Interview with Ron Turvey, January 26, 2016
Growing up in Wangi and working at the power station
Interviewer: Bill Bottomley
It must have been a paradise around here when you came here to live at the age of twelve ...
It was. But the roads were really terrible. They were as rough as blazes. And the road through Awaba - the road that ran parallel with the railway line from the Cessnock turn-off to the bottom of the railway station - they called that "the mad mile" and the windows almost used to fall out of the buses! The passengers had to hang on very tight, it was so rough.
We bought this place for 1,600 pounds, and it's 1,600 square metres, so we paid a bit over a pound a square metre. We could have bought all the land around here because it was all vacant, but we just didn't have the money. But I did buy a block of land up here a bit for a hundred quid, and a few months later I sold it for a hundred and fifty quid. See, a lot of the engineers and staff from the power station bought property around here, and when Wangi was finished and they left to go and build other power stations, they'd off-load their land from here and go and live where they were building the next power station.
I went to school at Morisset. We used to catch the bus. Lyle Fennell had the bus service in Morisset, and he used to cut through to Wangi Point. He'd bring all the workers down to the power house from Morisset and Dora Creek and all around there, and after he dropped them he went on to Wangi Point to the caravan park, and picked us kids up on the way back. But in those days there was not yet a road bridge at Dora Creek, and, you know when you get down to Myuna Bay and there's a road goes straight up along the edge of the lake over that little bridge? Well, we used to go along that, through Myuna Bay, up past the school and down into Muddy Lakes to get to Dora Creek. Then we'd go under the rail bridge at Dora Creek, past the (now empty) fish shop that used to be the butcher's, past the Workers Club, and then around through Avondale and Cooranbong, around into Morisset. Those roads were pretty much all gravel then, and when it rained, often the bus just couldn't get through, and we couldn't get to school often in times of heavy rain.
In those days there were some real characters, let me tell you! There was a bakehouse there at Dora Creek in those days, and some of them, when we'd get to Dora Creek - even the girls, 'cos some of the girls were pretty rough, you know - and as we'd pass the bakehouse someone would yell out: "What do they do in Ron and Meg Turvey's house the Dora Creek Bakehouse?", and everybody would yell out: "Make tarts rise in the centre!".
We'd go to Morisset High School to the school dances in the back of the local grocer's truck, and, because most of the roads were gravel, when we'd get to the Community Hall (which they're talking about knocking down now) we'd all be covered in dust. In our hair and everywhere.
We had a woodwork and tech drawing teacher at school who was the spitting image of Jimmy Durante, and just as funny. The only thing I was any good at was tech. drawing and woodwork. He had all his pieces of rosewood, and cedar and merante and mahogany and all that, and he wouldn't let anyone touch them - only the ones who were really interested in what they were doing. Later on, when I was doing the horticultural certificate at Charlestown and was a gardener at the power station, you couldn't use common names for all the plants - you had to use the botanical ones. And you'd get names, like for that tree up the back there which is grevillea robusta. Now you try and spell that if you're not a good speller!
When we came here, Dad was an electrician in the railway. See, the railway started Wangi powerhouse, and the Electricity Commission of NSW hadn't been formed. All the way up the hill behind the powerhouse was all tents, and the only solid structure was the single quarters. Dad and some of his electrician mates wired up the camp, all the way up the hill. And when the Electricity Commission was formed, Dad went to Awaba State Mines as an electrician. When we first came here we were living in a boatshed up at Wangi Point originally, and they were digging out for the foundations of the power house when we got here.
Wangi was a friendly station. We had a lot of blokes there from Bunnerong, White Bay, Pyrmont, Tallawarra, who were on temporary transfer. There were some real characters amongst them - like from Redfern and all that - you know, real rough diamonds. One of them would go around the concrete parts of the station with a piece of chalk, and in copperplate handwriting he'd write "The end is near", or "repent". He should've been a signwriter.
