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Thursday, 26 May 2011


When I first started working, it was a part time job at Big W Carindale, way back before Carindale Shopping Centre was the unsightly gangly monolith it is today. It was 1980, I was 15, and Thursday night trading had just commenced in Brisbane and shopping after dark was considered very avant garde. Oooh la la.

Silly checkout girls like me reported to an austere humourless lady called Mrs Hickey. Nothing could humour that lady. She was about as funny as a fire in a children’s home. We thought we were hilarious by referring to her as “The Hickey” but the passage of time has made me see how lame that was. She recurrently used the royal “we”, perched her spectacles on the tip of a pointed nose and sniffed in disdain a great deal.

She clearly didn’t have her spectacles on when she typed my name badge on the Dymo wheel, and for a year I was known to the Carindale public as “Brown Vowles”. Mmmmmm.

One time, she called us all to work 15 minutes early to do the 1980s version of team building. We had to answer the question, “Why do I come to work?” and she said that if anyone answered with “for the money” she would fire us on the spot.

What a stupid question. And what stupid repercussions. That was back in the days when you could fire someone on the spot. This is pre-industrial relations and no one sued their boss.

When I was at university, I left the shackles of Big W and Mrs Hickey to sell flowers out of a basket at Brisbane night spots to support my studies. Eliza’s Flower Service would load up cars with buckets of flowers and send pretty young girls out into the night to tote their wares.

First it was to the public bars, where late husbands would scrounge up $5 for a cheap bunch to take home as a peace-offering. Restaurants with cooing couples were ripe for sales, especially with my opening line, “Sir, that’s a beautiful woman you are dining with tonight and I am sure she’d really appreciate a flower.” What a crock.

At the nightclubs – hands up my generation who remember Sibyl’s in Adelaide Street, General Jackson’s under the Crest and the Underground up where that posh get-up The Barracks now is? It was at these spots that I’d be accosted in a gentlemanly way by the single boys who’d failed to score. They’d buy me the flowers, which is sweet. And even sweeter because I’d pocket the money and re-sell the flower the second his back was turned. Wouldn’t you?

When it was time to get a proper grown-up job, I found myself in the badlands of Acacia Ridge working with transport giant Linfox. Everyone smoked at their desk, everyone swore both passively and aggressively, and girls regularly got whacked on the butt.

“This pretty young thing is Bron,” was how my boss would introduce me. Where was Pru Goward when I needed her?

Kevin Bloody Wilson and Rodney Rude were making a fortune screeching profanities out of cassette tapes, and the warehouse crews blasted their obscenities as blithely as they hung the People magazine centrefolds above their desks.

We had no mobiles, faxes, modems, internet or smartphones. If we wanted to tell someone something, we picked up the phone and told them. After we’d asked them how their football game went, and how their daughter’s birthday party was. And laughed about something funny on television the night before.

If we had something a bit more formal to tell someone, we typed a letter. On a typewriter. In duplicate. For people like me, I always made a typo on the second last word, and my attempt to fix it would render a hole in the paper so I’d rip the thing out, swear out loud, and start again. Back then, swearing at a typewriter was an everyday occurrence.

Later I ended up working for one of Kerry Packer’s companies, and although by then the butt smacking and the office smoking had ceased, maternity leave entitlements hadn’t even started. After enduring a job interview that included the question, “Do you have any immediate plans to fall pregnant?” I worked for two years until I did, by chance, fall pregnant.

It was 1991, and I worked until I was 39 weeks then took as much holiday and sick leave as I could. There was no obligation by the employer to keep my job open, nor for them to pay me any form of allowance. You just hoped and prayed and did a very tight budget.

Was it better back then? Maybe not the butt-smacking and the cigarette smoking, and we may have had more challenges, but there was fewer imagined problems.

Some things haven’t changed though. At one place I worked, the service manager was getting it on with the lady who ran accounts payable (things like that still happen today), a long Friday lunch was great fun (that still happens today) and there was too much fortnight in each pay period to make the money last (yep, that sometimes happens now too!)

And I still smile everytime I walk into Big W Carindale.


  1. Oh Bron, this post brought back so many memories for me too. In the early 80's I was over the way at Garden City DJ's... peddling mens underwear. In Menswear, we had a staff roll call that equalled the 'Are You Being Served' cast... complete with a 'Miss Braham's, Mrs Sloecombe and Mr Humphries........"are you free Miss Butcher"... that's what they callled out to me!.... "yes, Mr Johnson, I am free"... just like the TV show.... back in the days when there were so many on staff, we had to look busy if we weren't serving a customer. It was all so proper and formal. Remember the days when one received service in a department store? Things in the service dept were very different back in those days! I went to every Uni ball imaginable with every uni student who worked in DJ's... the boy from hardware was doing law. The dude in mens shoes was doing medicine... those were the days... my social life ran out of that store! Happy times. I still smile when I hit Garden City too! A-M xx

  2. Love your writing Bron! It's full of humor and life.

  3. Bron, the memories of a golden age! WHo remembers The Move on George street (my second home for about three years), Sensoria, The Exchange, and tube skirts! My working life (if that is what you could call it) as a humble law clerk, regularly saw me being called up for notification that the last sickie I took would have to come out of holidays, cause I kept using them up. They thought I was a dedicated hedonist, and I was actually.
    As I walked around the CBD delivering briefs and letters to the solicitors, and providing lollies and refreshments to the barristers in court, my eighties chin-length sweeping fringe prevented me from being able to see, but boy, was I cool. Such simple days, such innocence. Thanks Bron, just a terrific start to my day.