Melbourne: The Warehouse

Everything has gone topsy turvy – in a good way. I think? I’ve only been working at this particular labouring job for one week, but so much has happened.

An agency found the work for me and I started on Monday and worked ten hours, finishing up at 3.15am. Though we were promised the worst of the work was done, it was the exact same on Tuesday – if not worse. Body tired is one thing, but a happy and fulfilled mind can push exhausted muscles on and on. What keeps a mind happy on the job? Knowing that it will soon be over. Everybody on site gets a sudden rush of energy in the last hour, as the end is visible. On that horrid Tuesday we were told to expect an eleven o’clock finish, and every minute that ticked by once we’d crossed that threshold was a little jab of disappointment. ‘I reckon we’ll be done in about one more hour,’ I said at least fourteen times over the shift.

When I got home I was shattered and aching but I felt light. As soon as the shift ends, your body and mind switch states. Your body – that has been battered and strained for hours without offering complaint – packs up and begins to shut itself down. Your brain – howling for sleep for respite 30 minutes prior – begins to sing a little ditty and releases several lovely waves of post-exercise endorphins. It’s been that way every night. Pain and release, followed by a strange, cosy euphoria, sitting in my kitchen alone at 4 in the morning.

I went through into the warm bedroom and left the left off so as not to disturb Jeanne. I used the torch on my phone to see as I pulled my work boots off and placed them by the desk. Jeanne stirred in bed and rubbed her eyes, then pulled herself up and stumbled sleepily through the dark to me. Without a word she wrapped her arms around me and hung there, half asleep.

“Why are you so late?” she groaned softly, her eyes barely open.

“There was a lot to do, sweetie.”

She released me and tottered away into the bathroom. I got into bed, and a minute later she returned. She rested her head on my chest. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep for a long time; visions of cardboard boxes and serial numbers swam before my eyes.

“Did you have a nice night?” I asked.

“Non.”

“Why not?”

“I was bored.”

“I’m sorry. Did you play video games?”

“No.”

“Did you watch TV?”

“Oui. I watched a French film but it was crap,” she yawned. I smiled at that.

It’s wonderful to have Jeanne to come back to after work. It makes everything okay.

Wednesday was much the same to begin, but later in the evening things took an interesting turn. Towards the end of my shift the boss asked me where I lived. I told him West Melbourne, and he asked if I could get over to the company depot the next morning. I was tired, of course, but accepted. I wasn’t entirely sure what the plan was but hey – more money.

So I got to sleep around 4am after the Wednesday shift and woke up at 10am, showered, pulled my work clothes back on and trekked across the city to meet my boss at the agreed pick up point. I climbed into his ute. The front seats were clean and the air con was cranked up to full. On the back seats were maps and plans and coffee lids and box cutters.

We drove one hour out of Melbourne to the depot; the furthest I’ve been away from my flat since New Year’s Eve, and only the third time I’ve left this city since arriving here.  I followed my boss into the office – picture the office from The Office and you’re bang on – and I drifted around looking at black and white framed photos of the office seventy years prior, at badly formatted print-outs, at white boards with illegible scribblings, and the terrible grammar of the large sign that read ‘The Three Laws of Moving’, (which were essentially ‘don’t be late’, ‘don’t break anything’ and ‘if you are late or you break something, apologise’).

I couldn’t make sense of the hierarchy in the office. My boss got briefly chewed out by another boss, who in turn was given a bollocking by another boss, then the third boss got talked down to by the first boss and – I dunno. I just stood there in my shorts and fluorescent green polo shirt watching men in suits tell each other they were doing it all wrong. I like having no authority in this job. It’s simple and easy and stress free. A couple of weeks ago I was helping a plumber out on a building site, spending my day digging holes for pipes. This douchey American guy came on site – he was the site manager – and didn’t bother to say hello to me at all. A little later on in the day he asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to.

“I don’t know man,” I said. “I’m just hired to dig holes and carry shit.”

