Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Cutting your teeth.

Until I went to high school, I never wore shoes unless it was absolutely necessary and there were two. Church and trips to town on the train. Town was either Parramatta or Sydney, now categorised as the CBD. So while splitting wood for the stove at about eleven years old, when the axe glanced off the wood and came down on my big toe. It hit bone and I was taken to Liverpool Hospital for stitches.

After a few tries at pushing the needle through, the doctor left and returned with a pair of engineers’ pliers, then after bending a few needles he eventually got the job done. No anaesthetic those days, so it hurt. Of course back at our chook farm it soon became infected and was a problem for months, treatment being to pour raw Dettol over it every morning and night, burning the skin and delaying healing. Apparently there was no fear if tetanus so one trip to a professional was considered sufficient. Despite that setback I always hated shoes and still prefer to go barefoot.
So it was that I had sympathy for Brother Francis. Don’t ask. It is his real name, so I can only guess that his parents had such poor imaginations they used their only name on Frank, so Frank’s Brother was named Brother.

Since he left school at fourteen, Brother worked in the forests, starting when they used bullocks to haul logs out of the Watagan forests. Up until a few years ago when he retired, he still harvested pit props but when I first met him, he worked at the last timber mill in the bush. Brother knew timber like few others and was a great asset to any employer in the industry. But about twenty years ago he was sacked on the spot and sent home in the middle of the day.

A Health and Safety Officer, probably lost, wandered into the sawmill in his yellow high visibility hat to inspect the mill safety record. The boss was caught off guard or he would have told Brother to stay home that day, but this bloke was a stickler and turned up unannounced.

He must have thought at first that Brother had taken his shoes off for a rest because he said nothing while the boys were having a tea break, boiling hot, four sugars and no milk. You can’t have milk without refrigeration and this camp didn’t even have a dunny. A long handled shovel with a roll of Sorbent threaded onto the handle was the toilet and a roadside soak was the washing facility.
When they walked out to get back to work he asked brother where his shoes were.

“Where are your shoes?”
“Shoes? Ain’t got no shoes!”
“But you don’t work like that?"

“Like what?”
“Without shoes.”
“Never worn ‘em. Don’t like em.”

Mr Hard Hat called the boss over.
“Are you aware this man works without shoes?’

“A course. Why?”
“He can’t work without shoes, it’s dangerous.”
“He can’t work in ‘em and he’s never had a problem in fifty years.”
“What if he falls and his feet come into contact with a saw? He could be severely injured.”

“Mate,” the boss laughed. “I wouldn’t be worried about Brother’s feet. I’d be worried about the bloody saw!”


  1. They don't make 'em like that anymore. My sister never wears shoes, but she keeps a pair of thongs in the car as the local shopping centre insist on shoes these days! She got thrown out of one, so now she keeps the emergency pair on hand.

  2. Welcome to the modern era. Now you can't be employed in manual labour until you have steel toed shoes. Entertaining recollection.

  3. those are some tough feet...shoes are a necessary evil...more often tan not you will find me in sandals or bare feet unless i am forced to wear them...

  4. No shoes, by choice? Barefoot for me happens only on the beach, in the shower, and in bed (not always in that order -- depends on the day).

    Others may be different. But my own body's skin, from top of head to bottom of feet, is a very thin easily punctured covering that pretends encapsulating protection for the modest but necessary inner bits. Instead, the skin left bare-- especially on my feet -- seems to be only best at becoming painfully sun burned


  5. We hardly ever wore shoes when we were kids - I got into the habit of scanning the ground very careful for prickles and glass etc., Good story Stafford (first name of brother is totally strange) :)

  6. Years ago we were visiting Queensland - we used the barefoot vs shoe thing as a gauge to check how near towns we were!
    But once clad in shorts and T shirts I was bared entry to the Banana Court Bar in Raratonga - I was somewhat bemused because a couple of barechested males had just gone in in front of me. The bouncer pointed to my bare feet and said "We got standards lady, you need to wear shoes."

  7. That was a good story. My friend Agnes, used to talk about Barefoot, who lived in the woods, one of the little interesting things about Barefoot, was he kept a jar of jelly, open with a spoon in it, under his bed for a snack. I shudder to think what else might have been in the jar of jelly. That was in Texas, where there are lots of critters.

  8. I miss the days of not wearing shoes. i lived in a fishing town on the coast of florida all growing up, and no self-respecting kid would be caught dead in 'em...and that was only a few years ago! Great story and totally funny. really enjoyed reading this, life is just so full of things to tell about.

  9. Shoes and Woonie don't mix .... thongs, boots and walking shoes with wide toe-boxes do! I winced when I read about your mishap as a lad ... nice to know you still relish going barefoot!
    Great story!

  10. Can't stand shoes! When entering licensed or consecrated premises, Crocs are the next best thing to bare feet.

  11. Oh dear...I'm the odd man/woman out
    I love shoes...pretty shoes...heels when going out....red ones
    But I will admit that going barefoot is a pleasant experience in the garden and while relaxing at home....But poor Stafford...your poor foot...think kids now a days are as gutsy as you were? And forget about Brother...they definatly don't make 'em like him anymore
    Great recollection...really enjoyed it...especially your accent ...hee hee

  12. Very good yarn! Us folk from "down under' don't like to wear shoes, especially in the Summer.

    In answer to your question regarding the violins on my post, as far as I know they were not connected to the military.

    But your question was very interesting,do you know stories of soldiers that were buried with there musical instruments.

  13. Stafford you are such an interesting man! Just love all your wild and funny memories! I usually wear shoes in public, because I have 2 bunions the size of Texas, so I don't want to scare anyone! When I get home...i take them off...i don't care if I scare my husband. :-)

  14. Guess I'm another odd one out here... coz i have a fetish for shoes and don't walk barefoot unless absolutely necessary .. But nice story of walking down that memory lane.. I can't imagine the kind of feet brother had for an axe to fear from it .. smiles

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