Boo’s Field Guide to Nerds (part 5)

This bearded species is most at ease when tinkering about in a back shed, fossicking in the rusty tools section of trash n’ treasure markets or re-enacting the American Civil War.

While readers may read this overview and think: ‘why, that is just most people’s Dad’, it is important to distinguish between an everyday patriarch and the full-blown DIY version, a Nerd for whom all peculiarities of his species must be expressed for him to qualify. For example, a Dad may own a back shed and may even use it to store eskys, bent nails, deflated Sherrins and other implementata of fatherhood, but to the Tinkerer the back shed is a well-oiled extension of his ego; the means by which he articulates the deepest passions of his id to create fantastic apparatus of no discernable use to anyone.

This Nerd lives to mess around with that which rarely needs messing around with in the first place. This can be as trivial as creating a stand for his model Spitfires, to constructing a ‘temple’ for his barbeque; an outdoor area for him and his friends to neatly prepare and cook an assortment of meats with all utensils at hand, all workbenches at the right height, party lights, speakers, padded seating and tiled roof. At said gatherings, and in keeping with his ‘everything home made’ philosophy, the Tinkerer will proudly serve a bottle of his latest home brew. This will start a vigorous debate amongst the assembled Nerds, all of whom will claim to have made a stronger brew when studying engineering at University (a nostalgic time for the Tinkerer).

Like the IT Professional the Tinkerer is devoted to technology, but that of a different, gentler age. The steam engine holds an uncommon pull to this Nerd, a technology that spans the ship, the locomotive, the tractor, or turbines and power stations in general. The sight of a well-oiled steam engine is soothing to this elderly Nerd, and he will travel long distances to attend steam engine festivals, a happy occasion when he can roll up his dusty sleeves and talk knowledgably with others of his ilk.

The author was fortunate to spend a number of months viewing the Tinkerer species up close while volunteering on the Enterprize, a tall ship run by a crack team of handy Nerds. This milieu combines two of the great loves of the Tinkerer: a complicated mechanism constructed entirely of recycled woods, hemp, pitch and tallow requiring a high level of daily maintenance, and explicit historical detail.

The strict onboard hierarchy ensured that from the General Hands to the Master of the ship, all commands were obeyed. Specific protocols were required in day-to-day operations of the Enterprize, including old-timey orders such as ‘helms a-lee’, ‘hard a starboard’ and ‘scandalise the main’, words like ‘fo’c’stl’e’, ‘mizzen’ and ‘futtocks’ and even superstitions, such as the inadvisability of inviting a woman on board. This intoxicating environment would occasionally go to the Tall Ship Tinkerer’s head, and some would even go so far as to bark ‘get down them stairs and make them sandwiches’.

Unlike Alexander the Great’s continental campaigning or Henry VIII’s ribald antics, Melbourne’s early founders are not known for their thrilling escapades and saucy bedtime heroics. But, just as the French Horn Player is perversely enticed to an unpopular shape, so the Tinkerer of the Enterprize is drawn to this lesser-known period of Australia’s history. This eager Nerd was sometimes disappointed to lose his audience with the phrase ‘semi-trailer of the seas’; faces would fall when younger members of the public learned that no piracy, swordplay nor buccaneering took place on its well-scrubbed decks. Regardless of this, the Tall Ship Tinkerer was undeterred. Special dress-up days were arranged, and tired phrases of derring-do were uttered to general glee. Thus the Tinkerer species is a close relation of historical re-enactment species, including members of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

While teamwork was a vital part of life on the Enterprize, so was individual pride in one’s work. It was noted that as some Tinkerers were generous with information and advice, others would jealously guard their patch, be it improving the brasswork on the ship’s compass to furling a sail quickly in high seas. Any clumsy attempt by a novice Hand to do the same would be treated by such Tinkerers with anything from exasperated concern to undisguised belligerence. In such cases it was indeed more prudent to descend to the galley and prepare the lunchtime refreshments.

A final note on the Enterprize –while the name of the vessel is almost identical to that of the starship in the well-known Nerd touchstone Star Trek: The Next Generation, albeit with a minor change in spelling, this is pure serendipity; a joyful coincidence of Nerdy proportions. The name of the replica ship relates to the actual tops’l schooner first piloted by John Fawkner from Launceston across Bass Strait to found the city of Melbourne. It is a sign of the exacting research and dedication of the author to be acquainted with such facts.