country Victoria while the fires were still raging, hoping to pick up some cheap property from disillusioned fire victims.  Someone’s always thinking of a scam no matter where you live…  

The second thing that struck me about the news cast was that it mentioned Gladstone.  Several times.  This is odd.  Gladstone is the forgotten city on the East Coast of Queensland.  When we lived in Brisbane, it was assumed that people in Gladstone were so backward that we lived a life akin to that of Fred Flintstone.  Now in some things this is true.  Particularly when it comes to modern stuff like murder, rape, kidnapping etc.  We’re kind of proud of our low profile. 

Gladstone rarely rates a mention on the news.  In fact we’re usually unable to get a mention on the weather of a night.  And while it drives some people here nuts, I kind of like it.  While the world spins out of control, we’re here in our little piece of paradise, beavering merrily away.  Working and fishing, keeping pretty much to ourselves.  There’s a lot to be said for this kind of lifestyle. 

Of course the politicians know we’re here, because we’re worth a fortune to the state coffers, but as a city we have continually voted in an independent who has been a bit of a thorn in the side of the govt.   

But in Qld, if the news doesn’t happen in Brisbane, then it’s not news.  The days of local news coverage are gone.  Rockhampton has a local news network, but it’s part of an Australia wide syndicate, and their coverage is pretty much limited to events and goings on in Rocky.   Even our ‘local’ radio stations news reports are put together in some other part of the country.  So where do we turn to for local news.  Well, if you can wait, then it’s our ‘local’ paper which will have the coverage the next day. 

Blogs?  Haven’t seen another one from this town yet.  They’re probably out there, but they’re thin on the ground. 

So, while the rest of the country frets and debates about the latest shennanigans and carryings on of one of our ‘millionaire sportsmen’, or brain defunct ‘celebrities’, we here in Gladstone are taking a pretty big hit.  And we’ll deal with it in our own way, with a quiet courage.  

Makes me feel proud in a sad way.

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