THE DAY SHIFT: Faces and names

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THE DAY SHIFT: Faces and names

Big Mick was the size and shape of a steel door. As strong too.

He had broken teeth – although he rarely spoke and never smiled – and one side of his forehead bore the scar of a deep wound from long ago.

Someone said he was an ex-cop and had been bashed about the head a few too many times.

Whatever had happened to him he was an imposing, silent presence in the factory who kept to himself, sat alone at lunchtime and smoko, moved with slow resoluteness and no one tested him.

Except Boy Herewini.

Boy was a rangy, thirtysomething Maori guy half Big Mick's age and they circled each other with unspoken wariness. Boy would sometimes hone in close like a kitten testing the space around a large and formidable hedgehog.

Boy would make jokes which were never directly about Mick but we – and Mick – knew.

Some of us would laugh but never when Mick could see us.

And over the weeks I was there, Boy got more and more confident.

The more Mick glowered, the more Boy became cocky.

One day Big Mick took out Boy Herewini when he'd been pushed too far.

I wasn't there but people told me it was all over very quickly and Boy whimpered off. Mick said nothing, he rarely did because he didn't have to.

Athol wasn't there either, but then he never was.

For weeks I'd heard about Athol and how he was off on compo. He'd lost half a finger in the guillotine so was recovering at home for a while.

Chinese Ray said it wasn't the first time Athol had been injured at work and was off on compo.

About three weeks in he arrived back, a scrawny runt of man, slightly hunched and with a mischievous smirk.

Later that day there was a commotion from the box end of the factory. I arrived in time to see Athol being taken off to Hap's car with a part of a wooden box nailed to his right hand.

I never saw Athol after that, he was recovering at home while his compo was sorted out.

woodPekka from Finland turned up one day. He was tanned like glowing orange-brown amber, cheerful, handsome and spoke barely a word of English. I worked alongside him making wooden pallets in the yard and figured out he'd jumped ship to stay in New Zealand.

I never found out how he ended up at a factory in Penrose.

One day he showed me photos of the fjords near Trondheim in Norway where he lived and I think got on a ship. It was very beautiful and I promised myself I'd get there one day.

Chinese Ray – named to distinguish himself from the other Ray, a thin, sneering and secretive old man in an oversized suit who was a bookie – was also sometimes referred to as Bondy.

That was because no one knew anything about him. He'd been at the factory about 20 years, spoke with a pronounced Australian accent and although no one knew where he lived or anything about him he was rumoured to have a very beautiful daughter. Or lover.

All the mystery around him meant he was like a James Bond villain, hence Bondy. Although that had never really caught on.

Frank blew in one day like a hurricane and I got the impression he'd worked there before because he seemed to know everyone. Turned out he hadn't but that was Frank, he was chummy with everyone and we hit it off . . . for a while.

I actually wrote a short story based on him which was published in Metro.

They were long days in the sun making pallets or shifts in the factory which was dark and smelled of fresh wood chips, treated timber and cigarette smoke.

I enjoyed it all but always knew I would be leaving.

I remember the stained overalls Big Mick wore every day, the sound of the saws, the thunk of the nail gun and Pekka's photos of Trondheim where I still haven't been.

Big Mick, Boy Herewini, Athol Inch, Chinese Ray, Hap, Frank, Pekka . . . I worked with them for a couple of months five decades ago and have never forgotten them.

I imagine five days after I signed off they'd forgotten me.


These entries are of little consequence to anyone other than me Graham Reid, the author of this site, and maybe my family, researchers and those with too much time on their hands.

Enjoy these random oddities at Personal Elsewhere.

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Con Fowler - Jul 9, 2024

Maybe I do have too much time on my hands but nice nostalgic memories. I worked holiday jobs in several Auckland factories, including Crown Lynn. A great early education in people, cocky student getting schooled in draughts by barely literate old reprobates. I still remember muttered observations and advice about life , from old boys who had really lived. A lovely little article.

Jos - Jul 15, 2024

Great story mate!

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