Bruce Phipps (b. 1933)
Retired engineering patternmaker & second-generation patternmaking business owner, tennis player, Sydney
Apprenticed as an engineering patternmaker at Cockatoo Island shipyards, late 1940s – early 1950s
I actually made a wooden pattern of the Sunbeam Kettle which is still – that same model is being used today. So, I made that kettle out of wood.
On his apprenticeship at Cockatoo Island:
Well, you see, it was a shipyard, so they made all the patterns for the valves, and all the parts that used to be in the ships. That was interesting. But it was a big pattern shop. There was twenty-three fellas, which was a lot in a pattern shop, and they all – a lot of them had independent jobs. Like, there was a fella downstairs, if you wanted timber, you’d tell him what you want. He’d plane it up. And they had, in those days, which was good, they had special machines – like, special routers which were not just all hand-done, and they used to make patterns for propellers, and I remember, even to this day, Lady Hopetoun on the Harbour – which is still going; it’s one of the maritime boats – I actually made the pattern myself for the propeller on that boat, which – if you know the Lady Hopetoun, it’s a weird thing. All the cabins are on an angle, and so was the propeller! Instead of just being a straight propeller, the blades come back on an angle, and that was one of my jobs that I did myself, which I was pretty rapt in. and not only that, at that time – I was in fourth year; you did five years’ apprenticeship in those days – and all the fellas wanted more overtime. And the work wasn’t there, but, I don’t know why, they said, “Yeah, OK. You can have all the overtime you want.” And they worked themselves out of a job. … So here I was, no work, so they gave me a job fitting out a model of a frigate with all the valves, the turbines, everything in the engine room, in sections. … very interesting for me because it meant that I went all over Cockatoo Island getting all these different drawings of things that I’d never seen before to make all the different parts of the ship.
Bruce Phipps’ interview is held with the National Library of Australia (not available online just yet, but can be accessed via Copies Direct or in person.)