50 Years - 50 Stories: Luggage Point - The Early Days

50 Years - 50 Stories - Luggage Point Continued Warren Liebke

Job 552 – A Baptism of Fire – Luggage Point

The following is a story submitted by Warren Liebke, Technical Writer, who has been with the Company for over 40 years! Warren began his career as an apprentice boilermaker with Maxwell Contracting - his first assignment being general assistance with site work at Luggage Point Wastewater Treatment Plant. It was a steep learning curve for young Warren, the mystifying jargon of the waste water world and the stench of the waste itself proving quite a challenge for a young lad to adapt to...

I first set foot on the premises of Maxwell Contracting on the morning of Wednesday, June 18, 1980; as I nervously made my way towards the entrance to the workshop, a booming voice behind me stopped me in my tracks – ‘The Voice’ introduced itself as Peter Maxwell.

Upon the completion of a very concise ‘workshop-induction’ – comprised only of Peter pointing to the toilet door as we walked briskly past – I was initially assigned to Howard Whitehouse, the company handyman.

After several days under Howard’s tutelage (and now able to decipher his impenetrable Yorkshire dialect) I was approached by another gentleman, who introduced himself as Barney Hackney. I was to be reassigned to assist Barney on a work site at the mouth of the Brisbane River – the name meant nothing to me at the time - "Luggage Point".

Barney’s instructions were clear, concise and non-negotiable, “Be at my place tomorrow morning at six o’clock, do not be late.”

I promptly arrived at the said address, transferred to Barney’s company ute – he was waiting with the motor running - and commenced the journey to Luggage Point. While travelling, Barney enjoyed listening to the radio and talking incessantly about... budgerigars. Unfortunately, I was unable to enhance my knowledge of this Australian native bird as the volume Barney had set the radio to made hearing any spoken word impossible. Interestingly; Barney would always turn off the heater long before we arrived at the work site, “So we can acclimatise to the outside temperature when we have to get out the ute” was his rationale – I declined to challenge this flawless logic.

Having arrived at our destination we passed through the main gate; Barney continued on past several permanent buildings and demountable lunch rooms to proceed towards – in the distance – a number of large circular concrete structures, eventually parking under the overhang of the first tank.

“This is Luggage Point Treatment Plant; Maxwell Contracting are building a number of clarifiers for installation in these tanks – this particular kind of clarifier is a ‘suction-lift’ type…” With the radio now turned off I could finally hear Barney’s precis – I had absolutely no idea what a clarifier was, what it did, or how it worked; Barney continued using terms like feedwell, centre column, baffle, scum box, top water level – my head was spinning with this new terminology. And if I thought my head was spinning – while in the relative confines of the ute – it was nothing compared to the experience when I first opened the door.

While the dust, permeating throughout the site generated by the constant flow of construction traffic on dusty tracks stung my eyes and dried out my mouth; and the noise, from the adjacent pneumatic equipment degenerated any communication between Barney and I to sign language; it was ultimately the smell that hit me like a Mike Tyson right hook.

As I stood by the ute in mild disbelief - my eyes were stinging, my mouth felt like the bottom of a parrot cage, my ears were ringing and the stench made me want to be sick.

Armed with a myriad of plastic bags; the labelled tags referencing all the nuts, bolts and washers assigned to a specific assembly drawing, Barney and I were ready for work. To access the peripheral walkway – surrounding the closest clarifier tank – was firstly to find, and secondly to climb, the sadly-neglected wooden ladder allocated for access to this specific tank.

Once this obstacle was negotiated, one received an extraordinary view of the sheer size of the concrete tanks and the parcel of land set aside for the development of the site.

Mercifully; the human body is fearfully and wonderfully made and over the forthcoming weeks I became accustomed to the ‘Luggage Point experience'; and more importantly – via Barney imparting his vast knowledge – began to understand the terminology, and the workings, of a ‘suction-lift’ clarifier.

One evening I received a phone call from Peter Maxwell – “Report to the factory tomorrow morning at six o’clock, do not be late.”

The following morning; I dutifully arrived at the workshop to be introduced to John Maxwell – Peter’s brother; I was to continue to work at Luggage Point with John Maxwell as my new supervisor.

As with Barney; John and I worked hard, initially installing – per clarifier tank – the hot-dip galvanised centre column, bridge support structure and finally the three aluminium ‘truss’ bridges.

Once the basic structures were in place, we would dispense with John’s HQ Holden ute and start driving the company five-ton truck to site – the tray loaded with suction-lift pipes, fibreglass scrapers and more plastic bags full of nut, bolts and washers. After several weeks labouring hard on the project, John advised me we were to receive two more staff members to increase productivity.

Little did I know I was about to meet – and work along beside – the legendary John ‘Joe’ ‘Blakey’ Blake… who became my supervisor not long after.

Blakey and I were like a ‘well-oiled’ machine, we were, figuratively-speaking, ‘cooking’ – and it certainly felt that way in the confines of those concrete tanks as the daytime temperatures increased.

[Our tans were coming along beautifully…]

Before we knew it, Christmas was just a few weeks away – one afternoon, after we arrived back at the workshop, Peter Maxwell – in his inimitable style – announced we had three more days at Luggage Point to have one clarifier operational. Blakey had only just requested the council start filling one of the tanks with water to allow preliminary testing and argued we needed another week.

The ensuing discussion was fruitless – Blakey desperately outlined what was required prior to having a clarifier operational. Peter Maxwell did not listen to a word. We had three days…

Tasked with meeting an impossible deadline, John and I concentrated purely on the first clarifier mechanism; double checking every nut and bolt was secure and all threads covered in a liberal coat of anti-seize paste. We confirmed every slide gate mechanism operated as per the design, and all drive and idler wheels were correctly aligned and did not scuff.

After completing two particularly arduous days on site, the final Friday morning arrived – the tank was only half-full of water, though it was still at least two metres deep at the outer periphery. After a final check of the equipment, Blakey pressed the “Start” button. At first, I thought nothing was happening – it was not until I looked more closely did I realise the mechanism was actually moving. A quick calculation in my head – drive wheel circumference multiplied by gearmotor RPM – provided me with an approximate speed of two metres per minute, a very leisurely amble.

The clarifier operated perfectly – Blakey and I celebrated the milestone by diving off the bridge into the water below; after lunch, and after another couple of dives from the still rotating bridge mechanism, we tidied the area, packed our tools – returned a ‘borrowed’ council radio – and like cormorants standing on a partially exposed tree stump, their wings outstretched – John and I dried ourselves in the sun.

Our time at Luggage Point had come to an end – at no stage did we have to sign in or out every time we left the site, neither did we have to confirm we had been immunised against a plethora of contagious diseases, we never attended a site induction, we did not have to keep a record of our daily work schedule – no-one had heard of an ITP…

To Barney Hackney, John Maxwell and John 'Blakey' Blake – who introduced me to the challenges of site work; I thank them sincerely. My eventual return to the factory gave me the privilege to work with a number of quality tradesmen; Robert Mason, David Kreis, Phil Gray to name but a few… My thanks also to these men.

Luggage Point has continued to operate successfully since the 80's and we continue to enjoy a wonderful working relationship with QUU (Queensland Urban Utiliities).