Every now and then you come across something in normal, everyday life that makes you realise how extraordinary the ordinary is. Just last week I was walking down the street, my head filled with the mundane detail of shopping lists and ATM charges, when construction zone tape suddenly blocked my path.
“Pedestrians This Way” the sign said, re-routing traffic around the clutch of hi-vis vests worn by those iconic Aussie workers known as ‘Gangas’. ‘Ganga’ is ‘strine for Road Ganger and / or Council Roustabout and / or Person that Fills In Holes and Formwork- roads, footpaths, anywhere. They have been around since before Federation but thanks to rampant outsourcing of public works jobs, sightings are increasingly rare in the wild.
The conversation was hilarious. The apprentice was getting ribbed mercilessly about last Saturday night. The football was dissected try by controversial try. They worked fast, talking all the time, taking it in turns to sit on the Esky and have morning tea. The rhythmic scrape-slap of shovels and the stinging, metallic smell of wet concrete filled the air. The ute radio played vintage Oz Crawl.
Well look at that, I said to myself. Growing up in this country how many times have I seen that scene and never even thought about it? Like Bob Hawke sinking a beer when we won the Americas Cup, it was Australian as, like watching a Midnight Oil film clip or a movie with Bryan Brown in it. It is part of who we are. It reaches out to me and says ‘you’re one of us’. I knew I had to write it up.
“Hey!” I called out. “How’s it going?”
Conversation abruptly ceased.
“You’re doing a great job!” I said. “Can I talk to you for an article I’m writing?”
They all looked at each other and leaned on their shovels.
“You’re not from Work Cover are ya?” asked one.
“I’m not that kind of girl” I replied. “No kidding guys I’m a writer – how long have you all been gangers?”
“Seven days” said the apprentice sheepishly , still looking hung over.
“Five years, two months and three days” said the one next to him “but who’s counting?”
“How about you?” I asked the one in the Supervisor’s Vest. He shrugged nonchalantly.
“Too bloody long!” he said and they all laughed.
“Nah serious, I dunno” he said. “Would have to ask the Wife.”
“Concrete’s going off Boss” said the apprentice.
“Yeah righto – get back to work you lot!”
He nodded goodbye with a lopsided grin so I left them to it. The whole encounter made me feel happy.
The world seems full of hate and division. Trump, Brexit, the Middle East. Business Review Weekly can have it’s billionaires with their wage theft and rampant exploitation. Canberra can shove it’s outrageous and destructively self interested policies.
When the fortunes of all of humanity can rise and fall on Wall Street and the world has been plunged into permanent war by a few selfish rich people, there was something timeless and reassuring about this small bunch of gangers.
They were real. As real as the concrete they were shovelling to the harmonica in The Boys Light Up. As I walked away one of them sat on the Esky doing karaoke with a mouth full of sandwich, not a selfie stick in sight.
Now that’s real. Real people. Real life.
Copyright Suzanne James 2019