Work – PMG Perth (July 1934-March 1936)

I turned 15 on 15 July 1934, and four days later started work as a temporary telegraph messenger in the Postmaster-General’s Department (PMG). At the time this was the ultimate. I would have nothing to do but ride a bike around all day and get paid for it. What a wage! 19 shillings and one penny ($1.91) a week! And, what’s more, a uniform and cap came with the job. It was my first pair of long pants and though they were secondhand it all felt great. I guess I sort of grew up on that day, Thursday 19 July 1934. Part of my first pay went on a pair of grey melange trousers at a cost of 12/6 ($1.25) and from the next pay I was allowed to buy a blazer. They were the “in thing” and what colours! Black and white stripes, black and blue stripes, grey and blue stripes and many more choices.

My first come down came when I had to draw my work bike from the telegram despatch bicycle section. The high framed and heavy bike was of Henry Ford’s favourite colour, black. It needed a couple of seat adjustments before my small body frame was comfortable, and then I was off with a few telegrams and a helpful supervisor. I knew the city streets and main buildings fairly well so I was soon out on my own, speeding around the city and coping with the problems that faced a telegram messenger during his day’s work. What problems? The first was punctuality, not only on to the job, but in getting back from each delivery. The despatch officers who gave us each batch of telegrams checked us in and out on a sheet.

They knew from experience the time we should take to complete the delivery. If we were back early there was no worry but a little late and questions were asked. The man in charge was Mr McIntosh, a kindly man but firm. The despatch officers I remember are Roy Lummis, Noel Scott, Don Blennerhasset, Mick Kierath, Harry Wolfe, and a chap named MacKinnon. The cycle mechanic was named Wright and his assistant was Eric Turner.

We had to deliver in all weathers and it was not hard to have a minor accident now and then. Riding down Howard Street on a wet day was always a risk if you were in a hurry. One of the problems was that each Monday you had a different bike to the week before. On last week’s bike you might have had to stand on the Eadie Coaster brakes to stop the bike and then on Monday a light touch would do. I put full pressure on one wet day when going down the middle of Howard Street and my new bike for the week stopped dead and threw me off. While I watched, the bike somehow righted itself and went off down the hill towards the Esplanade. It just missed a car and hit a tree. Mr McIntosh accepted my explanation. 

Daily News, Thursday 7 November 1935, page 1 – Messenger Boy (not Doug but of similar age). Source: Trove

 

Another thing we had to watch out for was the parked car driver who carelessly opened his door right in our face as we rode by. There were a few of these in my time but the riders all got away with bruises and no more. Tramlines got a few messengers into trouble, particularly on the city block corners where there were rails for the turning trams going back to the Hay Street carbarn. Getting your wheel into a straight tram track was bad enough but when you got caught in the curved corner track you could crash. I remember one messenger coming off at the corner of William and Murray Streets and receiving fatal injuries. His name was Tozer.

I should explain that our last delivery for the shift or day was called a “cut-out”. This meant that we could knock off early if we arrived back a few minutes ahead of the allotted time. Once headed back for the GPO we would save every second and race into Forrest Place and down the “in” lane between the Post Office and “Whitty’s for Winners”. We would zoom down the lane and do a hard left turn along the back wall and then left again to the bike rack. Good stuff, except for the few of us who did the first left turn blind and suddenly found a mail truck completely blocking our way. Brakes on, one foot down, and sometimes crash! A few bikes got damaged this way but only one messenger, as I remember.

General Post Office, Perth, ca. 1928 – Source: SLWA

In the early 1930s people could send a twelve-word telegram for ninepence (9c) locally, 1/- (10c) country, and 1/4 (14c) to the Eastern States. Any urgent double rate telegrams were delivered late at night, and on the weekends and holidays, to the suburbs provided an extra porterage fee was paid. Greetings telegrams with special forms for all occasions were popular. At Xmas time they were sent in their thousands, as the greeting cards we send so often now were not used as much as they are in these modern days.

West Australian, Monday 11 June 1934, page 12 – Special Greeting Telegram. Source: Trove

 

Xmas was a very busy time for the telegraph messengers and many rookies were put on for the last three weeks. Telegram boys were prepared to accept Xmas tips for a job thought well done. Some business houses would give us tips of a couple of shillings when we delivered telegrams in the Christmas week. In other places we would leave a little card with these words upon it: 

“Christmas comes but once a year,  And with it comes good joy and cheer,  In the midst of all your joys,  Please do not forget the telegram boys”.