However, as I stood in their office, the removals company seemed to have other plans for me. To avoid the confusion of too many bosses, let’s call one boss and Tim and the other, I dunno, Barnaby. So Barnaby (I should have chosen a shorter name, I’m bored of typing that already) told me that, come Monday the next week (which is today, eek), I would have a very important job to do. He would give me the clipboard, the Holy Clipboard of Where Things Go, and I would be tasked with ensuring the right box went to the right room throughout the shift. Over three floors, thirty rooms per floor, eight people carrying things in and out of the building constantly, and I would be the one to make sure nothing went amiss or was placed wrongly. He told me it was a shitting hard job and asked if I was up to it. I said I was.

Tim and I left the office and entered the warehouse. It is vast, and to save me the effort of thinking up proper literary ways to describe it, I will refer you to two films. Remember in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark at the end, when the soldier wheels the wooden box into a seemingly endless warehouse, with ranks of mysterious crates stretching away into the gloom? Okay good. Now, remember in Avatar, when they first step out of the building and enormous machines the size of buildings thunder past, dwarfing all the characters? Cool. So just combine those two scenes together, and you have the depot. You can also throw into the mix the Department of Mysteries scene from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, if you like.

There’s something quite magical about a great towering warehouse. Of course, even though the rational part of me knows full well that the endless wooden crates contain, in all likelihood, thousands of computer chairs and coffee tables, there’s still that little giddy voice inside that whispers ‘yeah, but what if…’.

Tim walked me through the aisles and waved good morning to his colleagues as he passed, introducing me to everybody.

“This is Dan, our latest and greatest,” he kept saying. I was flattered.

He talked me through the system for labelling all the crates and ensuring they all get delivered to the right place, and I unloaded a shipping container of hundreds of bloody heavy boxes. A forklift driver helped me out; I loaded the boxes onto a wooden crate and he whisked them inside to be stored in the right aisle, on the right shelf. Tim kept disappearing, and several times I was left completely alone in the endless warehouse. The looming crates and the absolute silence was a tad eerie. I sang to myself and rolled a cig and sat outside, surrounded on all sides by a colosseum of multi-coloured shipping containers.

We took a break after four hours and drove to KFC in Tim’s ute. I bought a zinger burger or something and Tim bought a gigantic box meal. Over lunch he told me that it was rare to find labourers with a little bit of sense, and that’s why they chose me to come see how their operation worked at the warehouse; they needed somebody else on site who could help Tim out. It felt great to be suddenly plucked from a labouring role – after just three shifts – and told that I had potential to go further. Just three shifts and I was behind the scenes with the bosses, learning the technical side of the business.

Back in the warehouse while we were labelling, Tim informed me of the reason for such organisation.

“This is going to sound harsh, but what you have to remember is that a large percentage of the workers we get sent are going to be idiots. That’s how you have to think of your role now. Guiding idiots.”

I felt guilty upon hearing this, and also suddenly understood why bosses on other jobs had talked to me like a simpleton. Until they learn better, they assume you’re a moron. I suppose they get many backpackers passing through who just look to make a fast buck, and they arrive stoned or hungover and they don’t care at all. It’s true – I’ve seen it. On my first shift the previous Monday I saw every rule broken; rooms entered with signs reading ‘No Contractors’, phone calls made mid-shift, boxes tossed about, and sly weed-smoking on the lunch break. All you need to do to impress the bosses is have a modicum of sense and show enthusiasm, and try not to do drugs during work hours.

I worked Friday at the depot too, and Saturday. Over six days I earned a decent wedge of cash – more than I’ve earned in one week in over a year. So you see, once again, things have turned around. I may go to Tasmania soon to pick apples with Seth, or I may stay here and stick it out, doing tough work for good pay. Still deciding.

At the end of my last shift, Barnaby asked me what my plans were for the future. I said I wasn’t sure. He told me that, if I was interested, they would train me up to the same level as Tim, so that I had all the knowledge required to run my own operations. He said that their company is spread right across Australia, so I’d be able to travel and work anywhere I liked. The offer doesn’t fit with my plans, but man – what a compliment. One week of work and they believe in me strongly enough to offer me full training and expansive opportunities. And to think, six days ago I was in absolute despair. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a lot can change in a day.

Whatever happens next, the end is in sight, and things are looking up.

Leave a Reply