IN the lead up to the Maylands Brickworks open day, former worker David Weatherhead made a surprise visit to the heritage site to rekindle some old memories.
“I worked there a couple of times, first in 1963 and later on it would have been about 1980,” Mr Weatherhead, now 84, recalls.
“It was a job,” he says, and one he was thankful to have as “the employment situation wasn’t good” back then.
It could be dangerous work at times, though more so in the early years. There were a couple of fires in 1948 and 1952, some injured workers over the years, while local children would sometimes wander into the site to play and get burned by hot ashes or suffer mishaps playing with the brick-moving rail trucks.
In 1938, worker Alexander Humble died in a sand collapse. It was notoriously dangerous work and smaller landslides had happened before; Humble himself had been partly buried twice in recent months.
On the day he died he remarked about the danger, with papers of the day saying he told his workmate “if I get buried, don’t bother about digging me out. Just place two shovels in the form of a cross on the sand, and write on them ‘Killed in Action’ or Died Doing His Duty’.”
His premonition came true moments later and he was buried in 150 tons of sand. Frantic digging by 50 men couldn’t save him in time.
Mr Weatherhead, who now lives in Midvale, says there were still some workplace dangers decades later: “The most dangerous thing … the clay came up to the machine on a little railway line from a clay pit. They bring it up a railway line in these little trucks, and one of these trucks got derailed and we had to get it up on the rails.
“You’re up there on these slippery rails and down about 20 feet below you there’s old wreckage, old machinery there, if you slipped and went down on top of that stuff you’d be in a lot of trouble.”
There were a lot of characters on site – some jokers, some irascible.
“It was a mixture. I remember a bloke named Jimmy MacLennan, he could fight, he was a tough character. He had red hair, a big mop of red hair. And Phil Simpson who was a drawer – he drew the bricks out of the kiln after they’d been burnt – Phil Simpson addressed Jimmy as ‘Strawb’, a reference to his red hair.
“Jimmy left his face looking like it’d been through a mincer. So that quietened Phil down after that.”
The plant closed at the end of 1982, and there’s “probably a handful of blokes” still around, he says.
“It’s a few years ago now. Most of the blokes that I knew are no longer with us.”
During his recent visit he bumped into the Friends of Maylands’ Brickworks member Kathryn Lance.
“I just walked around the outside fence, just to have a bit of a gander at the old joint, and everything had completely changed. Where the old claypits used to be there’s a big lake, it’s all water now.”
Looking around the old buildings he says “it’s all neat and tidy. Not like when I was there”.
The Friends of Maylands Brickworks are holding an open day on December 13 from 1-4pm, and are hoping to hear from former workers, their families, or anyone with a connection to the historic site. Get in touch via their “Friends of Maylands Brickworks” Facebook page or call 0439 491 585.
By DAVID BELL