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Danny Henderson

A practical grounding gave this apprentice cabinet maker the ability to turn his hand to just about anything.

I was born in St George’s Hospital, Kew, on 26 September 1942.

My family lived in Webb St, Fitzroy. Most of them (my relatives) on my mother’s side lived in Gore St Fitzroy. My maternal great grandfather and grandmother were Scots who migrated to Australia. They had 11 children and most were boot-maker's by trade. My family continued to work in the boot trade and worked in Paragon Shoes in Collingwood. Several of my aunts and an uncle were ‘clickers’ there. However my father did something completely different: he was the curator of the Melbourne Aquarium which was, at that time, in the Exhibition Building.

I was apprenticed to a cabinet-maker, Boness Cabinets, in Young Street, Fitzroy, and I went to Collingwood Technical School every Monday for three years, from 1957-59.

The first thing we learned to make was an auto-tray, a square tray with two shelves, turned Cabriole legs, and wheels. We were taught about the famous cabinet-makers of history and the classic styles that had been used, such as Queen Anne, William and Mary, and of course, Cabriolet. We used hand tools and a large part of the course was spent learning to use hand tools, the best way to care for them, and how to sharpen them. We used a variety of chisels, and a Spoke-shave, a tool like a plane with a sharp curved blade between two handles, to carefully shape and turn timber for decorative legs. We learned to measure timber precisely before cutting it, drafting, drawing, reading plans, mathematics applied to trades, algebra, and geometry. We spent half a day on theory, and half a day on practice.

One teacher I particularly remember was Mr Deal, a dapper man, with a narrow Errol Flynn style moustache. His grey workshop coat was always immaculately ironed, and, strangely, never seemed to attract sawdust or shavings like everything else. The workshop there was always kept spotless and safe working practices prevailed. However, back at the factory, quite the opposite applied. There was no care or thought for Occupational Health and Safety issues at the time, and sometimes at night after work, I would be coughing up blue, green or yellow paint, whatever had been flying around during the day.

I hated being confined to the factory floor and being inside all day, so I asked to be released from my apprenticeship. I tried a lot of jobs, stacking timber at Stone's timber yard in Young Street, Fitzroy, and at another mill behind the old Fitzroy football ground. I worked as a labourer at the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works yard in Northcote for two years. I then applied to Civil Aviation to be employed and trained by them. They had a good reputation for their in-house courses, and students were also sent to Civil Aviation from the RAAF and the navy. The courses ran for three months, one for each aspect of their work: overhead and underground power lines, power cable jointing, telephone jointing, erection and maintenance of radio masts and towers, various aerials, and antennas. I became an experienced linesman and rigger, with responsibility for up to 40 men.

My career with Civil Aviation took me to many out-of-the-way places, remote islands and undeveloped countries, including Papua New Guinea, Tonga, and Samoa. In many places where we needed to erect towers and beacons there was no electricity, so we had to use hand tools. Now the very through grounding I received at Collingwood Technical School stood me in good stead. I could read plans, which some staff could not do, and adapt the skills I had learned to any situation that arose. I could solve problems and teach others. In one example, a senior man was trying to assess whether a structure was square. He was struggling to measure angles and corners, but I showed him how to run a tape measure diagonally across the structure, and if they were of equal length, the thing was square.
One of my friends from Collingwood Technical School, Brian Moran, also joined Civil Aviation, and became the Principal Technical Officer for the electrical section of Civil Aviation in Victoria and Tasmania.

I worked for Civil Aviation for 30 years, then took a redundancy at age 55 to start my own business.

I moved to Kinglake, into a house chosen by my wonderful German-Shepherd dog, Sam.

On February 7 2009, now known as Black Saturday, I had prepared my house as well as possible, and when the power went off, I decided to leave. I put my dogs into the car and we managed to get to Yarra Glen, after driving through areas of fire around the roads. I lost everything except my dogs in that fire but I have rebuilt in Kinglake.

Looking back on my life, I can see that my technical education at Collingwood, which gave me a solid grounding in the use and care of tools, mathematics, algebra and geometry, technical drawing, reading plans, measuring and cutting, gave me confidence in my ability to find practical solutions to problems in remote locations, to teach others, and the ability to lead teams of linesmen and riggers working for Civil Aviation in a long and productive career.


Danny Henderson

September 2011