Thursday, 16 May 2013

PAPERBOYS AT A CANBERRA NEWSAGENCY IN 1967

PAPERBOYS AT A CANBERRA NEWSAGENCY IN 1967
By Ron "Slacky" Baxter
   This yarn, written by my old mate, Ron “Slacky” Baxter, who I went to school with, describes what I believe to be the outright exploitation of three vulnerable teenagers in Canberra in 1967. They were paid $2.00 pw for working a minimum of 10 hours, which meant at best they were on 20 cents per hour. According to the Reserve Bank inflation calculator $2.00 in 1967 was equivalent to $22.64 in 2012, which meant they were receiving the equivalent of $2.26 per hour today, or less if they worked more that 10 hours, which was often the case. I also experienced exploitation as a teenager when I worked at Woolworths in Civic but it was not as severe. 
   While adult workers experienced the benefit of Australia's post war boom, which was partly brought on by it having an economic policy which was more rational than today's, teenagers were often treated like shit, as they continue to be today. If given the opportunity many employers would cheerfully turn back the clock and put 5 year old kids in factories for subsistence wages or less. 
   Having said all that, many small businesses of today who rely on underpaid teenagers to perform casual work would find it impossible to stay in business if they paid them adult rates and their competitors did not, as they could not remain competitive. Equal pay for all persons who performed the same task would need to be enshrined in legislation to produce an even playing field, and as  under 18's don't vote I can't see that happening. 

Dave Wheeler



 PAPERBOYS AT A CANBERRA NEWSAGENCY IN 1967
By Ron "Slacky" Baxter

  In 1967 I was a 14 or 15 year old schoolboy attending Dickson High and working after school for a bloke I will call Ray McGillicutty who owned the newsagency at a local shopping centre. Why I know it was 1967 is because I can recall seeing headlines in the papers about the 6 day war in Israel for some time. I worked with two other paperboys, Brownie (Owen Brown) and Tag (Doug McTaggart), who were also in my year at Dickson High.
   We were not really paid by the hour. We were paid $2.00 for a 5 day week in which we worked for a minimum of 2 hours every afternoon. This came to 20 cents an hour if we worked two hour days, but we usually worked in excess of the 2 hours. Even though $2.00 could obviously buy far more than it can today it was still appalling money for the time, even at kid's rates. We had to supply our own bikes and got no allowance for it. The two dollars per week wage had apparently remained unchanged for several years.
   Our job entailed first making sure the papers had come in from Sydney. When they were late we had to sit around waiting for them, realising we were not earning extra money for our time and that we had to wait that much longer before we could knock off and go to the Dickson Pool. My run was the longest and hilliest. The other two runs were less difficult but by no means easy.
    The papers we had to deliver were the Mirror, and at a later stage the Sun, although it may have been the other way around. Things were manageable when we only had the one paper to deliver, but when we were given the extra paper it increased our workload by about 50%, and on Wednesdays, when the editions were extra thick, I had to go back to the newsagency to pick up a second load. I did not have the strength to take them all in one go. I did try once, but after going arse-up I did not try again. Having to go back of course delayed my knock-off time.
    If I was asked to give my opinion of our boss at the time, Ray McGillicutty, I would say he was a BLANK and a BLANK. He looked to be middle aged, and if he is alive today I would not be surprised if he still has his lunch money from preschool. When his wife came in to assist in the busier times she would not talk to him. I don’t know if this was because they had a close marriage and she was busy and entirely committed to staying focused or if it was because she also believed he was a BLANK and BLANK.
    We did not like the fact that we had to deliver the extra newspapers, as it meant more time on the job without any financial reward, so the three of us discussed our situation on the back landing. 
   Brownie and Tag decided that because our workload had increased by 50% we should hit McGillicutty for a raise of $1 per week, which would bring our wage up to a whole $3.00 per week, or 30 cents per hour. I agreed.
    We decided to draw straws to see who would approach him to ask for the wage rise. To do this Brownie got hold of some matches, and I drew the shortest match. It was only recently I found out Brownie had sneakily done something with the matches to ensure I got the shortest one.
    After accepting what I thought was my bad luck I went back into the store and sheepishly approached McGillicutty while the other boys stayed outside. I asked him for the raise, explaining to him that we thought it was only fair that we should be paid 50% more considering our workload had increased by 50%. McGillicutty probably thought our request was exorbitant but decided he would give some ground and offer us instead a rise of a whole 20 cents per week, or 2 cents per hour. He said it was a case of take it or leave it.
    I went back and told Brownie and Tag what his offer was, and I could see by Brownie’s face he was feeling a surge of rage after realising how much he thought he was being exploited and how powerless he was to do anything about it. After deciding we should all resign rather than take it Brownie was very keen to tell him the three of us were quitting, so he marched into his office and gave him the news.
   Rather than be dictated to by bolshie kids he told us we could finish up after our shift. We agreed, but it was a big mistake on his part because we caused havoc by giving people the wrong papers or throwing them into neighbour’s houses.
    McGillicutty confronted us when we came in after finishing our final shift and told us of the complaints he had received. He would probably have received many more after we left as his customers discovered their papers were missing. It was my first effort at industrial sabotage and it made me feel really good.
   After we had finished up we let people know what we thought of him and how badly we believed we had been exploited. I am unsure if he found any replacement paperboys after we left because for some time we saw him delivering the papers by himself in his convertible.
   We laughed when we saw him. I would give him the traditional two fingers; not the single American finger kids of today use.
   
