Lloyd Robert Borrett

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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 it.

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.

Iron Monarch, SA
Iron 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 black hole".

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.
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Last modified: Monday, 01 April 2013


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