Sad Dog
The Highway Boys
A Voyage to Australia
Fires of 1967
Spring 1961
Julie, eat your heart out!
The Last Stand of Black Pete
Enter the 21st Century
Tales from the Crib Room
Weather Watch
The Bus Trip from Hell
Agonising About Acronyms
The Vacuum Cleaner
Forward to the Past
List of 2003 stories

Tales From The Crib Room — The Challenge

In 1963 the Crown Mine was like a mini-United Nations. The mine had been closed and flooded for a number of years and the workforce had long since moved on or retired. When it was re-opened skilled underground miners were recruited from all over Australia - and what a mixed bunch they were! There were Finns, Germans, Poles, Yugoslavs, Czechs, a small handful of Poms and Australians from all States - men who had worked on the hydro schemes of the Snowy and Poatina, "bushies" from Mount Isa, Broken Hill and Tennant Creek, Tasmanians from Rosebery, Rossarden and Zeehan as well as a few local Mount Lyell hands.

Simon was Hungarian. He was not very tall but he was built like a solid brick dunny. He wasn't the smartest or most skilled miner in the pack, but for those "hard yakka" tasks requiring lots of "applied BFI" - (brute force and ignorance) - he was the man for the job. Give him a number two "banjo" and a barrow and he would hand-muck as much dirt in a day as a gun operator with a pneumatic rocker-shovel, loco and rake of Granby trucks!

Simon's command of English wasn't great, but, like all of the "New Aussies", he was fluent in Australian swear words although his pronunciation was somewhat suspect. You could hear Simon from the next level swearing at his "blutty shoffel"! His frequent use of a mispronounced four-letter word earned him the nickname "Fik-Fik". Apart from his shovel and barrow, Simon's other great love was booze - cheap Australian vodka in particular, since he wasn't able to find whatever he used to anaesthetise himself in Hungary. Anyone who worked with Simon after one of his heavy nights was at risk of intoxication on the vapours given off when he sweated!

The Shift Crew would turn up at the Tunnel Office about half an hour before the shift started. They would change into work gear, collect their cap lamps and gather outside the foreman's office to get their instructions. They would then stand around chin-wagging until it was time to board the "Man Rake" - (two or three man-cars pulled by an electric locomotive) - which transported the crew for about a mile along the North Lyell Tunnel to the Crown Shaft where they would be hoisted to the different working levels.

One Pay Friday afternoon, Simon rolled up to get his plod from Hughie, the Foreman. He looked a bit the worse for wear and may well have had an advance on his pay from the publican. Then again, he was no oil painting at the best of times so it was a bit hard to judge. The Underground manager, known as Barry the Boy Bastard, was hovering in the background. Barry was one of those bouncy little blokes. He was round-faced, wore horn-rimmed glasses and stood about five feet four in gumboots. He used to arrive at work in the morning and scatter barely legible written orders about like confetti. (It was rumoured that these memos were written while he was sitting on the throne in the morning and could have been put to better use)! He was fairly new to the position, keen as mustard but had yet to learn that it was often better to leave man-management to his Foremen. They were invariably experienced old lags who knew all of the tricks. He was a terrible busybody and always hung about earwigging while Hughie gave his instructions. This day he took one look at Simon, stepped up to the stable door and asked, "Simon, have you been drinking?"
"No, Boss," said Simon.
"Well I think you have," said Bruce, "and you know that it is against Mines Regulations. You'll have to go home."
Simon was indignant and answered loudly "Not drink, Boss. Today Friday - today work; tomorrow Saturday - then drink!"

Things were at a stalemate and Barry did not know how to get out of the situation. Suddenly his face lit up like one of those cartoon characters when struck by a brilliant idea.
'I'll tell you what Simon; we'll put it to the test! See that railway track in front of the office? You walk along one rail; I'll walk on the other. If you can stay on the rail longer than I can, I'll let you go to work!"

Barry bounced out of the office and across to the tracks, his glasses glinting in the afternoon sunlight. Simon shambled along behind, carrying his Gladstone bag. (All Mount Lyell miners carried Gladstone bags. I think it was more for what was carried out of the mine rather than in to it)! Barry stood confidently on one rail; Simon climbed unsteadily onto the other. They set off. Barry was going great guns until he struck a set of points. He developed the wobbles, staggered a couple more paces then went base over apex into the mud beside the tracks. By the time Barry had found his glasses and looked up, he could see Simon still upright and now moving with a full head of steam, disappearing through the tunnel portal. Red-faced and shaking his head, Barry retreated to his office through the middle of the shift crew who were just about splitting their sides!

Legend has it that Simon walked the rail for the full mile into the mine. Certainly he beat the Man Rake in by a good margin. By the time the rest of the crew arrived at the shaft plat he had smoked four cigarettes and was champing at the bit to get to work.

And Barry? After a few days he was back to his bouncy annoying self, but he never did include that particular safety test in the Safety Manual he was compiling!

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