Even the briefest visit to Australia will make one thing blindingly obvious to the visitor: the most colorful people in this country are not rap musicians, artists, gay activists, pimps or drug dealers; they are the men and women who work with tools and trucks.

Anyone who drives a ‘ute” (utility vehicle), works at a construction site, paves a driveway, plants trees or darts up the sidewalk on a motorbike delivering the mail, (delivering anything for that matter), must be dressed in a shade of yellow, orange or green that would make a butterfly blush.

It’s a safety thing.

I’ve been told by one of my eccentric cycling companions that some tool users are very, very touchy about their tools. So, the colorful plumage may also be one way of saying, “back off, mate.” If the Aussie equivalent of Homer Simpson was in the middle of a nuclear meltdown, he could get very annoyed if a nuclear engineer attempted to plug his finger in the radioactive dyke. Working fingers only need apply. Preferably middle digits that have been used graphically on picket lines.

Not being a member of the working world, I am something of a loss when it comes to a topic such as this. It it does appear, however, that unions with a capital U have much more clout here than in in North America, where they have been decimated. Despite his increasing clout as a filmmaker and ballooning budgets, Michael Moore’s most powerful film is “Roger and Me,” which documents the devastation of of his hometown, Flint, Michigan, when General Motors moved its plant to Mexico.

Skilled, even unskilled workers in Australia have to be valued. There simply aren’t enough of them. Australia doesn’t share a porous border with a conveniently impoverished country, so it can’t count on cheap, expendable laborers to do the dirty work. To open up the country to willing workers from Asian countries would mean raising the red flag of immigration. We all know where that leads. One Pauline Hansen a decade may be more than enough, even for insular Australians.

But I’m getting off topic. Visibility and workplace safety are good things. When I am out on my recumbent bike in traffic I want to be seen by the driver on his mobile phone who may be completely oblivious to my presence. However, it does seem that the Workplace Safety people may have gone a bit overboard with the phosphorescent thing.

Could it be that the sheer numbers of workers wearing fluorescent clothing may, in fact, be having exactly the wrong effect, desensitizing the population through sheer overexposure? Can the collective retinal rods and cones of the Australian population absorb all this loud luminescence without tuning it out?

To me, grey flannel is starting to look good. Comments, anyone?

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