BLF - OHS - CHAPTER FIVE: HAZARDOUS KNACKS
builders’ labourers suffer from what they shrug off as the “usual
bangs and scrapes, the usual little things that don’t stop you
If injuries were no worse than cuts and bruises, this book need not have
been written. To understand why the building trade has been the cause of
so many deaths and so much disablement, we need to examine the
minute-by-minute experiences of categories of labourers - demolishers, hod-carriers
and dogmen. Demolishers and dogmen had the highest rate of fatalities.
Dust exposed demolishers to respiratory diseases that killed them decades
later. Hod-carriers also died in falls and survivors hobbled away with
industrial rheumatics and varicose veins.
This chapter tracks the persistence of Dodgy Bros, and accounts for the
disappearance of the hod and of riding the hook.
– once rode with the loads he put and off the hook of a crane
James Smith went to work for Whelan in 1909 on some of the biggest
removals around Melbourne. Smith’s wage for demolishing was 11s a day,
but he got as much as 15s a day in danger money when working on burnt-out
walls, at 33m. above the footpath and on a footing only 20cm wide. (p.
585) Because Whelan did not pay wet money, Smith and his mates kept a
floor in place on the larger jobs, so that they could go on earning
despite the rain. That solution was not possible on cottages where they
faced the additional risk of demolishing in slippery conditions. (p. 590)
Smith detailed his methods of work, their perils and the knacks he had
four years experience, Smith accepted that he did “not understand it
properly yet.” (p. 591) The 34-year old George Vardy confirmed just how
much “skill and nerve” a demolisher needed to protect himself:
knew that the keenest knack was to keep a firm footing:
work, like erecting derricks to get girders down safely, needed more than
Justice Higgins heard that Jim Whelan had broken an arm and a leg after
slipping from a parapet onto an iron fence, His Honour asked: “Was he
demolishing?” Taken aback by the prospect, Smith replied, “No, he was
the boss.” (p. 528)
work became more hazardous in the dawn and at dusk. Round-the-clock
operations were the most dangerous because men dozed off or were deceived
by shadows from the artificial lighting.
(pp. 546 and 597) Yet, Branches had negotiated penalty rates for its
members who did so. By 1927, Sydney demolishers were getting an extra 2/6d
per hour for burnt-out and exceptional sites.
In South Australia, labourers
had to work at night because the law forbade demolition of exterior walls
between 8 am and 6 pm. At the hearings for the 1962 Award, the Federation
argued that it was too dangerous to demolish after dark. A tug-of-war
developed between higher rates and greater safety, with the employers
wanting what the Industrial Commission called “open slather”, which it
Four Sydney demolishers on night-shifts were killed that year.
concrete walls began in the late 1930s, presenting new problems. Where
explosives could not be used, the wreckers borrowed the feather-and-wedge
system from stone yards to crack open concrete foundations. They used a
jackhammer to drill holes 75cm deep and 5cm across before inserting spikes
to break the slabs apart.
The reliance on concrete shifted the aim of the demolisher from removal
for resale to wrecking everything except the internal fittings or
Reinforced concrete left little to take away beyond rubble from which it
was rarely worth the cost of extracting the steel reinforcement. Wrecking
balls swinging from cranes and front-end loaders took over from labourers
Although the demolisher had fewer bricks to sell, those that did survive
the impact had most of their mortar knocked off, which saved the cost of
cleaning by hand.
new methods and materials attracted the old stamp of contractors, foremen
and labourers. Safety meant little to the big firms and the blow-ins
alike. The latter took to wrecking houses because they could not afford
the equipment to build them. They stayed in business by accepting oral
contracts to be paid after the site had been cleared. That arrangement
brought two interlocked problems: first, the men had to wait for their
pay; secondly, everyone on the job rushed to see some cash, adding to the
risks. Victorian organiser Harry Karslake answered a call in the 1970s
from a labourer who had not been paid for knocking down a house in South
told Karslake that the labourer would get his wages after the client paid
up. Karslake drove off, accepting that he could not get cash out of a
brick. Later in the day, his car- radio reported serious injury to a man
demolishing a chimney in South Yarra: “I didn’t like our member’s
chances of getting his money.”
was no guarantee of safety in demolition work since it replaced one set of
hazards with another. An FEDFA member lost his life on 17 May 1988 when
the eleventh floor of the MBF building in Sydney collapsed under the
weight of four wrecking machines. The structure had been designed to
support office furniture. The FEDFA identified four failures in
supervision as contributing to the death. Although unions banned all
demolition of multi-storey buildings using heavy plant, two more serious
injuries followed in the next week.
