A long-neck beer in one hand, Bob Hawke strode the Pilbara

FAMILY: Peter Bairstow holds a portrait of his parents, brothers and sisters. He began his career working in the sand, soil and earthworks business, Bairstow Contractors.
FAMILY: Peter Bairstow holds a portrait of his parents, brothers and sisters. He began his career working in the sand, soil and earthworks business, Bairstow Contractors.

It is easy to see why Peter Bairstow was a good car salesman.

Apart from his policy of being as honest as possible in the circumstances, he can tell a good yarn to keep the buyer on-side.

Now retired, he relived the day then-ACTU president Bob Hawke visited he and the other men working at the Tom Price iron-ore mine in Western Australia's Pilbara.

Mr Hawke, who died earlier this year, called at the remote settlement with his secretary, Simon Crean, about 1976.

The miners and crews were on strike over a fringe benefits tax grab on their cheap rent payments for their accommodation.

"Bob broke the deadlock of the strike," Mr Bairstow recalled.

"The meeting was at 11 o'clock in the morning and he turned up with a long-neck Emu Bitter beer in his hand.

"He didn't mind sharing the bottles and offered some to us, but we said, 'no'.

"He told the men: 'Now listen here, you mongrel bastards, I have sorted it out with those mongrels in the cardboard castle'.

"He was talking to 800 of us on the microphone and he continued: 'What part don't you bastards understand? Get your frigging arses back to work'.

"I shook his hand one day up there.

"I was shop steward for the amalgamated metal trades union. Bob Hawke was as funny as a 'hatful'."

Mr Bairstow, who recently began his third term as president of service club Y's Men's, is organising a reunion of former Tom Price workers for March next year in Port Pirie.

He said ex-workers interested in attending the reunion could contact him on 0412 881 363 or pbairstow@hotmail.com

He keeps in touch with one of his old workmates, Ian Bulk, who he phones in Western Australia and calls "Victor 11" because it was Mr Bulk's former radio call-sign at the mine. "I was Victor 10 and he still calls me that," Mr Bairstow said.

He worked first as an ore-handling equipment operator then as servicemen. His wife Mary and three daughters lived with him during his eight years with the mine.

"We were not up there for the sunshine and fresh air. We were up there to make some dollars. We were certainly making money," he said.

At one stage, he had a private business with a workmate known as "The Dutchman". They cleaned vehicle air-filters which earned him more than he was being paid for his actual job.

Another colourful name was reserved for "Mr Squiggle", a rubber-track driller that was used when 200-tonne ore rocks were unloaded into the crusher.

"We drilled a couple of holes in them with 'Mr Squiggle' and blasted them," he said.

The harsh outback sun held no fears for Mr Bairstow because he was used to outdoor work with the famous Bairstow Contractors handling sand, soil and general earthworks in Port Pirie.

Mr Bairstow came from a family of 15 including his parents Clarence and Gloria and brothers Lionel, Roy, Clarrie, Gary and Clem.

Clem and Gary were first-rate cyclists, competing in road races and at Memorial Oval, Crystal Brook and Whyalla.

The family business began as Bairstow Brothers involving Lionel and Roy in the early 1940s.

Mr Bairstow first became acquainted with heavy machinery when he was run over at 13 years old by an earthmover and spent four months in hospital.

He lost some of his hearing which disqualified him from National Service after he was later called up in the conscription ballot.

At the age of 15 he found his first job.

"I jumped the Pirie West school fence and walked across to the Mobil garage and did an apprenticeship as a lubritorium operator. That trade is now defunct. The apprenticeship only went for a year," he said.

"I used to walk around filling quart and pint oil bottles from the dispenser and I serviced vehicles.

"Gordon Lee owned the business and financed me to buy a BSA Bantam motorcycle.

"It cost 50 pounds and he deducted repayments from my wages. He said he did it because 'you are always late for work on your pushbike'.

"He gave me two gallons of petrol every week which was my bonus. It was only two shillings and fourpence a gallon. It was not very expensive in those days."

He later joined the family company to work in earthmoving for 30 years before joining the smelter as a ship-loader operating a crane.

Mr Bairstow's last job was selling cars for Spencer Motors ... got time for a chat?