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The naked tradie: debunking the myths

By Kim Huynh - 1 September 2016 21

Construction worker

Amidst the controversy over topless waitresses serving beers to Geocon construction workers, Kim Huynh spends a revealing couple of days with a tradie.

Last week the photo of a waitress in a G-string walking into a pack of high-vis workers on the Wayfarer site at Belconnen sent shockwaves through much of the Canberra and the nation.

The incident reinforced stereotypes that businesses and workers in the male-dominated construction sector have spent decades trying to shake.

Recently, I spent a couple of days on the job with James Ballantyne, who most people know as JB handyman. JB’s professional and private life refutes three such stereotypes about tradespeople.

Stereotype 1: The boorish tradie

JB grew up in regional NSW and left school after year 10 to take up an apprenticeship with a big building company. He spent much of his first year cleaning and sweeping.

In 2011, 21-year-old JB moved to the city. He was pushed by pervasive boredom and drug use in his home town and was drawn to the prospect of better wages and new beginnings in the ACT. James started off as a maintenance man for a hotel before branching out on his own as jbhandymanact.com.au.JB Hammers

JB takes safety very seriously. He insisted that I wear a high-vis top or vest even though we were only building a shed. He showed me the scar on his head from a falling block and explained that, “Stuff happens”.

When I asked him whether he had ever experienced hazing or witnessed pranks at work he responded, “No. That would be unsafe.”

Most noticeably, JB abides. He abides difficult clients who assume that he’s trying to rip them off. He abides older and envious tradies who nit-pick at his handy work. He’ll eat just about anything and doesn’t mind what radio station is playing.

JB did his apprenticeship with a South Sudanese bloke whom he befriended and whose wedding he attended as the only white guy.

Basically, JB comes in handy when it comes to all sorts of jobs and people.

Stereotype 2: The low tech tradie

At first JB took on anything that came his way. It was not long however before he had more work than he could handle.

This was in part due to how quickly and effectively JB took advantage of internet advertising and social media. “Everyone’s on to it now,” he says, “but not back then in 2011.”

The most important tool that JB has is his phone which he keeps in a heavy duty cover. It allows him to stay in contact with everyone from representatives of multinational companies to lonely retirees. He uses apps to coordinate jobs and other tradies across Canberra and NSW. Often when clients call, he asks them to send him a picture of the problem so that he can make an initial assessment.

JB’s phone is old, but he sees no reason to upgrade it other than to find out what all this Pokémon Go fuss is about.

JB goes to the gym, rock climbs and plays tennis as a release from work. He takes a calculating almost scientific approach to both his vocation and recreation: Berocca in the morning and one coffee after lunch along with a few vitamins depending on what sports he’s playing and when. This allows JB to maximize his performance with minimal cost.

Stereotype 3: The lazy tradie

JB still takes good old fashioned pride in his work. When he’s finished with a kitchen renovation he always tidies up meticulously or hires a professional to do it for him. Then he takes a picture of the job in its pristine state and says, “That’s my kitchen”, before handing it back to the client.

JB knows that he can’t afford to be lazy. Canberra is no longer a paradise for tradies. Competition is increasingly coming from across the country and around the world.

Thus, it’s not unusual for JB to work into the early morning to finish an urgent commercial job. The only thing that he’s sometimes slow and unreliable on is billing and administration.

Of course not all tradies are like JB. But his story is a reminder of why we should judge people by their character and actions rather than the colour of their collars.

Are tradies misunderstood? Is there a shortage or surplus of good tradies in Canberra? Is there anything distinctive about tradespeople in the ACT? What are the joys and challenges of being a twenty-first century tradie?

As well as being a RiotACT columnist, Kim Huynh is aspiring to fix things as an independent candidate for Ginninderra. This feature is part of his listening and learning tour of the city. Check out more at GoKimbo.com.au

What’s Your opinion?


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21 Responses to
The naked tradie: debunking the myths
1
dungfungus 9:52 am
01 Sep 16
#

“JB did his apprenticeship with a South Sudanese bloke whom he befriended and whose wedding he attended as the only white guy.”

What relevance does this have to reinforcing or shaking the tradie stereotype?

2
Kim Huynh 2:06 pm
01 Sep 16
#

dungfungus said :

“JB did his apprenticeship with a South Sudanese bloke whom he befriended and whose wedding he attended as the only white guy.”

