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More about Jack

John Thomas Michael (Jack) McNamara (c.1905 - 1981/2)
Page 4

These pages about Jack are split as follows :

Page 1 : Ancestors & Siblings and A Family Affair
Page 2 : Letters to the Editor including The Water Trough
Page 3 : Essays from Power Points
Page 4 : Essays - the "A Bloke Retires" Series
Page 5 : Other Essays - Fun and Philosophy

John Thomas McNamara

Retiring was something which appeared to hit Jack fairly hard. By his own words he saw himself as being reagarded as worthless with no value to society from the day he retired. Ellen remembers him being very depressed and it was some years before he appeared to recover.

A number of essays on other pages relate either directly or indirectly to the subject. He seems to have written these essays as a sort of therapy for himself whereby looking back to the past helped him re-establish a sense of selfworth.

He wrote the essays on this web page with the specific heading "A Bloke Retires".



Old Jack (a bit younger then) was about to make his debut with the S.C.C. and intended to remain in their employ for a fortnight, but in duration the thing finished up something like the man who stayed for dinner.

Like many thousands during this unstable period he was unable to settle down in one particular job. The army's nomadic way of life, where one was taught to act, but not to think, proved bad medicine for the many who had to readjust themselves to civvy street again, where thought, initiative and action were necessary in order to hold a job. Many men during this trying period failed, as yet they could not shake themselves free. As yet, they were still indoctrinated by armyism. Contrary to majority opinion, which, for some silly (sic) has it, that the army makes a man of a person, the opposite is more often the case. Old Jack was glad when his four years of active army service had terminated. He was well able to remember the day that he enlisted in the army from Martin Place, Sydney, as bitter memories of yet another four year war was still green in his memory. This was the cold demoralising war of the man manipulated economic depression. Because of the hated word depression, and all the wretchedness and misery wrought during that period, we now refer to any engineered economic slump as a recession.

During war two, the enemy took a certain number of prisoners, but during the depression, our own people held thousands of men, women and children in a long and relentless war for years. War came as a godsend to many people who were solely dependant upon a miserable Government handout.

The army gave them shelter and food and looked after their wives and children. So the old saying is true -- peace and poverty, war and plenty.

Man to his everlasting shame, was the prime mover in these two wars.

Still, for all this folly, or call it what you will, it proves an ill wind that doesn't blow some good.

The good which was born of these two wars, where men were forced through fear and hunger to a common level of thought, was evident in their greater charitable disposition toward each other in time of trial and tribulation.

This was not Marxist, but true communism.

Old Jack had served in both these wars without a single decoration.

Now it was back to civvy street again, and the whole atmosphere economically smelt of it. Everywhere, men were settling down to their smug and selfish way of life again. This smug and selfish way of life was the precious ("our way of life") that we heard so much about in the army, and in which we were told we were fighting for. Men were now falling ill from a new disease called industrial fatigue, which was brought on through greed and excessive overtime.

War and depressions were now things of the past, so now it was -- eat -- drink and be merry and bugger you Jack I'm alright.

This then, is how it was in 1950, when Old Jack sat before two S.C.C. interviewing engineers. This was a period, when Government, and private employer alike, were experiencing difficulty in securing sufficient labour to man the many and varied jobs offering. To the great annoyance of the employer, and to the great joy of the employee, this setup continued. The poor old worker, God bless him, had the game sewn up, and the poor frustrated employer couldn't unpick the stitches. The employer had to watch his every step for fear that he might tread on the worker's very sensitive toes. The worker then, as now, prayed that he might win the lottery, and forever after live in peace, whilst the employer prayed for a pool of unemployed to achieve the same end.

"Have you done any of this type of work before?" Old Jack was asked.

"No", came the prompt reply. "Do you know what stilsens are and what they are used for?" came the first and only question.

Old Jack laughed. "You'll do", the engineers said in unision.

The engineers handed Jack a slip of paper, which stated that he had to report to Mr. Doerner, second floor, workshops, on the following Monday morning.
A stranger to our city would experience difficulty in locating the S.C.C. workshops, with the address St Andrews Place.

