Chopping wood as an occupation did not appeal to me at all. I set about finding another job in what were difficult times. The first thing to come up was the chance to be a pageboy at a city hotel. I think it was the Palace Hotel. My Dad did not like that idea as he saw no future in it. The chance for an office or storeroom job came when I met Mr W H Gourlay, the owner of the Gourlay Oil and Color Works. The factory was on the corner of Short Street at the Lord Street railway crossing, and was opposite Wunderlich’s.
I am not sure how I met Mr Gourlay, but it may have been through “Boss” Simons or when I was selling papers. He told me about the work and the pay. I relayed all that back to Dad who, I think, then made enquiries about the paint works. I was keen to take the job but Dad said there could be health problems where paint was being made. In these things one listened to fatherly advice so I kept looking for work elsewhere. I went to the Boys Employment League for an interview and was put on their books.
The Boys Employment League had an upstairs office on the Barrack Street side of the Treasury Building. It was a private organisation which received some State Government help. The assistance given was limited but it did include office space. As I now understand it, the League had a twenty-seven man executive committee. Its members were from every section of the community. Two of the members were Perth Boys School Headmaster T Chandler and his Junior Technical School counterpart, J F Lynch. Two other members were J J Simons of the Young Australia League, and James Paterson of Patersons Printing Press. One man well known to young job seekers of the Depression years was Mr Fred Cross, Secretary of the League. In his 1935 Annual Report he was to say that over the years 1932-1935, job assessment interviews for the four years were 17,000. The office received 22,000 letters and telegrams.
The number of permanent positions filled was 6,000 and also there were hundreds of temporary jobs available, all for boys and younger men to the age of 21. While the Government help was not helpful enough in the circumstances of the times, the authorities made full use of the League’s services. Lads were placed for the State Children’s and Child Welfare Departments, for the Labour Bureau at West Perth and for the Unemployment Relief Section. The YMCA helped by providing accommodation for boys seeking jobs. Mr Cross was able to get the willing cooperation of many groups.
Early in 1934, somewhere around late January or early February, I went into the League office to see what jobs were going that day. There were over 300 boys there in response to a newspaper advert, or perhaps a notice displayed outside the office, requesting boys to deliver leaflets and product samples. When Mr Cross came out with a handful of small cards in his hand, I knew they would have on them the name and address of the businessman wanting workers. I made sure I was close to the front when the boys crowded forward to get a card. It was a matter of first in, first away.
A quick look at my card and I was off to 575 William Street. On my bicycle I expected to outpace the lot of them and be first there. I raced down Barrack Street and over the bridge, then shot along Beaufort Street to Newcastle Street. Turning north into William Street I was soon looking at numbers, passing the 300s and 400s and heading for the 500s. There were a few of these but no number near 575 when I came to the end at Walcott Street. Disaster faced me. I checked back along the street trying to spot the firm’s name up somewhere, but no luck. Then I did what should have been done earlier. I checked the address card and found that it read 575 Wellington Street. Pushing the pedals at a great rate I raced back down William Street and over the Horseshoe Bridge to my right destination, C J McAlinden’s Display and Advert Service.
“Sorry”, Kath Porter in the office said, “we put twenty boys on, and they have gone to distribute Kellogg’s samples with Mr Dulley”. She must have read my face for she had me wait a minute and went to see her boss. He came out and had a look at me and then took me back into his office. After finding out a bit about me, and my schooling, he gave me a job working in the storeroom. The boss was Charlie McAlinden and our meeting that day was to be the beginning of a friendship that lasted right down the years.
I was to be on trial for two weeks at a weekly wage of 7/6 (75c). In those days I was happy with that wage and more so when it went up to 10/- ($1.00), after they decided to keep me on permanently. My first job was the assembling of cardboard cartons for the four window-dressers, who designed and arranged displays in the windows and interiors of the shops of chemists and other city and suburban shops. For years after I was able to look at displays in city windows and readily recognize that Mc’s boys had done them. When I look back at the way in which these men created many an attractive display, I can appreciate their skill and ingenuity.
With staplers and durex tape still tools of the future, the men used common dressmaking pins, drawing pins, and tacks, to put the displays together. The main props would include a few packets of Dennison crepe paper, small rolls of coloured metallic paper, and the manufacturer’s display material, like name-brand cartons. The main lines displayed were toiletries, cosmetics, and chemist items but McAlinden’s did this work across a broad range of goods. We all teamed up to decorate new Suburban Stores Ltd shops under SS’s Herb Elliot. One was on the NW corner of Beaufort and Walcott Streets. Two window-dressers were Fred Evans and Lee France. The other two McAlinden brothers, Lee and Newton, dressed many of the displays.