What relevance does this have to reinforcing or shaking the tradie stereotype?

I think boorish suggests a smallness of heart and mind that is dispelled by JB’s friendship with the South Sudanese bloke. Admittedly, I don’t always convey everything that I would like to convey given the word constraints. Kbo

3
dungfungus 3:19 pm
01 Sep 16
#

Kim Huynh said :

dungfungus said :

“JB did his apprenticeship with a South Sudanese bloke whom he befriended and whose wedding he attended as the only white guy.”

What relevance does this have to reinforcing or shaking the tradie stereotype?

I think boorish suggests a smallness of heart and mind that is dispelled by JB’s friendship with the South Sudanese bloke. Admittedly, I don’t always convey everything that I would like to convey given the word constraints. Kbo

With the greatest respect, I haven’t got a clue about what you trying to convey in response but I am not going to lose any sleep over it.

4
gazket 8:00 pm
01 Sep 16
#

dungfungus said :

“JB did his apprenticeship with a South Sudanese bloke whom he befriended and whose wedding he attended as the only white guy.”

What relevance does this have to reinforcing or shaking the tradie stereotype?

it suits the inner city thought bubble agenda

5
gooterz 9:19 pm
01 Sep 16
#

What a cheeky thing to do!

6
dungfungus 10:50 pm
01 Sep 16
#

Q: What do you get if you cross a tradie with a post-modernist?
A: A quote you can’t understand.

7
Mordd 11:34 pm
01 Sep 16
#

dungfungus said :

“JB did his apprenticeship with a South Sudanese bloke whom he befriended and whose wedding he attended as the only white guy.”

What relevance does this have to reinforcing or shaking the tradie stereotype?

I didn’t think it was related to the point he was making, just an interesting included factoid, and I found it interesting on that basis. It doesn’t address the main point except that maybe tradies like most aussies will friend almost anyone. Anyway I don’t think it was necessary to leave out, I would have put that little bit of info in myself if I had written this.

8
Acton 9:00 am
02 Sep 16
#

I don’t hold these stereotypes and I don’t know anyone who does. But I understand some people, particularly in cloistered academia, do like to hang onto their outdated but comfortable stereotypes as fondly as they hang onto their beloved old cardigans, leather elbowed jackets and pairs of worn out but still favoured brown loafers. (Or would that vision of an academic also now be out of date?)

Although these stereotypes say more about the belief sets of the writer, this is a useful post if condensed to:,

“I’ve had a good job done by an honest tradie and can recommend him. He is the link….”

Noted. Bookmarked. Thanks.

9
dungfungus 3:31 pm
02 Sep 16
#

Mordd said :

dungfungus said :

“JB did his apprenticeship with a South Sudanese bloke whom he befriended and whose wedding he attended as the only white guy.”

What relevance does this have to reinforcing or shaking the tradie stereotype?

I didn’t think it was related to the point he was making, just an interesting included factoid, and I found it interesting on that basis. It doesn’t address the main point except that maybe tradies like most aussies will friend almost anyone. Anyway I don’t think it was necessary to leave out, I would have put that little bit of info in myself if I had written this.

Your first twelve words are enough.

10
Kim Huynh 5:43 pm
02 Sep 16
#

Acton said :

I don’t hold these stereotypes and I don’t know anyone who does. But I understand some people, particularly in cloistered academia, do like to hang onto their outdated but comfortable stereotypes as fondly as they hang onto their beloved old cardigans, leather elbowed jackets and pairs of worn out but still favoured brown loafers. (Or would that vision of an academic also now be out of date?)

Although these stereotypes say more about the belief sets of the writer, this is a useful post if condensed to:,

“I’ve had a good job done by an honest tradie and can recommend him. He is the link….”

Noted. Bookmarked. Thanks.

