We’d been in Australia exactly one month when my mother gave me a 10 shilling note and the following instruction; “Here’s ten bob, go into Melbourne and get yourself a job and don’t come home without one. And if they want you to start straight away you start!” I had had one job from which I was fired after a few days; but that’s another story!
How could I refuse such a request? So I had a wash, (my mother believed that having a shower every day washed all the natural oils off your skin and body and would not allow them) put on my suit; I only had the one, bought from the “50 Shilling Tailors” in England just before we left; cleaned my shoes and toddled off to the bus stop at the corner of Beachley Street & South Road, Sunshine.
There was one of the Pauley girls who came to Australia on the same ship as we, the “MV Cheshire” I don’t know her first name, anyway while we were waiting for the bus she got out a cigarette and said “Have you got a red hot connection?” I looked at her blankly and she said “I don’t mean that, I mean have you got a light for my cigarette!” This is true and it was some time before I realized what she meant. My brother Sonny would have known as he was intimately acquainted with the Pauley girls.
Well we both lit up using my Ronson lighter which along with a leather wallet/cigarette case combined had been a farewell gift from the Cambrian Insurance Company in London where I’d worked from the 17th April 1950. Strange gift to give a 15 year old which is all I was at the time I left there. Anyway I’ll talk about the Cambrian another time if I haven’t already done so, they were lovely people from the Managing Director Mr Duncan down to Greenslade, the general dogsbody commissionaire .
The bus only went as far as Footscray back then, from there into town was by train. The trains were hilarious for someone brought up with the trains on the London Underground. They must have been 70 – 80 year old at least and you had to open the doors yourself. I got out at Spencer Street Station and bought a paper, probably the “Age” although it could have been the “Argus”; Melbourne had two broadsheets back then.
I scanned through the “Junior Clerk” ads and saw one for the Royal Insurance Co. at 414-416-418 Collins Street so being utterly defeated I caught a tram up Collins Street and got off at Market Street, in the 1950’s the trams had conductors and my one gave me the nod when it was time to get off. near enough slap bang outside the Royal Insurance Building. To my eyes it was enormous, and at 9 storey’s was at the maximum height allowable, now they’re up to 90.
Feeling infinitely small I entered the main office on the ground floor, it was huge and beautiful, the ceiling was higher than a church’s and the humming sound was the voices of the inhabitants of this vast cave.
Somebody came up and asked if they could help me and I said yes I’ve come about the job in the paper,they must have understood my Cockney accent as they told me to hang on a minute, I can’t remember if it was a he or she thats why I’m saying they; anyway he or she came back after a couple of minutes and told me to come on around and I was taken to a raised box and introduced to Mr Ferguson, the Chief Clerk, a little old man who’s mouth seemed to be pulled tight at the corners and didn’t move when he spoke; who said “Come on in lad and sit down” he called everybody lad I can hear his voice in my mind even now, funny old bloke.
He asked me what experience I’d had and I told him I’d been working in insurance in London and gave him my “Reference” from the Cambrian. I don’t know if he was impressed or satisfied but he then told me that the job payed £4:10:00 a week paid fortnightly and could I start straight away.
I apologized and told him no I couldn’t start then but I could start tomorrow as my mother had instructed me to report home immediately I found a suitable job. He was happy with that and I’d gained an extra day. And that’s how it was in the bad old days, no messing about you were hired or not hired on the spot, it makes me feel sad for the kids today!
The next morning 8th May 1951 at 8:45 am the starting time I duly arrived and had to sign in, I didn’t have to do that in England, however I was allocated my number signed in and was consigned to the Country Department.
My number in the “Attendance Book” was 1, and I must admit that my signature graced the page for I had an excellent hand, says he modestly. 😉