Wrecking buildings spawned a sub-species of contractor. At their worst, these vandals picked up crews to knock down heritage-listed properties in the dead of night, the most infamous being Brisbane’s Belle Vue Hotel in 1979. Matters had not improved much a decade later. Demolishers still did not need a licence. By underbidding for work, cowboys made it difficult for anyone else to afford safe practices. Even those who tried to do the right thing displayed “a relatively poor understanding” of what the law required. Working for public authorities altered the terms under which the demolishers operated because bids had to show the costs of conforming to OHS regulations. One demolisher admitted that his business “just went from a slap-happy company to what is required: working for government – have to.” Nonetheless, the Department of Labour and Industry inspectorate had little impact on behaviour or knowledge. Government pricing and the publicity about asbestos did not level the field for contractors. Scratch crews still remove asbestos sheeting with no protective equipment so that, in 1997, only six out of ten demolishers complied with the regulations. If fear of asbestos contributed to safety, it was because customers expected to pay more.
hod-carriers prepared the jobs before the plasterers arrived. In assisting
these tradesmen, labourers exercised a lot of discretion in managing the
flow of work:
organiser Dick Loughnan represented a plasterer’s labourer as
“practically a tradesman”, which many of them became. The hod-carrier
combined strength and agility with skill to become among the best paid
labourers on site, usually in short supply. He cut a distinctive figure
around city streets into the early twentieth century, standing “about 6
ft and broad in proportion, wearing moleskins and bowyangs.” During a
1911 visit to Sydney, Loughnan spotted no men of this “old stamp”:
hod-carriers owned their own hods, shovels, hooks and larries, which added
to their status, and made it harder for employers to drag strike-breakers
off the street. (p. 354)
and progressive member of parliament for Newtown, Henry Copeland, in 1885
took hod-carrying as proof that Adam’s Curse - “In the sweat of thy
face shalt thou eat bread” - had not fallen equally on humankind, even
though the Bible had not provided a “favoured-nation clause” for the
rich. Copeland feared that more labour-saving inventions would drive up
the numbers of unemployed until workers organised themselves to turn
profits into greater leisure for all. Meanwhile, treating men like horses
or machines meant that any dignity in their labour came from the
determination of labourers to care for their dependents.
years later, capital’s control of steam-cranes and over the economy was
squeezing hod-carriers to chase equally back-breaking but less well-paid
casual jobs. Those pressures had also convinced labourers in five States
to combine to win a 20 per cent loading for “lost time” and to impose
limits on the hod-carriers’ loads. The Builders’
Labourers’ News saw that labourers were asserting dignity through
their Federation which had brought “substantial benefits, morally and
Notwithstanding those victories, neither invention nor agitation had
abolished the difference between those who worked for their living and
those who lived well without needing to work. An English verse mocked an
employer who moaned about having to carry his own bricks up a scaffold
during a strike:
the 1906-07 Melbourne lock-out, Bricklayers’ Secretary Martin Hannah
addressed his fellow building workers. When his mention of Anglican
Archbishop Clarke brought “Boohoos”, Hannah explained: “In speaking
last Sunday at St Paul’s Cathedral on the prosperity of the country”,
His Grace had “said he was sorry to see that the workers were
discontented.” From the speakers’ platform, a Labor Senator
interposed: “He’s all right.” Hannah was not put off: “Of course
he’s all right, as is his class. I am told Archbishop Clarke puts in
about four hours a day.” A voice from the crowd underscored Hannah’s
evaluation of Clarke and his kind: “He does not carry the hod.”
who had carried the hod was the Edinburgh-born labour leader, James
Connolly. After the Dublin Uprising of Easter 1916, the British strapped
his cripped body to chair in order to shoot him. An obituary in the Builders’
Labourers’ News lamented that Connolly had gone “down in an
heroically, foolhardy skirmish. But he wrote one book [Labour
in Irish History] which proves that a hod-carrier can be a scholar.
His name stands as an eternal rebuke to all of us who are blatant and loud
rather than serious and true.”
hod-carriers had been the core of the unions established by the labourers
who assisted tradesmen. To the broader-based Federation from 1910, the
hodmen brought two concerns: first, recognition for their abilities in
mixing, scaffolding and brick-work; and, secondly, limits on the loads in
hods and barrows, and on the heights they had to climb, with a bonus for
going aloft. They linked these demands to safety and to burn-out. These
eight points provide a floor plan for examining how the hod-carrier earned
his bread at the cost of his health and safety:
hod-carriers mixed hair into certain mortars to make the plaster more
adhesive. He also had to judge the dampness of the atmosphere to decide
how much cement to use. He bore responsibility for keeping the mortar up
to the bricklayers or plasterers. The foreman left preparing (“knocking
up”) material to the labourer who estimated the quantities needed each
day. If he “knocked up” too soon the mortar was wasted: if he waited
too long, the plasterers stood idle. Both mistakes cost money. (pp. 272-3)
Bricks: In learning which
class of brick to select for each stage of construction, the hod-carrier
had to tell “headers” from “stretchers” and “returns”. He also
had to match bricks of the same colour and the different kinds of fancy
ones. For instance, he had to recognise those with a good texture [arras].