Not a stereotype that fits me Acton, although I would like to own some/all of those items of clothing. I’d add that I reckon it’s a nice story and hope that readers can focus on that. K

11
wildturkeycanoe 7:42 am
03 Sep 16
#

I think the stereotype of tradies tailgating others in new Maloo utes whilst talking on their phones is misplaced and confused with contractors, rather than wage earning construction workers. The tradies on building sites are genuinely hard working people, intelligent enough to plan their work around all the other trades on site without getting in each others way. They are up and into the job before most of the pubes have even hit snooze on their alarm clocks [or am I now stereotyping?]. Quick smokos and 30 minute lunches are often flanked with a few hours overtime to get the project back on schedule or to comply to a late change in the specifications. One thing I notice with trades though, as friendly as they are, is that once the tools go down they congregate in like minded groups. The plumbers have one shed, the sparkies another and the gyprockers, plasterers and tilers scatter along the seats outside, leaving the shed smelling of their seafood cup ‘o noodles. There is a lot of courtesy shown to other trades, even to the bloke driving the Alimak [lift] and the labourers who come along and sweep up all the rubbish left behind.
One stereotype holds true however and that is the comradeship that is felt when they all knock off and go to the pub on a Friday arvo. The contrast of hi-vis yellows and oranges, blending in to the laughter and guzzling of beers, is reminiscent of days gone by when unionism was strong and the “work hard, party harder” philosophy kicked in for the weekend.
As an ex-tradie, I miss the carnage that is a construction site. I don’t miss the deadlines, the dirt, gyprock dust and concrete spatter though. There is a reason tradies have a history of alcoholism, depression and marriage breakups. The hard work has a heavy toll on the mind and body. Being unsure if you will be home in time to pick up the kids from school, having to call up and say you are staying back for a couple of hours or doing ten hour days plus Saturday and Sunday because the KPIs haven’t been met, can wear out the hardiest of them. Believe it or not, there is a lot of stress in it. When other trades get in the way and hold up your progress or deliveries don’t show up on time leaving you stranded days from completion, the worry flows down from the top. Then the crew has to step up and put family aside to work the long weekend. Parents miss out on holiday plans, whilst on site they punish their backs, arms and legs to finish on time. There isn’t a single tradie I know over thirty five who hasn’t got a crook back, elbow, knee or a combination of them. The body wasn’t supposed to carry twenty to forty kilos on a daily basis but it is expected of construction workers. Sure, there are rules and tools that enable these tasks to be done in a safer manner, but when they aren’t available or take too long and the task has to be finished before 6PM, the body is called to do what is almost superhuman. That is one of the reasons tradies binge, to seek relief from their aching bodies. I must confess, I used to do it too. Nothing feels better than a cold beer on a Friday arvo after pushing your body to its limit for eight or nine hours.
Tradies often use every ounce of muscle, stress over every detail to make sure it is done right and get a sense of satisfaction when the job is finished. From the PMs to the apprentices, they are the glue that puts together our high-rises. Just walk in the shoes of a tradesperson for a week before you make any judgement about their lazy and entitled lifestyles.

12
dungfungus 8:38 am
03 Sep 16
#

wildturkeycanoe said :

I think the stereotype of tradies tailgating others in new Maloo utes whilst talking on their phones is misplaced and confused with contractors, rather than wage earning construction workers. The tradies on building sites are genuinely hard working people, intelligent enough to plan their work around all the other trades on site without getting in each others way. They are up and into the job before most of the pubes have even hit snooze on their alarm clocks [or am I now stereotyping?]. Quick smokos and 30 minute lunches are often flanked with a few hours overtime to get the project back on schedule or to comply to a late change in the specifications. One thing I notice with trades though, as friendly as they are, is that once the tools go down they congregate in like minded groups. The plumbers have one shed, the sparkies another and the gyprockers, plasterers and tilers scatter along the seats outside, leaving the shed smelling of their seafood cup ‘o noodles. There is a lot of courtesy shown to other trades, even to the bloke driving the Alimak [lift] and the labourers who come along and sweep up all the rubbish left behind.
One stereotype holds true however and that is the comradeship that is felt when they all knock off and go to the pub on a Friday arvo. The contrast of hi-vis yellows and oranges, blending in to the laughter and guzzling of beers, is reminiscent of days gone by when unionism was strong and the “work hard, party harder” philosophy kicked in for the weekend.
As an ex-tradie, I miss the carnage that is a construction site. I don’t miss the deadlines, the dirt, gyprock dust and concrete spatter though. There is a reason tradies have a history of alcoholism, depression and marriage breakups. The hard work has a heavy toll on the mind and body. Being unsure if you will be home in time to pick up the kids from school, having to call up and say you are staying back for a couple of hours or doing ten hour days plus Saturday and Sunday because the KPIs haven’t been met, can wear out the hardiest of them. Believe it or not, there is a lot of stress in it. When other trades get in the way and hold up your progress or deliveries don’t show up on time leaving you stranded days from completion, the worry flows down from the top. Then the crew has to step up and put family aside to work the long weekend. Parents miss out on holiday plans, whilst on site they punish their backs, arms and legs to finish on time. There isn’t a single tradie I know over thirty five who hasn’t got a crook back, elbow, knee or a combination of them. The body wasn’t supposed to carry twenty to forty kilos on a daily basis but it is expected of construction workers. Sure, there are rules and tools that enable these tasks to be done in a safer manner, but when they aren’t available or take too long and the task has to be finished before 6PM, the body is called to do what is almost superhuman. That is one of the reasons tradies binge, to seek relief from their aching bodies. I must confess, I used to do it too. Nothing feels better than a cold beer on a Friday arvo after pushing your body to its limit for eight or nine hours.
Tradies often use every ounce of muscle, stress over every detail to make sure it is done right and get a sense of satisfaction when the job is finished. From the PMs to the apprentices, they are the glue that puts together our high-rises. Just walk in the shoes of a tradesperson for a week before you make any judgement about their lazy and entitled lifestyles.

