How many jobs have you had? I recently started musing on the question, listing the jobs I’ve had in Notes on my mobile phone, adding to it as memories came back. With the list now more or less completed, particular people and experiences within those jobs have resurfaced, leading to this outpouring.
What qualifies as a ‘job’, anyway? One definition is “an uninterrupted period of work with a particular employer”, which gives me enough leeway to include pretty well anything. So here we go.
I could start with my job as a choirboy at St David’s Cathedral in Hobart. We were paid for our work, as explained in an earlier post. But I’ll admit that’s stretching it a tad, so let’s get started with my first genuine paid employment.
1. Myer, Hobart At school, many of us sought holiday jobs to supplement our meagre weekly allowance. My first success was in 1967 with the Myer department store, where I was a storeman’s assistant, and paid the princely sum of $16 per week. The duties were exactly as you’d imagine: taking boxes of goods on a trolley to the relevant department, all the while taking care not to annoy the customers. The storeman I assisted was Mr Perry, a tall, tough though amiable enough man who had a fascinating past (and present, as it turned out). You see, he’d been a commando in World War 2. He didn’t speak of it, and I learned a little of his daring and dangerous exploits from others. Another revelation was that, as his salary at Myer wasn’t particularly adequate, he took on additional work as a nude model for the Tasmanian School of Art.
2. McCann Bros furniture store, Hobart My next holiday job was at McCann Brothers as a sales assistant in the furniture department. It was pretty excruciating, as the days were long and exceedingly boring having to stand around for hour upon hour. My only clear memory is receiving a phone call one day from an irate lady customer, whose side table she’d recently purchased was damaged and she wanted a refund. I nervously stammered my way through an awkward conversation, and didn’t even smell a rat when she started on about her baby vomiting on said table. It was only when she burst out laughing that I realised it was Marilyn, playing a ‘hilarious’ joke on me.
3. Self-employed maths tutor My best subject at school was maths, so it was only natural to turn this ability into a money-making venture. Not that there was much money in it: I coached Marilyn’s older brother Mark for free, in order to get him through School’s Board maths, dragging him from an 8 per cent mid-year result to a Pass at the end of the year. My few paying customers included a lad in Lenah Valley who I visited weekly. I must have turned 17 as I drove to his house for the sessions. During one visit the lad’s neighbour clipped my car and drove off, but was observed by a member of the family. When I reported this back home, my father, bless his heart, insisted on going with me the next morning to demand reparation. Fuelling dad’s enthusiasm was that he knew the perpetrator, a poncey accountant by the name of Ashdown, and it delighted him to expose his crime. Ashdown crumbled and paid up.
4. Apple picker
Having started university, and being short of funds, I decided to try to earn some money during the first term holidays. Charlie Woollard and I somehow heard that good money could be earned ($45 a week) picking apples down at Huonville, some distance south of Hobart. It’s a bit of a treacherous drive, up and over the foothills of Mount Wellington, in the ever-cooling Autumn. Work started at about 7:30 am, so we had to head off by 6:45 am at the latest to get there in time. It was cold, miserable work, with the frost just melting from the apples, and Charlie lasted only one day. I must have really needed the money, as I plugged on day by day for the two weeks, even after my car decided it didn’t like the trip and refused to budge. Again, my father mercifully stepped in and loaned me his car for the final few days. I resolved never to go apple picking again.
5. Boyer – electrician’s assistant
In my first year at university I was enrolled in Engineering. At the end of the year we were expected to work in our holidays in an engineering-related job, and I managed to get a position as an electrician’s assistant at the Boyer Paper Mill, north of Hobart in the Derwent Valley. I enjoyed it, as it basically meant trailing around behind one of the electricians as he plied his trade at various locations around the complex, fetching and carrying.