(pp. 216 and 313)
scaffolding endangered all building workers, but none more so than hod-carriers
wheeling barrows and turning corners along planks as narrow as 25cm.:
hod-carrier ducked through doorways and under scaffolds, he could not
“see over the top to the wheel of the barrow” to where he was headed;
the danger increased with the number of bricks which “renders them top
heavy.” Sometime Federal Secretary Henry Hannah recalled one of those
shouted “look out below”, allowing the contractor to jump out of the
way before the load “settled him”. (p. 180) In delivering a load in a
hod, the labourer had
hod-carriers, therefore, determined to impose limits on the weight of hods
and barrows, and on the height to which they were lugged.
1913, the Federation had “a settled policy regarding the number of
bricks in the hod with the exception of what should be carried over the
second storey ceiling joist, that is, about 27 or 28 feet.” (8m) (p.
302) Branch Executives fined men for going outside the newest custom of
their trade. The 1921 Award stipulated only 10 bricks in the hod above
4.5m., but still allowed 12 on the flat.
Breaches were more common around the countryside, as shown in 1926 when a
Victorian organiser stopped Albury labourers from carrying 16 bricks.
evening’s lecture to the Sydney Socialist League in 1890 was at about
half time when the speaker, and future Labor Premier of New South Wales,
William Holman, issued his invitation. In doing so, he had advanced to the
edge of the platform, like a conjurer about to perform his chef
already cautioned his listeners: “I come to the focal point of my
discourse – quantitative changes, my friends, make qualitative
differences.” The audience shivered with delight. This was indeed an
intellectual treat and no blooming error. The lecturer eyed them
benevolently; they well deserved a short spell.
their number was the Secretary of the Labourers’ Union, Arthur Gordon, a
simple, forthright soul, who had so far through the lecture sat unmoved.
When Holman had said “Take a brick, ladies and gentlemen weighing, let
us say, four pounds”, Arthur sat bolt upright: here was something he
he confided to his neighbour, “That’s the blooming brick I’ve been
looking for all me life.”
that time, Arthur had no time for Holman. Arthur had a severely practical
mind and considerable experience of bricks. He believed in the New Order;
but a man who talked of a four-pound brick to one who had climbed up
ladders for donkey’s years with a hod full of bricks weighing seven to
ten pounds obviously did not understand the problems of the worker.
Barrows: Early unions in
Victoria had set a maximum of 45 bricks in a barrow. 
(177) From 1910, the Federation urged a limit of 40, which weighed in at
160kg., not counting the barrow and any water in the bricks. With barrows
made of hard timbers or heavy iron, a
hod-carrier pushed 200kg. Labourers learned how to stack 57 bricks in a
barrow. (180) They then pushed a net load of 230 kg. The hod-carrier had
to get a run-on to carry him up inclined planks: “You could put over 100
bricks on. Some time back, we were averaging 80 bricks, and that would
mean that you would have frequently on 100.” (362-3) Federal President
Millard recalled rises so steep that he had to load his barrow with fewer
than 40. In agreeing to a limit of 40 bricks, Justice Higgins thought it
“an extraordinary survival of barbarism that men should have to wheel
these things.” (178-9)
employers objected to any and all limitations and opposed the Award’s
stipulating the number or the weight of bricks. To their minds, if a man
“overloaded himself he would not be able to get about his work so
quickly.” (363) This excuse assumed that overloading was the worker’s
idea, which was likely only on piece rates. Higgins had to press the
employers to be “humane” before they accepted the principle of maximum
loads. The 1921 Federal Award lightened the weight to be wheeled up ramps.
Henceforth, only 36 bricks were allowed in a barrow pushed above 4.5m.,
although the quantity on the flat remained at 40. Rubber wheels made the
work easier in the late 1940s, while light steels had lessened the weight
before motorised barrows went on sale in the 1980s.
5. Heights: Hod-carriers performed on four levels. The easiest was shifting stuff on the ground, despite its rarely being even. The next stage went higher but did not involve climbing:
strains increased once the carrying went higher than could be reached on
an inclined plank. The 1907 Scaffolding Act in South Australia reduced the
strain by requiring the rungs to be no more than 23cm. apart.
main, the men had to lift bricks and mortar only to the second floor.
Hannah testified that most refused to climb over 6m: “they will leave a
job before carrying above the first ladder. They would not carry up two
ladders.” (p. 135) Only once had he carried above 6m., for which he had
got an extra 6d a day. Even on single-storey jobs, Hannah always got two
short ladders installed to have a break on the way up:
two-storey work, there were separate ladders from storey to storey. One
labourer carried to the next man in a relay. However, a South Australian
bricklayer in 1907 spoke of as many as six hodmen following each other up
a 16m. ladder.
balance a hod while going up a ladder required weeks of practice. In order
to have both hands free for climbing, the labourer rested the hod on his
steady their loads, beginners inclined their heads to one side, which
affected their ability to chew for about three weeks. (p. 315) After a few years of supporting the weight on one side, the hod-carriers’
shoulders were out of kilter.
height money: In the 1913
Log, the Federation claimed a higher rate for lifting the hod above 6m.
