|Issue No 93||27 April 2001|
ANZAC Special : Hundred Not Out
By Paul True
- CFMEU Project Officer
Charlie Mance is 100 years old. A World War One veteran, Charlie has become a familiar face on TV screens in recent years, and has been awarded France's highest medal, the Legion Of Honour. Not so well known is that after WW1 Charlie spent most of his working life as a bricklayer
He was recently invervied by for the union's journal Unity.
HT Lee was in Canberra for ANZAC Day and gave Charlie a copy of Unity. Charlie was glad to see himself in Unity and was captured on film by HT. Below we reprint the article by Paul True in Unity.
Charlie first learned bricklaying as part of a government scheme for returned soldiers: 'We had to go to the technical school daily. We continued on until we were good enough to go into the building trade.'
When they were put out to work the government subsidised their wages.
'Well eventually I become proficient as a bricklayer, after a long while. In 1927 we were invited to Canberra for the opening of the old Parliament House. The Prince Of Wales--Edward--come out to lay the foundation. As bricklayers we went over to Canberra to represent Victoria. We continued on there until they got rid of us and sent us back to Melbourne.'
The standard working week was 48 hours when Charlie first started.
'Then they broke it down to 44, then down to 40.'
Like most brickies he's also done piece-work in his time.
'We laid bricks for 24 bob ($4.80) a thousand--now they're getting $1.50 a brick!'
Technology in the industry has changed a lot too over the years. When Charlie started, virtually all the scaffolding was made from timber.
'The top men did the scaffolding--with their poles and their ledgers. They'd go storey upon storey, they were special builders labourers. They'd erect the posts, splice them together with the ropes and everything. And that had a lot to do with the bricklaying trade, because if you didn't have good scaffolding...'
He also vividly remembers the hod-carriers: 'Oh yes, "hodfellows", the "hoddies". hey carried 12 to 14 bricks, climbing ladders... and it was remarkable to see them climbing with 14 bricks on, up 4 storeys, one after the other--say 4 or 5 of them following one another--not much room between them - and out to the bricklayers.'
'They were pretty fit blokes. When they were unloading, they'd yell out, if you were working near them,--"Toes!" but if they could use a trowel, a lot of them give the hod away to lay bricks--it was a bugger of a job.'
Charlie vividly remembers the Depression too, saying people only got two or three days work a fortnight.
'There wasn't much bricklaying around--I had to go on the railway, joined a plate-laying gang. And day after day you'd worry. My wife would say, "Be careful with the butter--that's got to last you a week", that sort of thing.'
He moved to Western Sydney in 1946 and continued working in the industry until his retirement in 1960. Through bricklaying he developed a bad back--but he's pleased with his hands--they're in good nick.
Having survived the horrors of trench warfare as a teenager, and lived another 80 years after that, Charlie calls himself, '...a satisfied customer'.
'I've been off the grog for 51 years,' he says with a smile and a shake of the head--'That killed a lot of the trade.' n
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