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Come Saturday Morning: “The Contract”


Saturday mornings were a special moment for us youth in our little group. This was in the days of our mid-teens, too young to go to the pubs but old enough to have a motorcycle licence. All of us, to a lad, were apprentices. Most of us were in the building industry, a couple in the auto industry. Our take-home pay was such that we had to make our own fun. Fortunately, petrol was at such a low price (relative) we could go tear-arseing through the hills playing at boy-racers, like our heroes on the Isle of Man TT Circuit.

We would meet at a certain cross-road and take off into our favourite “runs”. If it was a short run, we would go through Coromandel Valley/Clarendon. If it was an all-day affair, it would be the Murray Bridge run on what is now the “old road”, through Mt Barker, Nairne, Kanmantoo/Callington. With long strait stretches where you could unwind the bikes to see how fast they would go.

On the winding roads, we’d make a single file, snaking through the corners on what was understood as “The Right Line”, after a short film of the era that featured a racing bike on, I think, Brands Hatch, with the camera fixed to the front and it took you through the “line” (most suited to the fastest speed in the corners). I believe the bike was a Manx Norton. I remember the throaty big-piston sound that they had. A thrilling ride … then!

Sometimes, on those long straight lengths of road we would ride side by side and exchange chatter … my Japanese two-stroke a higher pitch than Ron Parker’s BSA or Russel Hamby’s Triumph … those British bikes had a certain smell of hot oil and a distinctive hum of chain driven gears … those Brits loved chains! But I loved that smell of burning oil. It also was prevalent on the old steam trains, a smell of steam and oil would sometimes shisssh out from the front drive of the train as you walked past … shishhhwhoosh … and there was that smell.

This idyll went on for several years in my youth. Work was there, a sense of permanence was there, routine was in place and the reward of the weekend to relax permeated through the whole of society. Mums and dads were at home, doing things in the garden or the house. Dinner, shithouse as it sometimes was, was always there. Kids were climbing trees or running over paddocks and we teens were going to the beach or the pictures watching banal American “teen-flicks” with Annette Funnicello, Gidget, Eric Von Zipper and a host of rhinestone cowboys and other ghastly indoctrination pieces. We were being shown “the good life”, like when television came along and we got “My Three Sons” or “Leave It To Beaver”, ”Father Knows Best”, then those series of “Crime doesn’t pay” gumshoe-detective genre I believe was in the mix also. One is inclined now, with the wisdom of age, to ask; “What were the adults thinking!!?”

But now, we do know just what “they” were thinking.

They were showing us “the Contract”. An unwritten agreement that “all this” could be yours if you stick to the line and the terms of the contract and just do as you are directed. It was the age of wall to wall Conservative Liberal Governments. Federal, State, Local, one great big broad church of conservatism with a capital “C”. The endless long-weekend with work aplenty, radio, TV, the flicks, sun, surf and an endless horizon that seemed as if it could have gone on forever. An endless ”come Saturday morning” … and it wasn’t us workers who broke the contract.

I wrote on this moment of awakening in two pieces; “Epiphany” and “The Day Bomfino Went Crazy”.

I was apprenticed to a builder who held a major contract with the then Housing Trust, and he ran one of those old family businesses, a Latvian whom I now suspect of being one of those collaborators in the 2nd. WW. I worked in the joinery/machine shop. I was in my third year of the apprenticeship and I was keen to extend my carpentry knowledge with a stint on the job with roofing and wall structures. I asked if I could leave the joinery shop and go on the job.

I was told “no”, as there was only sub-contractors on the job, not company employees.

I then asked if I could be assigned with one of these subbies so I could learn more about carpentry. I was told “no”, and that was the end of it. I was to stay in the shop.

I then started to wonder how this system worked. Why were there so many apprentices in proportion to tradie joiners? Were these “joiners” really tradesmen or just bench-hands? I soon worked out that not only were the workers there not tradesmen, but that there were more apprentices as that was the cheapest labour … and when I queried both the “apprenticeship commission” and my union on the situation, I was told to shut-up and not to make trouble.