For the benefit of the reader then, I must digress a little here in order to explain. The entrance to S.C.C. workshops, faces the front entrance of St Andrews Cathedral, and the narrow lane which seperates the two, is called St Andrews Place.

This being the case, worshippers who wish to slip in and say a few, have to duck around and get through the back door which faces busy George St.
Not to outdone (sic) in this monkey business, the St Mary's worshippers in their Cathedral which is only a stone's throw from St Andrews have to slip in the side door to say a few. No wonder Sydney's Christians are so crazily mixed up.

Now, back to our fitters labourer, who reported to Mr Doerner second floor workshops on the said Monday morning. Mr Doerner, a kindly looking old Gentleman, sadly awaiting retirement, was sitting in a long narrow congested enclosure, which, with a mighty stretch of the imagination, could be called the office.

"Good morning", Jack said as he handed over the small slip of paper. Mr. Doerner wiggled his nose in order to bring his spectacles into true focus. He seemed a little perplexed after viewing Old Jack and hesitated before exchanging the greeting.

"Come over and I will show you the job", he said.

Jack was not too eager to learn the job, as he had only intended to remain in the job for a fortnight, not twenty years as it eventually became.

"Go over there, and introduce yourself to the boys, they'll show you what to do", Mr. Doerner said as he pointed in their direction.

The boys seemed a decent lot of chaps, and as Jack met them one by one, they eyed him off in much the same way, and in the same manner of silence, that greets a strange fowl that is suddenly shot over the fence to join the bewildered and immobile eye piercing pack.

Since they were a decent pack of chaps, none, during this tense period displayed Rooster-like tendencies. The men with whom he was now working, he soon was to learn, could be called an emergency squad, as their duties consisted in assisting fitters in maintaining, and installing electric motors of various sizes in factories and shops. The S.C.C. during this period, conducted a very large motor hiring business from this centre. This centre was dubbed the "Tree of knowledge" by workshops employees. This dubbed name was very apt, as no subject was too simple or too complex to discuss. Nearby fitters would say that they had never heard so many subjects of varied nature discussed during a dinnertime period. Old Jack was immediately accepted as an acquisition to the team. All debates were conducted under Rafferty rules, which, in effect, simply meant that the person with the loudest voice was the winner.

Among the team was a tall, skinny chap, who, because he had a weak voice never featured in a debate.

Mr. Doerner never left the office during the dinner hour, and spent most of the time on the telephone. When the debates would become too noisy he would intervene by rapping on the office window. "Tone it down a bit, I can't hear over the phone", he'd say.

One could never be sure when one would be called upon to go out, toolbag in hand on a job. The breakdown motor could be a small or a large one, it could be choked with flour, wool or cotton depending upon the place visited.

It is remarkable, just how dirty and clogged these motors can become before cease to go. (sic). On such a job as this, one was gainfully employed, as the motor if not soon set right, would have staff laying idle. Men who run small cotton rubbishy factories and whose nationality it is hard to guess, jump up and down in the same place until they are in production again.

Time in getting to the job therefore was important.

Jack now appreciates the fact that it is becoming a far distant cry from then, when one rendered a service which was appreciated, to the near (sic) (next?) pension day, when this and everything else one may have done will be forgotten.

Still why worry, as the high as well as the low must eventually step down and drift into the limbo of the lost.

Jack enjoyed his short period of time around the tree of knowledge and had made many friends. In truth though, he admits that he was no further advanced knowledgewise when he left the tree of knowledge. Back in 1950, the workshops comprised 6 floors, where much work essential to the S.C.C. was carried out.

Sometime after 1950, two extra floors were acquired in Dally St, and it was from this place that a few fitters and turners were put off work.

Rarely outside derelection of duty does the S.C.C. act in this way but this was due to lack of work brought about by the takeover of generation of electricity by the Electricity Commission. The dismissal of men from any place of employment is always a sad occasion, and this was no exception. Still this was just and inevitable under the circumstances. As these men left their job, the tears literally fell from the foreman's eyes. This foreman should have qualified for an Oscar, as on that same afternoon, he told the rest of the chaps, during his round of inspection, that they too could get out if they did not do a bit more. The bit more wasn't there to do.

