A CHOICE between returning to the schoolyard or having a few pounds in his wallet was an easy enough decision for Leon Garner.
The veteran supervisor and slaughterman at Midfield Meat has racked up five decades of service at the same site, starting work for what was then the municipal abattoirs way back in 1964.
Mr Garner clearly recalls his father’s ultimatum as a 14-year-old after he returned home from his first week of full-time work. “I started work the day before my 14th birthday, remember it well,” he said.
“You worked hard, that’s for sure. I came home one night exhausted from work and I must have said something about not going back.
“My dad pointed to my school clothes and said ‘you can get back into those if that’s the case,’ so I decided I’d keep working!”
Unlike the highly mechanised abattoirs of today, Mr Garner was given first-hand training in the slaughtering process, from the arrival of the livestock trucks to the slicing and dicing on the factory floor.
Much of the livestock slaughtered in his formative years was destined for the local butchers. Today, its shipped interstate and internationally with throughput increasing exponentially.
“I was lucky, there were plenty of blokes that showed me the ins and outs of the industry like Frank and Ray Dalton among others,” Mr Garner said.
“Back then, there wasn’t a lot of refrigeration. Technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today so a lot of the beasts would be taken on the back of trucks to the Melbourne meat market under covers.”
Midfield Meat Inter-national chief executive Colin McKenna has known Mr Garner since their school days, with both men attending Christian Brothers College (now Emmanuel College) in the early 1960s.
“Leon’s an all-round slaughterman and there’s not that many blokes like that around these days,” Mr McKenna said.
“We have a few people that have been here 30 years, maybe 33-34 years, but 50 years is a pretty good effort, especially when you consider how hard Leon works.
“He’s probably only taken four or five sick days off in the entire time he’s been here.”
Mr Garner doesn’t plan to retire soon but said there’s no secret to developing a strong work ethic.
“The way I see it, if you’re sick at work, you’re going to be sick at home so you might as well just roll up the sleeves and get on with it.”