And an impressive complex it is! We had to enter the main machine room at times – the noise was incredible as the paper roared through the machines at high speed on its way to the rollers (ear plugs were supplied at the door). If there was a paper break, all hell broke loose, as alarms sounded, red lights flashed and the staff ran to their allotted positions to get the paper smoothly back onto the rollers again. Another impressive area was the shed in which the logs were stripped of bark by high pressure water jets. The controller sits in an elevated position protected by supposedly bullet proof glass. The week before our visit, the jets had dislodged a rock from the bark, which went completely through his cubicle – the holes in the front and back glass were still present. The final memory which sticks with me was of the two electricians who were sacked: they’d spent months using cadged materials from around the mill to build a small boat under one of the buildings, and were caught as they tried to transport it out.
6. Mono pumps – general duties While lurching along through my university studies, where I finally realised that I’d never be an engineer and retreated to the safer study of mathematics, I took on part-time work as a general roustabout at a firm in Moonah, Hobart, called Mono Pumps. Their basic pump design was fascinating, in that it was based on Archimedes’ Screw, a concept with thousands of years of history. This made it suitable for such applications as sewerage pumping, and so it was that I accompanied a workmate out into the country to check on a blocked sewage pump. Luckily he had to take the lead, as we found to our horror that it was blocked with used condoms! The job did have better moments, and I was able to improve my driving skills, being allowed to pilot the forklift truck (and nearly taking said workmate’s head off) and proudly backing a Ford F350 truck with a trailer loosely coupled with a chain down a narrow ramp.
7. UniTas Physics dept – building a radio telescope
This sounds much more exciting than it was. It was another short-term holiday job, obtained with the help of the university employment service. The Physics department was building a low frequency radio telescope near Hobart, and needed students to complete a repetitive and mindless task – attaching insulators to lengths of wire. They needed thousands of them. You see, this wasn’t the dish that comes to mind when we think of radio telescopes, but an array of poles and wires in a field. To be honest, I don’t mind mindless jobs, which is probably who I like doing the ironing – as long as I can have some favourite music playing.
8. Surveyor’s assistant
I liked studying surveying (got a rare Distinction), and jumped at the opportunity to work with a surveyor during the long vacation. It was a one-man operation, and he needed an assistant for field work.
The work was interesting, back in the days of measuring with ‘chains’ (long stiff wire), plumb bobs, theodolites, etc. The highlight came near the end of my time when I was given sole responsibility for installing four permanent benchmarks on a new estate. These are important points of reference for surveyors as they measure out boundaries, and consisted of small metal plates on top of cement blocks which are buried in the ground. So if you’re ever driving along Acton Drive, east of Hobart, you may just be passing a permanent benchmark which I installed about fifty years ago.
9. Commonwealth Education Department – tutor Towards the end of my university studies, I switched entirely to mathematics. I’m somewhat hazy as to how it came about, but I started providing individual tutorial services to overseas students, courtesy of the Commonwealth Department of Education. They were all Asian, and were struggling with the challenges of first year maths, especially as it was of course being taught in a second language. I liked the reasonably well paid work, simply going through the students’ study notes in detail, picking up the points they’d missed in lectures. They tended to be too shy to ask questions in tutorials. My abiding memory is of a particular student from Indonesia, Zolkifly, who unfortunately had an accident on a scooter soon after commencing. Tragically, he lost the lower half of a leg, requiring months of rehabilitation and acquiring gradual use of an artificial one. He soldiered on uncomplainingly, and I have wondered from time to time how he fared long-term.
10. University Employment Service There were other minor jobs I took on from the University Employment Service, a couple of which I well recall. The first was providing gardening and lawn-mowing services to a house in Waimea Ave, probably Hobart’s most prestigious address at the time (it has since been subdivided). It was home to an elderly couple, and I was supervised by the lady of the house, who set me to work on each occasion with direct and specific instructions. I was never invited inside the house, but she would usually bring me out a bowl of soup and a slice of bread around lunchtime (the work took all day). The other job was assisting someone to finish off a small wooden cruiser that he’d built in his backyard. It was mostly painting, which I soon caught on to once he carefully instructed me. What sticks in my mind is that his daughter, a nurse, would come into the backyard and sunbake in a bikini. It was all a bit much for a young man.
