Australian Railway Story: Chapter 8

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‘Bungs’ – Please Explain -Running an industry on fines, paper and red tape.

Working relations of the Australian Railways were established directly out of the earlier Shop and Factories Acts of the industrial revolution that swept through Britain and Europe in the early 1800’s. The workforces of that revolutionary change in work methods were subjected to a range of disciplinary measures in order to ensure they met the new production targets. Every perceivable activity that was likely to occur in this workplace or railways in general was subject to Parliamentary Acts.

These in turn were enforced by a legal system often involving a system of fines and other state powers including dismissal and jail sentences. A ‘please explain’ on an employee’s record would often mean they were overlooked for a job or sent to some out of the way location to serve out a sentence.

An army of railway clerks were employed at the bottom end of this disciplinary structure skilled in knowledge of the various railway rules and regulations. Often lacking the wider experiences of skilled tradespeople, guards, station masters, engine drivers and other railway staff, many clerks took to the job with great gusto in the use of power. A battle of wills, use of language and abuse flowed backwards and forwards over the years between various groups of railway workers and the ‘bung’ clerks. The following is several responses to the bung clerks demand to “please explain”.

The Manufactures Thereof, And Consequences-

From time to time we have noticed the inordinate language
that in some districts "Bungs"-are couched in. The-
writers of ‘Bung’" are not necessarily well educated,
neither are they innately courteous, therefore, venom may
flow from such wielded pens. We do not say that it is
always intended that sarcasm or hard words should adorn
the ‘Bungs’ we complain of, but results are as we describe
them. Neither do we hold the head of the Branches (but
we refer to certain Traffic Districts in particular) wholly
responsible for the issue of these paper darts which are
stinging too many officers, and, of course, creating a corresponding
irritation and resentment. We therefore consider it
to be a part of our duty to draw special attention
to the methods adopted by these ‘Bung’ manufacturers,
because the Chief Commissioner has publicly informed
staff that it is his earnest desire to have a contented
Service, but, by the misdirected genius of these ‘Bung’
producing centres, he obtains the very antithesis of his desire.

The class of literature is not only offensive, irritating,
and bad form,, but it is altogether unnecessary, undesirable
and hurtful to conscientious officers who are doing
their best to carry the burden that the fertility of
the State brings to bear, on the running staff in particular.

They are the men who occupy the advanced trenches.
They have to meet the public in a business way; and they
have to carry out -the Commissioner’s regulations with
tact and business-like courtesy. To compare him with the
Bung manufacturer reduces the argument to absurdity.
Both are necessary; each has his sphere; and as the courtesy,
of the Running Staff officer is necessary to the expansion-
and care of, the Commissioners business, so also
in ratio is the ‘Bung’ manufacturer, a necessary element
in creating, harmony, stimulating loyalty, and the anti-
toxin in all forms of resentment.

To follow up an example given by Abraham Lincoln,
one of the great. Presidents of the United States who,
when on the hustings against the celebrated orator Judge
Bryce for the Presidency of America, was struck by the frequent
utterance of the latter, who would unfold a
political proposition, and then say, ‘Let us demonstrate
the truth of it.’ In those days education was scarce,
school masters travelled to the little openings made
forest and gave to the children the best they could.

Abraham Lincoln shared in this, and he at length remembered
that somewhere in his log cabin some Euclid
books were stored.
From these he unearthed the source
Of the word ‘demonstration’

After this discovery he could demonstrate anything,
and as a consequence, won the election, and we are now
going to demonstrate to our readers the source of this
article by the attachment of a specimen of one of these

No. 112 On The 17/6/'19 Not Entered On Bobbe-Gong Return.

Please let me have any defence against punishment Mr Brown may wish to offer, for failing to enter No. 112 on the 1127 form.

Per X.Y.Z.

This is the dizzy limit of Bung writing.

It is stated by Sydney Smith, the great writer, that King George, in the early days, when Botany Bay was discovered, declared that he would have nothing but honest men in England.