So there it was; the perfect fool’s paradise. The factory filled with cheap labour churning out a product for a conservative government being run by a conservative opportunist with the permission of conservative government authority overseen by a conservative/right-wing union. As long as the status quo was maintained, all would be sweet: work would come in, wages would go out, “The Real McCoy’s” (with Walter Brennan) or “Rawhide” (with Ward Bond and Clint Eastwood) would keep repeating and every weekend would be another “come Saturday morning”.

But the bastards got greedy, they got away with the shit wages and conditions for so long, they saw it as their privilege, so that when the workers did finally get some unions with balls and did kick up about it, they got heavy and then the shit really hit the fan! It was called Vietnam and protest songs and freedom!

The rest, as they say is history. I say it is time to make a little more “history”.


  1. roma guerin

    You made me quite nostalgic Joseph. In the 50s every boy I knew was an apprentice something or other. Except for my brothers. My father had other ideas, which ended up nowhere, because neither of the boys “amounted to anything”. Oddly enough, my father’s frequent shot at the three of us was “you’ll never amount to anything”. I have never given up on the dream. I believe the apprenticeship programme does not exist any more, what a waste.

  2. Joseph Carli

    Yes..what we see as “apprentices” these times are but a shadow of the intense training demanded back in my days. Now it is just a fast-track to sub-standard workmanship and a “get-rich-quick” mentality.

  3. Johno

    The joy of the motorbike, yes, I know the feeling. I did a carpentry apprenticeship in NZ back in the late 70s.The boss was a good man and we worked on all components of the build from the footings/slab through to the finishing/joinery. Not my cup of tea though and I left soon after my apprenticeship was completed. Itchy feet. I am very grateful for all of the skills I learnt though.

  4. helvityni

    Hubby’s young nephew was a motorbike fan; he had the accident every mum fears, it was not his fault ,he got a good payout, bought himself a unit and a truck, never wanted to be a big builder; makes a good living being a carpenter, loves it and has never been out of work.

  5. Joseph Carli

    Carpentry is a good trade, in that you can be there at the start of the job setting out footings , right through to the end fitting the lock on the door and giving the keys to the owner.

  6. Barry Thompson.

    Joseph, Ward Bond was not in Rawhide. I think you are referring to the outfit boss Gil Favor, played by Eric Fleming.
    A great show. I still at times sing the theme song in the shower, to my wife’s dismay.

  7. Joseph Carli

    Ah, yes..that’s right..Ward Bond was in Wagon was, I believe , Clint Eastwood as the forward scout .

  8. Barry Thompson.

    Sorry Joseph, Robert Horton played the scout followed by Robert Fuller in later episodes. I don’t think Clint was ever in the show unless in a bit part that may not have been credited.
    Unfortunately, I can remember useless trivia like this but don’t remember where I put my glasses or car keys!

  9. Michael Taylor

    I used to like the cook, Wishbone.

  10. Joseph Carli

    Aww, jeezus!…well…I do remember Gene Autry as a cowboy!

  11. Joseph Carli

    And Effrem Zimbalist Jr. in “The man and the Challenge”

  12. LOVO

    Ah, the “apprenticeships” scams of the Conservatives.
    I was an 1st year apprentice aircraft mechanic in the late 70’s, when I had completed 11 months 3 weeks and 6 days (one day less than a yr and an day shy of indentureship ) I was put-off because business was “bad”. I found out later I was the third “apprentice” in three yrs that had suffered this fate….and there were more after me. As I remember half my wagers was paid by the feds for the first year then after that year the employers have to pay your full wage till completion of trade. What a scam… I was just slave labour. ….one wonders how many others went through this disillusionment…this ‘contract’ ?

  13. Joseph Carli

    Yes..back in the fifties, it was common practice for the larger building companies to sack their entire trades force before Christmas so they would not have to pay them for the holidays…I remember my father getting laid off and with 4 or 5 children, it was hard going…the same for long service leave..the practice was to sack a worker just before they were due so as to not have to pay them..and the bastards wonder why unions were necessary.

  14. Freethinker

    Back home was different if the companies play that game of sacking the workers the union just wait for the company to have a new long lucrative contract and go for indefinite strike until the company re-employ to sacked workers or simple go broke.
    There was and is it is now such thing as “unlawful strike” people power rules.

  15. Joseph Carli

    It was the rough-house but successful tactics of the Builders Labourers Federation that radicalised the blue-collar workers…Norm Gallagher showed them how it was done!

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