More Than Dirty Jobs

This post is somewhat out of left field for this blog and it came about because of a couple of videos that I recently viewed, which really resonated with me, considering many of the things that that I’ve experienced and what’s going on in today’s world, including Australia. Though not directly related to this story, but as a bit of an aside, from time to time a question is asked as to who you would like to meet, have lunch with or invite to a BBQ and, invariably, the responses or suggestions involve some lame celebrity, pop star, over-rated actor or the latest sports ‘personality’. Well if I had my druthers, I’d choose Mike Rowe. Some of you may have heard the name and can identify him immediately, others can’t quite pin it, while many others will likely give you a baffled look.

Mike Rowe - (source: Mike Rowe)

Mike Rowe – (source: Mike Rowe)

However, if I mention ‘Dirty Jobs‘, it’s likely that far more people know what I’m talking about, if not the person involved. Dirty Jobs was an interesting TV series to say the least and I got hooked on it the first time it was televised in Australia. What Mike was doing on that show resonated with me to quite a degree, as it reflected some of the dirty jobs that I’ve had to do in my time. But, more importantly, Mike highlighted to the world that there are people everywhere doing jobs that few care about, or even know about, but which allow them to live the comfortable lives to which they have become accustomed to living. The other aspect, I think, that was pivotal to the series was the depiction of a genuine work ethic; the point that hard and often dirty work, isn’t something to be reviled or dismissed, as is often the case with the western world today and the ever increasing number of snowflakes that view the deteriorating version of the world as their comforting home.

Don’t Follow Your Passion – (source:

You might ask why I’m writing about an American TV presenter, and that’s a fair question. Well, Mike Rowe is, I believe, far more than a TV presenter; he lives and represents an idea and an ideal that’s fast disappearing from our lives, and tells it like it is. I’m reminded of this every week in my home town when interacting with people in the community; people lamenting the decline of many aspects of our society. Some may say that we’re living in the 1950s in Mirboo North, but that’s a pretty good place to be, as it still maintains an attitude that enabled society to grow to what it is today, even though far too many now take those past efforts for granted. The Mirboo North community still retains an attitude and work ethic that is far removed from the increasingly welfare dependent culture that’s pervading today’s society, or the disinterest in work that involves manual labour. And I’m not talking about welfare that relates to the genuinely poor, but the middle income groups that are growing up with an ‘entitlement’ mentality (amongst other things).

Australia’s highest earners believe they are middle or lower class – despite earning more than $200,000 a year - (source: Smart Company)

Australia’s highest earners believe they are middle or lower class – despite earning more than $200,000 a year – (source: Smart Company)

Mike Rowe hits the nail on the head by identifying the many issues that afflict America today, and much of that is no different to Australia. For example, there has been a push to have more and more students enter university, rather than the traditional paths of trades and the like, even if it benefits no one. It started several governments ago (perhaps even longer) where this attitude developed that for Australia to be ‘The Clever Country’, just about everyone needed to have a degree, with no guarantee of graduates getting work in their chosen field, or there even being a requirement for such graduates. Yet at the same time, Australia has a chronic shortage of trades qualified people, amongst others. This isn’t good for anyone, or the country. Mike Rowe puts the disconnect far more eloquently and actually decided to do something about this.

Learning from dirty jobs – (source: TED)

I still remember one of the first ‘dirty’ jobs that I had, which was at the James Hardie asbestos pipe manufacturing plant in Footscray, Victoria. My job was to ensure that the pipes coming out of the rolling machine kept rolling along and weren’t damaged, an absolutely mind numbing job. On my second day, the asbestos vat (about 4m in diameter and 3m deep), from which the raw material for the pipes was sourced, had to be hand-scraped clean. This was always the ‘new boy’s’ job and the only protective gear you had were the overalls that you were wearing. Watched by laughing and smirking ‘senior workers’, I carried out this very unpleasant job and, thankfully, the asbestos in the vat was wet or I shudder to think what would have been in my lungs today. Anyway, at the end of day two, I got a call from another employer with a job offer and, the next day, I put in my notice and left that place, with ‘me’ quietly laughing and smirking while the ‘senior workers’ looked on in bafflement as I waved them goodbye.

James Hardie - (source:

James Hardie – (source:

The new job that I went to was worlds apart from James Hardie and was at an engineering firm that supported the local manufacturing plants that produced plastics, carbon black, glass, fuel etc. It was a fantastic job where I worked for many years, both before and while attending university (working during breaks). I learned a lot of very useful skills in those years that have served me well to this day and there were many moments where dirty jobs came about, but this time the safety provisions etc were also worlds apart from what James Hardie provided. I also got to see dirty jobs that other people did, such as replacing refractory bricks on a working glass furnace at the Australian Glass Manufacturers Company (now Pilkington ACI) in Spotswood, Victoria. The workers were suited up like the Michelin Man, with 100mm thick wooden plates on their work boots (to keep their feet coolish), and they could only work around 10 minutes at a time due to the incredible heat and its effect on one’s stamina.