Higgins had two objections. He always refused to place “an employee in
unhealthy or dangerous positions” in exchange for extra money.
Parliament had the responsibility for eradicating “actual cruelty” in
The labourers agreed, but were hoping that a bonus for carrying above 6m.
might wean the Masters off this particular piece of “barbarism”. (p.
second point related to the structure of Awards. In 1907, he had set a
basic wage to meet the needs of the worker and his family. Any extras had
to be for skill or productivity. A labourer did not add more value by
climbing 6m. than he did when he climbed to 5.5m.: “The man who carried
to 20 feet had no higher qualities than the man who carried to only 19
feet. The longer the ladder, the longer time the hod-carrier takes.” In
response, labourers testified that the strain from carrying up a ladder
was more than on the flat:
was not convinced: “It is all in a day’s work, isn’t it? I can
understand the strain being greater the higher you carry a thing; but it
is in the hours of work. You are paid by time.” (p. 542) The bourgeois
judge showed a keener grasp of the mechanism of exploitation through the
disciplining of labour time than did its victims. Subsequent tribunals
provided for extra rates for carrying above 3.5 metres.
the bricklayer worked for piece rates he told the labourer: “”Now I
want the bricks carried very quickly and I will give you 6d a day
extras.” (p. 136)
methods for maximising surplus value neglected the micro-seconds of labour
time being lost in the labourers’ movements. Between 1909 and 1912, the
masters of time-and-motion study, Frank B. Gilbreth and F. W. Taylor,
published manuals on bricklaying and concrete respectively.
Gilbreth taught bricklayers “to spread mortar for 20 bricks in 5
seconds.” To reach that speed, he devised a special trowel to hasten the
application of mortar and a “packet scaffold” to keep up the flow of
bricks. He complained that tradesman trained apprentices to go after
quality in laying each brick. As a result, the novice developed
hand-and-arm motions that prevented his picking up speed. Instead,
Gilbreth started newcomers on a section of wall where appearance did not
matter. Quality could follow speed, but never the other way around.
Although, by 1913, stop-watches were reminding Australian engineers of
“the whip of owners or taskmasters,”
few supervisors here applied “scientific management”, even to factory
assembly lines for a further 40 years.
Apart from adopting Gant Charts to map progress, building operators lagged
another 20 years behind.
More common was Bert Twomey’s boss who discouraged the calls of nature
by putting the lavatory alongside his store-shed and making his men carry
back a bag of cement after each visit.
two or three weeks of carrying materials over 6m, Hannah went onto light
duties for the rest of the week.
from experience, Loughnan confirmed that hod-carriers who went up ladders
needed more than a night’s rest to feel as fit as they had on the first
had to remind Justice Higgins that “the further you carry it the heavier
it gets”, even on the flat. Loughnan clinched his case for limits on
heights and on weights with a depiction of burn-out:
contestants were the lucky ones. By the age of 45, many a hod-carrier was
past running at any speed. Instead, he had been classified as slow, fit
only to be a nipper or to clean bricks. Loughnan concluded that “when a
man has finished hod-carrying it means bottle-gathering or Benevolent
Asylum. We have two or three there now.” (pp. 304-6)
union opposed junior or apprentice rates because the so-called improvers
got the easier jobs, such as cleaning bricks. That arrangement deprived
the hod-carriers of a spot of rest on lighter duties. (p. 297) Hannah had
seen some lads start carrying the hod when they were only18 or 19, but the
majority had turned 20. He told Higgins that he did “not think any
humane man would send his boy to learn hod-carrying because it is too
strenuous.” (p. 261) Nonetheless, in 1926, an organiser found “a boy
in knickerbockers wheeling” bricks and being paid at less than half the
Dying art: Even as the
Federation applied for limits and bonuses in 1913, carrying the hod up
ladders was disappearing. Hoists, electric lifts or horses pulled loads on
the taller buildings. In those cases, labourers had to wheel the bricks or
mortar only to and from those machines. Barrow loads of bricks were also
raised by means of a chain, which was dangerous when overloaded. (p. 369)
The arrival of mechanisation varied between cities. Sydney buildings had
less stucco on the outside than Melbourne’s and therefore had less call
for plaster, but Sydney used bricks more often and so its builders
installed more lifts for them from the 1890s.
made a come-back when labour became cheap during the 1930s depression and
the weakening of the ABLF allowed contractors to ignore the Award. By
1931, some Melbourne hoddies were putting in 12-hour days, carrying as
many as 18 bricks on piece rates.
A Sydney hod-carrier posed for the Sun
in 1937 with a load of 18.
Later that year, the Newcastle Secretary claimed that hod-carrying was
“a lost art” in his State,
yet its remnant retained the knack of thumping a shop steward who tried to
enforce the Award.
In May 1939, Bro. Wills was put off at the Rose Bay seaplane base because
he refused to carry 14 bricks, two over the limit. The men who carried 16
to 18 bricks were not in the union. When he complained that the new Branch
Secretary, King, had failed to pursue the matter, the Executive told Wills
to carry as many bricks as everyone else.
