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Tough Jobs: Labouring on a Government Building Site (Dogman or Dogsbody?)

Unless particularly privileged, everyone will have to do a job they aren’t completely fond of at least once in their lives, because as we all know - you need to earn at least some money in order to survive.

Over the years, I’ve done an eclectic mix of odd jobs to make ends meet. Now, I’m not putting any of the these roles down, as almost every occupation in the world is noble in its own right and there’s a huge amount to be said for an honest day’s work, but at the time I held these particular jobs, I found them tough. Despite their grueling nature, I’m still glad I did them.

I’d like to start by giving an account of my first day as a labourer/Dogman (crane assistant) at a large government construction site in Wellington, New Zealand’s vibrant capital city…

It was in the middle of a sweltering summer (so not too long after Xmas down there!) and I was temping for a local agency. I got a call early one mid-week morning, briefed on my task and told to get myself down to Thorndon to report to the site boss.

After a hot and sweaty 20 minute cycle along the harbour, I arrived at a bustling and very noisy building site which was rife with white hard hats and day glow orange workman’s vests. I parked up my bike and entered the noisy, cavernous ground site, missing the porta-cabin door on the way in. I had no idea where to go and was feeling a bit nervous (I had laboured on many building sites before but never one that big) so walked up to the nearest pack of workers I could find.

I explained to a couple of the guys that it was my first day and as they cackled at me, I could smell the stale booze on their breaths.

“No worries bro, get stuck in – we’ll show you what to do!”

“Cheers mate!”

These men were steel tiers and showed me how to bind steel rods together to place into the ground - I worked hastily with them, trying to show my worth whilst engaging in a bit of banter but after a while, I was greeted with a stern pat on the back…

It was the site foreman and he accused me of being over an hour late. He was not happy. I explained the confusion and that I’d been tying the steels to which he laughed (luckily) and told me of my naivety - they were contractors and I wasn’t meant to be working for them, I was meant to be working for the site owners.

After gulping down some water, I was assigned a host of back breaking tasks including hand lugging large quantities of debris out of steep chasms in the ground, wheel barrowing bricks from the loading bay to uneven areas of the site and irrigating water with a very tangled, very heavy hose suction system. At no point was there a morsel of shade, so needless to say I was completely dehydrated, sleepy, weak at the knees and badly sunburned.

After lunch, I spent 5 minutes hiding out in the portable loo just to get some shelter from the sun’s rays, but once I heard my name being bellowed by the foreman, I ran to duty as fast as my blistered feet could carry me. The boss was happy with my work and wanted to officially trial me as ‘Dogman’. I had little experience with this, but it involved me communicating with a very impatient crane driver through a muffled walkie talkie and navigating gargantuan lumps of steel from one end of the site to the other. After a while I got into a rhythm and almost forgot my sunburn, this was until I had to climb up onto the tin roof…

I apprehensively lugged myself up onto the makeshift roof and with the sun beaming into my eyes I was temporarily blinded. I could vaguely hear the cries of urgency coming from the walkie talkie but before I could react, a large lump of steel collided with my head, knocking my hard hat to the floor and me onto my backside. A good third of the building site pointed and laughed at me – luckily it was the end of the day!

I wheeled the bike home (through lack of energy) and after 40 odd minutes, I sat back with my favourite chair with a cold one - it was one of the best I’d ever tasted!

What I Learned… 

  • Listen carefully to instructions. By not listening properly to my phone brief, I neglected to report to the correct place and although I was keen, got off to the wrong start. Follow instructions and if you’re not sure, never be afraid to ask - you’ll be better off for it.
  • Always prepare for your working environment. Although I had steel toe caps on, I certainly wasn’t dressed appropriately for the weather. Thick denim jeans made me hot and sluggish and I hadn’t accounted for being outdoors all day, so I didn’t bring sun cream and got badly burned. A little bit of research or thought when preparing for any new job makes life a lot easier in the long run!

It’s rare that anyone falls into their desired career straight away and you may have to experiment with different jobs to get where you need to be. This isn’t a bad thing, variety it the spice of life and you can learn important lessons from every single job you do - so, it’s worth trying a few!

What was your toughest ever job?

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