  If I am to reflect on the incident I believe that McGillicutty was not just a BLANK; I believe he was a stupid BLANK. His actions provided me with a very valuable lesson, particularly since I have been self-employed for most of my working life. I firmly believe that if employers are not prepared to pay their staff what they are worth they will usually be shooting themselves in the foot. 
   Footnote- Our mate, Brownie, who appeared in this story died in October 2013. He was a good bloke.
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Wednesday, 8 May 2013


TEENAGE QUEEN

by Dennis Murphy 

  This true story was written by my mate Dennis "Spud" Murphy, who I went to school with in Canberra. Spud grew up in the Berra and began singing and playing the blues harmonica in local blues bands in his teenage years, as well as  at "Folk, Blues and Beyond," a venue that was held in the hall at Corroboree Park. He has continued to sing and play the blues to this day but now lives in Hobart. 
Dave Wheeler

TEENAGE QUEEN
By Dennis Murphy
In September ‘59 my Uncle Frank picked my family up from the Woolloomooloo docks in a new, blue and white, FC station wagon. It was my first day in Australia and he drove us from Sydney to Canberra via Mittagong, Goulburn and Collector. We arrived in the ‘berra at dusk and the first thing he showed us was our new home - a block of land in the then infant suburb of Dickson with a slab of concrete on it.

Two days later my father, Tommy Murphy, an Irish bricklayer, was introduced to two other Irish bricklayers by my uncle. One of the bricklayers was named Paddy Prentice. The three men then proceeded to build a garage that was to become our home for the next eighteen months, until my father was able to finish building our house.
   A recent photo of what was the Murphy family home at 81 Cowper Street, Dickson, showing the garage that is referred to in the last paragraph.
I can remember Paddy because he was often around at our house. He had a son “Kevin” who was a year older than me, a daughter Rosemary, who was the same age as my older sister (about two and a half years older than me) and a younger daughter who was at least five years younger than me. Paddy’s wife seemed quite tall and fair whereas Paddy was more olive in his complexion and short.

I bumped into Kevin occasionally over the years and it was always in a pub. He inherited his height from his mother’s side of the family and as a result was a reasonably big bloke. His complexion was somewhere between his mum’s and his dad’s. Kevin was a bricklayer like his dad and a likeable larrikin. He was an archetypal Australian for his generation.

I saw quite a bit of Rosemary as we visited the Prentices’ and they visited us. Rosemary also used to come around to see my older sister, Rita. I remember Rosemary lent my sister a couple of 45 singles. One was “Teenage Queen” by Johnny Cash.

I was about eleven or twelve at the time so Rosemary would have been fourteen or fifteen. I liked her more than my sister’s other school friends because she was the friendliest and in my opinion the best looking of my sister’s friends.

My sister lost touch with Rosemary as Rosemary left school early, probably to become a hairdresser. I say that because she always looked very glamorous and well groomed.  Looking back she had a beautiful face with big blue/green eyes. Her hair was dark.  A year or so later I picked up from a conversation between my mother and Rosemary’s mother, that Rosemary was going through a rebellious phase.

The last time I saw Rosemary was when I was about 15. It was at the Canadian Hell Drivers show at the Canberra Showgrounds. The Hell Drivers were a bunch of four wheeled Eval Knevals’ doing death defying stunts. 

I entered the showgrounds in dazzling fashion. The security guards who were dressed in white lab coats had cut off all the gate crashers at the only point where we could sneak in. Rather than turn back I decided to try my luck. 

The security men were not very athletic so I broke from the pack of forty or so prospective crashers and ran at the guards. Playing on the wing in both league and union I had reasonable evasive skills and acceleration. I split the defence and most of the other crashers followed my example. The quicker kids made it through. 

I sat down near a group of older boys who belonged to the bodgie subculture. Some of these blokes had girls. One of the girls sitting down was Rosemary who was probably seventeen at that time. She was sitting up against some lucky bloke. I caught her eye and we smiled and waved. It was sunset and she looked great. At this age I was experiencing the suicidal attraction that youths develop for the opposite sex.

The next I heard of Rosemary was from my mother who was very distraught. She advised me that Rosemary had been  killed in a car crash. That was in mid 1960’s. Paddy an emotional man at the best of times, and his wife were devastated.

I am still a Johnny Cash fan and I have played his songs for years but for some reason just recently “Teenage Queen” triggered off my dormant memory of Rosemary. Life is such a random thing.
Dennis Murphy
  The first photo below shows Spud Murphy in recent times accompanied by his blues harmonica, singing and blowing at a venue in Hobart. The drummer is Trevor Pearce and the guitarist is Rob Harwood. 

Dennis Murphy sings the “ Breaker Morant Waltz” on the embedded youtube clip BELOW



The photo below shows Spud Murphy (on the left, running in front) and his mates in or around 1970, in the Berra. The expressions on their faces displays the exuberance of their youth.The lads running behind Spud from left to right are Rob Thomsett, the late Peter Spellman, Erik Olbrei and the late Tom Parvey. 
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