My Dad’s story seemed to resonate with you, so I thought it is time for another. (If you are not sure what I am talking about, you can catch up with my earlier post. Or you can dive into this one.)
Just a little background: The story is told by Dad about his grandfather, Bill Mason, who lived in a little house in Canning St, North Melbourne. Grandpa Mason is quite a character, as you can tell from this story, which probably happened in the last years of the 19th century.
Grandpa Mason was a bricklayer by trade and like most working men of that time he rode a bike to work. He loved to tell us tales of when he worked on the railway viaduct over Flinders St, and the building boom of the 1880s.
One job he was working on was a row of terrace houses over Moonee Ponds way. They were up to the second story and it was time to knock off, and as always the practical joker, he said to his mate, “I’m not going down the ladder, Jack, I’m going to jump into that pile of sand.”
He went to the edge of the scaffold, swung his arms and pretended to jump. You guessed it, he overbalanced and finished up backside buried in the sand, arms and legs pointing skyward.
“What the hell did you do that for Bill? You coda hurt your bloody self.”
On this job were two labourers. Olaf was a Swede, a big solid chap, an ex sailor off the sailing ships. He did all the rigging and scaffolding, and Mick, he looked after the bricks and mortar. According to my grampa these two were always arguing. Olaf said Mick was as thick as two planks.
Here was my grandpa half buried in the sand heap, and Mick telling him how lucky he was that he put the heap of sand in that exact spot. If he had put it over there, “you woulda missed it Bill and hurt ya bloody self.” Olaf pushed Mick out of the way and he and his mates, still laughing, dug Grandpa out of the soft sand and straightened him out.
By now my Grandfather was very stiff, very sore and very sorry for himself. Now, how to get Bill home? He could hardly walk and the last thing he wanted was to sit down. So Bill’s mates decided that Bill wouldn’t be back at work for a few days. They lashed his hod and level to the bar of his bike, his trowel, bolster and brick hammer into a bag, put the bag over his shoulder, lifted Bill onto his bike, and pointed him in the direction of North Melbourne [about 3 or 4 km away] and gave him a shove. Now that’s real mateship for ya. Probably, as soon as he left the site, they would have been laying bets as to whether he would get home without falling off his bike.
So far, so good. Grandpa Mason reached Canning Street and home, still on his bike. But by now he was even more stiff than he was half an hour ago. He couldn’t lift his leg to get off the bike.
So there’s Bill Mason riding around in circles in the middle of Canning St, yelling at the top of his voice “CLARA! Come and get me off this bloody bike.” [Clara was his wife, Dad’s grandmother.] Well, either Clara wasn’t home, she didn’t hear him and knowing my grandfather I find it unlikely that she didn’t hear him, or she thought the old fool had had one too many. For whatever reason, Clara never came out.
Bill had one choice and one choice only ~ fall off the bloody bike. By this time he felt that half of North Melbourne were out in the street laughing at him. He had no option but to fall off the bloody bike in front of all those bloody women and kids. I bet that didn’t improve his temper any.
Mum said “For weeks after, whenever he went out walking he had to walk in the gutter; he couldn’t lift his foot high enough to step up to the kerb.
But t didn’t cure him as a practical joker.
And a bonus shorter story for you, about my Dad’s experience as a bricklayer
According to the Macquarie Dictionary, a hod is a portable wooden trough for carrying mortar, bricks etc, fixed crosswise to the top of a pole and carried on the shoulder.
Every builder’s labourer would have his own hod. The length of the shaft would depend on how tall, or short, the labourer was. When it was on his shoulder the shaft would be around 30cm clear of the ground. To load it he stood near the stack of bricks holding the hod in one hand just below the vee of the trough. Around 10 brick were loaded into the vee. He put his shoulder under the trough, straightened his legs, then up the ladder two or three stories, unload, then down the ladder and do it again.
Carrying mortar was the same procedure, except they would go to the mortar board, load the hod with a shovel, hod in one hand, shovel in the other. All the mortar and concrete in those days was mixed by hand, no motorised mixers.
When I was about 16 my Dad was building a brick house in Moorabbin. After spending a day on the board mixing concrete by hand I thought I would die. A day or two later my grandfather handed me a hod and said, “Here lad, have go with this”. I soon discovered that I couldn’t even balance it while loading it with mortar, and when it was loaded with bricks I could hardly lift it, let alone carry it up a ladder. I decided there and then that labouring wasn’t for me!
Even today I look at those lovely old buildings around Melbourne and think of the men that built them and marvel at their skills.
(The house as the feature image is the house Bill Mason lived in, and where my Nana grew up. After a couple of renovations I am sure neither would recognise much about it’s more glamorous self, except the facade.)