The best tip I got was a 10 shilling note for singing the words to an office group. No shyness when money was the stake. Times were difficult but at Christmas everybody enjoyed themselves and forgot their daily problems, and tried to be generous to others.

Some messengers went on to bigger things and among them were Joe Slattery and Maurie Healy who both went on to hold the office of Deputy Commissioner of Taxation in WA. Joe retired from the CPS (Commonwealth Public Service) in 1975 to head WA Newspapers. One fellow messenger, Keith Medbury, worked his way through the service to become Director of War Service Homes and Hartley (Bill) Smetherham became Director of Social Services in WA. Viv Piper reached close to the top in Immigration and Eric Turner finished up a Departmental Head in the NT Public Service. Other messengers there in my time included Keith Roberts, Jack Miles, George Eaves, Bert Rogers, Wal Francis, “Spike” Parker, Arthur Maller, “Butch” Shackleton, George Bruce, Ernie Trigwell, Ernie Tredrea and possibly Howard Ballantyne. 

My Mum and Dad were very pleased when I started work in the Post Office. They saw my new job as offering security and opportunity to me for their hopes for us included our having a good education and a safe job. Cec had finished his final year at Perth Boys’ in 1931 and helped Dad with the horses till he got a job down South on a dam-building site. Roly was still at primary school, and our sister, Alice, was doing well in Second Form at Modern School.

We were still living in Victoria Park with Mum and Dad tramming into the City to work each day and me cycling to the Post Office. On my way home one afternoon I got myself into trouble when I was “willying” on the back of a light truck, while coming over the Causeway. I was hanging on to the back of this Ford or Chevrolet flat-tray truck and getting a free tow when we went over a bumpy patch. My bike chain must have been a bit loose for it caught on the gear wheel crank as a pedal came up. The back wheel jammed and the bike became uncontrollable. With the back wheel skidding along the road I could only hang on, as any release of the truck tray at 30 mph could have spelt disaster. However luck was on my side, and when the traffic slowed right down I let go and skidded across the roadway to rest against the side-fence rails. The back wheel had been twisted somewhat and the tyre worn down right to the tube, but I was safe and sound, and wiser.

Driving on the Causeway, Perth, 1925-1930. Source: SLWA

Sometime in September I had sat for the examination for permanent appointment to the Commonwealth Public Service, as a telegraph messenger. 350 boys sat for the exam, and my best Xmas present was the letter telling me that I was placed 11th in the results. I think that Keith Medbury topped the list, or at least finished in the first four. He went on to become Commonwealth Director of War Service Homes. There were about twenty vacancies and I was then appointed from 9 January 1935, with my temporary service ending on the 8th. 

Daily News, Friday 25 January 1935, page 5 – Messenger Boys Find Jobs. (Doug not pictured but was one of the 11 boys). Source: Trove and also Trove 
Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, National, Thursday 17 January 1935 (No.3), page 84 – 1934 Examination, E D Cash – Source: Trove

 

It was about this time that I decided to go out on my own for a while. Mum and Dad had no worries about my looking after myself and they knew that I was going to board with Mrs Hinchcliffe who lived at 470 Newcastle Street, West Perth, on the eastern side of the Junior Technical College. I had a sleepout to myself and I was well looked after by Mrs Hinchcliffe who provided me with all my meals including a cut lunch. Her daughter Marjorie was a very nice person who later married Terry Outtrim, a man who was well-known later on in the PMG Lineyards Section. Both of them I came to know much better later in life when they lived in the Bedford area and when I met Terry on the job. Fellow boarders included Bill Carmody who later moved well up the ladder in the Education Department. I am not sure if I met his brother Joe there, but I certainly came to know him well later, when he was working with the Water Supply or the Mining Registrar’s office in Kalgoorlie. 

When the Post Office people found out that I was living away from home they gave me a “Living Away from Home” allowance which lasted till 29 March 1935, a date which coincided with the day the family moved house from Victoria Park to East Perth, and I left Mrs Hinchcliffe’s. The new house was bigger and close to town. The allowance had been helpful but I was happy to be home.

