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Meet Rodger: Ballarat's local bricklayer


Rodger Spry has built his career brick by brick. A bricklayer by trade, he laid his first foundations when he was just 15 years old and has been honing his craft for more than 40 years since.

“I left school and went to a local bricklayer who was advertising for an apprentice,” he says. “I did a three-month stint with him to see if I was suitable for the job. I liked being outside and I liked working with my hands so I signed up. I've probably worked for every builder in Ballarat, but Metricon has easily been the best.”

Rodger, who grew up in Ballarat, says it was the diversity and variety of the work that sparked his love for the job.

“Some people get into jobs and, after a while, they feel like they are stuck in a rut,” he says. “But with this – every week is different - you’re in a different area, you’re building a different house, you’re using different bricks. No two houses are exactly the same. They might look the same on a plan but when you start working on them you notice the little distinctions and that’s what keeps it interesting.”

Over his decades-long career, Rodger has seen many changes – not only across the building industry, but also the town in which he has spent nearly his whole life bricking houses. He can still remember transitioning from imperial measurements to the metric system, when highlight bricks were standard façade features and even what building sites were like before OH&S came in.

“Years ago they were just a nightmare,” he says. “You’d get on site and all the bricks would be stacked out on the footpaths. The jobs had dirt ripped up everywhere and you had to get in there and clean it all up before you could even start working. These days, a lot of the labour has been taken out of it and sites are nice and clean. Metricon even puts crushed rock around the sites so, even in winter, you’re not walking around in mud, which is really good.”

But one thing that hasn’t changed since the Romans perfected brick sizes is the craft and Rodger says good brickwork is an underrated expertise. And like any skill, it’s all in the details.

“Good brickwork is a thing,” he says with a laugh. “You want nice straight bricks with the ends perfectly plumb [vertical]. You also want clean brickwork that isn’t covered in mortar and the joints finished off the way they’re supposed to be - not like they’ve just had a stick dragged through them.

“Bricklaying is an art. There are lots of rock stackers out there, but not a lot of bricklayers. Good bricklayers are hard to find.”

Though his career started in Victoria, Rodger has worked all over the country.

“I did my time in Ballarat, then went to Perth for a few years, then up to Darwin,” he recalls. “But somehow I ended up coming back to Ballarat. I grew up here, it’s home.”

Now 61, the father of three says living and working in the same community definitely has its perks.

“I have laid the bricks for a lot of friends’ houses; talked most of them into solid brick, too,” he says, laughing. “In the early days, I used to travel to Melbourne a fair bit and I helped build the first displays down at Caroline Springs back when it first opened. But I only work in Ballarat now – I’ve got more than enough to keep me busy; plus, it’s nice to be able to drive around and go, we built that’.”

“Being a brickie is very satisfying – it’s great. I wouldn’t be doing it still if I didn’t like it.”

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