11. Tasmanian Public Service – Risdon Prison
This now brings us to the subject of my last blog post – my six months at Risdon Prison
. It was the most memorable of all the jobs I’ve ever had, and I wish I’d written it all down at the time. I’m sure I arrived home most days with a fresh tale to amuse (or horrify) Marilyn with.
Our offices were in this building for about four years
12. TAFE teacher This was my job of longest duration – 10 years. The funny thing was that I was given a job that I hadn’t applied for. The position I was interviewed for was a Teacher in the General Studies Department, where I’d worked part-time. I happily received a job offer, resigned from the Prison Service and turned up for my first day at Hobart Technical College. The HR person directed me to the Department of External Studies, but when I explained that was not my job, I was ushered into the office of the Principal, Tas Knight. In his effusive best blustering manner, Tas explained to me that they’d had to appoint an amazing candidate with a PhD to the position I’d been after, but as he was so keen to employ me that he’d found me a position with External Studies.
Picture of the teacher as a young man
I just had to grin and bear it, but wouldn’t you know, it launched me into a career lasting more than three decades. I enjoyed the work, gradually developing skills in distance education and improving my qualifications with the addition of a Dip Ed, Honours in Maths and a Masters in Education. There were also opportunities to teach face-to-face, and I have fond memories of teaching maths to groups from Automotive Studies and Business Studies. And being a technical environment, there were benefits similar to the prison in terms of ‘extras’, including having my hair cut and designing a flounder punt which was beautifully built by the sheet-metal apprentices. A fellow teacher who taught plumbing helped me at home to replace old concrete pipes with plastic ones, and my ailing Fiat 125 (twin overhead camshaft model) had its motor completely rebuilt by the automotive apprentices. There were opportunities to undertake pleasant trips around Tasmania visiting our isolated students, run teaching sessions and conduct seminars in remote towns.
We even featured in the local press!
I do have clear memories, though, of a horrendous flight to the West Coast in a small plane which bucketed around so brutally that I was sick as a dog – I was not at the top of my game when I was teaching maths an hour or so later, and thereafter always drove. Such sojourns also provided me with the one and only trip I’ve ever made to King Island, a fascinating destination off the north-west coast of Tasmania. Trevor Edwards and I had booked into a boarding house, to save on accommodation costs, little realising that it was the start of the ‘roo hunting season. We arrived and were greeted at the door by an old crone with the biggest, bluest/purple pock-marked spirit-inflicted nose I’ve ever seen. Clambering the stairs, we entered a dormitory wherein were a number of hunters with huge knives (you’ve seen Crocodile Dundee) and rifles scattered around the room. Panicked, we rushed out of the place, retreating to the safety of a motel.
Most of the people I worked with were great, though the politics of TAFE was quite brutal, and I managed to get on the wrong side of influential senior staff – not a good career move. This and other factors prompted us to start considering a move, possibly interstate, possibly anywhere. I duly started checking the Higher Education section of The Australian every Saturday, as that is where the interesting jobs could be found. One that I got close to was at the University of Science in Penang, Malaysia, for which I was interviewed at Deakin University. Funnily enough, all three interviewees were on the same bus from Melbourne Airport to Geelong. I knew one of them well, Peter Smith, and quickly realised I had little chance against his impressive C.V. This was reinforced at the interview, where the first question from the assembled and imposing team was ‘How will you go about producing learning materials in a second language?’. As I had rashly assumed the University taught in English, I was stumped, blathering away with some long-forgotten drivel.
But then came an even more enticing prospect, a possible position in …
Let’s leave it there, and come back with a fresh blog post for the second set of jobs I’ve blundered my way through.