The Painters Chrismas Party Chunder on the Train to Revesby.

Our first home in Australia.

Our first home in Australia.

Of all the memories told in front of good decent people, this piece is the one to avoid. Please leave the room now…If you asked what I am by profession it would be better to list the things I am not. Certainly not a lawyer, doctor or dentist. Nor an articled clerk or keeper of tropical fish. That leaves still a lot of jobs. It is likely that I have worked at many of the other available options.

One of those was working on swinging stages. In those early days they were primitive wooden platforms suspended by steel cables or thick ropes from timber needles on top of the building’s roof on outside multi-story buildings. They were hoisted up and down the exterior by the use of winches or by a combination of pulleys and ropes. It was very well paid but not a job for the nervous or faint hearted. I started at nineteen and looked at my savings every week. I wanted to save up to go back to my school friends and life in Holland. The savings were kept in a metal box.

We all know that Australian Christmas parties at work involves a lot of arm movements lifting copious amounts of brown ale. They have calmed somewhat now. During my swinging stage operations in the early sixties, I was employed by a very large painting company with over one hundred fifty men and many apprentices. Their Christmas parties were legendary. They were held underneath the offices in Blues Point Rd, North Sydney. It was an area that also held the ropes, cables, ladders and winches and other equipment for those swinging stages. The joint was tidied up and stacked with boxes of the most glorious looking bright pink smiling prawns shimmering on ice. The lubrication necessary for ingesting the prawns was given and provided by large kegs of beer. Remember Christmas is very hot in Australia and working outside was thirsty and very hard dangerous work. The men were given the afternoon off to collect their pay and join the traditional Christmas Party. We all descended towards the office and the much looked forward Chrismas Party in droves. Thirsty and keyed up like hell. We were in for a cruising bruising but earned it.

All this has to be seen in the period when after-work drinking was the norm. A walk past any pub at 4.30 pm was a Bedlam re-invented. The din was overwhelming. Course oaths renting the cigarette smoke riddled stinking beer heat air. Large burly blue singled men standing at the bar. The trough below their feet ready for spills and butts. Pyjama clad kids with mums waiting outside for dad to come home, hoping they would not have totally pissed the earnings up against the walls of bitumen coated lavatories. It wasn’t a good time.

The verb and noun ‘chunder’ relates to much earlier times still. The English convicts on the way to Australia’s Botany Bay. During big seas and suffering bad food, huge waves and the first of the prisoners getting sick. Those on the top deck while vomiting overboard would shout to those on the lower deck ‘watch out under.’ In time this became shortened to watchunder and finally to ‘chunder’! It was a form of consideration for their ‘mates’. Mateship is still high on our national psyche.

It might also be possible to now join the above explanation and include the wise and profound Australian saying to ‘coming the raw prawn’. This means telling a lie or having someone on, as in; Don’t come the raw prawn to me, matey!. Are you getting what I am leading to?

I too was drawn to the Siren call of the Christmas party but combined it with picking up two suits from Reuben F Scarf in Sydney’s George Street first. At the time they promised two suits for the price of one. Tailor measured they were and dark charcoal in colour. After arrival at the party I did get stuck in many prawns and drank endless schooners of beer. Boy, I felt euphoric and happy, a rare event at that time. Two suits and my Christmas pay in pocket, the latter waiting to be placed in the metal box at home in Revesby.

But, for those that left the room to avoid unpleasantness; it won’t be long now, it is coming to a peak.

On the way home, and don’t ask me how, I got on the train, things started to come down a bit. Rather, things started to come up a bit. I had safeguarded my bag with the two suits and was lucid enough to feel the reassuring packet of my earnings in my pocket. I was kind-o-getting in preparation for an event I have never forgotten. Oddly enough, with all I had coped with, even now, I don’t really feel remorse or shame. It is or was really an event of reckoning or getting even, a kind of reward for things, a cathartic letting go…

Fortunately, at those earlier times the trains still had those ornate luggage racks above the seats and smokers could open windows, not to let the smoke out but to jettison the cigarette butts out. Anyway, I opened the window and ‘chundered’. It was wholeheartedly and with gusto. The prawns were not raw. Barry Humphreys would have regaled endlessly on about the stained-glass effect of the windows behind me as the train was in full flight. The passengers behind me, oh no, oh no, nervously racing to close their windows. Even so, no one complained, not that I would remember.

I came home to my parents in Revesby with my two suits intact and my money saved. What an achievement.

You can all come back inside now.

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17 Responses to “The Painters Chrismas Party Chunder on the Train to Revesby.”

  1. Yvonne Says:

    Phew, I was very worried about your suits and pay packet, mate!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. rod Says:

    It seems you have survived those early exuberant years very well. Would the suits still fit you?


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      The suits have gone. I don’t have a suit now. I have shirts, jeans, very good boots, sandals and very thick Norwegian socks.
      The suit might still fit me. My weight hasn’t changed.
      Look forward to you blog and its additions.


  3. Andrew Says:

    We have all been there, Gerard. Some of us many times.


  4. Lottie Nevin Says:

    and why are there always carrots in it? :mrgreen:


  5. Curt Mekemson Says:

    Had me going. I too, pictured the savings and suits disappearing. All you lost was your puke. Laughing. –Curt


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      One of the most lethal concoction especially during the hot summer months, is the ‘prawn cocktail’ especially if prepared the night before. You know, the rim of the glass coated with salt, the prawns marinating in some dodgy liqueur.
      My mates wedding in 1964, scores of quests outside bent over, fertilizing the rose bushes. The bride all cramping and giving over to huge heaving. Not nice.
      Be warned!


  6. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    Glad to have the raw prawn explained. I was very relieved by the outcome… that’s a little more verbally precise than I intended.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Ha,ha. Australian vernacular has many really delightful sayings. One of the best is ‘on the train to Rookwood’ or, ‘feeling as crook as Rookwood.’

      It means, dying or dead already. Corpses used to be railed to Rookwood which is the largest necropolis in the Southern Hemisphere. A really huge cemetary where one could easily spend days exploring all the nooks and crannies…Another good one is in Buenos Aires. Check it out!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Silver in the Barn Says:

    And now I understand your (to me) obscure prawn reference in another comment on M-R’s blog, I believe. I have a weak stomach….I need to go lie down now…..

    Liked by 1 person

  8. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Well at least you had a window next to where you were sitting. You’ve certainly had myriad experiences in life. You are able to write about them with humor and that is appealing. Not to visualize your suffering and embarrassment but a good many folks identify with your situation. I can imagine that you have not looked at a train in the same way since that “sick spell” so man years ago.


  9. roughseasinthemed Says:

    Just showed this post to my partner. Tried to read it to him but got a blast of Podenco barks signifying neglect so I passed him the iPad. Said it was a really good read. He first went to Aus in 79, to Tasmania, and by the time I met him we were in Sydney in 85. He remembers the beer on site, the parties, not the prawns but he would have gone for the meat. And even when we left, it was still custom and practice to fall out of work and into the bar. I’ll try and remember to write a post. I think I may have a sanitised version kicking around about painters and dockers and mafia …


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      So pleased he enjoyed the read. There is nothing quite like praise! Thank you. Painters and dockers had there detracters but also good for workers and mateship. Union letters were always addressed: Dear Comrade…etc.


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