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Boring Jobs

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

“Who’d want to work in the bush?” a young bloke said to me the other day, “it’s too boring.”

The young bloke was involved in something to do with software which sounded boring to me, but I’d heard this line before, and knew where he was coming from. To him, bush life meant small country towns, and this meant limited social and sporting opportunities, lack of excitement, no stimulation, probably no pretty young women.

I spent all of my working life as a forester working in the bush and living in small county towns. The young bloke’s words got me thinking about boring jobs I had in those days.

Like the time I spent as a fire lookoutman down in the karri forest. I was 19, and it was the end of my second year at University where I was studying forestry. My scholarship required me to work all vacations in the bush.

That summer I was posted to Pemberton. The District Forester loved getting forestry students over the summer months because he could use them to man the infamous Gardner Tree Fire Lookout, a position rejected by the locals. Within a few days of reporting, I found out why. I had been delivered to the tree, escorted to the top and seen first-hand its fragility.

Gardner Tree, photo taken in the early 1970s

I lived in the hut at the foot of the tree, and spent the entire day in the cabin at its top. Gardner Tree was the tallest of the tree lookouts, nearly 70 metres in height, and it commanded the virgin karri forest all along the lower Warren. It was unpopular because the top third of the tree was dead and riddled with white ants, and in the slightest wind the tree would creak and groan like an arthritic old pensioner. It was also a fearsome tree to climb, as the pegs near the top were loose, and there was an awkward spot where you had to squeeze past an old limb stub before clambering up through the trapdoor into the cabin.

Paddy Evans, who used to bring out my stores, told me laughingly once that there was an old saying about Gardner Tree – when you got to the top, scrambled in and slammed the trapdoor shut, a feeling of security would come over you. It was false security, Paddy said, but this was better than none.

Fire watching is a solitary job and the hours crawl by. I suppose I would have been bored to death, had it not been for the inherent interest of working in the top of one of the world’s tallest trees, the opportunity to spot and report bushfires, the occasional glimpse of a passing steamer on the ocean to the south, and the wondrous tales of my fellow towermen, with whom I would chat for hours on the bush telephone.

I suppose it all depends on your personality. Different things are boring to different people.

I met an old codger once who had spent a lifetime in the bush, growing up on a farm and then becoming a shearer. When he was in his 50s, he told me, he gave up shearing and took up a new job, mallee root picking for farmers in the new land being cleared at that time in the Great Southern. “It was the best job I ever had,” the old codger told me, “I never once got bored.”

“Never bored?” I said with surprise, as it seemed to me that root-picking was the ultimate in repetitive work.

“Of course not,” he replied, “Haven’t you ever noticed? No two mallee roots look alike.”

Three mallee roots ... all different

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