Our truck driver used to pick up a whole lot of vegetables from the market at Sandgate and bring it back to the station and we used to bag it all up. At the Ash Plant they used to put in money, and every Wednesday one of them would cook a baked dinner. The Superintendant, Jack Chiltern, was walking down past it this day and smelled this delicious smell. He looked in, and here's Big Steve cooking a baked dinner in an apron with a woman's anatomy on the front of it! If you were out in the Switch Yard you could look up and see someone lowering a fish trap from B Section into the outlet canal. There were bream right up to the end of the outlet canal. (A lot of them were a bit undersize, but that didn't seem to worry 'em!).
They had a massive amount of strikes at Wangi, and at times it was really hard rearing a young family. I had a mate I went to school with, Kenny Jacobson, and his family were fishing out of Dora Creek, and they kept us supplied with fish. We had a lot of strikes, and I dunno what we would've done without the fish from Kenny Jacobson and his brothers. During a strike, people would donate food to you.
We had communists at the power station, and they used to distribute The Tribune. Most of the union delegates were communists, or a lot of them were. I couldn't say exactly how many because a lot of them didn't broadcast it if they were. In those days they didn't have a real good name, a lot of them. The strikes were mostly over wages and conditions. When Pat Hills looked after the power industry, Labour was a bit hard on us. But most of the strikes were about the 35-hour week, our holidays, our sick leave, and our conditions. We had to fight for every one of them.
One strike we had, we had tents at the gates, and we were stopping all the supplies from coming into the station. We were boycotting the station. One of the strikes went for about six weeks - that would have been about the biggest one, I think - but some of them only lasted a few weeks. Some of the strikes were really silly. Whenever we had a mass meeting we'd meet outside the gate, and the majority of the blokes would bring their bags out with them, because they had no intention of going back to work. One time they voted to go back to work, so one of the blokes said: "Look. It's a beautiful day, and you can go back to work if you like, but I'm not", and he started off home - and they all followed him out the gate! A lot of times the combined delegates would put up a motion which might be defeated. So then they'd circulate amongst the rank and file and talk to them for a while, then they'd come back and put the motion in a different form, but it was virtually the same thing - and it'd pass! It was hard at times,because a lot of us were rearing young families. I was lucky in a way, because my wife cleaned the school, and the money that she got from the school helped us out, but a lot of them would have been really battling if they were just on a single income.
We had a lot of amateur painters at Wangi, and once a year they used to put their paintings around the walls of the mail room, and Bill Dobell would come over to look at them, and he'd give them advice about painting, and a lot of the amateur painters used to look forward to the day when Bill Dobell came over to have a look at what they'd done. I worked in Construction at the station before I went to Generation, and I worked with Bill Dobell's nephew. His name was Harry Stephenson, and he was Bill Dobell's chauffeur. He took Dobell to Canberra when he got his knighthood. (They pub crawled all the way to Canberra and back).
Sir William had his own little corner at the hotel, and after he got his knighthood a lot of the wits would come over to him and bow and say things like: "And how are you, Sir William?", and he'd say: "The name's Bill, mate". He definitely didn't have any tickets on himself. The knighthood didn't make the slightest bit of difference to him. He liked his beer. I used to see him there a lot, but I didn't ever get to have a drink with him.
Anyway, Harry lived over at Lakeview. He was a terrible father, and he virtually dragged the children up. Harry's auntie was Bill Dobell's sister, and Harry was driving his auntie to Sydney in the Jag - that was Bill's car - and she was really giving Harry the works over how he was treating his kids. So Harry wheels in to Mt White railway station. His auntie asks him where he's going, and he said: "I'm catching the train home". And he left Bill Dobell's sister and her friend sitting in the Jag, and neither of 'em could drive! In the end Bill Dobell sacked Harry as a driver and got another one of his relations, because a lot of times Harry wasn't sober.
