I have decided to write a short series about jobs I have done. It is easiest to be specific about the distant past, which is also more picturesque, so I shall start with a short account of the jobs I had in (or starting in) the first year after I left school.
At the Bank
Straight after the HSC, I started work for the then Commercial Banking Company Sydney (CBC) at the Gordon branch. I was not very committed to this job. I had thought that, if it suited, I might work at it for a while and then travel on my savings. It didn’t suit, and I resigned and went straight to Uni. In retrospect, that might have been a mistake.
At the time, the big mistake I felt I had made was joining the CBC rather than holding out for a job at the Commonwealth Bank (slightly more difficult to get because that bank was still run on public service lines). The reason for my regret was that the Commonealth Bank had automated its systems without reducing its branch staff, or so it seemed to me. Every afternoon I laboured mightily to reconcile the day’s batches of cheques, deposit slips and other vouchers on a wide-carriage adding machine known as a “batching machine” whilst, so far as I could tell, my Commonwealth Bank equivalents were free and out of the door half an hour after the branch closed for the day – which on Monday to Thursday was 3 pm.
Bank employees aspired to gentility, so did not have a “union:” I belonged to the Australian Bank Officers Association, which was effectively the same thing.
I got this job from Noel Cislowski, husband (though not for long after this time) of my then piano teacher, Neta Maughan, and then inspector in charge of speech and drama in the NSW Dept of Education. This was not an extraordinary act of patronage: when we went for our training, there were about a classroom full of last year’s school debaters recruited for this purpose. Whilst we were young for such responsibility, we were also very cheap. You would really have to class the fee we were paid as an honorarium, though for me, with no other source of employment through the academic year, it was not to be sneezed at. The price to be paid was middle of the day treks across town to far-flung high schools.
I cringe to think now of some of the adjudications I dished out – principally on account of their inordinate length. The kids never seemed to mind of course, since they were invariably getting out of some class. They laughed at all my jokes (ah! vanity!).
I think I did this for 3 years, or possibly 4. Later, I also did some private school adjudicating, which was slightly better paid. I got that job from the secretary of the relevant debating association, who had been my year 12 English teacher. At least by then I think the standard of my work had improved.
At the end of first year, I got a job as a bus conductor. This was one of those things you could do as holiday work. It was arranged through the university student employment service, and they trained a whole bunch of us (two days at Randwick Depot) to work for the long vacation to relieve permanent staff over summer. I picked up my uniform at the old tram sheds (now derelict) just behind Newtown Station.
After the second day of training at Randwick, I also picked up a bicycle from Europa Cycles at Kingsford. I needed it to get from West Pymble to Willoughby Depot, where I was stationed, since (and it stands to reason) the buses didn’t run early enough to get bus conductors to work. I had not ridden a bicycle for years. My first predawn ride (in bus conducting uniform) was one of the most physically exhausting ordeals of my life then or since.
But once again, I lacked the necessary commitment to the organisation. This should have been a secure and relatively well-paid source of holiday employment for the remainder of my university vacations, but I was busted by the “Kellys” [Inspectors], ostensibly for selling a loose ticket (we had been assured in our training that people had bought houses with such lurks) but really for sitting down on the job as a queue conductor at Chatswood Station and reading W H Auden. The Depot Manager persuaded me to resign at the end of that summer rather than face a disciplinary hearing.
You might think I’m bitter about this, but I think I’ve got over it. The gruelling thing about working for/on the buses was for me the early starts and the split shifts. And in the background were, of course, Christmas and the summer holidays. We took the shifts of regular staff who were taking their summer holidays, and I soon became aware that some shifts were distinctly easier than others. There must have been a whole world of favours and privileges played out and pecking order confirmed under the guise of rostering.
Unionism was compulsory. I was member of the Australian Tramway & Motor Omnibus Employees Association.