Even the cheeriest of jobs has its dark side. And, when you rip old things apart for a living, that dark side can twist out of nowhere in an instant. A demolition worker might go months without uncovering anything overly unusual but, when they strike a seam of strangeness, it tends to be on the extreme end of the spectrum.
We spoke to workers involved in various aspects of the industry about their most memorable finds on the job.
The dark side of bacon
Cut a pig up and cook it right and the smell is enough to make even the staunchest vegan’s brain cells drool.
But even bacon has its dark side. The smell of dead pig isn’t always such a delight for the senses. And, when it has been seeping into the concrete floor of a butchery for years, its aroma is less likely to incite a desire for BBQ sauce to be passed and more likely to have you wanting to be punched in the face until you’re swollen enough you can’t smell it anymore.
While butchery is an old and much needed trade, it is currently at risk of being trampled by Australia’s thundering and relentless supermarket giants who seem determined to supply us with literally everything and be the only ones to do so. With many people opting for the simplicity of getting all their edibles in the one place, old butchers have been closing down, leading to a lot of work either stripping out the vacated buildings or demolishing them completely.
In the older shops, it was common for the concrete floors to be polished and a clear sealant used. But it seems nothing can escape the slow creep of death and, over time, its tiny particles still permeate the sealed floor. And when you take a jackhammer to it, the results aren’t pretty.
As an interior designer, Janet Bailey comes in after the demolition companies have done this dirty work. While she’s never had to jackhammer up any death-soaked concrete herself, she has seen the faces and heard the stories of the blokes who did. She explained:
“The smell of all the blood from the meat carcasses over the years was just incredible. It was a horrendous job for them to have to do.”
The land of guns and money
Old buildings don’t always have such horrendous tales to tell. Sometimes their floors, walls and abandoned spaces hold remnants of secret lives and criminal activity. Zac Gabrael, of Gabrael House Demolitions, has found all sorts of interesting bits and pieces. Guns and newspaper clippings from the thirties, old money, lots of coins.
“Nothing to retire on though.”
And never quite enough clues to piece together a full story. Just enough to stir the imagination.
Nathan Schokker, whose business cleans up after demolitions crew have gone through, has also come across cash and weaponry. Like Zac, the bulk of Nathan’s monetary finds have been in small change. But one of the guns his crew came across stirred enough interest for them to call in the cops. With no serial numbers or defining marks, they were never able to learn the story behind the old revolver. All the police could say with any conviction was it was old.
While Janet has never come across any weaponry, her crew of shop fitters did once come across an odd building with a lot of stashed cash. While working on a fit out in an old department store in Brisbane’s CBD, the crew had to move a stack of beds from a space that was soon to become an office.
“They started lifting the mattresses off the ensembles and in between were layers and layers of cash.”
While this might sound like a dream come true, the team were under heavy surveillance.
“There were family members hovering upstairs the whole time. And cameras everywhere. So the guys were ultra careful.”
In the end the pressure got a bit too much and, minds racing with possibilities, the crew put their hands up and said they didn’t want to touch anything until the owners had shifted the stash themselves.
A career in demolition will definitely put you in the path of some interesting finds. But you’re unlikely to come across the proverbial pot of gold. At least not one you can keep anyway.