The Locker Room

Tom Coster

When finally the last brick had been removed and the dust hosed away, there stood a large empty space with a somewhat uneven floor. Old and new steel lockers appeared from nowhere and were set in rows along the back wall of this space. The 'Locker Room' was born.

Some 56 years earlier the 'locker room' housed the Edwards Roaster, a major component of a metallurgical plant described in 1902 as "the most complete testing plant in Australia1".

On my first day at Bairnsdale Technical School and School of Mines and Industries I was inducted into Form 1D, the form at the very bottom of the school pecking order under the leadership of form master Mr A.R. Blackman. For sporting and general social purposes the school was divided into four (4) houses. Cameron House (blue); Peart House (Red); Stephenson House (named after my grandfather) (Gold); and Warren House (Green). I was assigned to Cameron House (blue).

One more formality remained on that first school day in 1951. I was drafted into a 'brick bucket brigade'. Between assignment to the brick bucket brigade and the installation of the lockers in the 'locker room', some amazing events were to unfold.

Bairnsdale School of Mines and Industries had, in the past 50 years been a training ground for many of the nation's mining and mineral engineers. Its achievement are described by historian Lorna Prendergast1 in the following passage.

As a mining and metallurgical school it has contributed greatly to the advancement of metallurgy. A great deal of useful experimental work was conducted under the guidance of its early Directors. …Donald Clark contributed to the solution of the treatment of complex ores of the Cassilis district, as well as the evolution of the floatation process and methods of refining cyanide precipitate and the sludge from electrolytic copper refineries, as well as to the Australian literature on the treatment of ores. Under Mr. S. Radcliffe,….the first commercial production of radium was achieved with the separation of radium salts from uranium ore. Some of this radium went to Manchester University then world centre of atomic research under Lord Rutherford.

While no longer used, the processing plant in 1951 was fairly much intact. I know this because on one occasion I pulled an old switch and belts started flapping, pulley's and line shaft's turned and the large stamper started stamping. I had simultaneously a sense of gosh what have I done, and awe at the spectacle of this old dinosaur coming to life.

First day formalities over, work on the brick bucket brigade began. That is it became my task, along with a large selection of other students, to stand in line passing bricks from one to another.

The Edwards Roaster was a large volume refractory lined furnace contained in a riveted steel plate shell. At one end was a large tall brick chimney. Senior students and apprentices under the guidance (urging) of Mr. Holland of machine shop and motor mechanic fame were systematically cutting up the carcass of Edwards Roaster with oxy-acetylene torches. Streams of sparks and molten metal were flying everywhere. As the shell and internal refractory bricks were exposed, students on mining detail went in with crow bars and sledge hammers to dislodge the bricks.

While all this was going on a couple of students selected for their steeplejack tendencies worked on the top of the chimney with sledge hammers to dislodge and drop bricks into the chimney core.

The Brick Bucket Brigade was like a two headed creepy crawler. One head sucked up bricks in the Edwards Roaster quarry while the other scavenged bricks in the base of the chimney. Both streams of bricks joined the Bucket Brigade congo-line that snaked from the creepy crawler heads, out past the assay lab,down the passage beside the new portable class rooms (huts), out onto Riverene Street and on to the brick stockpile. With the well oiled efficiency of slave labor, this machine sucked up at one end and spat out at the other a continuous stream of bricks.

While not education as we now know it, a lot was learned by an 11 year old about how pyramids were built, cotton loaded on barges and on the spot first aid. Not to mention chain gangs, materials handling, team work and the healthy benefits of hard labor. In all a well rounded education was being imparted to Form 1D and others.

Thus over 50 years of excellence in the development of mineral processing and mining engineering was consigned to the scrap heap. But the good news, a locker room for grade 1D and others was created.

With lockers now in place one more formality needed to be enacted. A general assembly was signaled in the quadrangle with students arranged in pecking order rows from Form 1D to Senior School. Starting from Senior School and in alphabetic order each Form marched out to receive their key to a locker.

For a Form 1D-er this really was a rite of passage. No longer a primary school student, now I had a key to my very own private space. A locker in the 'Locker Room'.