Despite the fact that this transition period to other essential work only lasted for a day or so, it had everyone worried.

In 1950, one had to fill in a daily worksheet, with job numbers, time, etc, etc. 52, was the sweeping, getting lunches and other queer jobs allocated to all labourers, intelligent and otherwise. It was a dreadful blow to the labourers when the rattled foreman that they would have to look for another number. "Where will we find one?" the labourers asked. "How the hell do I know?" the foreman replied. There would be no sense in stating these things if they were not true, but I am sure that by stating them they look a lot worse.

I hasten to add then, that such a small and insignificant thing, would go entirely unnoticed, except for one with an eye for humour.

Despite the loss of 52, the same amount of sweeping went on.

Amidst all this trouble, word came down that a newly appointed engineer was to pay a visit. We thought that the frenzied foreman was going to feint, but he didn't. Instead , he disregarded the loss of 52, and put everyone regardless of ability on the broom. The men were told not to sweep the floor too clean, as the engineer might get the idea that there was no work going on at all. This screwy order by the frustrated foreman could lead a stranger to think that the new engineer was a bit of a nut, and that as boss in chief, could be hoodwinked into believing that there was plenty of work being done if the floor was dirty ... This line of thought would be entirely wrong, and in defence of the foreman, he never had this in mind at all.

Why then, you may ask, did he say this to the men if he did not mean it?

To make any sense out of this seemingly non-sensical situation, allow me to toss the ball back to you whoever you may be.

Where do you work? Factory -- shop -- council etc, etc.

Wherever you work, or have worked, it is a safe bet to say that you have experienced a slack period in your work over some part of the year.

It could be at Christmas, Easter or at the end of the fiscal year.

You had no work to do and your boss knew this.

It proved much harder for you to pretend that you had work to do than to do the actual work when it was there to do.

When the boss arrived on the job, he pretended to you that he did not know that the place was experiencing a slack period. You worked flat out doing bugger all, to satisfy his pretence, whilst all your mates did likewise.

This is the way it is with gov and semi-gov bosses. The government boss derives great pleasure in watching you work like hell when there is nothing to do. All gov employees work like hell when the boss is around, and when there is nothing to do, because they're not quite sure what it is that they are supposed to be doing. It is quite different when they have something to do because they know what they are supposed to be doing, and it's not nearly so hard to do if they do it.

It is a little different with the boss as head of a privately run business, as the tape is not so red, and is much shorter.

You could probably approach the boss and say "Look boss, let's be fair dinkum with each other, you know as well as I do that there's no work about."

If the boss' liver was in working order, and he was O.K. with his wife in the way that seems to matter most, he'd probably say "You're dead right Bill. Pack up and go home."

He'd follow up with ---- "Call into the office on the way out, and pick up a months pay." Then he'd yell as you went out the gate --- I've got nothing to lose by giving you a month off Bill, and you have everything to gain."

Take the wife for a bit of a holiday, and remember, drive safely.

Since govt bosses are overtrained in buck passing, paper work, and catching you doing nothing when there's nothing to do, they'd hardly understand this line of thought.

Anyway all jokes aside. How can bosses be fair dinkum, with so many obstacles in the way. -- Employers representatives -- trade unions -- professional officers -- craftsmen and crafty men, artists bull and otherwise, long and short hair thinkers and nonthinkers -- agnostics, atheists -- drongoes and most important Catholics good and bad, and protestants all the same.



It is a fact that we all grow tired and discontented, over the long years with the wage we always deem inadequate.

The tradesman in particular, will go to great lengths to debunk his trade, because of this .... Yet, despite this mentality, these same men, with the same axquired skills, are proud of their trade, and tend to guard rather than make known what they have learned.

The tradesman is egotistical enough to believe that his counterpart is less efficient than he himself. This state of mind could have something to do with the fact that he had to endure many years of har theoretical and practical labour in order to qualify for something which he feels is financially unrewarding ... As the years go by, and as the general wage increases, he growls that his marginal rate for skill is diminishing.

He points to men who have never went to "Tech" and have no trade but earn more money than he does. This is frustrating.

