It had the makings of a Melbourne Cup champion, and I had to mop it up

I knew something was up when the delivery van returned to the airport warehouse just a few minutes after departing. A screech of brakes, a puff of smoke, the driver fleeing the vehicle with his hand over his mouth.

A crew of a dozen-or-so freight handlers in the Sydney depot where we emptied the planes, stored the freight until it was released by customs and sent it out for delivery in a fleet of vans, gathered around the Toyota Hiace to see what had caused the driver to abort his mission.

It wasn’t your average parcel. Credit: iStock

When we opened the rear door, it was immediately clear. Twenty litres of horse sperm – “equine ejaculate”, according to customs documents – was sloshing around the back of the van, a tidal wave of stallion squirt that retreated when the driver accelerated and advanced when he hit the brake.

Some hopeful horse breeder had used a refrigerated canister to import the makings of a Melbourne Cup winner, but the canister had broken, meaning its foul and fetid contents would never even make the knackers’ yard let alone the starting gates.

Despite the smell, I found the situation funny – until I was asked to clean it up. As the most-recent arrival in the team, I was the most expendable. To this day, when I see health workers in full PPE treating COVID-19 patients, I think they’re underdressed compared with what I was wearing when I hosed out that van.

I was 18, had just finished high school and the job at a major international freight company meant I could afford to put myself through flying academy. With penalty rates, one 12-hour shift lugging freight on a Sunday or public holiday was another hour in the logbook.

Underdressed, compared to me.

Underdressed, compared to me. Credit:

For one hour in the sky, I would do almost anything on the ground. Like The Goodies, no job was turned down. I even worked at my high school the week after graduating, where, again, I was the most expendable when the stench of death filled the staff room one morning and the caretaker instructed me to find the source. I had always wanted to kill my maths teacher and wondered if someone had beaten me to it. Like the horse, removing the rotting rodent was a rude awakening to the rigours of work.

Despite the freak show, the only live animal I ever worked with was a crazy bloke from Tamworth who sat next to me and sorted mail at Australia Post’s headquarters on George Street, Sydney, 2000. (I once knew almost every postcode in Australia — a talent that never proved transferable.) Frank would come down from Tamworth (2340) and spend the week sorting mail in Sydney, then return to his family for the weekend.

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