Roy Owen is a master tradesman – apprenticed as a 15 year old plasterer in the UK. As a young man his plastering skills were used inside such historical buildings as Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Church in London. Now in his 60’s this master plasterer wants to pass on his skills and he has learnt some new ones in the process.
IT’S NOT only the young who have dreams. Roy Owen is 64 and dreams of one day designing and building his own towable houseboat. Roy figures he will drive up and down the east coast of Australia, and always find a place to launch his house boat.
Roy is not someone to idly dream his life away. In fact, he is a man who has always had his feet firmly on the ground … except when he has been up a ladder fixing plaster. Plastering may not fit the mould of delicate craft, but it has fulfilled Roy’s working life for more than 50 years, going back to his apprenticeship in the UK.
He has moulded cornices in Buckingham Palace, produced sets for James Bond films, moulded death masks and helped build ornate themed backdrops for the Miss World contests in UK dance halls.
“I once worked on a series of plaster caves,” says Roy, relishing the memory. “They were fitted out with lights, leather seats and tables, but nobody in the music hall would use them. They had been so well decorated that people thought that the plaster running down the walls was wet, and it put them off sitting in a damp cave.”
When he came to settle in Queensland 23 years ago with his wife Joan, he brought his unique plastering and handy man skills with him. Joan did an owner-builders course and they eventually built their own four bedroom house at Traveston.
When Roy decided he’d like to pass on his skills as a TAFE instructor, he found that he didn’t have the necessary qualifications.
“Back then I worked on a number of old churches such as St. Paul’s Cathedral and completed the apprenticeship a year early because there was so much work to be done repairing buildings after the blitz.”
Instead of completely retraining to qualify as a TAFE instructor, Roy took part in the Australian Government’s – More Help for Mature Age Workers initiative. This enabled Roy to have his skills and prior learning assessed and resulted in him gaining a nationally recognised qualification.
“I got a certificate III in solid plastering and together with the certificate IV in training and education that I have just done, I am now qualified to be a TAFE instructor.”
Further education is something that Roy is getting used to.
“After I took computer skills and business training courses I studied at TAFE to improve my carpentry skills so that I could work as a handyman”
“It was here that I was asked to fill in as a TAFE instructor, and the idea really appealed to me because the physical work of plastering was all getting a bit much.”
Sadly, the downturn in the construction industry on the Sunshine Coast has meant that there are not only fewer jobs for plasterers but reduced places for TAFE apprentices. This has not deterred Roy, the once 16 year- old plasterer who climbed up into the ceiling of St Paul’s Church in London to install massive six feet tall cornices.
Roy’s handy man skills attracted South Burnett CTC and Murgon Council who asked him to supervise the upgrade of a park in the main street of Murgon. This has meant concreting paths, re-shaping garden beds and installing seating. The additional challenge for Roy has been supervising up to 10 indigenous and non- indigenous young men.
“Naturally, they think they know everything,” says Roy remembering his own apprenticeship days. “But they are good boys and they work really hard. Like a lot of young people they want to get somewhere but they don’t know exactly where.
“I have advised them to start small. For example, buy say $1000 worth of tools and you have everything you need to be a handy man. And let’s face it, where can you find a handy man these days?”
Roy looks forward to getting back to teaching plastering, a new and challenging skill for him but a skill that he is enjoying in the latter years of his working life.
“Teaching has been a fantastic experience despite the challenges. Some of the boys were meant to be very difficult but we all got on well and they really enjoyed it because I was so interested in what I was teaching them.”
“It’s great to know that I can pass on my skills to the younger generation – but I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I had stopped learning myself.”
And true to form, Roy is considering ways of linking his new teaching role with his dream for a towable house boat.
“There’s no reason I couldn’t do both things is there? I could tow my house boat and teach plastering as I travel up and down the coast.”
No reason at all …