"I wouldn't put my son to a trade", is his cry. Yet he is very proud to be what he is .... In a sense he proves something of an enigma, and becomes harder to pin down in a mental sense, than a wrestler in the physical.

I can agree and sympathise with these chaps, but can see no improvement in their position, while they pander to union leadership whose main concern is to enlarge union membership with non-trades people, whose vote is equal to theirs .... They should take a lesson from the medical man who is adament and will not tolerate any encroachment upon his profession.

The electrician, like the medical man, deals with many complex problems but unlike the medical man, they lack solidarity.

A given number of years in technical training was once considered sufficient to assure success but today the technical man who desires to keep fully abreast in his field of endeavour, must make technical training almost continuous. To reach some measure of success, the victim must cram all his learning into a few short years otherwise he will become too old, at far too early an age to forge ahead. Whilst this state of affairs exists in many fields of endeavour, I do not necessarily go all the way with it as I have stated in "Updating Jobs" (See Page 3).

Now, what about the Fitters assistant who is inextricably bound with the electrician during the day's work?

This man starts on the bottom rung of the ladder and with a bit of luck can remain there ... Like the galah that is shoved into its cage, he remains there because there is nowhere else to go. If he doesn't rock the cage too much he is allowed to sit on his perch until he is 65.

Unlike the Fitter (The master of inanimate objects) who is by virtue of his trade qualifications allowed and indeed expected to display a general arrogance, the very humbla assistant has to win through or lose through, depending upon the degree of native cunning that he is able to contunually bring into play ... If he happens to be a poor psychologist he is sold * by the fitter and it follows that if he is no good to the fitter, he's no good to anyone else. Poor chap is then relegated to the ranks of the "Abo and the Jew"

* Sold is a word coined in the S.C.C. and means being sent to coventry.


The assistant is there to do, and must know what to do upon the drop of a hat but he must not commit the cardinal sin in advancing an opinion on any particular method of doing a job as this is deemed to be a mortal sin.

When the S.C.C. advertises for this man, they stipulate that they must be able to understand orders given by a tradesman. Since a tradesman is an expert as a doer, he is rarely able to clearly define what it is that he wants done. Fitter labourers make a lot of mistakes because of this.

The assistant is responsible for the care and protection of all tools, and generally he does a good job of it. This seems strange since all tools that are lost have to be replaced by the fitter.

Not only is the assistant of great help to the fitter in the execution of his work, but far more important, he admirably fills the roll of "Whipping BOY" when the fitter is out of sorts. He acts as a safety valve for the fitter when the fitter is out of sorts, but receives no extra pay allowance by the S.C.C. for this very important role.

The good and faithful assistant is able to face his daily nightmare with courage, patience and fortitude, reminescent of the early Christian martyrs who were daily thrown to the lions and torn to threads.

The ever faithful assistant grows accustomed to being pushed around by this and that fitter. He feels very sorry for them as he knows that they're all going to hell when they die. Fitters are never keen on assistants who display a keen interest in electricity, and they have no time for those who show no interest in it. The fitter in order to maintain his job, and moreso, to build up a still greater reputation among his counterparts, to earn their suspect praise, takes great pains in perfecting the job with pencil, level, square and rule. Since all the S.C.C.'s intelligently trained assistants know these tools with one cursory glance, they are able to select the nominated one immediately and hand it to the fitter on command.

Each man now, is thoroughly absorbed in his specialty.

The fitter is estimating just how much material it will take to finish the job .... The assistant is measuring his fitter, his attitude, and wondering just how the other assistants' fitter measures up with his fitter.

This is how it is then and never the twain shall meet.


THE ... S.C.C.'s ..... B.S.I. (Branch Standing Instructions)

The casual observer may ask ---- What does the Electrical Fitter do in the S.C.C.?

The Electrical Fitter in the S.C.C. is something like an Astronaut. The Electrical Fitter does everything from making tea to digging post holes. He may be working in a zone sub-station for twelve months and never ever go near a "live" wire.

Unlike the untrained man, near enough is not good enough for him. If a package of tea states that the correct proportion shall be one teaspoon full per cup it will be exactly that and not minus or plus one grain. It could be that a little more or a little less, would make a better brew --- but it doesn't say so on the packet. If he had to dig a hole to the B.S.I. requirements of say 18 inches, seventeen inches and seven-eighths would be entirely wrong.

