Aug 9, 2022, 14:00 PM
If you’ve lived in Melbourne for more than a couple of years, chances are you’ve walked over one of the thousands of iconic bluestone pavers laid by George Spiteri.
George – himself an icon at our routine maintenance depot in North Melbourne – will on August 7th celebrate an incredible 55 years at Citywide, making him our oldest employee – and one of the City of Melbourne’s most loyal public servants.
It’s a lifetime since George got off the ship as an eager 23-year-old to join the legions of Maltese workers building the roads, footpaths and storm drains of this burgeoning city. “We were all Maltese at the council back then,” says George. “We used to joke that the ‘MCC’ on our shirts and jackets stood for Maltese City Council!”
Since then, George has cut, measured, laid and pointed bluestone pavers, mixed and spread grout, poured cement slabs, carried out asphalt road repairs – and driven trucks delivering them all. At 79, he still arrives at Henderson Street at 5.30am each morning, where he has a coffee and “talks about the old times” with his Maltese co-workers, Ronni Dalli and Manny Giordimaina. The “three amigos”, as Ronni likes to call them, have served 124 years at Citywide between them.
The three are inseparable friends, going on regular caravanning weekends with their wives Doris, Rose and Vivienne, not to mention interstate trips, and holidays to Vietnam, Greece, and (of course) Malta. Among this month’s plans are a community event at the Lalor Bocci and Social Club, where George will be belting out old favourites in his other occupation – as a traditional Maltese folk singer.
Change from the footpaths
In his 55 years, the proud father-of-two has seen Melbourne grow from a quiet state capital into one of the world’s most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities. “When I started at Arden Street, there were no cars on the street. Literally, you could have a barbecue in the middle of the street,” laughs George.
“In the city centre, there were hardly any buildings over 20 storeys tall – the TAA Building and the Ansett Building, not many others… Since then, though, there’ve been skyscrapers replacing skyscrapers!
“And we laid all the footpaths – so now, when I walk up Bourke or Collins Street, I remember when each of those buildings came up. We always used to lay the bluestone pavers on a Saturday and Sunday when people weren’t working. After a few years, my salary increased from $39 to $50 a week, and I was able to put down a deposit on a house!”
Although he just missed the days when pavers were delivered by horse and cart, George has witnessed how dramatically automated machines and vehicles have improved local works.
“We used to dump the asphalt from a truck and shovel it by hand, but these days it’s all measured and poured by a machine – you no longer have to shovel from one side to the other. With the big pavers, we needed six men to pick them up and put them on the truck tray.
"I remember laying all the pavers between Festival Hall and North Melbourne Station, and we had to pick up all the old pavers by hand – that was tough work! When we finished, the company bought its first front-loader – which made the work 10 times easier.”
If you press George on why he’s stayed at Citywide so long, it always comes back to the people. “George is a beautiful bloke and everyone here loves him,” says his colleague and mate Ronni Dalli, who will celebrate his own 50 years at Citywide in November. “He may be old, but he’s very strong – and there’s so much respect for him here.”
The best boss of all
Indeed, for George, nothing is more important at work than respect. “I never had a problem with anyone at Citywide – well, apart from one supervisor, who used to talk to me like I was a kid. But we laughed at him; and in the end, he was sacked!” Today, George’s boss, Allyce Reid, has become a good friend – indeed, the best boss he’s ever had. “She beats everyone,” says George. “Actually, she’s like a daughter to me.”
Allyce can’t imagine working in a yard without her most senior lieutenant. “Among all the crews, no one works like George does,” she says. “He’s here every morning, bang on time, never stops… I don’t know where he gets the energy from!”
Perhaps the greatest testimonial for George comes from his son-in-law, Simon Carabott, who he helped get a job at Citywide when he arrived from Malta to join his daughter Jane in 1994. As an honorary Spiteri, it’s no surprise to discover that Simon is also still at the company – 28 years on.
“For some people, seeing their father-in-law every day might be a problem,” says Simon. “But not for me. George is a great man. He never interferes with anything. He gives me good advice, and if I need help, he’s always there.”
After working as a manager at the asphalt plant in Arden Street, Simon is now “back on the tools” at Henderson Street, cutting and laying bluestone – often with his father-in-law. “He’s a good friend, and a great colleague. He’s very easy to get along with. We can talk about anything – except for retirement. He doesn’t want to talk about that! But look at him – he’s so fit and youthful. I think he can work for many more years!”
Simon Mossman - Group Corporate Communications
M 0427 307 216
(Photos courtesy George Spiteri)