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That precious human interaction

21 June 2020

by Charlie Morrice: Manager, Leadership Programs

Those special ‘crucible’ moments in your development can come at the most unexpected times.

I was a young impressionable guy working in my first job as a builder’s labourer. Dirt, bricks, timber, tiles, sun and surf.

Part of the role was driving a truck up and down the NSW South Coast, taking supplies to houses, and helping with building work and cleaning up the sites. My peers were all older and I developed the language and habits of the group by osmosis. It strengthened me to be part of something tribal.

Racism, bigotry, degrading women – anything different to them was looked on as inferior and had to be pushed down and controlled. I struggled. There was general criticism of everything. In fact, if one of ‘the boys’ had a weakness seen by the group, a vulnerability, they were targeted and bullied.

Every Friday night after payday Thursday (in the days where we were paid in cash), we’d head to the pub. I remember laughter from the guys at the pub when one of them lost his whole pay packet from his jeans pocket one night, that was the reaction – laughter, they made fun of him and carried on. I just felt bad for his kids, felt it in my guts, then did nothing.

The truck I drove at work was out of action so for a week one of the contractors gave me a lift to a job down near Bateman’s Bay and we had half an hour each way. He was quietly spoken and drove a low flung Ford Ute with a customized canopy that was painted in the same colour. He was an electrician. He seemed like just one of the guys.

I can’t remember his name, but I’ve often passed his house in the years since because my mother-in-law lives close by in Ulladulla.

I couldn’t get a lot of conversation from him in the car on each trip though we listened to the radio a lot. He played the Beatles and Elvis but I thought that was too soft because they weren’t Midnight Oil or Led Zeppelin. He seemed so comfortable in his skin, never fazed, every problem had a quite simple answer and was delivered with an ‘almost’ smile.

He was driving me back on Friday, I was pretty excited and exhausted for the end of the workweek. “Where are the boys going for a drink? Where are you going out?”

I was full of assumptions and probing, unsure why I hadn’t seen him out before, certain that he had mates he drank with every Friday and maybe I’d get an invite?

He held me with a look before he spoke “why would I go out with guys I’ve been with all week when I have a wife and a home. That’s where I want to be… and that’s where I’ll be.’’

It still gets to me. I drive past his house and want to tell him how it stayed with me forever. It made me question norms, group tribal behaviours, how it gave me permission to live my values and make decisions according to them. It was a gift. He could have just said he wasn’t going out.

These moments arrive unintended, unique mixes of circumstance, perhaps as an unexpected connection with a person and come when you least expect. They depend on your circumstances as much as anything. Now that it’s over 40 years ago it makes me reflect on how substantial these moments and experiences can be. Many things don’t come in a book.

P.S. The guy also told me how he once accidentally drove off down the main street of Ulladulla with his pet budgie sitting in its birdcage which he’d left on the roof of his car….I also remember that when I drive past his house 😊