All Fitter's mates know from long experience, that the electrical fitters have, during the long course of training, been indoctrinated in exactness and they know full well that this exactness rubs off on everything that they try to do. This deprives them of the native inventiveness and improviseationness (made that word up just now) so common in the fitter's labourer. If an electrical fitter had already mixed up a batch of concrete and his mate happened to accidently kick a grain of sand into the mixture, the electrical fitter would throw the lot out.

If a person were to enquire as to how he would drive from Regents Park to the Bankstown R.S.L. the fitter would unthinkingly draw his pencil out and commence sketching directions. (Regents Park and Bankstown are western suburbs of Sydney.  R.S.L. is the Returned Service Men's League and they have a chain of licensed recreational clubs throughout Australia) The pencil of course was the main contributing instrument towards his indoctrination.

Fitter's mates have no use for pencils outside filling in overtime sheets, and since they all have retentive memories do not need pencils in order to direct a person from a to b.

Order a mate to dig a hole 18 inches deep and you'll find that it's a bit over or a bit under. He knows that 18 inches is only some engineer's guess and that every new B.S.I. supercedes the last and that tomorrow's hole will probably be 17 or 21 inches. So, actually, being sensible about the whole thing, the mate calculates and strikes a mean.

The mate remembers when B.S.I.'s stated that all earth rods had to be made out of one inch by 20 foot long solid copper, which took a man all of his time to carry --- He remembers too, when they introduced stainless steel and then a smaller stainless steel. Today, a child can carry the flimsy tubular bit of rubbish they shove into the ground. Still it must be right as it is on the packet, I mean the B.S.I. The B.S.I. is the fitter's Bible and like the infantryman with his rifle, it is god help him if he loses the thing.



Only for the war and the depression, I would have gotten somewhere in this world, instead of finishing up a fitter's labourer in the S.C.C.

No, this is not my complaint. I never got anywhere and I couldn't care less. Too many labourers, not only in the S.C.C., but in similiar employing organisations, use the war and the depression as an excuse for "not getting on".

These two events certainly took place during the lifetime of these men and since they are so well known to all, provide an excellent excuse. But should a man without due thought, blame these two events entirely for his not "getting on"? Admittedly, they interrupted my life and could have interrupted many more of my age but surely not to (a) damning agree.

What about the thousands who were beset with all manner of adverse conditions and in spite of this succeeded?

There is always the gambler who will take the chance and venture out, knowing full well that should he fail, he can still go back to labouring.

I do not believe that the man who uses excuses as a reason for failure is the type to break away from the work that he is used to performing.

Quite often one hears "I never had the opportunity to learn a trade". This too is a good excuse, but has little to do with "Getting on" in the world today. Many of yesteryear's trades have been rendered useless by the too sudden onslaught of technology and many more will follow.

Many years ago, our parents advised the learning of a trade in the interest of our future success and economic security. Today, Parents do not emphasise this. Every man with a desire to "Get on" has had ample opportunity to do so as our so called "Affluent Society" with its diversification of work has been with us for many years now.

It would be true to say that the "Alibi worker" is not a gambler in the true sense and in the interest of his own security, elects to remain with the well established firm. There is nothing wrong with this attitude towards one's work.

Men who elect to remain in the one job, furnish the backbone for any successful business and this is too often overlooked by the employer.

No matter how humble the job performed, there are basic things which have to be taught. This takes time and time costs money.

This is the case with tradesmen too. e.g. ... When a Government tradesman employee is suddenly catapaulted into a temporary leading hand job, he is given a pencil but doesn't know what to do with it. He has to rely upon the office clerk for procedure which, to him, has all the earmarks of a crossword puzzle.

He breathes a sigh of relief when they shove him back on the bench.

How would largescale organisations fare if they had to depend upon the large workforce who concentrate on chasing the "Big money" by way of overaward wage and overtime.

It's a good thing that all men do not think alike, isn't it.

So let us give three cheers for all the labourers in the S.C.C. and let them all have a gold watch and chain when they retire.


Updated : 8 Aug 2015