Tag Archives: refuse collector

ballad of a refuse disposal officer

(Post by John Allan, Bridgetown Western Australia – December 2021)

Oh, my old man’s a dustman
He wears a dustman’s hat
He wears cor blimey trousers
And he lives in a council flat

Unlike Lonnie Donegan’s, my old man was not a dustman, he was a teacher. He used to say to me, if I didn’t study hard for my exams all I would be fit for was emptying other people’s bins. Like most things my father said, I thought that was grossly unjust and unfair.

There were three Johns in my primary school class and John with the cracked national health glasses held together with sellotape – yes that John – his Dad was a dustman. I’m not sure about his head gear and I don’t know what ‘cor blimey’ trousers are.

I have an image in my head of tight leather chaps worn by some colourful gentleman around the Bay area of San Francisco in the 70s that exposed many a firm buttock but that can’t be them surely. It certainly wasn’t de riguer for council workers at the time as far as I can remember. John’s Dad, and the rest of his eight siblings I presume, did live in a council house around the corner from us.

These dustman were the soldiers of the streets hanging off the back of their tank-like lorries. On a certain morning each week they would swoop through your street like an invading army. These waste warriors would jog down your driveway, give you your morning wake up call by throwing down the metallic bin lid and whistling tunelessly. They’d scoop up your carriage of discarded crap in one fluid movement, jog back up your drive bin held aloft over their shoulder, it’s contents waiting to be fed to the hungry growling beast. The midden lorry. These garbage guerillas would then hop on to the running board slap the side of the vehicle and vanish into the misty morn.

What wee boy (or girl) didn’t dream of riding shotgun for a day.

Even in the seventies the metallic trash cans gave way to tall wire baskets with black plastic bin liners. Our heroes, still at a steady jogging pace, would remove the bulging bin bags and deposit refills under the lid like chocolates on your pillow at a fancy hotel. These men were artisans.

Taking it to another extreme, up until the late 70s in Australia where I now live, toilet facilities were rarely contained within the suburban household. The ‘dunny’ was the outside toilet at the back of the yard. There was a lane at the back of the properties where the dunny man wheeled his cart. Most well respected housewives stayed indoors while the dunny man was taking care of business so to speak. One day a concerned housewife heard an all mighty crash and rushed outside to see a fallen dunny man sprawled out with the contents of a weeks worth of family excrement all over him.

“What happened ? Did you fall ?”

“Nah, I’m stocktaking and I’m one shit short !”

I digress.

And where did all this rubbish end up. We didn’t know ! We didn’t care ! It was whisked away to a magical mystical midden world and never seen again. It probably ended up as land fill which a few years later would become the latest new ‘scheme’. The sort of place where they tear down all the trees and then name the streets ‘Oak Parade’ or ‘Willow Grove’. It could have been dumped at sea and now floats like an island the size of France between California and Hawaii.

These days you have to take out your own mystifying multitude of rainbow coloured receptacles to the kerb side, requiring a spread sheet to work out what bin goes out which day. I nearly didn’t hear today’s ‘bin man’ as I think they have a new electric truck.

‘CLEANAWAY – making a sustainable future possible’ it smugly claims on the side of the vehicle. One man operated – no jogging required ! A mechanical arm comes out and lifts the plastic bin to a gaping hole in the side. I think there is also a small camera so the operator can check you’re not depositing severed body parts into his shiny new truck.

I wonder if he’s wearing ‘cor blimey’ trousers?