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Ode to my mechanic


Mechanics are not the sort of people who reach for publicity, and they rarely get it. But I have a desire to hoist my mechanic before the bright lights and celebrate every grease-stained inch of him.

He has been intimate with every part of every bomb I've driven over the years. He's known the axles, picked through the engines, changed the groove-worn tyres and oiled the pistons. He's been my counsellor and saviour countless times when, forlornly, I've rolled into his suburban garage with the latest problem.

His name's Mick. You don't get many words out of him, and when he does speak they come rapid-fire and always end in a question.

'It's gonna cost a lot to get new tyres, knowata mean? You're better off getting re-treads, knowata mean?'

Mick works on his own and his garage is always full of cars, some jacked up high, others lolling about in various states of disrepair. His workshop looks like the grubby inside of hell. Even the girlie poster that once stood out near the entrance has succumbed and is buried under layers of grime.

He's invariably busy but somehow always finds the time to attend to mechanical no-hopers like me. His patience, like the stream of cars that come in and out of his garage, seems endless.

George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier observed that there are millions of people who work in jobs essential to the running of society who receive no recognition. Orwell investigated the lives of coal miners in northern England in the 1930s. The miners' work led to the generation of electricity that powered the country, yet they lived in abject poverty and neglect.

In 2010 in Australia few workers endure conditions anything like those described by Orwell, but there still exists a kind of social short-sightedness and lack of approval towards many blue-collar jobs. Amid strict divisions of labour, we are still a society ruled deeply by status. And when it comes to dirty, repetitive or dangerous work we prefer to look away.

Imagine a car-dependent country like ours without mechanics. Or the conditions we'd be working and living in without cleaners or garbage collectors. Or the hunger we'd feel without the food process workers whose products pile up in supermarkets.

There are hundreds of jobs that don't rate a mention in a society like ours that is obsessed with wealth, status and celebrity — and armies of unsung workers who nevertheless keep it functioning and well-oiled. The illusion exists that the work of the CEO and his office cleaner are unconnected. The truth is that one cannot operate without the other, and this extends to a web of connections throughout our complex society, binding the high and the low.

Friends of mine have the quaint habit of placing a stubby of beer and a thank-you card next to their letterbox at Christmas for the postie. I haven't met anyone else who does this, or hardly anyone who even acknowledges the person who scoots up and down their street daily delivering their mail. I try to say hello and thanks when I am at my mail box as the post is delivered, but the response is often one of surprise — as if anonymity is the ordained consequence of the thankless job.

My mechanic Mick may not be the poorest worker around, but in his concrete grease pit he's certainly one of the less glamorous. Fundamentally it's about what we value, and the ability to see and appreciate all the parts that make the whole.

Sasha ShtargotSasha Shtargot is a freelance writer and media officer for the Alternative Technology Association. He is a former journalist with The Age and local Melbourne newspapers.


Topic tags: Sasha Shtargot, mick, mechanic, george orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, blue collar



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Existing comments

Thank you Sasha; the forgotten professionals, now de-classified as 'blue collar workers'! Now we have the suits, all chiefs, and no Indians, as the saying once went. We are being managed out of existence!

John William McQualter | 04 August 2010  

In the face of the more obvious divisions between rich and poor, it's easy to forget this reality. Great article Sasha.

Nicky | 07 August 2010  

An article to reflect upon; but, I believe there are no mechanics today, only 'technicians'.

Dana | 07 August 2010  

The sacredness of everyday life. Awesome!

spiritedcrone | 08 August 2010  

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