The conflict between King and Wills saw “perjury committed”, according
to the incoming NSW President Downey, who lamented that lifting 14-16
bricks was the custom around the suburbs: “Cottage work is our
To enforce the 12-brick rule, the Award would have to be amended. Its
phrasing that men were “not required” to carry more than 12 had left
the onus of proof with the union, which wanted the wording changed to
“not allowed” to go above that limit, which made the employer
the Victorian Branch banned the hod in 1945, labourers on smaller jobs
complained that their work had become more tiring because they had to
carry more materials in their bare arms. On top of that, they lost penalty
rates by being reclassified to the bottom rung as totally unskilled. The
Executive split 6 to 3 to allow some hod-carrying, although Branch policy
was still to stamp out the practice. Organisers investigated hod-carriers
spotted around Melbourne suburbs in 1946, and in Sydney a year later.
In March 1952, the NSW BL Journal
featured a Special Notice: “Hods Are Banned. Report any sightings to the
union office.” The 1962 Award made no mention of the hod. Twenty years
later, it reappeared on the south face of the Rialto project in a 9x27m.
mural - “From the hod to the Favco” - celebrating the struggle by
builders’ labourers against the employers’ use of technological change
to maximise profits.
and militancy had buried the identification of builders’ labourer with
hod-carrier. Cost-cutting called forth technologies which repositioned the
tasks still dependent on hands, eyes and backs. The knacks of preparing
the “mud” were disappearing by early in the 1960s as pumps and sprays
applied mortar delivered from off-site plants.
By then, brick-making had been automated, and most often standardised;
the bricks arrived on pallets, moved about by motorised fork-lifts before
escalators raised them to the workface.
Four labourers at Port Kembla became so accustomed to this ease of
delivery that they were sacked for refusing to go between the shafts of a
barrow when the forklift was on other duties.
Reducing the physical effort
did not remove the danger as was shown when a Wollongong labourer died
after falling nearly four metres while wheeling from a hoist.
much as machines have contributed to the industrialisation of building
sites, it is still not possible to prefabricate a brick wall. 
One alternative was to reduce
the handling costs by replacing clay bricks with larger concrete ones,
such the hollow types from Monier and Terrablock. In 1962, Queensland won
a penalty rate for handling Besser bricks. When the cost-cutters switched
to 27kg. slabs, brickies and their labourers refused to handle them
without mechanical aids.
The less the hod-carriers humped and wheeled, the more materials dogmen
delivered on cranes.
dogman needed to be part scaffolder, part rigger, part storeman-and-packer,
and part-time dare-devil, according to Victorian organiser Loughnan:
Gear-hands shared some tasks with the tackle hands because they had to “erect the girder, attach the gear, and erect columns, hoist up floor joists, and timber required, and get girders into position.” (p. 316) With the lifting apparatus in place, the dogman turned to the tasks that made him notorious. After securing his load to a crane, he “rode the hook” to the level where the material was needed, signaling to the crane driver to bring the load to rest, before helping to unload. The dogman then rode down again. Sometimes, the reverse trip would be empty. At times, he brought down debris or equipment. Other workers rode the hook to reach their workplaces, mostly in a box-car for the crane to lift. That ride spared them the hazards from scrambling up ladders, scaffolds, or incomplete stairwells, and saved on paid labour-time for their employer.
riding the hook was dangerous, and called for spurts of hard work, it was
easier physically on a weekly basis than most labouring jobs. Foremen kept
navvies and hoddies hard at it every minute of the shift. A dogman got a
break while sailing aloft. His daring attracted a few shillings more,
although not recognised as a skill by the Courts.
For as long as rates of basic pay were frugal, labourers were tempted to
swap cash for risk.
Human Plummet” was how the Sydney
Morning Herald headlined its 1904 column about the dogman, Mr Charles
Neilson. Using skills acquired as a sailor, Neilson thrilled thousands
each day in Martin Place as he soared on stones weighing eight tons.
Despite ten years experience, he could never predict the force or
direction of the winds once the crane carried him aloft:
Neilson’s peril peaked each morning before the sideshow began. To lubricate the crane, he extended its arm horizontally, and crawled to its end carrying an oilcan, holding himself in place by gripping his legs around the metal frame.
months later, the dogmen were back. The Minister had given way to pressure
from the MBA, the ABLF, the FEDFA and the Chief Inspector of Factories for
a three-part compromise. Henceforth, dogmen were to hold certificates of
competency; scaffolders had to be licensed; and slings marked with their
carrying capacity. To deserve his ticket, a dogman had to work with an
experienced man for six months and then pass a theory examination and
on-site tests with the Department of Labour and Industry.
riding the hook involved more than overcoming yet another instance of
employers’ and governments’ dragging the chain on safety. The union
saw the employment of two dogmen for each crane as a way of increasing the
portion of labourers in the top classification. As construction methods
became more complicated, the capitalists were divided over whether they
could afford to employ a second dogmen on each crane, one at each end. The
founder of Mirvac, Henry Pollack, put the standard line that riding the
hook “saved time as the dogman could land where the load was, then ride
with it and unload it at the other end.”
parties agreed that a dogman could make or break a job.
