While we were living next to the Mint I started selling papers to earn some extra pocket money. My bike still had to be paid off and every little bit was a help. My newsboy career started in Hay Street outside the Metropole Hotel, which was next to the Theatre Royal. Both places were owned by Tom Molloy and were on the south side of central Hay Street opposite the Savoy Hotel.
My papers were supplied to me by “Bluey” Johnston who had two other boys selling for him. Bluey was a year older than me and had a busy stand down the street. My first business lesson came from him. The Daily News was then sold for twopence (2 cents) and Bluey got fourpence a dozen for all the papers sold by or for him. He gave us threepence a dozen which gave him a good commission of a penny a dozen. It may not seem a lot but with three boys selling for him, it would add up. If times had been different he might have turned out to be another Alan Bond.
After school I would jump on my bike and hurry over to the stand outside the Metropole. My Airedale dog “Tiger”, who persisted in tracking me to school nearly every day, would follow me. He would wait patiently till my day was ended, usually at six o’clock or so, and then follow me home. On some days when the carrier basket was fixed on he would get a free ride. Tiger gave me a fright one day when a car backed onto him as he lay in the gutter. He gave a mighty yelp and I feared the worst. I remember crying out, “You’ve killed my dog. You’ve killed my dog”. People had a bit more time to spare in those days and a crowd soon gathered to see what it was all about. Happily, it was a case of “All’s well that ends well”, for it was only Tiger’s tail and his dignity that were hurt. Back at home I had my own room next to the harness room, which was away from the house. Tiger used to sleep by the bed and sometimes on it. We never had any intruders ever, as the dog had plenty of growls and barks ready when he moved around the house grounds and the stable yards. Tiger went missing one day and when I asked Dad about it, he told me that the dog had been given away to a farmer friend as he was not really a “city” dog.
After selling papers outside the Metropole for a few weeks I went into business for myself. The Daily News office gave me a stand on the Royal Hotel corner of William and Wellington Streets. It was quite busy there as there were many offices close by. West in Wellington Street were firms like Sara and Cook (grocers), Wesfarmers and Hugo Fischers, the saddlers. The fish markets were opposite near the foot of the Horseshoe Bridge which was used by people who lived or worked north of the line.
Papers in those days were sold for twopence so penny tips were often given, when people handed you a threepenny piece (“tray” or “tray-bit”) and hurried off. As I called out, “Final Daily News”, I tried to be sure that people who gave me a tip were specially thanked. Regular customers were important ones for they helped establish base figures for drawing your supplies each day. There was the occasional disappointment when you saw a steady customer coming along the street with the paper already tucked under his arm or in the hand. Next day you would be happier when the regular became regular again. Friendly service always helped build up the tips. Later on I was given the stand on the opposite corner at Wellington Buildings where I was selling outside the Central Bootmakers. It was very busy there. We had to pay in at the Daily News office each night and this meant getting home later than when I was selling for Bluey.
The Daily News office was then in the Terrace next, but one, to the Commercial Travellers Association and just about opposite Trinity Church. The number was 77 or 79. Mr Martin was in charge of the newsboys and their stands. He was busy and strict but I suppose he had to prevent chaos and do his best to keep order. We had to line up to pay in and he liked us to have no returns. Our money was nearly all pennies and small silver so it took time. By eight o’clock I was home ready for supper, and for bed.
Some paper sellers I remember are Tony Demetrious with his blue cap, Arthur Woodall, Joe Ferguson, Bill Osborne, Jim Tilley, the McFarlanes, the Schryvers, Hugh Lavery, and Bert Smart, yodeller. I met Bert in Boans in 1984. We talked about the “paperboy” days and Barrack Street shops and the Gorman family whom we both knew. When selling the Saturday News we were not supposed to sell the opposition paper, the Mirror. We would keep selling the News till the theatre crowds came into town and then we would pay in. After that we would have something to eat at the “Corner House” on the corner of Hay Street and Barrack Streets. It was a home from home for hungry paperboys. It was run by good people named Fry.
After this supper we would dash up to the Mirror office to get supplies for the late-night sales to the crowds returning by tram from the trots, and the people coming out from the pictures. The “Call and Mirror Newspapers” office was in Murray Street (No. 65), next to the Salvation Army Citadel. Sometimes we would go into the hall and join in the singing while waiting for the printing presses to start. The “C and M” building became Miss Maud’s Convention Centre (NOTE: this was separate to the nearby Miss Maud hotel at 97 Murray Street).
The delivery section of the Mirror office opened onto the lane that ran down the west side of the building. Here the paperboys would gather waiting for their papers. The boys’ ages would be from about twelve years old and through the teen ages to some of more adult years. They were of all shapes and sizes and while some were usually quiet lads, some were rough and tough. There was some pushing and shoving when we lined up at the counter close to print time but, small or not, we usually got out in the first bunch. The men checking out the papers kept an eye on things and saw that everybody had a fair go. One man I remember was Mr (Ted) Hancock, who was white-haired and had a reddy nose. He was named “Cherry”. The Editor would wait for the result of the fifth trot to come in, but sometimes might have had to settle for the fourth race, and then it was a case of “let them roll”. There was always an air of excitement about as the presses started up. It was great to hear the noise of the speeding machines as they went faster and faster, and then settled down to a quieter run. Our impatience was gone, for the papers were on their way, and we would soon be out and about. Mr Hancock was a Mirror reporter.