We all know the result of the horrible law thus attempted, and the frequent injustices it engendered upon all classes of the community. It would appear from the specimen that we have just quoted that an attempt is being made in this district to abolish all clerical errors.

The fallibility of human nature has got to be shut out. Every officer is to be infallible, and as, a sequence, even the ‘Bung’ manufacturer will find that he must ultimately seek some other sphere, because the District is to be purged and correlatively, we presume, the whole of the Railway Service from Clerical error.

By this time the millennium will have arrived, but the Railway Service as a whole will be stirred into depths of resentment that has never been anticipated, unless these misdirected Bung manufacturers are cast out into the outer darkness.

(Anon, The Railway and Tramway Officers Gazette- July 28, 1919)

The Language Of ‘Paddy’ McGlynn

A Topical, Recitation.

Way out in the West, in a district not bless'd,
Which is not a nice theme for narration,
Where a pallid man-thin, one "Paddy" McGlynn
Was S.M. at the lurid old station.

There a case went astray, quite common you say,
But ‘Bungs’ made a pile on his table;
Did you make a. mistake? Don't fudge now or fake,
Explain, please; you surely are able?

At last he went crook, to the Super he took,
Poor ‘Paddy’ he felt fit for a scrum;
By the ghost of old Hogan, that's seen on the Bogan,
He thinks I've been tapping this rum.

For sure it was grog, that went all agog,
And Pat never smelt of its traces;
So he wrote on a stool, I'm not a damn'd fool,
I know a corked bottle from laces.

There ain't many wowsers wearing braid on their trousers,
But luck had deserted poor ‘Paddy’ McGlynn;
Was it Satan that poked him, for ‘damn’ it near choked
This is rank and indecent, roared the Super named Qd

Next train brought a hummer, sure hotter than summer,
Your language to me is an insolent sham;
My Nature's offended, it was never intended,
That I should be reading that naughty word ‘damn’.

Next train brought out the latent old fire that was patent,
‘Paddy’ contended that his language was chaste;
He was not a Westphalian but a sunny Australian,
Whose diction too often was moulded in haste.

But the C.T.M. got it, he'd liked to have shot it,
Right into the silence of a big W.B.
Oh save us a ruction he wrote a reduction,
And passed on the charges for ‘Paddy’ to see

He appealed to the Board, who were not in accord,
Though his Worship declared that it wasn't a sin,
To think it or quote it, it was when you wrote it,
The rules are against you, poor ‘Paddy’ McGlynn.

But there ain't many wowsers wearing braid on their trousers,
Both Peter and Satan are having a grin;
And the Saint laid a wager—he's a cunning old stager—
That Nick get the Super., and he'll get McGlynn.

(WAC, The Railway and Tramway officers Gazette, Oct 1919)

When You Are Handed A Pass For The West.
(Air: ‘My Little Grey Home in the West.’)

Just a word in your ear, my Commissioner dear,
Please spare me a moment, now do?
It's a general plea that I'd like you to see;
And I reckon it's up to you, too,
I've just got a shift—‘Staff’ says it's a lift,
Looks like it on paper—I'm blest!
But we all have a notion, it's Irish promotion,
When you're handed a pass for the West.

What do I mean! Now, don't gammon green,
Ask the Night 0's and Relief;
The S.M.'s, the Guards, and the Portering cards,
Men sullen and shattered with grief.
You can see who's to blame, without seeking a name,
In the number of victims expressed;
Just loosen the cord, shed light on ‘The Board’,
On the cost of appeals from the West.

They can't ALL be rotters, Inspectors, and potters,
Keep sending along for a song;
Some have grown grey, and for many long day,
Hold records officially strong.
But the stuff ye sign on, now the good'ns have gone,
(The service still losing its best)
Has weakened the chain, an' we're feeling the strain,
They keep passing it on in the West.

Oh! They do rub it in, until each venial sin,
Is scrutated with scribbler's gas,
Each moulded to crime, the Staff is made slime,
Each one but the Super's an ass.
Who thrives on the suction (pedantic induction),
And counters each man with such zest;
That's why we cry Save; for it's digging your grave,
To be handed a pass for the West.