With Bill Dobell ... when I was in construction we were spray painting all the transformers and OCBs and I was working in the switch yard with a painter and he was a beautiful artist. He used to put paintings in the Mattara and Bill Dobell used to think that Noel was really something. When it was raining and we'd be in our little paint shop and we couldn't do anything, I'd get all these little pieces of paint and I'd start painting. It'd look like something that a five year old would do, and Noel would get a paint brush and say you do this and this, and he'd make a good painting out of it. He did a painting of his wife Dawn. She was quite an attractive woman, and she was in a black dress and had a pink orchid on the front, and it looked beautiful.
When you were out there with the air switches, they were only about as high as this roof here, and when it was fine drizzly rain she'd be crackling and going on and one chap said to me that in conditions like that you could jump six feet. He died here just in the last few weeks. His son was a foreman fitter there. A mate of mine who was an engineer there and who's 90-odd told me that the chap who died had told his son that when he died, to go round all the mourners and put a stamp on the back of their hand, and when they go to the morning tea or the supper, make sure they've got the stamp before you let 'em in! And he did! He stamped them all on the back of the hand and checked them off when they went to the wake afterwards.
I was a gardener at the power station there for a while. When they sold Maitland power station, the bloke who looked after the gardens there came down to Wangi and worked there with me. The netball courts there were all grass, and we used to mow them with the little ride-ons. I had a mate who lived at Morisset, and he was the fitter and turner who used to maintain our gardening gear. He came over this day and asked where the Ransome ride-on was, and we told him that so-and-so had it up on the netball courts. He said: "How long has it been up there?" and I said: "Two hours". And he replied: "I suppose you know that it's got no blades on it?". I won't name him, but he was one of the dumbest men I'd ever struck. But on the whole Wangi was a really happy station, and a lot of us who left Wangi to go to Eraring were really sad to leave Wangi.
When I was working in construction with Bill Dobell's nephew, we were cleaning up after Arcos, who did the brickwork; Parsons, who did the turbines; Babcock and Willcox who did the boilers; and Centrifugal (mainly Italian and French) who did the outlet canal. The outlet canal was a record because they put it in in really quick time, and they put in right through a swamp. It was really an engineering feat.
When we cleaning up after the contractors, we were told that anything that was not bolted down, to throw it up on the truck, and it was then dropped down on the football ground at Wangi, where the bulldozer covered it. There were brand new valves, brand new everything, and it was all covered over, Underneath that football field there would be thousands of dollars worth of gear.
My wife and I have had five caravans, and we've been across the Nullabor a couple of times, and we've had winter in Cairns and all that. In the 52 years we've been married, we've always been going to move from here, but we've never got around to it. It's really quiet here, and even to go to Newcastle or Sydney it's quite a shock because of the traffic. We love the birds, we love the trees here, and we had a friend who has passed away always used to say to us never to sell because were are living in a little piece of paradise. And she got that right. I met my wife Meg at a tennis court at Blackall's Park. One of the painters at Wangi owned a tennis court there, and Meg took me home to her parents just over here at Balmoral. Her parents told her that I must be poor, because I had no laces in my boots - they were tied up with electrical wire! We wanted to get married, but she had to wait till she was 21. I asked her father for his daughter's hand in marriage, which a lot of them don't do any more.
We've had out ups and downs - I had stomach and lymphatic cancer fifteen years ago. They only gave me five months to live. I had twelve months of chemo and radiation, mostly at the central coast at Wyong, Kanwal and all that. I used to get up early and work in the garden, and then go to have chemo and radiation. When the surgeon at Wyong told me I only had five months to live, I turned around and I was determined that I would prove him wrong - and I have. I'm supposed to have five small meals a day because they took my stomach, and made a sort of pouch for me. I tell everyone that my stomach is down at Wyong Hospital - though I think they got rid of it years ago. We've got six grandchildren, and the saddest, the hardest part was to see children going through radiation and chemo.
It knocked me around a bit. I was in a cancer support group at Wyong Hospital. A lot of those were survivors. They told me to use crystallized ginger and cut it up into small pieces and suck it, which helped a lot and settled me down. I'd taken ammonium when I started to get diarrhoea and that seemed to clear that up. But the people in the cancer support group were very helpful. They'd been through it, and they were very supportive.