I have only one souvenir of my days at Mrs Hinchcliffe’s and that came into my possession just a few days ago. I received a phone call from a lady, not previously known to me, who asked if I was the Doug Cash who once lived at 470 Newcastle Street. When I said that I was that lad, she told me that in her scrapbook she had found a cutting of a joke item I had sent into a Junior’s Club. She had been searching her book for any items that could be used for the 1989 Katanning Centenary celebration, and stopped when she saw the local name and address. The cutting had no magazine title or date but I felt sure that it must be from the Australian Woman’s Mirror. I sent a copy of the item off to the Mitchell Library in Sydney and asked for a search in their files. In a few days I was sent a photocopy of the Piccaninnies’ Pages in the 25 (CORRECTION: 27th) August 1935 issue of the Woman’s Mirror. There was my joke: 

His Slight Mistake 

The teacher was asking his pupils the meaning of the word “martyr”. Up went the hand of one boy, and on being asked to give his definition of the word he replied – amidst roars of laughter from the other pupils – “A ‘marter’ is a round red fruit you eat.”

The Australian Woman’s Mirror, Vol. 11 No. 9, 22 January 1935 – Pen-friends’ Corner, Doug Cash. Source: Trove

 

The Australian Woman’s Mirror Vol. 11 No. 40 (27 August 1935) – His Slight Mistake. Source: Trove

 

I won a Mulga Card. Other cards were Budgeree and Kurrajong. The Mirror then printed the Phantom adventure strip. Nothing is new. My wife, Joan, was reading that same comic strip about the same time as I was. Her mother used to cut it out of the magazine and send it down to Joan from the farm at Hines Hill to the Catholic Convent at Kellerberrin. A day student there was pianist Ray Hartley.

On 18 February I was moved upstairs to the Telegraph Branch on the third floor, as Junior Assistant (Acting) in place of a chap named Munyard who had been transferred to the Telephone Section. I had been nearly six months on the bikes and missed the outdoor activity for a few days, but then settled into my new job. It was a new and exciting environment for me. The excitement took hold the moment I first came on duty in the large telegraph room for the hustle and bustle of the place astounded me when I first heard the sound of the telegraph machines operating. The clatter and chatter of the morse keys and the sounder boxes going flat out, and the clickety-clacking of the teleprinter machines and the pay attention sound of their bell signals, were music to my ears. There was an air of urgency throughout the room. It was as if every man wanted to make sure that the people who sent the telegrams got the fast service they expected. People worked.

Telegraph Department staff, GPO, CA 1932 (a few years before Doug’s time). Source: SLWA 

 

The people at the top set the pattern for any team, and this was the situation on the third floor. The supervisor sat in the centre, slightly to one side, with his table raised so that the entire area could be observed. In front and to his left he could spot problems in the teleprinter area, and to his left he could see what was happening with the operators in the morse key posts. The telegraphist could transmit and receive an average of thirty words a minute and the teletype machines seventy words a minute. The section also had multiplex machines that could send more than one message along the same line at the same time.

The Assistant/Superintendent in my time was Bob Pitcher, who was part of a top team which included Joe Thompson, Les Clark, Bert Esbrey and Jim Beatty, a senior mechanic. Operators I remember include Len Kane, Alf Jewell, Dave Selfe, Tom Twomey, Stan Drury, Doug Buchanan, Ted Bidstrup, Jack “Sharkey” Reardon, Syd Chick, Les Quaife, Gerry Craig, Harry Bourne, and Harry Shorthill. His brother Frank, was a messenger with me and went on to become a well-known Postmaster.

There were about eighty telegraph operators, and thirty staff, in the circulation and phonogram sections. Shifts started at 6am and finished as late as midnight. When I drew the 6am shift I would come in after a night at the pictures and sleep in the restroom so a night operator would wake me up. Two operators worked through the night watching the Eastern States teleprinters, and keeping an ear on the ship-to-shore link Perth Radio. I recall, from seeing origin details on telegrams, that the radio stations on our coastline included Esperance Radio, Geraldton Radio, and Broome Radio. These stations were a lifesaver for ships at sea and for the people on the islands adjacent to the WA coast. 

One of my duties was to collect the telegrams received by the operators who placed each new message in a basket fixed to the front of their morse-key position. I would have to move quickly through the lines of tables picking up the telegrams for sorting into destinations, or do a redistribution drop at each operator giving him telegrams to transmit on his line area. Each operator was responsible for one or more main centres and the smaller settlements related to them. We had to know all the towns well.

An operator could have Geraldton as his immediate working line and send his local telegrams off to that town and also messages for places like Dongara and Northampton. Geraldton would telephone any small town messages through to the lesser offices.

