Factory Lad – George Morgan
In September 1979 I returned to live with my parents after a gap year in Europe, and needed to make some quick money before starting university the following February. Newcastle, New South Wales, was a smokestack city built around the Broken Hill Proprietary Steelworks, now long closed, but which at that time employed many thousands of men, including some of those I had finished high school with the year before. Production had slowed after the world recession five years earlier but there was still plenty of unskilled work. It was dirty and hard, but the pay was good.
I applied for labouring work and promptly received a letter inviting me to an interview for a job in the ‘Number One Merchant Mill’. The problem was that I only intended to stay for five months before going off to study, and didn't want them to know this. As a skinny, nerdy 19-year-old, I bore little resemblance to anyone's idea of factory fodder. So I clearly needed a plan for the interview and decided (with a youthful arrogance I cringe to recall) that I would need to conceal my instinctive eagerness, intellect and all-round talent! It would be vital, I thought, to masquerade as an inarticulate, working-class youth, slightly perplexed by the situation in which I found myself. Otherwise, I reasoned, they would see me for who I was: a high-achieving, middle-class kid, with big plans for his future, likely to grow restless and leave.
Fronting the drab company offices a short walk from the blast furnaces on a sweltering afternoon, I was summoned before a fierce-looking man in his fifties who had probably served his time on the shop floor before graduating to a desk job. He quizzed me about my work experience – to that point restricted to minor retail and clerical jobs – and I responded with mumbles and fragments, avoiding eye contact. This seemed to furrow his brow. ‘So, where are you going with your life? Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?’ he barked.