Blueprints: Works Design Office and life as a 1950’s bikie
After one and a half to two years in the Works Construction section I was transferred to the Works Design Office which was responsible for most of the civil works for the Council; roads, bridges, stormwater drainage and miscellaneous works. This was separate from the Water Supply and Sewerage design office upstairs.
Each drawing office was a large room with natural lighting each side. The Works Office had the plan custodian area at the end with the Design Engineer’s office at the entry. In hindsight it was something like you would expect in the time of Charles Dickens. There were long, timber benches each to accommodate two draftsmen arranged three across the room and separated by two aisles. Drawing boards were set on tapered timber wedges to get the right angle for light and drawing and padded timber stools provided the seating although a lot of the time it was easier to stand. Tee squares, set squares, parallel rulers, adjustable set squares, French curves, slide rules, drawing instruments and ink pens and Chambers seven figure Log Tables were part of the equipment. There were several drafting machines on boards mounted on hydraulic bases but most of the office used the old style drawing table.
The work was plotted and drawn on cartridge paper in pencil, making it easy to change details. It was then traced in ink on tracing paper or linen, depending on the importance of the job. This tracing was usually done by women tracers but, depending on the work load, you often traced your own job. Altering a tracing was not an easy job as you had to scratch off the Indian ink from the tracing paper without cutting through it, and then make the correction. To spill waster over a tracing was a heinous crime, often requiring a redraw.
This was also the end of the days of blue prints where the prints were white drawings on a blue background. This process required a drying time before collecting them and was slow. The new dyeline machines provided an instant copy black drawing on off-white background on running the tracing through the machine. The Plan Custodian was a key man in the efficient working of the Design Office and if you were out of favour with him you could wait a while for the prints or tracings you needed, and, of course, everyone wanted drawings immediately and there were about thirty draftsmen or more with Works and Water and Sewerage Department.
So that was my new working environment. There was time off for some day lectures and evening lectures, some at George Street and others at St. Lucia. It was around this time that getting home from St. Lucia became difficult so I bought a motor-cycle, a red army Indian bike for forty pounds. I vaguely remember collecting it at North Quay and taking it to the Roma Street Police Station. I was told to drive it around the block and when I got back I was given my motor cycle licence. Of course, having a car licence made it easier. So, now I had wheels. Dad was not in favour and possibly this was the first time I went against his wishes. Previously I had bought a tandem bicycle with a gents frame in front and a cut away ladies frame at the rear. The only real trip it did was from Wynnum to Norman Creek with Betty and me. So, now I had a motor bike along with several of my friends. After a while I sold the Indian for forty-five pounds and bought an ex-army Harley Davidson with side-car for a few pounds more. Riding a bike with a sidecar is a different experience altogether especially when turning. You can’t lean the bike over when turning to the left, whereas you can lift the sidecar wheel off the road turning to the right.
The side-car was a nuisance to me so I eventually took it off the bike and sold it. It was interesting to have two American bikes with gear stick change and foot clutch, each was opposite and both had advance and retard central cables controlled by hand grips one side and throttle the other, but opposite hand again.
It was a heavy bike but comfortable to ride, a bit slow because it had been geared down for the side car. It had a bucket seat, a pillion seat on the rear mudguard as well as a large wind shield. This was a blessing coming home from lectures at St. Lucia in the middle of winter or when it was raining, especially on the mad mile at Hemmant. I kept this bike for a year or so, but it had done a lot of work and needed attention, so when I had the chance to exchange it for a MSS Velocette with a cash adjustment his way, I took it. So now I had the MSS Velocette with AJS hydraulic forks on the front wheel, a classic chromed exhaust pipe and a comfortable dual seat. It was a single cylinder 500cc overhead valve engine. Tom Ayers, another student and also a council employee, was a Velocette enthusiast and had two, a 250cc MOV and another. Alan had bought a ‘Matchless’, Errol a BSA and others had Triumph Tiger 100, a Coventry Eagle two-stroke, an air-cooled Aerial, and a Panther with its horizontally opposed two cylinders. This was the era for motor cycles and at Childers, Fred (Mum’s brother) had an AJS, Wallace a BSA and Joyce and Gordon (Mum’s sister and brother-in-law) had an air-cooled four square Aerial with sidecar and another neighbour there Jeff Bolton had a Harley Davidson outfit.