Allied with the crane drivers, the dogmen were in the position to impose
delays. Equally, cooperation between the dogmen, crane drivers and site
managers cut the unproductive time of all the other workers, including the
professionals. The dogman on the ground prepared a load while the previous
one was being unloaded several storeys up. By bringing productive labour-time
closer to paid labour-time, a second dogman limited the time costs –
providing that the managers had the appropriate materials ready to be
lifted and workers were in place to start adding values. Those conditions
depended on site planning. The supervisors’ failure to maintain a
continuous flow of labour and materials threw out the schedules of
sub-contractors who had to wait their turn. Hence, it became in the
employers’ interest to employ two dogmen but only if that arrangement
speeded up the flow of materials and the application of labour power.
around the sites took the decision away from the accountants. The union
insisted on two dogmen with control over their own safety. Even after the
MBA accepted “job practice” as set by the union, some dogmen refused
to do other jobs at their usual rates of pay if there were no need for a
dogman. Mundey worried about a similar specialisation among steel-fixers
A few dogmen went to the extreme of not working on a crane other than
their usual one. The MBA protested that on sites with multiple cranes,
dogmen refused transfers between them: “They turn around and say, ‘We
will not operate any of the cranes’, and we have three cranes sitting on
some jobs and some days they do not operate at all.”
At times, the refusal resulted from a squabble between a dogman and a
crane driver, in which dogmen threw stones into the cabins and drivers
left dogmen dangling.
NSW, a dogmen’s committee pressed for more pay and to reduce the
death-rate by giving the workers control over the operations:
solution was double-edged. Part of the problem was that a few young blokes
wanted to ride the hook to show off. Giving power to that element added to
the danger. The dogman’s proposal emphasised extra pay more than to
worker control, as they expected higher margins for their daring:
NSW dogmen wanted an increase from $1.54 to $1.88 per hour. They did not
mention a ban on riding the hook.
had to decide whether it was safe to lift materials. There were no
regulations to decide when the wind was safe around 60-storey buildings,
such as the AMP at the Quay.
Joe Owens, who had been a dogman, insisted on worker control:
went out when buildings got higher and cranes became noisier. Dogmen took
to signalling with tugs on a rope:
high winds, the pull-rope could get tangled with the load, thereby
depriving the dogman of his line of communication with the crane driver.
In June 1973, dogmen for Mainline at AMP banned riding hooks until a
communication system was 100% effective. Within a week, they had
walkie-talkie helmets with signals able to penetrate 30cm of concrete,
while the unit in the cabin was amplified to cut through the noise from
the crane’s motor.
dogmen expected to be issued with sandshoes in May 1972. The employers did
not see footwear for dogmen as a safety issue. With two dogmen suffering
foot injuries, the union replied that any shoes needed re-inforced
toe-caps. To pressure employers, the dogmen refused to climb jibs for
greasing. Concrete Constructions offered new sandshoes or $4 for the
dogmen to buy their own footwear. They also claimed overalls (to be
dry-cleaned), windcheaters and sun-glasses. A few years later, they
Sydney reporter in 1974 interviewed dogmen with opposing attitudes towards
safety. One was a mug lair, nicknamed “Hero”, who had been on the job
for two years, since he was 22. He had fallen two floors, but didn’t
think that the surgery had spoilt his looks. At the other end of the scale
was a 32-year old who had left his family’s farm when he was 23 to go
steel-fixing. From there, he became a rigger and then a dogman:
42-year old was one of the oldest dogmen in Sydney, as he acknowledged:
“Most of them don’t last this long.”
Some walked off after their first ride. Kevin Cook arrived in Sydney from
Tumut because his mate, Roy Bishop, had got him “a fantastic job”.
Cook had never been closer to a dogman than to drive below one on a
I went up on a – you’re not supposed to do it – on a concrete
kibble. And when I landed up at the top, you could see my fingerprints on
the steel kibble. That’s how much I thought about it. And I was heading
down the stairs goin’ home. But they talked me into staying. I didn’t
mind the heights so much once I got used to riding the loads. And that was
pretty dangerous at the time.
becoming organisers, Cook and Bishop used their positions as dogmen to
advance union policies by holding up jobs.
1974, riding the hook was almost eliminated around Sydney and with it went
the pinnacle for ogling girls. A tradesman rubbed the dogmen’s nose into
their loss by sticking this doggerel on the door of their shed:
South Australia, the ABLF State Secretary, Ron Owens, got his dogmen
members to give up riding the hook by taking them to the morgue to view a
mate who had fallen. His head had ballooned to double its size in life.