You sound like the stereotype of the guy in the “I’ve got a thirst…..” TV beer (VB?) commercial.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

13
Mordd / Chris Richar 11:47 am
03 Sep 16
#

dungfungus said :

Mordd said :

dungfungus said :

“JB did his apprenticeship with a South Sudanese bloke whom he befriended and whose wedding he attended as the only white guy.”

What relevance does this have to reinforcing or shaking the tradie stereotype?

I didn’t think it was related to the point he was making, just an interesting included factoid, and I found it interesting on that basis. It doesn’t address the main point except that maybe tradies like most aussies will friend almost anyone. Anyway I don’t think it was necessary to leave out, I would have put that little bit of info in myself if I had written this.

Your first twelve words are enough.

Wow. I respect your right to your opinion, whatever it is, but I don’t go around nit-picking your comments and telling you how much to post or not to post, or the layout of your posts, or anything like that. No offence, but I will post a sentence, or I will post a paragraph, as I see fit. Your opinion on that aspect could not matter less to me fyi.

14
Kim Huynh 11:08 pm
03 Sep 16
#

wildturkeycanoe said :

I think the stereotype of tradies tailgating others in new Maloo utes whilst talking on their phones is misplaced and confused with contractors, rather than wage earning construction workers. The tradies on building sites are genuinely hard working people, intelligent enough to plan their work around all the other trades on site without getting in each others way. They are up and into the job before most of the pubes have even hit snooze on their alarm clocks [or am I now stereotyping?]. Quick smokos and 30 minute lunches are often flanked with a few hours overtime to get the project back on schedule or to comply to a late change in the specifications. One thing I notice with trades though, as friendly as they are, is that once the tools go down they congregate in like minded groups. The plumbers have one shed, the sparkies another and the gyprockers, plasterers and tilers scatter along the seats outside, leaving the shed smelling of their seafood cup ‘o noodles. There is a lot of courtesy shown to other trades, even to the bloke driving the Alimak [lift] and the labourers who come along and sweep up all the rubbish left behind.
One stereotype holds true however and that is the comradeship that is felt when they all knock off and go to the pub on a Friday arvo. The contrast of hi-vis yellows and oranges, blending in to the laughter and guzzling of beers, is reminiscent of days gone by when unionism was strong and the “work hard, party harder” philosophy kicked in for the weekend.
As an ex-tradie, I miss the carnage that is a construction site. I don’t miss the deadlines, the dirt, gyprock dust and concrete spatter though. There is a reason tradies have a history of alcoholism, depression and marriage breakups. The hard work has a heavy toll on the mind and body. Being unsure if you will be home in time to pick up the kids from school, having to call up and say you are staying back for a couple of hours or doing ten hour days plus Saturday and Sunday because the KPIs haven’t been met, can wear out the hardiest of them. Believe it or not, there is a lot of stress in it. When other trades get in the way and hold up your progress or deliveries don’t show up on time leaving you stranded days from completion, the worry flows down from the top. Then the crew has to step up and put family aside to work the long weekend. Parents miss out on holiday plans, whilst on site they punish their backs, arms and legs to finish on time. There isn’t a single tradie I know over thirty five who hasn’t got a crook back, elbow, knee or a combination of them. The body wasn’t supposed to carry twenty to forty kilos on a daily basis but it is expected of construction workers. Sure, there are rules and tools that enable these tasks to be done in a safer manner, but when they aren’t available or take too long and the task has to be finished before 6PM, the body is called to do what is almost superhuman. That is one of the reasons tradies binge, to seek relief from their aching bodies. I must confess, I used to do it too. Nothing feels better than a cold beer on a Friday arvo after pushing your body to its limit for eight or nine hours.
Tradies often use every ounce of muscle, stress over every detail to make sure it is done right and get a sense of satisfaction when the job is finished. From the PMs to the apprentices, they are the glue that puts together our high-rises. Just walk in the shoes of a tradesperson for a week before you make any judgement about their lazy and entitled lifestyles.

