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By Malcolm Qualtrough 09 August 2018

Sometime in 1971 or 1972 when I was a Trainee Engineering Assistant for the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV) I had just begun my career in the Electricity Supply Industry. I was either 19 or 20 and was posted to Metro Protection in Rooney Street.

I was unfamiliar with many things, especially the equipment such as High Voltage Fuses and Protective relays; and how they fitted in to the system. Rooney Street seemed to be a rabbit warren of offices and stores. It was in fact and still is the central depot for distribution assets around the City of Melbourne and surrounding suburbs.

The Protection Section I was allocated to, looked after the small street sub stations especially around the Richmond and Toorak areas. The best I can describe this is that they looked after two types of sub stations. First was the traditional sub station with access from the street. These had a few switches or circuit breakers and a few basic overload protection relays, usually glass covered Westinghouse type.

The second types of sub stations were hidden in brick building not much bigger than a suburban backyard toilet, and in back yards they were. We did no more than go around checking settings on the relays and looking at them physically to see if they appeared in good shape. To get to these access was through someone’s garden many mouldy and overgrown with weeds.

We also inspected the battery supplies for the tripping circuits (supply to initiate opening of the circuit breaker). These batteries were the old carbon telephone type batteries, two in series from what I can remember. They were cylindrical and about 9 inches high.

The testers worked in pairs with a Holden Ute between them. All their gear, old wooden ammeters and voltmeters, and test leads were all jumbled up with their test leads and wire in the back. Their most sophisticated bit of equipment was an AVO multimeter.

One of the old guys in the section was dedicated to testing and replacing the batteries. I think he had a big Ford F500 at his disposal. I worked with him for a week. To my horror he had it worked out the he could each morning drive down Bourke of Collins Street each morning at 8 AM and he made sure he got every red light so that he could watch the girls in their min skirts coming to work.

I was further horrified, and it must have been my last trip with him, when he parked outside the Oakleigh Swimming Pool one morning. I asked him why we had stopped and he said, “to watch the School Kids in the pool. Because of my obvious embarrassment, I wasn’t asked to go with him again. Also I made a point of not talking with him after this.

My first job at Rooney Street was to go to the store and get a wheelbarrow full of High Voltage Powder Filled fuses. These had been taken from service and returned to the store for testings. Your job was to put them in a DC circuit and measure the voltage drop across them. If they passed (which was 99% of the time) you returned them to the store as ok.

The rest of my time at Rooney Street was spent learning how to be a Government Worker and having fun.

One of the testers one day wanted a big rock for his garden, so he got me to go with him to help. I thought we are going to the nursery. No, off we went out almost to Sunbury so we could find a huge granite boulder. We arrived back at the depot and were admiring the boulder, which took up half the back when the Engineer in charge came down to speak to us. Frantically as we saw him coming we threw our dustcoats over the offending item.

Almost every morning we got in to the routine of dropping in to a certain milk bar in Bridge Road, Richmond. The lady made special milkshakes for everyone with twice the amount of milk and ice cream that the usual. After this we returned to the depot for a cup of coffee. The “brew-room” was always packed with people; I had no idea what they did.

There was time for practical jokes. One of the testers had his own tin of Milo. It was a great joke when he sat the table trying in vain to get the lid (which had been soldered shut) off.

Two of the testers were great mates; they travelled around in their Ute together. They were both the essential “jokers” of the section. One morning we were discussing a new TV show with one of them; and how good it was. The first “joker” said to the second “joker” when he arrived – “Wasn’t that a good show last night”. The answer was no. Next minute the two of them were on the floor and had each other by the throat. This was the end of their partnership.

We got in to trouble with the Cadet Engineer on day for playing volleyball in the workshop. The SECV had many cadet engineers on rotation. He usually was good- natured and could share in the fun, but not this time. There was one serious guy in the section, a senior tester. We became friends and eventually I used to visit his place in Croydon after playing Squash together.

He got me drunk on his homemade wine one night. It was as it is today a long drive home from Croydon to where my lodgings were in Yarraville especially when you are half drunk.

To finish this story I have to relate the usual Friday afternoon episodes of a counter-lunch and the trip home. Each Friday we walked as a group to Graham Richmond’s Hotel (just off Church Street in Richmond). I always asked the waitress, Helga, for one her specials. This was vodka and raspberry lemonade.

After lunch around 2 PM we trudged back to the depot and waited around before walking to the East Richmond Station to get the train to Yarraville.

Not so many years after this the section was shut down and absorbed into another division and locality.

It was no wonder that I was indoctrinated with this culture for many years after, and it had an influence on what I did not achieve during my career in the Victorian Electricity Supply Industry.

© 2021 by Malcolm Qualtrough, Elizabeth Feisst and the late John Karran Qualtrough. 

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© Copyright by Malcolm Qualtrough, Elizabeth Feisst and the late John Karran Qualtrough.