I got the cancer after I'd retired, but I'd always had trouble with bad nerves, and I had eight months in Shortland Clinic, which is closed now. I'd been seeing a psychiatrist down at Dora Creek, and Dr Darcy was a nephew of Les Darcy, the boxer. I was working at Eraring by this, and they offered redundancies when I was 55, and he said that he thought it was time I retired. So I've been retired for 22 years - and contracted the cancer 15 years ago. A lot of my troubles were caused by worry, but I also thought that a lot of the chemicals I used at Wangi like chlordane, dieldrin, lindane, hexachlor might also have had some effect. When we first moved here there were a lot of advanced fruit trees, and I used lebaycid, metacystox ... and I wouldn't be surprised to find that a lot of the cancer was caused by the chemicals. We used to spray the lawns at Wangi with chlordane or dieldrin, and the crickets and the black beetles used to fairly jump out of the ground. And I used to get massive headaches from it. They're all off the market now, of course.
When I was a chemical sampler, I used to do the injections into the boilers.I used to look after the softeners and the filters. The water that goes into the boilers has got no oxygen and no minerals in it - it's specially treated. I would have reciprocating pumps, and I would take a water sample with a coil very similar to what they use to make whisky - and I'd take a sample and give it to the chemists, and they would say that you've got to put so much trisodiumphosphate, so much sodium sulphide, so much morpholine and so much calgon into it. And with these reciprocating pumps I used to pump it in against boiler pressure. So I'd go to the auxiliary plant attendants and give them my little card, and tell them to close 1A chemical injection valve, and open 1B. And they'd give you a wave to say that the valves were open, and then I'd start the pumps and pump it in. I'd push distilled water through to make sure all the chemicals got into the boiler drum.
The way the power station generated electricity was like this: In A section there were six boilers. The coal was up at the top of the stack, just the way it came from the mines, and the stokers would flip the coal down onto the grate. The grate hat rolled over backwards and took the coal, and by the time it got to the back of the grate it was burnt, and the ash would fall into the ash-hole. The grate had all holes in it and fans used to blow air up through the holes in the grate. The walls of the boilers in A section were all tubes, and the water would boil and it could flash over into the boiler drum as steam. Then it would come down through the three stages of the turbines and then down to the condensers, and because you can't pump steam, by the time the steam went through the three stages of the turbines and the condensers, the salt water from the lake was on one side of the tubes and the steam on the other, and the cold water from the lake turned the steam back into condensate. Then it would go back up into the boiler by condensate pumps, and around and around it went. The three stages of the turbines had a generator on the end. They were 35 megawatt Parsons generators, which were only small compared with a lot of the bigger stations now. Eraring has four 660 Toshibas.
B section was different again. It didn't have a grate in it. The coal was ground - it came down into the mills and big steel balls rolled around and crushed the coal as fine as talcum powder, and the fans picked up that fine talcum powder coal and blew it into the boilers. It was just like internal combustion in a car engine - it was exploding all the time and the spent coal dust was going down into the ash hopper. The whole lot, from A section and B section, was being pumped as a slurry with salt water from the lake down to the ash dam at Myuna Bay. The only thing that didn't finish up down there ... they had the precipitators that used to pick up all the burnt coal dust out of the flue gases. They used to pick it up in big tankers and use it to mix in with cement. I'm not sure how it worked as an additive, but I think it used to make the concrete go off slower. So the tankers used to come to the station and pick up all that fine fly ash. So B section was pulverized fuel, and A section was the coal that came from the mines. Awaba and Newstan were the main collieries, and we used to get some coal from Sugar Valley, but not a lot. The big Garrets used to come in with that. They used to pull three 5BCHs (?). They were a hundred tonne each. They'd split 'em up into a 12 and a 25 BCHs. They'd shove them over to the fuel plant and the fuel men would open the bottoms of the coal trucks with big bars and the coal used to run down onto the conveyor belts and then run up the incline up to the bulk floor and then go down to the boilers. Early in the piece there were occasions when the train drivers went too far and went through the stops and finished up with trucks in the foreman's office. So they put in a system of mirrors and lights, and once you couldn't see the light in the mirror you knew that you'd gone far enough.