The ban could not preserve dogmen from the carelessness of employers such
as Baulderstone Hornibrook which was fined $92,500 over the
killing-no-murder death of Lee Alexander at Glenelg on 10 April 2002. The
arms of two tower-cranes collided, spilling concrete bricks onto
Alexander. The corporation had forgotten to register one of its cranes and
had failed to train their operators.
interest in the daring of dogmen and demolishers had increased with the
wrecking and rebuilding of inner cities from the late 1950s, although
Whelan’s crews had long attracted regulars who spent their Saturday
afternoons in deckchairs on the footpaths opposite.
This fascination with the labourers’ risk-taking inspired the winning
entry to the Sydney Morning Herald’s
1956 poetry competition, “The
Dogman”, by Adelaide solicitor Robert Clark.
Soaring above “the faces in the street”, the dogman offered the
genteel lawyer, and his readers, the fantasy of escaping from the
estrangement of office work that, a few months earlier, Melbourne artist
John Brack had caricatured in “Five o’clock Collins Street”. In
contrast to the dead eyes of the homeward-trudging pedestrians on
Brack’s canvas, the dogman in Clark’s verse lifted the spirit of the
on-lookers along with his load:
apotheosis of the dogman conflicted with public opinion which put
labourers on the lowest tier of occupational status.
The dogmen’s daring and control over the entire operation gave them
their chance to rise above those sneers, above the navvies and above
tradesmen with their pride of craft. As one doggie remarked in 1974,
“it’s as near as possible to being your own boss.”
physical distance between the aerial dogman and the earthbound poet
preserved the social space between the classes, a response common even
among radical writers.
Henry Lawson in 1888 had observed “Faces in the street … flowing past
my window”, not from within the throng; he increased that distance by
representing “the army that was marching down the street” as a vision,
part dream and part nightmare, sent by “God Almighty”.
By celebrating a solitary worker high above the street, Clark’s poem
posed no challenge to his class. Instead, Clark saw in the dogman
had scorned chatter about “proletarians as gods. Rather the contrary …
the proletariat as proletariat,
[is] that misery conscious of its spiritual and physical misery, that
dehumanisation conscious of its dehumanisation and therefore
self-abolishing” as it is driven by the il-logic of capital’s
expansion “to revolt against that inhumanity.”
Isolated displays of human capacities will never reclaim dignity for
labour. That earthy aspiration must be realised through mass action:
“It’s a thousand like Ned Kelly who’ll hoist the flag of stars”.
Thomas Hood, Selected Poems,
 Quoted Claire Mayhew, “Demolishers: auditing & OHS performance”, Journal of Occupational Health & Safety, ANZ (JOH&S ANZ), 15 (5), October 1999, p. 445.
 Transcript of 1913 Award Hearings in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, Australian Builders’ Labourers’ Federation v A. W. Archer, Australian Archives B1958 (B1958/1) 9/1912, pp. 136, 258 and 305, hereafter page references are given in brackets.
Robyn Annear, A City Lost and
Found, Whelan the
Wrecker’s Melbourne, Black Inc.,
 Architecture, November 1924, p. 11.
Sydney Morning Herald (SMH),
 101 Commonwealth Arbitration Reports (CAR) (1962) 318 at 330-1.
 Jack Mundey, Green bans and beyond, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1981, p. 36.
 Annear, A City Lost and Found, pp. 93 and 143.
 NSW Builders’ Labourer, July 1970, p. 43.
 Annear, A City Lost and Found, pp. 93 and 203.
Letter from Harry Karslake,
 Work Hazards, November 1988, p. 16; Building Worker, April 1987, p. 5.
Mayhew, “Demolishers”, JOH&
Building & Engineer Journal
Henry Copeland, Adam’s Curse
and Labor-Saving Inventions,
Quoted Raymond Postgate, Builders’
history, National Federation of Building Trade Operatives,
Report of the Royal Commission
on Strikes, 1890-91,
 15 CAR (1921) 108 at 110; NSW Industrial Gazette, v. 11, May 1917, p. 1099.
Australian Builders’ Labourers’ Federation (ABLF) Records,
Victorian Branch, Minutes,
Adapted from W. M. Hughes, Crusts
and Crusades, Angus and Robertson,
Builders’ Labourers’ News (BLN),
Parliamentary Debates (PD),
George Chesson, MHA, Parliamentary
Debates (PD), SA,
 7 CAR (1913) 210 at 231-2.
 Western Australian Industrial Gazette, volume 18, 1938-39, p. 529.
 Australian Trades & Labour Journal, 12 October 1889, p. 4; Builder and Contractors’ News, 20 September 1890, p. 216; 1913 Transcript, p. 136; Victoria, Parliamentary Debates, v. 161, 4 October 1922, pp. 1666-7.
Frank B. Gilbreth, Bricklaying system, M.C. Clark, New York, 1909, p. 130; Frederick
Winslow Taylor and Sanford E. Thompson, Concrete
costs: tables and recommendations for estimating the time and cost of
labor operations in concrete construction and for introducing
economical methods of management, Wiley, New York, 1912.