Glass Manufacturing - (source: National Library of Australia)

Glass Manufacturing – (source: National Library of Australia)

Now I could relate many personal tales of numerous dirty, uncomfortable, incredibly hot/cold or tiring jobs jobs that I’ve done to earn a crust, but that’s not really the thrust of this story. What I’ve done is nothing unusual; however, as I mentioned earlier, these are jobs that few people are aware that exist or certainly don’t know what they involve. Those sipping boutique beers in their inner Melbourne haunts will likely have no idea of how the glass that the beer is served from was manufactured, how the raw produce that they are eating was produced, the cutlery they are eating with was made or how the equipment to cook their meals comes about; most wouldn’t care if you asked. And, as manufacturing moves ever increasingly off-shore, these jobs become even more remote from anyone’s experiences. Not only that, enormous levels of basic manufacturing skills and the associated support industry keeps disappearing from Australia.

Fridge Manufacturing 1957 Orange NSW - (source: ABC)

Fridge Manufacturing 1957 Orange NSW – (source: ABC)

And manufacturing isn’t the only issue, Australia’s agriculture and food manufacturing is similarly being hit from all directions, both local and international. Free trade agreements are always double edged swards and it’s never a given that there’ll be a balance between imports and exports to benefit all in an equitable manner. People complain about the high cost or poor quality of food, but never think about why that might be; they don’t realise that it’s just another example of dirty jobs being transferred elsewhere (ie overseas). Farmers often can’t find Australian workers to do basic work; take fruit picking for example, so when back packers are willing to do these dirty jobs, our government introduces taxes removing any incentive to do the work. If there are people willing to do work that no one else is prepared to do, why penalise the employer and employee?

Potato Farming - Cummaudo Farms Mirboo North Victoria

Potato Farming – Cummaudo Farms Mirboo North Victoria

Australia’s mining industry is also under significant threat, where many well-meaning individuals and groups simply don’t understand the real situation and call for its demise, suggesting that other industries will easily fill the vacuum. And it’s not just the big mining companies that are under threat, but small operators willing to take on risks are also being ‘undermined’ by thoughtless and unproductive regulations. For many it’s just a case of out of sight, out of mind, without any idea of the detrimental impacts such losses may entail. The following photograph, I suspect, shows more productive workers than you’ll find in any Australia Council list of taxpayer-funded arts-grant recipients from the last ten years.

Pre-Start Underground Employees Briefing - (source: Ulan Coal)

Pre-Start Underground Employees Briefing – (source: Ulan Coal)

I’ve only given a brief insight on how I feel things are travelling in Australia today and I’m not quite sure that I’ve expressed things altogether clearly, but I hope that you get the idea. So what’s the solution? I’m not really sure. But I do believe that making people aware of what’s happening is an important step. Unfortunately, we don’t have anyone like Mike Rowe in Australia promoting and running campaigns such as he does in America. So maybe this story is a small attempt to advertise that we need to start promoting work ethics, trade training, local industry and have similar campaigns, in order to bring back those skills and the jobs that are fast disappearing from our shores. That is, let’s ensure that ‘dirty jobs’ isn’t a dirty word. But I won’t hold my breath.

And I think this is apropos when talking about today’s work ethic.

Update 1: At least some sanity has prevailed and the backpacker tax has been dropped:

The Federal Government has responded to pressure and dropped its plan to introduce a 32.5 per cent tax on backpacker workers.

Instead, working holidaymakers will be taxed at 19 per cent from their first dollar earned.

Increasingly dismayed farmers, tourism operators and regional communities said a 32.5 per cent tax on backpacker labour would be a “disaster” at harvest time.

Backpackers make up 25 per cent of the farm workforce each year.

In the Northern Territory, they represent 85 per cent of farm labourers.

Update 2: Perhaps I spoke too soon:

It’s widely known that the backpacker tax bill removes the tax free threshold for backpackers and increases the tax on their superannuation to a whopping 95 per cent, and that a linked bill increases the passenger movement charge, giving us one of the highest, most anti-tourist departure taxes in the world.

But not many know about the bill’s hidden pro-union provisions.

Update 3: And if you think government is here to help business, think again:

SELF-STORAGE mogul Sam Kennard has lashed out at the government’s gender equality watchdog after his business was “named and shamed” for not filling a complicated annual questionnaire.