Ellis Brothers had trucks, and they used to bring coal in from the mines, too. The side of the coal plant was open, and bulldozers used to push the coal that had just been brought in into the hoppers as well. A lot of the time, what with the weather and humidity and that, the coal stacks used to catch fire. One time when I was a coal sampler, the yard foreman was talking to me, and a chap came with a ute and started throwing a load of coal on. The foreman stood beside me and watched him as he loaded the ute right up, and then went over and told him to put it all back again!
This was before I used to add chemicals to the boiler water. They had what was called The Family Tree, and you could have two choices. You started off as a cleaner/labourer, and you mostly were cleaning up the toilets and the meal room, and then you went as a Trades Assistant, and you'd work with the different trades. But when you were working as a Trades Assistant you had two choices, and I selected the coal sampling. When I went on to do the chemical sampling, it was just an extension of the coal sampling.
As a coal sampler, you'd take a sample of the coal as it came in and put it through the rolling mills and the crushers and the fine mills. This would take it down to about talcum powder, and you'd take it up to the chemists who would check the ash content of the coal, and they'd check the calorific value of the coal- which was a measure of its combustion properties. So that was what the coal sampler did. We'd sample it, we'd crush it, we'd put it in the ovens to dry all the moisture out then take it to the chemists in our little sample jars to see how it was. But later on when I was a chemical sampler you had to take samples from the boilers but you also had to keep filled the different tubs of chemicals that were injected into the condensate, like hydrosine and morpholine and all that -they were all round the station.
When you were a coal sampler you were looking after the coal side of it, but when you were a chemical sampler you were looking after the water side. When you were injecting say morpholine into the boilers you'd have to tell the operators because they were taking periodic readings from their gauges, and if you injected morpholine it would come up on the gauges indicating high conductivity. I think it was a kind of oxygen scavenger, too. What they did, they had to make sure that the water, as it hit those blades, didn't corrode the blades, because if the turbine blades deteriorated they had technical officers there with gauges who use to check the vibration around the turbines. If the turbines threw a couple of blades they'd start to vibrate. We were looking after the corrosion in the boiler tubes, and the corrosion on the turbine blades.The only water that came out of the outlet canal was the water that went through the condensers, and the water that they used for washing down the floors and that. They had barriers across the outlet canal and the superintendant of the station had his window looking down on the outlet canal, and they used to keep a very close eye on the outlet canal to make sure that there was no pollution in it. The water that came through the condensers came in from two canals on the south side, and they went through the screens where all the marine life and the shell and the weeds were taken out, and when it went into the condensers it was clean. It went through the tubes to turn the steam back into condensate and into the boilers, and when it came out of there and into the outlet canal it was exactly the same as what went in. The only other things that could have possibly gone in was when they washed down the floors in the station and all that - water from the drains that didn't go into the sewage system.
The screens on the inlet canal rotated, and jets of water blasted the muck out into sluiceways, and all the crabs and weed and prawns would be out there. One afternoon when we were working back we actually filled a 44-gallon drum with prawns. And when I was working at Eraring I used to drive a JCV front end loader, and I used to take it down to the screens at Dora Creek and I'd go in and get all the crabs, and all the prawns and all the fish. Down at the screens there they had a cooker, and I'd cook 'em all up and take it all back to the station for our dinner. And what we didn't have for our dinner we'd take home for our wives. All the shell and all the weeds and stuff from the screens went into landfill - it didn't go back into the lake. It was pretty smelly, but it made good compost.
As to how many the station employed, - I'd make a rough guess at between 300 and 350, but I wouldn't be at all sure of that.