Oh! We don't mind the work, we never did shirk,
But conditions should loosen the rules;
And a Boss with some reason, is wanted this season,
Not morbid, susceptible fools.
I'm a little bit strong—may it be I am wrong?
I'm a plain-spoken man, p'raps depressed,
But we've all got the notion, 'tis Irish promotion,
When you're handed a pass for the West.

We know Sir, we feels, how the rolling stock wheels,
Needs sprinting all day at full speed
That the wars of today, make mileage not pay,
We must give out the best o' the breed.
But our fame we will roller, bet the last dollar,
No German will hatch in our nest;
But. it's Irish promotion, when ye set 'em in motion,
When you're handed a pass for the WEST.

Please Explain

Memo. To Railways Traffic Officer.
Per Intermediate Officers
Hit cow. Mileage 123 Engine. O.K. Cow dead-
Driver Murphy.

Memo To Driver Murphy:
Per Intermediate Officers
Your report as to the demise of a bovine creature
is to hand but it does not indicate fully the details of
the incident that are necessary for departmental
analysis. You are hereby advised that a further report
from you is to be submitted as per the example on, Circular B.F.S:/lS/16789 exhibited in the Enginemen's notice case for guidance. Please have your addendum forwarded promptly to this office.
Railways Traffic Officer.

Memo To Railways Traffic Officer:
Per Intermediate Officers
No more to say. Engine still O.K.- Cow still dead.
Driver Murphy

Memo. To Driver Murphy
Per Intermediate Officers
Your unsatisfactory addendum to your original
memo is to hand.

Your attention is drawn to the requirements of Circular B.F.S./15/16789; which sets the out the following questionnaire:

What was the boiler pressure of the Locomotive at the time of the Incident?
Was sand gear for the brakes working?
Was locomotive’s throttle fully open?
What was position of steam cut-of lever?
Was the brake applied?
What was nature of weather and direction of wind,
What was name of fireman and the train’s guard?
Was the cow on railway track at time of incident?
What was nature of injury to creature?
In your opinion was creature culpable for incident?
Give description of creature: age, type, etc.
What is your assessment of damages claimable department?

Advise immediately of these particulars and
forward same by urgent dispatch to this office.

Railways Traffic Officer
Per Intermediate Officers

Memo. Railways Traffic Officer:
Per Intermediate Officers

No steam. Yes. No. None. Yes- Cow not killed by
weather, wind, fireman or guard. Everything happened
for engine to kill cow. Not enough left of cow to find
out the rest.

Driver Murphy

Memo- Driver Murphy:
Your further unsatisfactory memo is at this office.
You are to forthwith, explain -why your locomotive was not under steam at time of incident and also your reference to your locomotive not being equipped with the standard steam cut-off lever. Forward a
prompt and full report please.

Railways Traffic. Officer.
Per JJC. Ch'kd.B.T. Int. P-L

Please Explain

Paddy Foley was a guard on the mail train working from Mackay to Townsville. In a cage in the guard's van was a valuable breeding canary consigned to B. Lane, Cairns. The unfortunate bird died en route and Paddy's reply to the ‘please explain’ has become legendary.

Dear and venerated shades of my departed fathers, look down on your suffering offspring who is now charged with the wilful murder of a miserable canary. I, whose ancestors stretch in an unbroken line from the landing of St Patrick; I, whose forebears twanged their harps, composed and sang their songs on Tara's Hall! For the inference cast, I have but this to say:

Shure the death of this bird
may not have occurred
had his coat been a beautiful green;
But he being yellow,
the unfortunate fellow,
his early demise was foreseen.

This bird in the van
with a lone Irishman
may have raised his ancestral rage;
But I cannot conceive,
or hardly believe,
he murdered him foul in his cage!
And so in conclusion,
let there be no delusion

I did this poor bird slaughter.
I beg to advise,
'tis safe to surmise
he died from want of fresh air and water.

Should my reply seem confusing
when it you're perusing.
don't think me evasive or hard.
You have the deep sympathy,
if of much use that may be,
of P J Foley — the Guard.

