Surfers Who Work – Episode 7

boil the billyThe Smoko

The Smoko, or smoke-o, or smoke-oh, is a term used for a short, often informal cigarette break taken during work – according to the dictionary – which could be no further from the truth, as the smoko is in fact a series of highly ritualized and lengthy work free periods taken throughout the working day and at the client’s expense, bless him.

What is little known outside the construction industry is the methodology used by the principal builder in completely disguising the vast number of smoko hours in his specifications. A handy guide to the mathematics he must lose is as follows: Twenty men on site, three smoko breaks a day, twenty minutes to a half hour each break, six days a week, six month job.

There’s a three thousand hour plus non-productive period over the scope of the job that the soon to be impoverished client will be expected to pay at least $45 per hour. A truly hurtful sum, and one that must never be bought to the negotiating table. Workers of the World Must Unite.

Not surprising then that the site is regularly parked out with new eight-cylinder two-cab utes covered in exotic surf location stickers while the client rattles up from time to time in his wife’s old Datsun, hoping for a look at progress, which is invariably denied him under the pretext of Work Safety Regulations.

The act of taking a smoko itself is settled deep in tradition and is a highly structured and important symbolic and public affirmation of Industrial Social Rankings, as evidenced by the varying quality of food on display at those times when the workers seek their nourishment.

The Gentlemen of the Trades usually come supplied with four or five large containers containing rare roost beef, smoked hams, a selection of fresh vegetables, home baked bread, a variety of mustards, a collection of sauces, small packets of iodised salt and cracked pepper, a couple of thermos’ of tea or coffee, fresh baked biscuits, a chilled bottle of mineral water, fresh fruit, cheeses and a couple of fragrant hand towels for the face and hands after repast.

Their conversation is almost always of a highly technical nature involving the placement and structural integrity of lintels, architraves, joists and load bearing timbers. From time to time they may discuss their next trip to the Mauritius, or their last trek to the Mentawis.

The Labourers, usually visitors to this wide brown land from Europe or Asia – and when they deem it necessary to work in order to keep starvation at arms length, New Zealanders  – seem to enjoy a more basic fare of stale loaves rubbed over with fresh garlic. They sometimes are seen to furtively scarf the contents of battered saucepans, and for their thirst there is always the cement hose.

They are unfortunately, and in the main, prone to public flatulence and broad humour.

The Apprentices rarely take their smoko, or lunch, with anybody other than themselves, and even that arrangement is rigorously disciplined along Beach of Origin prejudices. The sweet juices of life rarely intermingle amongst these less than marginally awarded youth when some come care of sheltered southern corners, and others evolve from shallow rock reefs. Collaroy/ Dee Why Point for the uninitiated here.

Eating habits are however commonly shared and are at times likened to the ravening dismemberment of discarded offal by a famished shark pack. Apprentices are generally regarded as a subhuman species in the construction industry and when not used for fetch and carry duties are told to go away to some distant corner of the workplace and either dig large holes or fill them in.

The fact that they carry out this function day after day is an indication of their willingness to please, a weakness only too easily exploited by the fascists amongst us, and their lackeys.

Mussolini after all, as is widely known, built well and built often – and was eventually hung by his apprentices, though wrong side down, or up.