“While politicians and economists lament the declining productivity in our economy, it is exactly this red-tape and the imposts of these bureaucracies that tax the efforts of enterprise. If the government was serious about tackling productivity it would get out of our way — it would abolish the WGEA and the abundance of other regulations they lay on.”

Update 4: With Hazelwood power station closing down and a looming threat to Australian Sustainable Hardwoods, the unintended consequences of such closures just keep appearing.

Update 5: This, beggars belief:

Mike Rowe Has Been “Restricted” By YouTube

4 thoughts on “More Than Dirty Jobs

  1. beththeserf

    Lovely post, Ray. As a young uni student, I once drove with my father,
    an engineer trial and error innovator, through the back streets of South
    Melbourne and Footscray, as he picked up manufactured parts he needed.
    He told me the history of some of these back lane firms, that had innovated
    techniques that were taken up overseas… an eye opener for a Humanities’
    student. )

    1. Ray Post author

      Thanks for that and great to hear from someone that has experienced these out of the way places and industries. You’ve seen a part of history that few will ever have claim to have experienced.

  2. Geoffrey Heard

    I’m with you on a lot of that, Ray, having grown up on a farm (which included digging a hole in shale and emptying the pan toilet into it every Saturday), and having done a bit of dirty work in the bag recycling unit of a chook food maker, and in tearing down old equipment in a paper manufacturing plant, and whatnot.

    BUT when you start crying over mining, you lose me. Mining, which has a totally undeserved first right over all land in Australia, which today has a few workers driving gigantic machines (and still wearing overalls, pretending they are blue collar worker driving front end loaders or something), which returns enormous profits to mostly overseas owners and a handful of individuals in Australia, which played and continues to play the key role in killing off key new manufacturing opportunities in solar power engineering along with the feed-in stuff around that, large and samll (do you know about Australia’s role in research and development of technology in that area, now killed off by government action at the behest of the miners?), which has enjoyed enormous windfall profits and avoided paying their way in tax and royalties at every opportunity?

    And is now into fracking — fouling the ground water in vast farming areas in the driest continent on earth?

    Come on, Ray, just because a job is dirty doesn’t mean it is good. Oh — and even the fruit picking is drying up; huge foreign corporations have taken over the Australian canning and marketing operations and they would much rather import fruit that grow it in Australia; and the supermarkets, dominated by two companies, are no help at all in supporting local growing. Growing fruit in Victoria, by the way, is becoming increasingly problematic due to climate change. Have a look at this book, Ray: Several farmers talk about having to abandon fruit for other farming, and why. The author, in his late 70s, was a country boy, fgrew up in the Mallee, and knows all about dirty work and dirty football, by the way.

    Incidentally, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for backpackers — basically rich kids from O/S who will bludge off anyone and anything. Let them pay tax! Hire migrant workers from the likes of PNG where people live on the edge, desperate for a dollar. Let THEM go back home with their earnings untaxed! (In fact, they will spend much of their earnings in Australia buying gifts for their extended family.) Racist Australia doesn’t like doing that so much, though, because PNGeans are (gasp!) brown and black skinned.

    As for life in Mirboo North (is there a Mirboo South, or even a Mirboo? — I can’t remember a single footballer coming from either :)), you aren’t living in the 50s. Go to and get hold of “Well done, those men” by Barry Heard, a book in the spirit of “I was only 19”. Went to the Vietnam war. At the same time, TV invaded Gippsland, and so he returned, needing the support of the community he left behind, to find the community wasn’t there any longer (or at least, was there only in attenuated form) because the invasion of TV had killed off much community interaction. Fascinating.

    1. Ray Post author

      What I meant from that story is that we are losing all the skill sets that help make a nation productive and wealthy. Manufacturing along with the associated skills are disappearing. Mike Rowe sees this happening in the US as well, it seems to be endemic to all western nations lately.

      As I pointed out in another story, I’m somewhat ambivalent when it comes to the supposed effects of mining, fracking etc. I certainly don’t support open slather, but we are slowly being crippled when it comes to energy prices and much of that has to do with abandoning cheap and plentiful resources in the name of saving the planet. Whether doing so has any material effect or not doesn’t seem to matter.

      As for itinerant workers, we have plenty of overseas workers come over here just for the vegetable picking season, mostly Asian judging by the Coolie hats evident in the fields. At least these people have no fear of undertaking ‘dirty jobs’ and they go back home much wealthier than had they not had the opportunity.

      The casual and friendly lifestyle we have is very reminiscent of 50s. People actually say hello and good morning and mean it. 🙂

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