I must have exchanged the Harley early in 1951 and remember the day I had the Velocette in pieces with the wheels off when a Policeman called in…the person I bought it from had not finished paying for it so it was not legally his to sell. The Policeman took the rear wheel as a token gesture but I got it back soon after when the seller paid his debt off. Just shows how careful you have to be as I could have lost the lot had he not paid up. The bike was now part of our scene and Betty would ride pillion with me.
Sometime around 1950 Betty won a University of Queensland Music Scholarship to study piano at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music under Frank Hutchens and took this up. She really was looking forward to this opportunity and flew down to Sydney where she began her studies at the conservatorium. Study was interrupted when she had health problems and she returned to Brisbane where she continued her music studies with Nora Baird.
Later Betty got a secretarial job in Brisbane and we would see more of each other. My mother would make up a lunch for me and include sandwiches for Betty. We would meet, walk along the river bank, find a shady spot to sit and eat our lunch.
Ralph was working as a jeweller with Sommers & Son, a family firm in Albert Street. They were of the old school and Ralph fitted in well. They made Masonic jewellery and did watch repairs and I remember buying my first wrist-watch there; it was a Tudor brand where you paid for quality and not a name. That was also the time when it was usual to have trousers or suits tailor-made and I found Pike Bros. in Queen Street very good. Their shop was where the Myer Centre now stands; they specialised in men’s wear and I had several pair of trousers made, in a material known as Country Twist, a material said to never wear out. The fashion was to have fob pockets and two to five buttons for the flap band. This was a change from the austerity of the war-time ‘snake-proof’ trousers. Nylon material was now being used for shirts instead of parachute silk and no-iron, drip dry nylon shirts were popular, particularly HG brand. You could wash them out and hang to dry; when new the shirts were good but after some time there was the disadvantage that the material did not absorb perspiration as would cotton, but there was no need to iron them. Another fashion was the Safari jacket and these could be worn over a shirt or on their own. They were ideal for the Queensland climate.
The drawing office had a lot of ex-servicemen working there and they were of all nationalities. One of these was Jack Andersen. He was a quiet but fascinating person. He had been in the navy and had spent some time on Booby Island in the Torres Strait. He was an antique car enthusiast and had two old Vauxhall tourers, a 23/60 and a 30/98. These were mid-1920 models and could do 100m.p.h. Jack was rebuilding them and he would bring parts into the office when he was getting nuts and bolts chrome-plated etc., He was completely rebuilding them with no short-cuts. This was some task with the timber framing and aluminium bodies, but it was typical of everything Jack did.
There were New Australians too, one I remember well was Checki, an abbreviation of his Polish name which seemed to have more x’s and z’s in it than thought possible. Checki was from Lwow University, he had survived the war and later settled in well in the office. I don’t know if his qualifications were finally recognised but that was a problem for him at the time.
The assistant plan custodian, Keith, was a racing motor-bike enthusiast. He had a stammer when he got excited but was very efficient and ended up as plan custodian and later, finishing his Engineering Diploma, he moved to private industry. The Design Engineer at the time was Mr. J. Lavery who later became Professor Lavery at the University of Queensland and Mr. C. Mott took his place for a while. When doing a road design the sections would be plotted on cartridge paper and trial quantities taken out to balance the earthworks cut and fill and, aafter all this work, it could be frustrating for Mr. C. Mott to come around and with a 2B pencil outline a new section when he would say ‘try it this way’. He was usually right. Then longitudinal sections had to be plotted and cross sections too, from the Surveyor’s field and Level books. A planimeter was used to work out the areas and to calculate the volumes using a Simpson’s Rule and also a slide rule. Now the lot is done by computer programs automatically but then it was by trial and error and a lot of time was taken up calculating the volumes and areas.