Engineering and Machinery, April 1913; cf. Australian Engineer,
 Peter Poynton, “The Development of the Assembly line in Australia”, Arena, 58, 1981, pp. 64-81; Peter Cochrane, “Company Time, Management, Ideology and the Labour Process, 1940-60”, Labour History, pp. 54-66.
 W. B. Kennedy, “Productivity, Research and Innovation”, John Hutton (ed.), Housing and Construction in Australia, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1970, pp. 228-53; Lindie Clark, Finding a Common Interest, The story of Dick Dusseldorp and Lend Lease, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, 2002, chapter 1.
ABLF, NSW Branch Records, Executive,
 NSW Executive, 9 May 1939.
ABLF Federal Management Committee,
Victorian Executive, 24 November and
 Unity, March-April 1985, p. 12, and August 1985, p. 12.
The Australian truck mixer: its
origins and development, NRMCA, Melbourne, 1982; Building
Materials and Equipment, March 1968, p. 30; Diane Hutchinson,
“The Post-War Cement Industry”, Miles Lewis (ed.), Two
hundred years of concrete in Australia, Concrete Institute of
Australia, Sydney, 1988, pp. 118-21.
 Clay Products Journal of Australia, (CPJA), September 1948, p. 13, November 1948, pp. 5 and 14 September 1949, p. 11, November 1950, p. 7, February 1951, p. 17, and February 1953, p. 9; for transport see CPJA, August 1955, p. 23; for packaging, Australian National Clay (ANC), February 1965, pp. 16-18 and July 1965, p. 8 & 28-32; ABLF evidence, Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission (CC&AC), Transcript, No. 200 of 1970, 6 March 1972, p. 284, MLK 04264.
 NSW Industrial Commission, Transcript, No. 11 of 1960, MLK 04269.
 BLJ, October 1957, p. 2.
 For “lift slab” see Building and Decorating Materials, September 1959, pp. 26-29 and 83; January-February 1960, p. 15; for the founding of the Australian Division of the Modular Society, SMH, 5 July 1960, p. 19 and 16 August 1960, p. 22; for its slow progress, see series of ten articles by Gordon Young, Builder (SA), February to June 1965, and one each from Henry J. Cowan, Builder (SA), 14 October 1966, pp. 10-16 & 36-38, and G. S. Lindsay, Builder (SA), 23 December 1966, pp. 8-13.
Barbara Dawson, Strength in
concrete: a history of the formation and evolution of the company, now
known as AMATEK, 1936 – 1959, privately printed,
 101 CAR (1962) 318 at 330.
Victoria, Legislative Assembly, PD,
Unity, March 1958, p. 3; SMH,
 101 CAR (1962) 318 at 322.
 NSW Builders’ Laborer, September-October 1966, p. 3; Sun-Herald, 1 March 1970, p. 22b; leaflets in MLK04262; Mundey, Green Bans and Beyond, p. 76.
 Henry Pollack, The Accidental Developer, The fascinating rise to the top of Mirvac founder Henry Pollack, ABC Books, Sydney, 2005, pp. 281-2.
CC&AC, Transcript, No.
938 of 1973,
 CC&AC, Transcript, No. 938 of 1973, 29 May 1973, pp. 33-35, for MBA complaints, pp. 22-24, MLK 04263; Builder NSW, July 1973, pp. 290-94; see also entries in NSW organisers’ diary, 1972, MLK 04274.
NSW Dogman’s Committee’ Leaflets, MLK 04263.
 Architectural Science Review, March 1972, pp. 8-13.
Owens to NSW ALP,
 Mainline meeting, 28 June 1973, MLK 04272; Pollack, Accidental Developer, p. 294; see also Gabrielle Grammeno, “Helmet-mounted hearing protectors”, JOH&S ANZ, 2 (3), June 1986, pp. 234-5.
 Kevin Cook, “From the BLF to Tranby”, Hal Alexander and Phil Griffiths (eds) A Few Rough Reds, Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Canberra Region, 2003, p. 44.
Interview, Port Broughton,
 For the Coronial Report see www.void.org.au
 Annear, A City Lost and Found, pp. 16 and 23.
Robert Clark, The Dogman,
 A. A. Congalton, Occupational status in Australia, Studies in Sociology, 3, University of NSW School of Sociology, Kensington, 1963, pp. 51 and 76.
 Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts into Air, The Experience of Modernity, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982, chapter 4 on the changing class nature of whom gave way to whom on the Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg across a century of Russian literature to 1917.
Henry Lawson, Collected Verse,
Volume one: 1885-1900, Angus and Robertson,
in 1956, the left-wing poet John Thompson played with this divided
outlook towards the masses in his version of “The Faces in the
Street”, SMH, 3 November
1956, p. 15.
K. Marx and F. Engels, The Holy
Family, or Critique of Critical Critique, Foreign Languages
John Manifold, Collected Verse,