Myles Conlon was born on 5 September 1933. He started at the Old Guv, King William Road, Adelaide (circa 1973) as a copyholder – and what a copyholder he was!
He was the bloke who taught me most of what I know – which isn’t much, some might say! By using his exemplary reading-copyholding skills, he taught me the importance of pronunciation – crucial for people’s names and place-names.
His style was different to other copyholders’ reading styles, as he only said what was necessary to get the message across. He was fast, fluent and very rarely mispronounced a word, no matter how complex or long it was.
When I queried something he was reading to me in my early days as a proofreader, he would gruffly answer “Yep” or “No” or “Dunno” or “You’re the reader” or “I’m only a copyholder – paid accordingly!” – so I quickly learned to carefully listen to what he was saying. Our relationship was pretty fiery at times because of my “stupid” questions, until I understood his technique and realised he was educating me.
As for his comment “I’m only a copyholder – paid accordingly!” – that was his dig at me because, at the time, a proofreader was paid a little more than a comp or copyholder (about 30 cents a day, I think) – so his reasoning was that if I am paid more than him, then I should know!
Myles learned his craft at The News, where speed and accuracy were paramount. He brought those skills to the Guv, where they came in handy reading Hansard.
He ruffled a few feathers with his gruff attitude, but he had a fabulous sense of humour – often at someone else’s expense, it should be said – and could be very funny at times.
Apart from these traits, Myles’ hygiene practices also left a lot to be desired. He would throw the dregs from his disgustingly filthy coffee cup under his desk and up against the cream brickwork, which became brown very quickly, and the carpet a little darker.
He would also throw empty food cans (stinking fish, usually) and scraps of food in his rubbish bin, where they would stay until the cleaners empted it. He kept food in his desk, which would go furry or become rancid, causing me to ask David “Clacka” Clarke (Head Reader) to get Myles to clean out his desk – again – due to the stink.
Whenever I asked Myles to clean it I would be politely told to “piss off!”. However, at Clacka’s request, he begrudgingly threw out the food or took it home. When Alex Riley worked with him he said he would throw empty sardine cans into Ron Hamence’s bin, leaving him to empty it!
Ron would go berserk. Then there was the overflowing ashtray!
There were often greasy stains on the back of Myles’ shorts from where he had been rubbing cream into his nether regions, probably aggravated by his bike-riding – not a good look! He was heavily into cycling, wore the usual garb and even shaved his legs – as a lot of cyclists do.
His other loves were his son (also called Myles), politics and jazz. Myles would go to various pubs around Adelaide which had live music and listen to the jazz bands.
He was a pretty good saxophone player evidently and was occasionally asked to jam with other musicians (so he told me, and I had no reason to doubt him). I bet not too many of you knew that!
He had a smoker’s cough which would wake the dead! I think he was proud of his cough, as he would really stretch it out sometimes, then chuckle to himself on a job well done, while others around him shook their heads in disgust. So, with his cough, how did he play that sax?
It also didn’t matter how many hours he had to hold copy, he would never let me read to give his throat a rest; he was the copyholder – paid accordingly! Hansard shifts could be as long as 14 hours – a long time to be reading – and coughing.
That was Myles – take him as he was, you couldn’t change him. He was also a great believer in the union and the rights of workers (not having to put up with smelly fish cans could be applicable here!).
His union beliefs cemented Rod Parham’s friendship with him, I’m sure.
In 1975 Alex Riley came off afternoon Hansard shift as reader. I came off the comp floor as a hand-comp and began proofreading with Myles. It took a while to get used to his style and pace, but he would stop reading (if requested by me) to give me time to catch up!
Myles was never much of a socialiser with his workmates and didn’t go to many work functions, like cabarets or picnics. When asked if he was going to a function he would say “I work with them – I don’t have to socialise with them!”
That was his stock answer. He was a private man, keeping his personal life to himself, and only very occasionally mentioned his son, who was the apple of his eye. I was one of the few people who was invited to his home.
That occasion was to help him set up a train set for young Myles. We spent a few hours setting it up and downed a few beers as we worked. That was the only time I ventured into his private domain.
I mentioned earlier that our relationship was pretty fiery at times – in fact, unbearably so – where we wouldn’t talk for days (aside from work), but I think he actually liked me.
After nearly getting flattened by a truck while cycling to work one afternoon, he came into work with multiple cuts and grazes – head to foot – from being forced off the road, and asked me to rub some cream into his thigh/cheek area, where there was a lot of skin missing (those nether regions again!).
Now, you would only ask a friend to do that . . . wouldn’t you!
We had quite a few interesting years working together as a team and had lots of blues, but plenty of laughs too. Myles never complained when he was ill – never – he just took another horseradish tablet (his cure-all) or took a swig from his cough-medicine bottle and lit another fag.
When he had to fight the battle of his life – perhaps brought on by those filter-less Camels – he took it on the chin. He lost that battle in 1985, aged 52.
No matter what you thought of him, Myles Conlon was one of the great characters of the Guv.