Later on some of the other stations would have contractors come in. At Wangi we had painters and carpenters on site - we had boilermakers on site. Most of the tradies and their young apprentices were employed by the Electricity Commission of NSW. The only time we would have had contractors in at Wangi was later on just before it closed. They had it all repainted, only to then see the power station close! The use of contractors only came later on with the newer power stations and Pacific Power. I went to Pacific Power for a time in generation. At Eraring, when they offered redundancies, there were a lot of chaps who had over thirty years service, like me. A lot of them took redundancies, and then the station found that they didn't have enough workers to do things like clean the facilities, and the amenities. I think they had to re-employ people to look after the amenities. But things have changed a lot since the days when I worked there.
At Wangi, apart from the gatehouse and the gardening shed and the coal plant - and the Clearspan, the big store - everything at Wangi was under the one roof. With Eraring it was all satellite workshops, and to go from one place to another you had to go out in the weather, and you'd be either driving a vehicle or riding a pushbike. It wasn't a good station in miserable weather, y'know. We used to have Christmas Parties at the station. Alec McMurtry was always our Santa Claus. A lot of the young kids still used to believe in Santa Claus, and he'd say to them: "I know your father" and all this, and it was a real family station. At our picnic days, our superintendant was a pretty good swimmer, and with our races he used to try and beat all the different ones in the swimming pool. It was good. It was a friendly station.
Jack Chiltern, who was the superintendant later on, had a Commission place at Fennells Bay. Tile roof and weatherboards. I was there because the ivy had run up the wall of the cottage and over the tile roof. Mrs Chiltern, the superintendant's wife, was really good. She'd bring out coffee and tea and everything. Anyway, I said to the other gardener: "Look at that dog running down the road there with all those sandwiches! You know, I think that's me lunch!" and there were sandwiches all over the road. But I didn't have to worry,because Mrs Chiltern had all this coffee and biscuits.
So many funny things happened at Wangi. There were some older chaps on temporary transfer from White Bay and places like that, and they used to torment us a bit. One of them used to target me, and one time, we had these little passenger lifts that used to break down - usually at morning tea or dinnertime. The electricians wouldn't come to fix them until after they'd had their morning tea or dinner. So if you were in it on ones of those times you were stuck in the lift until one of the electricians came to let you out.
One of these blokes from Bunnerong or White Bay used to really give me a hard time. I walked into the lift one day and there was just me and him in the lift - and by this time I'd really had him. I grabbed him by the front of the shirt and slammed him up against the lift wall that hard that it nearly shook his teeth out. He never touched me again after that. But a lot of them from Redfern, White Bay, Bunnerong and Tallawarra were real characters, and we were a bit naïve.
After the power station closed down, there were several schemes put forward to make use of them somehow but none came to anything. When they pulled the turbines and the boilers out, they would have left massive holes in the floor. Those floors were about a metre thick. The admin and the mail room and all the section down towards the lake - that might have made a decent hospital or something. It had good floors and could have been made into something. The main station itself, when they took out all the auxiliary plant and all this, it would have left massive holes.
Now I wouldn't be too sure about this, but I think Wangi was the last station to be built of brick. Arcos built it, and my mate was a brickie on that job. The brickwork was cracking from the vibration of the units, and towards the end - I know because I used to go up to the coal plant there - you had to be careful that you didn't get hit on the head with a brick. The bricks were falling out of the wall. I could be wrong about this, but I think that's why they didn't build anymore brick power stations after Wangi - because the brickwork couldn't handle the vibration. Having worked there for 26 years, a lot of the suggestions that people made were quite funny. Down in the basement, where, after everything is gone you'd still have a good solid floor, that would probably make a good mushroom farm or something like that, but for the rest of the station it would be really hard to do some of the ideas that they came up with.
