oral histories

Longform quotes: Serge Haidutschyk

Serge Haitdutschyk (b. 1950)
Former engineering patternmaker, Victorian Railways (1968-1992) & Graham Campbell Ferrum. Aged-care maintenance worker, artist and woodworker
Apprenticed in engineering patternmaking at the Victorian Railways, 1968-72.

 

Well, to be quite honest, how did I handle that change? I didn’t handle that change very well.  After twenty-five years of working in one place – and people say, “How can you work in one place for twenty-five years, at the same bench?” I could walk in there with my eyes closed. I loved it. I loved it. It was my home. The environment, I loved my job. I loved working, what I was doing. When all that came to an end, I was actually quite depressed.  … Forty-two years of age.  I don’t want to retire, and I’m not retiring, so what am I going to do?

DSC03564
Serge Haidutschyk, 2018, photograph by Jesse Adams Stein

On the apprenticeship interview:

… The job interview at the Victorian Railways was in Flinders Street in the city, upstairs in Flinders Street Station. That’s where the interview was.  And I was petrified when I had to go for the interview, and I said to Mum and Dad,
“I’m going to go for the interview.  What do I do?  How do I dress?” and Dad said,
“Don’t worry, son!  We’ll go to the city.  I’m going to buy you a lovely suit.” And Dad was a lovely man, too.  Dad took me to the city, and he spent a lot of money.  He bought me this beautiful blue, satin-type suit. I’ll never forget. It was a lovely suit. And I had a tie! So, Dad dressed me up. We had these mock-up interviews at home. … How could my Dad give me a mock-up interview on my trade? But anyway, it was like a pretend thing. The mock-up interview with my dad was more about attitude, and Dad always said,
“Listen, son” – and Mum – “It’s your attitude. When you go to this interview, you be a nice fella! Don’t be a smartie. You be a nice fella. And answer the question that they want you to answer. Don’t go raving and ranting stuff that you were running and chasing snakes down at the creek.” So, Mum and Dad had this strict thing about…presentation was very important.  It always was.
Anyway. I rolled up to this interview at the Victorian Railways Commissioner Board, they were, and there was about three gentlemen there, and I was petrified. They had this – there was this humungous big desk, and there was three gentlemen that sat there, and I thought, “Oh, my god. These old fogies!” I mean, I was seventeen, and these guys were probably about thirty and forty, and I used to think they were old fogies! And they would sit there.
“Serge, sit down there. We’re going to interview you about a patternmaking job.”
I sat there and I had my folder there, all nicely dressed in my suit, and they said,
“Serge, you applied for a job as an apprentice carpenter.”
I said, “Yes, I did.”
And they said, “We’ve been looking through your resume, and you have got 98 for woodwork, you’ve got 96 for art, and you’ve got very high marks in all the technical subjects.”
I said, “Yeah, I’m a hands-on person. I like to do fine work. Fine, delicate work.”
They said, “Well, if you like to do fine, delicate work, we believe that you should be a patternmaker.”
I said, “A patternmaker? I don’t know what a patternmaker is! I came here to apply for a job as a carpenter, not a patternmaker!”
“No, no, no!  We believe you would be a good patternmaker!”
And I said to the gentlemen there, I said, “Excuse me, sir. What is a patternmaker?”
“Oh, a patternmaker is…” They explained to me what a patternmaker is, and it went over the top of my head. And they said,
“No, no, no.  You make all these lovely wooden patterns. Very delicate, crafty work, and we believe you’re good at that. You’re good at mechanical drawing. You’re good at woodwork. You’ve got talents in fine woodworking. We believe you should be a patternmaker.”
And after about five minutes, they convinced me.  I said, “OK, I’ll be a patternmaker.”
“Oh!” And they were happy.  These guys, these people interviewing me, were so happy because they’d got a patternmaker. A Ukrainian patternmaker that’s very highly skilled with his hands. And I was highly skilled. I was. I really was. And I was dedicated. So, they were happy. So, I joined the patternmaking department at Victoria Railway’s Newport workshops. I didn’t even know what patternmaking was, but I got the job. They give me the job. I started January the 18th, 1968.

***

I remember that moment very well, and that was the moment, in 1972, in June, when I actually got my apprenticeship papers from the government, saying that I have completed my apprenticeship successfully. … I got presented my certificate of completion of apprenticeship, which I treasure. … but when I received my apprenticeship indentured papers on that day, I felt fantastic. … And it’s ironic, because you get this paper and you think, “Oh, this is a free for all!  I can do what I like!”  So I went back into the pattern shop … “I’ve got my apprenticeship papers! I’m a man! I’m twenty-two years of age. I’ve got my apprenticeship papers! I can do what I like!” And I turned around to this guy, that guy, and I thought, stuff you, I don’t have to listen to you anymore! I’m a tradesman! It’s funny how people think how our mentality is in life. A piece of paper, you think that you’ve got power, and you think that you can say what you like in life to people.  In hindsight, I look back now and I thought, my mum said to me, “I have to be nice to people in life, whether it’s your wife, whether it’s your work colleagues, whether it’s whoever in life. You have to be nice to people. And I fall back to this, I have to be nice to people.  Just because I’ve got my indenture paper doesn’t mean that “I don’t like that guy, I’m going to start abusing him.” Yeah. And that was an experience.  The most important experience was getting that paper and feeling like I’m free. 

 

Serge Haitudschyk’s interview is held in the National Library of Australia. It isn’t available online just yet, but it soon should be, and it is available via Copies Direct or in-person at the Library.

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