Seventeen and sixpence – my first job

This was the princely sum I earned in my first job – I thought I was fabulously wealthy. My pocket money was five shillings a week, so this was a big improvement.

Word had spread around the playground that Coles in Wollongong was hiring fourth years for four Saturday mornings and the week before Christmas. A group of us duly piled into the slow Dion’s bus at Bulli, presented ourselves upstairs at Coles, did the maths test and were employed. Perhaps there was paperwork but I don’t remember any.

We had to add up the purchases and work out the change in pounds, shillings and pence in our heads. If we didn’t get it right, the customer did.

One Saturday morning I was in a group that had to bundle up sweets into Christmas packages. We were allowed to eat as much as we liked. The only sweets I’ll eat now are jelly beans.

I worked on the counter that sold hair goods and odds and ends. This was in the days when the counters were open display cases with a small centre area for staff. I think there were two cash registers. Because of the type of goods on the counter my mental arithmetic improved as I added up a packet of bobby pins, a brush, hair oil and shoelaces and gave the correct change. Or not.

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One afternoon before Christmas I worked on the cigarette counter. This was a real eye opener to me, coming from a family of non-smokers. I had no idea how expensive smoking was! It was a very busy counter. Unbeknownst to me my father was in town and dropped by to say hello. I didn’t notice him and he told me later at tea time he didn’t like to interrupt as I was working so hard.

Another day I was working on the juice counter. We had to ladle out the juice from containers into paper cups. None of us were skilled so the floor got sticky and slippery. I took quite a tumble. In the days before OH&S I just got up and carried on. We didn’t wear aprons and I don’t think there was a sink to wash our hands.

On the Saturday mornings when the store closed at noon we went upstairs and collected our pay packet with 17/6 inside. Our bus fare was about a shilling each way, and we would each buy a Gaytime – only one sort available. This was far more sophisticated than a Paddle Pop or cone.

My parents insisted I put an extra two shillings in the collection plate. I think most of the rest went on Christmas presents for my parents and two younger brothers. There were five of us in tight knit friendship group and I bought presents for my friends that year. I didn’t have access to a major shopping centre normally so I didn’t have the chance to shop for myself and entertainment was going to a friend’s house.

I loved the independence that having a job for the few hours gave me. I think that’s what I liked best. That, and the view outside the rather narrow world I was growing up in.

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And the 17/6 was nice.


What do you remember about your first job? Where did you work? Was it like Vivienne’s experience? Tell us all about it below!