For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Romulus, My Father

by Gaita, Raimond (1998)

Key Passage

I have never seen a workman as skilled as my father. His unboastful confidence in what he could do impressed me as much as his achievements. He was so at ease with his materials and always so respectful of their nature that they seemed in friendship with him, as though consenting to his touch rather than subjugated by him.This extended beyond his ironwork. He made the jeans we wore and for both of us, good, ‘Sunday’ trousers. He mended and made shoes. As an expression of gratitude to a woman who had been kind to him, he made a beautiful lace curtain, the lace included. From old sheep bones he found in the paddocks, he made cigarette holders and handles for the knives he also made. He carved wood and later in his life made himself a lathe on which he crafted a fine spinning wheel with which he spun wool. He repaired almost everything: motorbikes, cars, welders and clocks, often making the tools and parts, including the clockwork parts, himself. He was a superb welder and his reputation spread among the farmers in ther region. When they brought him something to weld he said, ‘If this breaks, it will not break where I weld. It will break somewhere else.’ Invariably he was right. In those days he welded only with oxyacetylene, using a piece of baling wire. His work both expressed and formed much of his character. From him I learned the relation between work and character. His sense of the importance of work and of its moral and spiritual requirements was simple and noble. Like him, his work was honest through and through. He worked at great speed, able to cut steel by sight within a millimetre, yet everything was perfectly made. If there was a fault, as sometimes occurred because of the qualities of his material, or because, as happened later, one of his workmen was careless, he took immediate and full responsibility. He accepted responsibility because he believed that it was the duty of an honest person to do so. It was inconceivable to him that he should do so, because, for example, it would redound on him if he did not – as inconceivable as that he should be truthful for similar reasons. He regarded such prudential justification – tht honesty pays, for example – as shabby. The refusal of such justification was for him and for Hora the mark of our humanity. Gradually his reputation as a workman spread to neighbouring towns. Friendly shopkeepers allowed him to display his work in their windows and he exhibited in locals shows at Maldon, Maryborough, Castlemaine, Bendigo and Ballarat. Through such publicity and by word of mouth his work became admired and his business prospered. He was deeply gratified that his work, and he through it, should become respected. Many times he told me that there are few things more important than a good name. Again, his reasons were not prudential. He took pleasure only in the esteem of those whom he knew to be deserving to judge him and his work. The praise of the lazy, the dishonest or those whose character and work were shoddy meant nothing to him. In this respect he belonged to a long tradition of European thought which celebrated, as an essential constituent of a fulfilled human life, a community of equals, each worthy to rejoice in the virtues and achievements of the other. (p.97)


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Romulus, My Father



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