Finding My Way
In 1974 my post high-school years began. They say that
it's common to switch paths many times until you find your
niche. Well, I took more than my share of paths.
Along the way I spent six months studying Electrical
Engineering at the Whyalla campus of the South Australian
Institute of Technology (now the Whyalla campus of the
University of South Australia). But I couldn't settle in to
Then came three memorable months working at Dimet as a cleaner and
blind spotter. At Dimet they sand blasted and painted the
huge sections of the hull and superstructure for the up to
80,000 tonne ships being built at the Whyalla shipyards.
Being a cleaner involved using shovels, and then a dust pan
and banister brush, to clean away the sand blasting grit
before the spray painters moved in. Blind spotters went in
after the spray painters to paint the spots they couldn't
get to. The workplace was covered by the painters and
dockers union, and a lot of very interesting people moved
through the casual workforce at Dimet.
When the work ran out I moved on to spend three months working for a glazing firm in
Whyalla. Actually I spent the first month working as a
trades assistant to a glazier putting in the windows for an
extension to the Port Lincoln High School. On returning to
Whyalla, we put in the windows for the new library at the
South Australian Institute of Technology on Nicolson Avenue.
At the end of 1974 I went on a working holiday to
Tasmania and wound up working as a mill hand in the Savage
River Mines' pellet plant at Port Latta.
Most of 1975 was spent at Hellyer College in Burnie,
Tasmania, where I studied computer
science and learnt to
program in BASIC.
I returned to Whyalla at the end of 1975. Everyone said
there was no work to be had, but I signed up the next day
with Dimet and the painters and dockers. This time I was
leading hand of a gang of cleaners in the Dimet yard by day,
plus leading hand of a gang of blind spotters over on a ship
at the shipyard fitting out wharf in the evening. Then
I joined a gang doing the lagging of the engine and boiler
room of the ship.
Monarch mine, South Australia
When the work ran out early in 1976, I moved on to spend three months working in
the BHP mine at Iron Baron as a Trades Assistant to the
Fitters. This involved doing maintenance and breakdown work
on the drills, shovels and other mining equipment.
I then transferred to work as a Trades Assistant to the
Instrument Fitters in the BHP pellet plant in Whyalla for
the rest of the year. My job mostly involved keeping paper
and ink up to the chart recorders in the various instrument
panels around the plant. But I also repainted the workshop,
and spent some unforgettable hours working in "the
I'd been interested in computers since attending a
lecture on "Digital Circuit Theory" at a Physics Summer
Camp at Adelaide University in January 1973. I'd also
studied Computer Science as a subject at Hellyer College. So
I made it known to the employment and data processing
departments at BHP Whyalla that I was interested in a career
in computing. They invited me to sit a set of IBM aptitude
tests that were held around the country later in 1976. I was
fortunate in being selected as one of nine people to start in
January 1977 as a Trainee Programmer in Corporate Data
Processing at the head office of BHP in Melbourne. I was
finally on the right path.
- I often think it's a shame that with
the pressures on kids today, such an interesting path
is typically no longer possible.
Monday, 01 April 2013