Roustabout is a traditional term for a worker with broad-based, non-specific skills. Originally used to describe show or circus workers who handled materials for construction on fairgrounds, it is also applied to rural employment and positions in the oil industry.
Oil industry in the US
Oil roustabout refers to a worker who maintains all things in the oil field. Roustabout is an official classification of natural gas and oil rig personnel. Roustabouts working in oil fields typically perform various jobs requiring little training. Roustabouts will set up oil well heads, maintain saltwater disposal pumps, lease roads, lease mowing, create dikes around tank batteries on a lease, etc. An oil roustabout has no limits in the oil industry and can, and will do any and all oil field work, including roughneck drilling, oil well completion and well service, and even chemical work. An oil field roustabout will also do all things that an oil field pumper would have to do. However, they frequently turn out to be long-term employees and take on more difficult and sometimes dangerous jobs as they gain experience. Most go on to at least become “roughnecks” if they work for the rig company for more than a few months.
An early 2010 survey by Careercast.com of the best and worst jobs — based on five criteria: environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress — rated 'roustabout' as the worst job. Nonetheless, the anecdotal and subjective experience of an actual roustabout reveals the excitement of a challenging, adventurous job.
Australia and New Zealand
In Australia and New Zealand a "roustabout" can be any worker with broad-based, non-specific skills, in any industry. However, they are most commonly found in rural employment, especially sheep farming, as in the film The Sundowners, where they leave town before the sun goes down.
In popular culture
The term was used in Disney's 1941 animated film Dumbo, during a musical scene in which a group of labourers pulled circus materials off the train for construction.
Roustabout was a 1964 musical movie starring Elvis Presley, Barbara Stanwyck, and Joan Freeman in a story set in a traveling carnival — for which Presley recorded the song titled "Roustabout".
The term is used in the song "The Mariner's Revenge Song", by The Decemberists. "Roustabout" is also the name of a song recorded by the bluegrass band, Open Road, on their album Lucky Drive.
The term is also used by Beats Antique for two songs off of their album Collide.
The Slamball team Rousties is named after a roustabout. In the musical theater production All Shook Up (musical), the lead character Chad is often referred to as a roustabout.
"Roughnecks and Roustabouts" is the second Album by Pete Williams, formerly bassist and vocalist with Dexys Midnight Runners, and currently performing as The Pete Williams Band.