Twistie rolls and overtime: A nostalgic look at ’70s workplace protocols

Apr 23, 2023
Source: Getty

Did you ever do overtime in your workplace? I noted in the media a dispute over hours expected from workers in their jobs. The modern world seems to litigate over the most minor issue. But there are laws ensuring human rights, and equal rights for women.

This is a tale of my long-lost youth. Even then, I was a people-watcher. I was employed as a civilian clerk in the Department of Defence, Army Division.

It was that June season of the year. Time for an annual stocktake of the archives. Of course, there were no emails or texts then. Army requisitions were completed with in handwriting, and delivered in locked briefcases by conscript army drivers between bases.

Then this vast army of paperwork was filed in good old manila folders. Anyway, some other clerks and I were commanded to do overtime. We were to be allocated dinner money, after half an hour of teatime, and an allotment of extra salary for being there.

So, this was the day. In June, in Melbourne, it was a frosty morning, the sun barely rising over a very nippy, chilly day. It was about one or zero degrees, as I stepped off the commuting, the long train trip to the Big Smoke.

I was wearing the appropriate coat, gloves, scarf, woolly socks, and boots. Toes were a tingle. Part of the fascination of the Big Smoke at that time in history was a cult group known as the Hare Krishna.

Their morning alms’ devotion to ascetic living involved parading around our great city, cymbals and bells ringing. They were clad in saffron robes, strange hair do’s, lots of nose rings and bare feet. As usual, as the Hare Krishna was processing, the workforce went trudging to their jobs around them.

But, I am still amused nearly fifty years later. One lad bringing up the rear was so ascetic, he had covered his feet with a pair of football socks, thick and woolly. As well as those, he had on a pair of rubber thongs, available anywhere in summer. From memory, that individual was wearing Richmond socks. Yellow and black. Nearly sent this people-watcher to Liquorland!

But, having arrived at my workplace, we clerks toiled on, at lunchtime, we went to the staff kiosk. Being teenagers, we purchased a buttered roll and a packet of Twisties each.

This was dinner, the public service way. We sat down at 4:38 pm. The army barracks tea ladies had long gone home. An old-time kitchen jug made us all a cup of coffee.

The skies grew dark over this time. Moths flew from the archives. No one was allowed to question the commands. The noble shredding machine was in full overload. Archives were filed, and a dusty world long vanished.

At 8:45 pm, it was overtime done and dusted. All sensitive files were shredded, in accordance with the army protocols. We walked together, rugged up, to the train station, scattering to different platforms. We caught different trains to our suburbs. The trains stopped at all stations, as we avoided the long-gone smoking carriages.

So that was overtime. Did you ever eat Twistie rolls for dinner too?

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