The Mirror was a popular Saturday paper, with a good coverage of sport from right around Australia. Many of its readers were attracted by the sometimes lurid reports of domestic arguments. Some people saw it as a “scandal sheet”. The Mirror sold for just threepence and we got sixpence a dozen for selling it. The money was good money in those days. As soon as the papers rolled off the press and we had our bundle of 50 or so we would dash around to Hay Street. If the trams were already coming back from the trots, we would race up to the Town Hall to catch the people getting off. Sometimes only an odd tram or two would be coming up, if the papers were out a bit early. In this case we would run the other way down Hay Street, and get on to the trams at Victoria Avenue as a few passengers were dropped off. The big trams would now be coming up in groups of four or so. The trams would usually be full as a regular crowd for the trotting meetings would be about 7,000, and not many were mobile. We would push and shove our way through with a bit of help from everybody and try to be ready to hop off at Pier Street.
It was then back to Irwin Street or Victoria Avenue to work another tram. Lucky punters would give us a tip and even the losers sometimes did the right thing. When we ran out of papers it meant a quick trip back to the Mirror office for more papers. Once the main run of trot trams was finished we would meet later trams as they arrived at the Town Hall. There we had more opposition. The theatres would start coming out after eleven o’clock and these later customers kept us busy. The rush would soon be over and then it was time for a quick snack before we paid in.
My work for the weekend would not yet be over for the Sunday Times was another source of pocket money. After getting to bed around midnight I would be up again at five o’clock and ride my bike to the Sunday Times office in Stirling Street. It was better to be early if you wanted to get a good possy in the line, and get out on the streets earlier. The paper sold for fourpence, a price which brought a few extra tips, and we got a commission of either eight-pence or a shilling a dozen. We would turn up the handlebars on our bikes and put our bundles across them. Then it was off to your favourite selling area, in my case Hay Street and Adelaide Terrace, between Pier and Plain Streets.
It was important that you were one of the first sellers there for your calling out of “Sunday Times” soon brought people out of the flat doors and heads out of upper-storey windows. Money was often tossed down with verbal instructions to put the paper at the door or on the verandah. Good early business meant a return to the office for more papers but, on the other hand, a slow start meant a longer morning working hard to sell out. There was plenty of competition but the hardest to beat was the entertainment given by the yodelling paperboys. Most of us were fans of that world-famous yodeller Harry Torrani, and could give out a tune or two but the very best was Reg Harle who later performed in public at the Ambassadors Theatre.
Reg often advertised his yodelling skill for sale and he filled many an engagement at social evenings. Reg went into youth work till he joined the Air Force in 1940. In the more recent years he was Secretary and then long-term President of the Sunday Football League. We often talked over earlier days.
Many paperboys went on to greater things. Some of the experiences on the job would have been useful to them later on. It should be said that most of them sold papers not only for pocket money but also to help their families, even if only in a small way. Paper selling gave us money to pay off our bikes at five shillings a week, and also buy the cycle accessories needed to keep them in good order. The job itself was tiring. We had to spend hours on our feet, standing in one place. There were occasional sprints to serve a customer up the street or across the road, and we had to respond to whistles from passing cars that slowed up for a moment while a paper was passed in and money handed out. Selling papers on street corners, outside hotels, and at the Town Hall, was an education in itself. You saw a fair bit of life in the city, made friends with customers and most paperboys, and stored up memories that can be called upon when you meet a friend of days long gone.
One end effect of selling papers at all hours every day and on weekends was that occasionally at school I would close my eyes for a second and drop off till someone nudged me awake. A couple of times I woke, after a nudge, to the teacher’s question. “And now, Cash, what do you think about that?” My mumbled apology or answer was followed by suppressed giggles at my discomfort. It was all taken in good fun and no harm was done. My 9E teacher in those days was Ted Huck (later the Headmaster). He lived on long after his retirement. He was still penning the occasional letter to the West Australian at the time he died at 91 in March 1989.
Newspaper sales were not our only source of pocket money. The Sunday Times used to publish crossword coupons for the regular Crossword Competition run by the paper. The clues were simple and had multiple choice answers. The entry fee was sixpence and there were three coupons in each copy of the paper. The competitions ran for three or four weeks before closing with about 25,000 entries. We made money by buying extra papers and cutting out the coupons. We would fill the answers in and then sell the completed coupons for sixpence each, outside the Sunday Times office. Many people came to put in their own coupons and also bought from us. On the last day or two before closing we did good business. The prize depended on the number of entries. When there were 25,000 or more the prize money would be more than 500 pounds after a 10% donation to charity was taken out and special expenses paid. In one crossword there were 37 winning entries and each winner was paid fourteen guineas (nearly $30). A welcome win in those days.
The Mirror also ran a similar competition which started off with great success. Just before the 1932 Show one crossword did attract 134,000 entries at sixpence. I think the attraction was a guaranteed prize of 1,000 pounds plus several hundred smaller money prizes. In those days the first prize in the W.A. Lottery was 1,000 pounds. By the time another year had passed the Mirror competition had flagged and the entries could be put in for three-pence. Entries went down to about 10,000 and when 63 winners turned up in one competition they were paid three guineas (just over $6) each. It was in 1933 that the legality of the crossword competitions was challenged in the Court but, happily for both the newspapers, the decision was in their favour. I seem to recall that most of my sales were at the Sunday Times office.
There were a number of people who took an interest in the welfare of the paperboys. One of them was J.J. “Boss” Simons who was the joint owner, with Victor Courtney, of the Call and the Mirror. Later in 1935, the partnership would purchase the Sunday Times and form “Western Press”. John was his name. Jack he was called and it is as Boss that most of us would remember him. He was a tall man who would stop and chat to us about our paper selling, our schooling and our sports. Boss used to call me “Bluey”, as some others did, but I must say that my nicknames included “Red”, “Coppertop”, “Ginger” and “Freckles”. J.J. Simons was the founder of the Young Australia Football League, later renamed the YAL. I intended to join but Dad had some reservations at the time and I played my football elsewhere. Roly joined the YAL later on.