View Transmission Lines 1955 to 1974 in a larger map.
This interactive map reproduces the map produced by my father. It documents the power lines he worked on through image and text. Click on the towers.

05 January 2012

Matthew Quomi

From Matthew Quomi

I’ve been speaking with quite a few former E.P.T. employees and they are all very passionate about documenting the history of the company and stories of the workers and the projects that they built before it is too late. Hopefully through your wonderful blog, my E.P.T. Facebook group and other social media platforms, other members of the E.P.T. family can share their stories.

My interest in E.P.T. is a lot wider than your specific niche which I suppose is a result of my family wasn’t ever involved with transmission lines but rather the more general construction activities of the company. E.P.T. was a construction powerhouse which it seems was only rivaled by Transfield. I want to look at all aspects of the company from the steel fabrication workshops and transmission line activities to the famous cooks and the construction of power stations. As far as I know, my family was never involved with transmission line construction and instead my father and uncles built chairlifts, wharfs, conveyors for mines, silos, sewers systems, roads, bridges and of course, power stations. They travelled all over Australia during the 1960s and 1970s working on amazing projects and living in the famous E.P.T. work camps. My two (2) uncles have long since returned to live in Italy however they still speak affectionately about their experiences with E.P.T. in a wild and untamed land, far away.

My father arrived in Australia by ship in 1962 as a 21 year old with only a suitcase in his hand. A job with E.P.T. at Port Kembla was arranged before his departure from Italy and when he arrived at Circular Quay, his eldest sister and her husband were waiting for him. Without having any decent education or construction experience but with a strong will to work hard, the circumstances that he found himself in at the E.P.T. meant that he was to become a rigger. When he got the hang of it, he decided that he wanted a better position and eventually became a crane driver. He continued to work with E.P.T. until just after I was born in 1977. In fact the only reason that I was born in Victoria is because E.P.T. sent my father there for a project and as part of the deal, the company provided a house for my parents for the duration of the construction. My parents then moved back to back Sydney in time for the birth of my younger sister.

Upon returning to Sydney, my father decided that the constant moving around due to his employment with E.P.T. wouldn’t be good for his young family and therefore he decided that he wanted to work for himself. Initially he was in partnership with a couple of other Italians until the mid 1980s when he started his own steel erection business by himself. With a few Italian employees and a couple of classic Australian Holden 1 tonne utes, he started off his own enterprise. They worked very hard and the business continued to grow. During those early days of my childhood, I barely saw my father because he was always working however I can clearly remember the 1 tonne utes with the tool boxes and oxy bottles on the back. Those utes also had a particular smell inside them which was a complex combination of dust, sweat, aftershave and cigarette smoke. The business continued to grow and he eventually had enough money to buy a crane. At the time I would have been about nine (9) years old and I clearly remember the excitement as I waited after school for the new crane to arrive at our home on the outskirts of Sydney. Finally I heard a roar pierce the silence of the rural landscape as I saw this huge piece of machinery driving down the road towards me. To me that crane seemed like the biggest thing that I had ever seen. Even though we lived on acreage, the crane was so big that they had to build a new driveway.

As I got older, I would sometimes go to work with my father on the weekends and because I was a shy, I would stay in the ute all day. However it was very enjoyable for me because I would watch my father and his workers as they climbed effortlessly up columns like monkeys and danced across rafters high above the ground like ballet dancers, all done without safety harnesses and in unison. Most of the workers were Italian with names like Oscar, Mario and Alberto. The crane driver was named Emilio and he previously worked for E.P.T. erecting transmission line towers. There were a couple of guys who weren’t Italian however they all learned the language because that was the only language that was spoken on the job. I remember that would have “smoko” and they all bring wonderful smelling food that their wives probably cooked for them the night before. There were never any meat pies or Chiko Rolls. Instead they brought pots and containers filled with things like pasta or cooked meat and vegetables. From their eskies they would take out bread and blocks of Provolone and Asiago cheese which they would cut with huge kitchen knifes that they would bring with them. They would use the same knifes to cut up their fruit before they quickly got back work. They worked rain, hail or shine, on the weekends and sometimes every at night. They were amazing workers however when my father retired a few ago, most of his workers did too. It was the end of an era.

My father’s story can be echoed by probably hundreds or maybe thousands of other migrants who after working for E.P.T., went on to create their own reduced version of E.P.T. or in Transfield’s case, a major rival. All those migrant stories are wonderful and the marvelous thing is that they all have the common underpinning of E.P.T. Without E.P.T., so many of those migrants wouldn’t have even come to Australia. Even though the vast majority of migrants to Australia during those days were unskilled labour, a company like E.P.T. gave so many migrants the opportunity of a better life. E.P.T. believed in the work ethic of those migrants and in return those workers sacrificed so much for the company in order to get the job done. Hard work was repaid with good wages and career development was available for those workers who wanted a new challenge. Therefore they didn’t have to leave E.P.T., in fact often the company would create a new position in order to keep the employee and in return these employees were very loyal. When it came to the time that someone wanted to start their own business, they often became subcontractors to E.P.T. These new Australian owned companies mushroomed and blossomed because they were run and based one the ideals that they had learnt through the time spent with E.P.T. All of those migrant business owners each created their own unique E.P.T. empire and they should be very proud of what they achieved. It is with a feeling of melancholy as I look back on the legacy created by E.P.T. and its workers because the important role that the company played in the development of post war Australia is not recognized by the general public. Therefore I hope that through your blog and my research that all of those hard working E.P.T. employees will one day get the recognition that they rightfully deserve.

No comments: