Tall tales and True from TP–The short arsed ambulance

In the late 60’s the iron ore boom was just getting started in the far North West of Oz and as things were still being built we had to make do with a less than ideal workplace.

With a 1000 clicks to Perth and very little infrastructure, it was a good idea not to get seriously injured at the mine site because the local hospital wasn’t geared up for major upsets. If it was serious you had to call in the Flying Doctor Service and Perth was the usual destination so you were going to be a long time getting to modern medical facilities.

To make the problem just a tad more tricky, the dirt airstrip was 20 clicks out of town, on a corrugated road, and the ambulance was just a converted station wagon. If you were taller than 4 foot nothing the rear door could not be closed, so you were in for a bumpy, dusty, hot, and long drive. If it rained (thankfully a rare event) there was the possibility of a return trip until the airstrip reopened.

If you did manage to survive the trip out to the FDS you were probably going to pull through.

In modern times with the focus on work place safety, this wouldn’t be so big a problem but in the 60’s we were much more relaxed (read stupid) about H & S and we had about 3 fatalities per year over the 4 years I was working there.

And there were plenty of near misses due to practical jokes.

On one occasion a new starter was asked to use a fire hose to wash the dust off the building frame work in the shaker building. This building housed some machinery for shaking the ore down and sorting it by size. 4 or 5 stories high and no sides on it.

The new starter asked how to do this job and some smart arse decided it would be a laugh to test his intelligence. Instead of the usual practice of one man holding the fire hose branch while another turned it on, he was told to turn the branch off and turn the water on by himself then return to the branch. Eye witnesses reported that by the time he got back to the branch the hose was about twice it’s normal diameter.

When the unfortunate chap turned the branch on he was whipped out of the building luckily only from up on the first floor, and thrown into the path of a bucket loader who managed to stop before he ran the victim over.

Back in the Pub this was regarded as hilarious because the victim was uninjured but us Sparkies were horrified at how dangerous the whole episode was. Needless to say us Sparkies were regarded as Big Girls for worrying over such a minor matter.

For minor injuries though the local hospital could manage quite well and it was staffed by Women. Some even Single! In a town with 28 unattached men for every single woman, this was Nirvana.

For one Boilermaker though this was to cause acute embarrassment. With temperatures consistently in the low 40’s C (that’s up round 110 degrees F for our US friends) overalls were the protective clothing of choice but often worn with little else.

This poor chap was working overhead cutting a strut and a piece of molten metal fell down on him. (I think you can probably guess where this is heading.) It entered the neck of his overalls and singed off a few chest hairs. Of course his instant reaction was to pull the overalls away from his chest to remove the blockage but unfortunately the next thing the molten metal encountered was his wedding tackle.

He managed to dislodge it from there too but not before scoring a huge blister that required medical attention. It was too painful to ignore so he had to present himself to the hospital.

Such were the hazards of working in the far North West in the “good ol’days”.


6 thoughts on “Tall tales and True from TP–The short arsed ambulance

  1. I had quite a choice of terms to use, Kimkiminy. I flirted with “The wife’s best friend” but thought it may be too obscure not to mention inaccurate.

  2. Yes, fatalities were all too common in those days, Pete. Even MIM at the Isa which was very safety conscious, two died underground in the nine months I was there. One fell down a shaft and the other tipped a loader on himself. No way would that nonsense with the fire hose have been tolerated there.

    1. I’m amazed we didn’t have more. At least 1 scraper driver got decapitated by his own vehicle but many of them refused to wear their seat belts.

  3. I hope you weren’t the “new starter,” Peter! While I realize good-natured hazing is part of the culture of a number of professions and companies, that sort of thing would get a person into major trouble now, what with lawsuits and federal regulations regarding employee safety.

    And good grief the wedding tackle….my son-in-law singed the hair off his right arm while dining in a fancy restaurant where they put a charcoal brazier on your table, and he reached over the flames to pick up some food on the tray. The smell of the hair was enough to put off one’s appetite, but he burst out laughing at the accident. I think males in general have a cavalier attitude towards injuries like that, unless it’s a threat to their marital bliss.

    1. No thank goodness. I suffered greasing, twice. Why hazing is focused below the belt I do not know. Must be latent homosexuality I guess.

      It disappeared as a practice when I was in the 3rd year of my apprenticeship. When they went around to haze a big strong boilermakers appy, he picked up a bit of 4 by 2 (a piece of wood) and said, “Who’s first?” He was a strong lad and the enthusiasm went right out of the would be greasers. I have no doubt he would have laid every last one of them out too.

      It’s part of the male front to “suck it up”. I’m not sure how many years go by before you are allowed to accept you just did something unwise.

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