For the best part of his life my father worked at Olympic Tyres in Footscray. We lived in Clifton Hill and, for many years, my father travelled by train to his work, an old red-brick and corrugated iron factory that took up about two city blocks opposite the railway. The same two blocks are now covered in up-market units and town-houses but, in the Olympic Tyres era, it was a gloomy and smelly place that churned out truck, motor-vehicle and even airplane tyres.
In the 70s and 80s my father worked in the tube department, on rotating shifts: dayshift one week, afternoon shift the next and evening shift in the third week. Then the same all over again for the next three weeks and for many years that followed.
He worked 12-hour shifts and usually overtime on the weekends. He had no choice; he had five children at home to feed plus our Mum, who looked after us. My father’s job came with two benefits, apart from his wage: tickets to Luna Park in St Kilda once a year at Christmas and the occasional faulty tube, the black rubber tubes that were in most wheels in the days before tubeless tyres.
Because we were too poor to ever go away for holidays, our only excursions as kids were to St Kilda and Elwood beach. Our journey to the beach, by bus, took us along Hoddle Street and Punt Road, one straight line of two single lanes that connected a working class suburb in the North with a middle class suburb in the South.
What makes these trips memorable is that we used to take our ‘floaters’ with us on the bus, i.e. inflated tubes, that my father had brought home from his work. Five children, five tubes, five happy faces. It never occurred to us that it might look a bit odd, filing onto a crowded bus carrying five inflated tubes. Because we had grown up playing with tubes in the river in Clifton Hill, the river that was diverted to make way for the Eastern Freeway, we never felt self-conscious about piling into the green and yellow bus with our pumped up tubes. That trip down and along Hoddle Street and up Punt Road took us, my brother and three sisters, to our two favourite places, Luna Park and Elwood beach.
My father stopped working at 65 in 1999. He ended his working life at the same company where he started it, at Olympic Tyres, which had been bought out by South Pacific Tyres. They made tyres at the new factory at Somerville for a few years but, after the change of owners, the company started to import tyres instead and eventually stopped making them altogether.