oral histories

Longform quotations: Peter Williams

Peter Williams (b. 1961)
Engineering patternmaker, violin assistant repairer, paperboy, boat repairer, RMIT patternmaking trade teacher, high school teacher
Apprenticed at Malcolm Cole’s patternshop, late 1970s.

 

 

If I’m a patternmaker and I’m not making patterns, then what am I? And that hit me like a train. That hit me like a freight train. If I’m a patternmaker, and I’m not makin’ patterns, then what am I? And it was a really sobering thought.

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Peter Williams, 2017, photograph by Jesse Adams Stein

 

I think I was naturally fascinated by the process of casting metal – the whole metal casting and machining thing fascinated me. I didn’t want to cast metal, I didn’t want to work in a foundry, I didn’t want to produce moulds in sand and you know, operate a furnace and pour metal. It was dirty, hard and hot work. It just didn’t appeal to me, my passion was with working with timber. But the metal casting thing fascinated me and it still does. The machining of castings interested me, although it didn’t hold the same sort of fascination as the casting itself. But then, at the core of that was the patternmaking, where an idea grew legs, literally grew legs, an idea from a you know, and engineer’s / designer’s mind, made it on to paper in two dimensions, and then through the skill of the patternmaker it gained a third dimension and became real.  And that really had me, I mean I wanted to be a part of that. That just fasci-, because I could see, I think, that without me, without the patternmaker, it just wasn’t going to happen, it wouldn’t have happened.

***

One of the most exciting parts of my job, and I can remember it as an apprentice, you know, the most exciting thing was going up to Dave’s office, the manager’s office, tapping on the door, and saying,
“Dave, I need a job, whaddya you got for me next?” And Dave would go to the plan file, and take out the next job, and we’d roll that drawing out onto the bench, and I’d look at it and go, “yep, yep, righto,” and Dave would say, you know,
“We need 400 castings, aluminium bronze, these surfaces are machined, that’s caught out that way, this is caught out there,” and we’d nut it out there. Sometimes we’d sit there and look at a drawing for 2 hours on a bench, and nut that out, and see it in our minds, and agree on things. And then I’d go away and get started. And that – I found that just enthralling. And then to go away and make it happen was- it was almost secondary, making it happen was almost secondary to that initial excitement of reading a drawing, and seeing the thing in three dimensions in my own mind.

***
On finding a Jeremy Rifkin book in a bookstore, shortly after realising that his teaching career at RMIT patternmaking trade school was coming to an end:

I saw the book in a bookshop, on my way to the railway station one night, and it had a very stark cover, a black background with big red letters, that said The End of Work. The subtitle being: the decline of the global labor force and the dawn of the post market era. And I bought the book and immediately started to read it. I read from back to front fairly, front to back fairly quickly. Because all I could see this fella was talking about, you know, the demise of manufacturing, among other things, that I could see that it was happening it was happening around me. I was a part of it. I had been a part of manufacturing. Now I was part of the demise of it. I could see it, it was as clear as day. I actually became quite depressed about it, because it was, it was now clearly evident to me that everything I loved previously about more trade and more I learned, the skills I’d developed. The kids that I’d taught. The facility that I was now working in as a teacher. Wonderful facility that it was. I could see that it was all doomed. It was. … It was all gonna go, one way or the other.

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Peter Williams’ interview is available online to listen (with accompanying timed summary) on the National Library of Australia’s digital collection item. 
Peter’s story also features in History Lab’s Invisible Hands podcast.

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