I had just turned 11 years old when my family emigrated to Brisbane, Queensland. What an adventure for two young girls from the north of England. My dad loved Australia, my gran loved Australia and we loved Australia, but my mum couldn’t adapt to this wide open country; its heat and the isolation she felt so keenly. Four years later, she was dead. Our family was ‘fractured’, even ‘broken’.
Dad took a contract job in Weipa, leaving my sister and me in the care of my gran. I was midway through my second year at high school. My grades plummeted, but I pulled my socks up, recovered my love of study and passed my junior certificate with reasonably good grades. However, money was tight. My younger sister was only in her second year of high school, so I left school at the end of November 1970 and by January, I had a job.
My first job, at 16, was working for a real estate agent in a small suburban branch of a larger company. After Mum died, I just wanted to leave school and be independent. The manager was a cranky old fart and very intimidating. There were no computers back then, just an old typewriter and copious carbon copies. The typewriter was prone to breaking down and one day, he came out of his office and lifted it and then proceeded to bang it up and down on my desk in front of me. I almost burst into tears! We only had two salesmen — one was another crusty old fart (his name was Bill) and the other was a delightful, industrious younger man named Peter, with whom I got along famously.
Young women, starting off as a secretary weren’t ‘secretaries’ at all. They were the ‘go for’! I did everything from making the tea, doing the washing up, typing, shorthand even vacuuming the bloody office. One of my duties was to take the mail over to the post office, which meant I had to cross a four-lane road with my arms laden with letters. One afternoon, off I went. That day I had worn a crossover dress, it was denim blue, buttoned at the waist and short (it was the 70s). It was a windy day and as I was in the middle of the intersection, a big gust of wind blew up my dress exposing my little bikini knickers. What was I to do? Drop the mail to stop my embarrassment and pull down my dress or continue to walk across the road. I chose the latter, but by the time I got to the post office my face was cherry red!
Even at 16, I wasn’t averse to sticking up for myself and one day Bill gave me a ticking off for something that wasn’t my fault. He’d made a sale and gave me the contract to type up. I was always diligent in checking my work, but he hadn’t been. Without checking, he went to get the contract signed and was embarrassed when the error was discovered. He’d written down some of the information incorrectly and blamed me for it, saying I’d made an error. I knew I hadn’t — I’ll ‘cop it sweet’ if I’ve done the wrong thing but I won’t if I haven’t — so I said my ‘party piece’. I got fired, but still got a good reference!
Initially I was devastated, but within a month I got a job in the city working for Norwich Union Insurance Company. Getting the sack was a blessing in disguise. I loved this new job. Both management and staff were delightful, friendly people and I thrived in this new work environment. From then on, every job I had continued to give me the opportunity to build my confidence and grow my knowledge.