Another side of the business was the production of showcards and price cards. These were for shops and some commercial enterprises and window displays. Showcard boards and paints of many colours were used and I often had to go to Clarksons’ big shop to pick up the urgent requirements. The shop was on the east side of William Street, at Number 94, next to Cox Brothers furniture and clothing store. Mallabone’s leather goods, and Morris’ music and wireless business, were on the south side of Clarksons. Friends of Mum and Dad, by the name of Schruth, were associated with Morris’.
On the Murray Street corner was “WA Apothecaries”. A sign of the times showed out the day I went into Clarksons to get some paint and board, and was met with the query, “Did they give you the money?” There was no worry this day as the office had given me the money. I remember two of the showcard writers, Ron Cooling and Johnny Parenthoine. Their skill with the brushes fascinated me. It was a treat to watch them working on lettering and numbers or designs.
Ron Cooling later went into the glass business and did very well. Johnny Parenthoine was a dancing instructor and it was quite usual to see him doing a few steps around the workroom. I recall him bursting out in song with a line or two of “The Shadow Waltz” as he worked. He would be doing a showcard and then for a moment or two he would dance away and then glide back to his work to add a few deft brush strokes here and there. He danced well and had a good voice and I will never forget his showcard writing waltz.
“In the shadows, let me come and sing to you,
Let me dream a song that I can bring to you”
For some showcard work the writers needed to use an air spray and an air tank, and it was the tank that got me into trouble one day. It was my task to take the tank across the road to the Beam Service Station and fill it with air. On these trips I would attach the air hose to the inlet valve, and then carefully stand behind one of the pillars supporting the garage roof over the petrol service area. I was always a bit wary with the metal tank which was about one metre high with a top about the same width as a dinner plate.
It had a gauge and the general practice was to fill the tank to about twenty-five pounds pressure. On the day that things went wrong I must have had my attention distracted from the gauge, for suddenly the tank blew up with a helluva bang. I stood there in a sort of “shellshocked” state for a few moments and then recovered to find that my troubles were not over. The Beam Service manager, by the name of Burgess-Lloyd, had rushed out to find a big hole in his roof. The welded or riveted top of the tank and the gauge had been blown up through the asbestos covering the petrol pump area. He really went crook at me and my boss. There was nothing too bad for us. The result was that we were barred for a while from getting free air. We probably had to get the damage repaired. I often wonder how it all would have ended if I had put my head around the pillar, to have a close look at the gauge, just as the tank blew its top. Everybody at work was sympathetic for a few minutes but then it all became a real big joke. Such is life.
Now I drive past 575 Wellington Street and see my first workplace still standing, with a “For Sale” sign on it. It was part of the two-storeyed Tranby Buildings on the eastern corner of King Street, with access from Wellington Street. It was then a busy area. At the foot of the Horseshoe Bridge were the fish markets which often attracted me in for a look. Opposite was the Royal Hotel corner where I used to sell the afternoon papers. Going west towards Queen Street was the premises of Foggit Jones, the produce merchants and ham and bacon curers, and the Railway Institute building. There would also have been an SP shop and a cafe or two. Past Queen Street there was Westralian Farmers where in 1924 6WF, the first radio station in WA, was brought to life.
Next to Wesfarmers was Hugo Fischer’s, the ironmongers, saddlers, and leather goods wholesalers. Tranby Buildings, now for sale at $1.75 million, housed McAlindens at 575 and the wholesale grocer, Sara and Cook, on the corner at 577. In the rooms over Sara and Cook’s there was a clothing firm and a knitting mill. Across to the opposite corner where we had Clarke’s, the shipping agents, then Robinsons the produce merchants at 581, and Bill Ramage, the signwriter, at 583. Further along was Film House on the corner of Shafto Lane, where many of the movie people had their offices. Fox Films, RKO Films, Celebrity Pictures, British Empire films, and the United Artists, were all located there.
Tranby Buildings has seen only one or two changes on the outside over the last 55 years, and they have only been the relocation of doors. McAlindens had the ground floor and part of the first floor. I remember being friendly with the people who worked at C L McShane’s process engraving business. Mr McShane was very friendly and at one time he offered me a better-paid job in his office and work area which occupied half of the upstairs floor. In later years (1960s) the Department of National Service (later the Commonwealth Employment Service) occupied the corner premises with well-known Percy Bright in charge. Percy was President of the Swan Districts Football Club about that time. Trevor Perry who did a cycle trip to Albany and back with me around 1936 worked there.