Thanks and respect to you wildturkeycanoe for your comment which is not many ways more insightful than my article. K

15
Mordd / Chris Richar 12:15 am
04 Sep 16
#

Kim Huynh said :

wildturkeycanoe said :

I think the stereotype of tradies tailgating others in new Maloo utes whilst talking on their phones is misplaced and confused with contractors, rather than wage earning construction workers. The tradies on building sites are genuinely hard working people, intelligent enough to plan their work around all the other trades on site without getting in each others way. They are up and into the job before most of the pubes have even hit snooze on their alarm clocks [or am I now stereotyping?]. Quick smokos and 30 minute lunches are often flanked with a few hours overtime to get the project back on schedule or to comply to a late change in the specifications. One thing I notice with trades though, as friendly as they are, is that once the tools go down they congregate in like minded groups. The plumbers have one shed, the sparkies another and the gyprockers, plasterers and tilers scatter along the seats outside, leaving the shed smelling of their seafood cup ‘o noodles. There is a lot of courtesy shown to other trades, even to the bloke driving the Alimak [lift] and the labourers who come along and sweep up all the rubbish left behind.
One stereotype holds true however and that is the comradeship that is felt when they all knock off and go to the pub on a Friday arvo. The contrast of hi-vis yellows and oranges, blending in to the laughter and guzzling of beers, is reminiscent of days gone by when unionism was strong and the “work hard, party harder” philosophy kicked in for the weekend.
As an ex-tradie, I miss the carnage that is a construction site. I don’t miss the deadlines, the dirt, gyprock dust and concrete spatter though. There is a reason tradies have a history of alcoholism, depression and marriage breakups. The hard work has a heavy toll on the mind and body. Being unsure if you will be home in time to pick up the kids from school, having to call up and say you are staying back for a couple of hours or doing ten hour days plus Saturday and Sunday because the KPIs haven’t been met, can wear out the hardiest of them. Believe it or not, there is a lot of stress in it. When other trades get in the way and hold up your progress or deliveries don’t show up on time leaving you stranded days from completion, the worry flows down from the top. Then the crew has to step up and put family aside to work the long weekend. Parents miss out on holiday plans, whilst on site they punish their backs, arms and legs to finish on time. There isn’t a single tradie I know over thirty five who hasn’t got a crook back, elbow, knee or a combination of them. The body wasn’t supposed to carry twenty to forty kilos on a daily basis but it is expected of construction workers. Sure, there are rules and tools that enable these tasks to be done in a safer manner, but when they aren’t available or take too long and the task has to be finished before 6PM, the body is called to do what is almost superhuman. That is one of the reasons tradies binge, to seek relief from their aching bodies. I must confess, I used to do it too. Nothing feels better than a cold beer on a Friday arvo after pushing your body to its limit for eight or nine hours.
Tradies often use every ounce of muscle, stress over every detail to make sure it is done right and get a sense of satisfaction when the job is finished. From the PMs to the apprentices, they are the glue that puts together our high-rises. Just walk in the shoes of a tradesperson for a week before you make any judgement about their lazy and entitled lifestyles.

Thanks and respect to you wildturkeycanoe for your comment which is not many ways more insightful than my article. K

I agree Kim. That comment should be it’s own article in reply to yours, not just a comment. All it needs is some paragraph spacing and it’s gold! Was just as good as yours Kim (ok, maybe a little better, pretty close, enjoyed both). 🙂

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