The station had a lot of asbestos in it. I've got asbestos in me, and a lot of them died from asbestosis. I've got pleural plaque, which shows that I've been exposed to asbestos fibres. We weren't told till later on just how dangerous asbestos was, and when we were told they went in with the barriers and the plastic bags, and buried it. The boiler doors had blue asbestos, which is the worst kind of asbestos. Some of them got fairly good claims but they didn't live long enough to really enjoy the money they got. We did some really silly things with asbestos before we realized about it. I mean, we used to throw it at each other! Even though I had plaque on the lungs I was told that as far as they were concerned it wasn't compensatable. I had all the paperwork sent to a solicitor in Newcastle, and they told me that when I started to get short of breath to come back then and they'd make a claim for me. We all got tested for hearing, and some of them got a few hundred dollars. I got a few hundred dollars for loss of hearing due to all the noise we worked in. The stokers and the turbines and the fans were noisy, and if you were working in the station all the time you were working in continuous noise.
One thing that always intrigued me ... they reckoned that the biggest change to the power industry (which is a grid system) ... some people think that a station provides power to one particular site, but it used to be that Carlingford was the central control and it controlled the distribution of the power throughout the state. And when you get something like Melbourne Cup Day, when everyone turns off their machinery, the load drops right off real quick. And because the shafts in the turbines are big, and run on white metal bearings the same as in your car, they'll sag between the bearings and when turbines are not going the shafts are still turning slowly so they won't sag. When they drop load, the superheated steam from the boiler goes down through the condensers and turns into condensate which they can pump back in, and it bypasses the turbine altogether. If you let the boiler get cold then heat it up, then let it get cold again, they deteriorate a lot quicker. With the big stations now they're going all the time.
When the load goes up on a hot day when everyone's got their air conditioning on and a turbine is on barring gear, they'd open the valve and the steam would come straight from the boiler and through the turbine and away it goes. (A lot of this technical detail may not be right on, but it's as good as I can remember).With the power stations, especially for someone who's not a tradesman like I wasn't, you do a lot of different jobs. We got an internal ambulance when I was at Eraring - an F100. I worked for the first aid as a cleaner, and if there was an accident at the station I would ring up the group, and ring the alarm, and tell them where the accident was, and they'd go out. Then I'd ring up an ambulance from outside, and ring up the gatekeeper to tell him that there was an ambulance coming. The F-100 had a Stokes litter (stretcher) and an Oxyvivor and all the first aid gear in it. I'd worked in garages before I worked for the powerstations so I used to take the ambulance for a drive, and I used to maintain it.
There was one chap I used to work with, I went to High School with him and he was in my class, and because of the grading of drivers, the grader drivers in Eraring used to complain about me driving the ambulance because I wasn't a graded driver, although I'd been driving the JCB out to the screens because I had my ticket to do that. So this day this foreman waved me down, and I thought: "Ah yeah. Here it comes". And I said: "What's the problem, Jim?" and he said: "Ron, I'm feeling a bit weary. Can I lay down in the back of your ambulance and take a nap?" So he wasn't particularly worried about these truck drivers either.
There were quite a few minor accidents, but there was quite a major one when a couple of young chemist were killed down in one of the tunnels. I'm not too sure of the facts here, but I think two died and another went down to helpt hem and died too. It was either carbon monoxide or methane, I think. I can't remember now. There were a couple of bad accidents at Wangi when it was being built. One chap fell onto the reo mat and a reo rod went through him. We had white tape barriers on the OCVs and transformers and they had earthsticks on the wires to take anything to earth that might be in them. And the white tape barriers around the transformers and OCVs was to tell you which one was dead - which one was isolated. You had to fill a form in to say that you were going out into the switch yard, and the chap who controlled the electrical control room, he would look down and open the gate for you to go out into the switch yard. Well, he came back from his meal break and climbed up the wrong transformer, and he copped 35,000 volts.
That was the two major ones, and there were a lot of really minor ones. Once when we were going to school, the steel up in A section, all the RSJs, were leaning up against a stack. Another time there the turbine, instead of being a generator, it became an electric motor. They usually operate at 3000 revs, but it went way past 3000 revs and shattered some of the windows in the station. The operators just took off - ran for it.