A Driver’s Dream

My pockets are empty, we left Broken Hill
Twin Alco Diesels, and take-outs are nil,
Two thousand tonnes, all wind jammers too
One forty in length, these trains must run through.

As I look out the window at the old narrow track
I remember the past, but I don't want it back.
The sleepers are broken, the ballast's a mess
How we stayed on at all, was anyone's guess.

They say the job's better with diesels that roar
But I get quite nostalgic about steamers of yore,
When friendship meant something better than pay
And a mate was your mate at the end of a day.

Dockets to answer, cautions and fines
From clerical staff, with shiny behinds
Who sit in an office, with nothing to do
But write silly letters to the poor loco crew.

There's shunting at Yunta, three on at least,
For the shearing is over in our famous North East.
Consignment for Elders of eighty nine bales
Of Double A fleeces for the next wool store sales.

When they finish the standard, I've just got the dope,
Of conditions improving and less strife I hope.
The idea is sound, for uniform track
All over the nation, is something we lack.

Now Donny don't want us, Fraser says 'No -
You do it my way or you know where to go'.
While I drive these trains I'm still at a loss
To know who will pay me while they argue the toss.

But when all's said and done, it's all for the best,
And I guess that I'll stay here along with the rest,
With the hope that the future will see better times
And continued improvement on these standard gauge lines.

(Brian Watkins, from his Peterborough S.A 1976 Centenary recording)

Warren Short (Tamworth NSW)

My Dad was an engine driver at Taree on the coast for about thirty five years and he loved to tell stories. Here is one:

One of the best known characters at Taree depot was a driver known as “Sinful Sid”.

Near Maitland at Metford Crossing signal box there was a refuge siding where slow trains were stowed to allow the express and mail trains to overtake. This often took place in the “wee small hours of the morning”.

For those who are not familiar with the area there is a large cemetery beside the track.

One night Sid was in charge of a goods train that was stowed away. After due time the signalman cleared the signal for the train to emerge and continue on its way.

The train did not move. The signalman was obliged to leave his signal box to find out what was wrong…

He found Sid and his mate fast asleep.

In due course because of delays to the train programme that night Sid received a “please explain”, called a “bung” in railway talk.

Sid simply stated that as the District loco engineer would have been aware there was a cemetery next to the track. Sid and his mate had thought they had seen a ghost in the cemetery and simply fainted from the shock.

My dad told me that the audacity of the reply saved Sid from rather more serious consequences.

Railway Tails ABC Program 2005

Although in April 1932 the NSW Premier Jack Lang abolished the card system that sparked the 1917 strike, workers still had to account for their work times. As one railway engine driver put it: 'in our branch there was no such thing as wasting time because you had that sheet and every minute you were paid for was accounted for on that sheet.' John Mongan remembered how the Department's Clerks would send notes to workers to explain why they had 'lost three minutes somewhere’ and if workers did not respond in writing they were not signed on for work. This time keeping system was still being used during the 1940s and 1950s. Jack Bruce described the effect this had on Eveleigh employees in the following exchange:
Joan Kent: Did you have to fill in time sheets?
Jack Bruce: Yes. We were accountable for our 8 hours a day by the time sheet over a ten-day period and they had to be completed and handed into the time-keeping section – the costing section. …Bungs came down through administration. …A bung was a 'please explain' and they had the great technique of being able to fit you with a huge number of charges for the one offence. If a couple of apprentices were caught playing up, wrestling, whatever might have been happening, if that foreman considered that that was sufficient to report to management, a bung would eventually be delivered to the offender. But he wouldn't just be charged with wrestling on the job or something like that, it would be broken up into many things, idling your time was one of them, by behaving in such-and-such a manner …You had to submit a written explanation. It might be returned to your foreman to have words with you or you might be called to a higher ranking officer to deal with you, to tell you were being reprimanded. Minor things would finish at that, others would. be entered on your record. You're getting pretty serious then. If you built up a lot of those you were getting into a fair amount of strife. …You could complain to your union representative and they would represent your case.

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