One thing I'll never forget. We came to work, and the safe from the pay office was sitting in the middle of the football ground. What they did was, they got into the station, and they got the safe - which was a fairly heavy steel safe, and they got a trolley from the boilermakers shop and they managed to get this safe onto the trolley. How they did it I'll never know. They pushed it up past the gatekeeper, and they made it to the middle of the football ground and then the trolley got bogged. And that's where it stayed. When we came to work on the Monday, here was the safe sitting in the middle of the football ground! They got away.
One thing I want to say that I thought was really funny. When Ellis Brothers from Awaba came in with the trucks, the truck drivers used to get really attached to their trucks. They really used to look after 'em - most of them, anyway. One of them in particular, even though he carried coal, he used to keep it in beautiful condition. One day a little short fat bloke accidentally backed into it. Then he drove forward, and backed back and he hit it again further down.Then he did it again, and hit it again, right towards the tailgate. That was too much for this bloke, and he ran around and wrenched open the door and pulled this bloke out and stood him up against a pile of coal and started belting hell out of him. And all the truck drivers were coming past to have a look, and they helped to pull them apart.
When I was working in construction, one of my jobs was to go around and pick up the garbage from around all the tents - from all the quarters up the hill. The hill behind the station was all tents where mainly the workers from the station lived. Some of them would use a bit of corrugated iron to make chimneys. It was a shanty town, and we used to go through there in the truck and pick up all the rubbish. One day there was a Hillman Minx there, and I'd worked on Hillmans. Some kids got into it and left the handbrake off, and there I was chasing it down the hill. I managed to get into it and stop it before it hit anything.
I had two mates who lived up there, and some of the girls we'd gone to school with were up there living in the tents. Old Tom was a very heavy drinker, and his wife said that if he didn't stop drinking she was going to leave him. So he turned around and he stopped drinking, and he grew a whole lot of beautiful vegetables. Then one night someone left the gate open. They used to bring all these horses and cows down here from Cessnock and just let them go to graze. They got into the garden and cleaned up all the vegetables, and the next day Tom was that drunk he could hardly walk! Anyway, I went up there, and it was the middle of winter and it was really cold, and someone filled up a whole bucket of water and let him have the lot! Tom thought it was my mate who did it.
So we used to get all the horses, and we'd get our 20ft prawn net and all that and we'd put all our gear on and use them for pack horses. A lot of them weren't shod, and we'd ride one and use all the rest for pack horses. We'd go down to Myuna Bay and we'd prawn through the night. When you got down the back of the tennis court at Wangi the road used to run straight up the hill, and there was a gate house further up the hill. The road was all gravel, and I was riding one horse that was a bit footsore and it baulked on me and it wouldn't move. A mate grabbed a lump of gum tree and whacked it up the tail and the horse took off up the hill. The gate was about two metres high and I thought for a minute it was going to try to jump it, but it put its legs out and propped just before the gate and I went sailing over the top of the gate, and skidding down the gravel road with blood everywhere, and the gate keeper came out and helped me, you know. We used to ride the horses that came down , and if we were growing vegetables or anything we had to fence it off.
One thing I'll never forget, with the bus ... we were going to school and the roads were really bad - really bad corrugations. We got to just in front of the old butcher shop at Dora Creek just before the bowling club when the stub axle on the bus snapped, and the backing plate ploughed up the road. We could have walked up over the bridge, that is walk along the railway line to get to school, which would have been about 4 or 5 kilometres, but instead we walked home! When we got to school the next day the boys all got six cuts of the cane and the girls had to stay in detention on the verandah.
When the coal came in, sometimes it would have blue tongue lizards or black snakes in it. I was going up in the goods lifts one day, which are quite big so they could carry bulk goods through the station. I was sitting in a chair, and when I got up to get out I looked back and there was a red-bellied black snake lying dead underneath the chair. Someone had just thrown it there. Because a lot of them left their lockers unlocked they'd put a blue tongue lizard in there and close the door, so that when they opened it a blue tongue lizard would jump out at 'em! Oh yes, there were lots of funny things used to go on.
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