Telegrams for delivery in Perth were handled in my section where they were checked for legibility if handwritten, numbered and then enveloped. They then went down the pneumatic tube to the despatch section for delivery by the messengers. As fast as they went down, another tube was bringing up many new messages from the public counters, and the whole process started again. The men in charge of the Circulation Section were Sam Harris, Harry Wolfe and Austin Tweedale.

Occasionally the Junior Assistants (JAs) had to work in the Phonogram Room taking telegrams from telephone subscribers and small post offices in the suburbs and the near country areas. We were given a headset with a speaking tube and assigned to a small switchboard controlled from the main board by a senior telephonist. In those days the ballpoint pen of the 1950s would have been handy. We had to use the old scratchy school pens and dip in a bottle of ink while we were receiving messages. Many a blotchy telegram only got as far as the circulation section and a retype.

It was a while before I woke up to the reason for the JAs always being flat out while the ladies were able to find time for some personal conversations on and off the telephone. What they could do was “busy-line” some of their calls onto our boards and we then found it hard to get a spare moment. It was all part of the game, I suppose. We got on pretty well with the ladies but I am sure we exasperated them at times. The people that I remember from there are Miss Smith, Cath Herlihy, whose brother was well up in the Accounts Branch, and Kath Waldron, who was supervisor.

 

The people at the top set the pattern for any team, and this was the situation on the third floor. The supervisor sat in the centre, slightly to one side, with his table raised so that the entire area could be observed. In front and to his left he could spot problems in the teleprinter area, and to his left he could see what was happening with the operators in the morse key posts. The telegraphist could transmit and receive an average of thirty words a minute and the teletype machines seventy words a minute. The section also had multiplex machines that could send more than one message along the same line at the same time.

The Assistant/Superintendent in my time was Bob Pitcher, who was part of a top team which included Joe Thompson, Les Clark, Bert Esbrey and Jim Beatty, a senior mechanic. Operators I remember include Len Kane, Alf Jewell, Dave Selfe, Tom Twomey, Stan Drury, Doug Buchanan, Ted Bidstrup, Jack “Sharkey” Reardon, Syd Chick, Les Quaife, Gerry Craig, Harry Bourne, and Harry Shorthill. His brother Frank, was a messenger with me and went on to become a well-known Postmaster.

There were about eighty telegraph operators, and thirty staff, in the circulation and phonogram sections. Shifts started at 6am and finished as late as midnight. When I drew the 6am shift I would come in after a night at the pictures and sleep in the restroom so a night operator would wake me up. Two operators worked through the night watching the Eastern States teleprinters, and keeping an ear on the ship-to-shore link Perth Radio. I recall, from seeing origin details on telegrams, that the radio stations on our coastline included Esperance Radio, Geraldton Radio, and Broome Radio. These stations were a lifesaver for ships at sea and for the people on the islands adjacent to the WA coast. 

One of my duties was to collect the telegrams received by the operators who placed each new message in a basket fixed to the front of their morse-key position. I would have to move quickly through the lines of tables picking up the telegrams for sorting into destinations, or do a redistribution drop at each operator giving him telegrams to transmit on his line area. Each operator was responsible for one or more main centres and the smaller settlements related to them. We had to know all the towns well.

An operator could have Geraldton as his immediate working line and send his local telegrams off to that town and also messages for places like Dongarra and Northampton. Geraldton would telephone any small town messages through to the lesser offices.

Telegrams for delivery in Perth were handled in my section where they were checked for legibility if handwritten, numbered and then enveloped. They then went down the pneumatic tube to the despatch section for delivery by the messengers. As fast as they went down, another tube was bringing up many new messages from the public counters, and the whole process started again. The men in charge of the Circulation Section were Sam Harris, Harry Wolfe and Austin Tweedale.

Occasionally the Junior Assistants (JAs) had to work in the Phonogram Room taking telegrams from telephone subscribers and small post offices in the suburbs and the near country areas. We were given a headset with a speaking tube and assigned to a small switchboard controlled from the main board by a senior telephonist. In those days the ballpoint pen of the 1950s would have been handy. We had to use the old scratchy school pens and dip in a bottle of ink while we were receiving messages. Many a blotchy telegram only got as far as the circulation section and a retype.

It was a while before I woke up to the reason for the JAs always being flat out while the ladies were able to find time for some personal conversations on and off the telephone. What they could do was “busy-line” some of their calls onto our boards and we then found it hard to get a spare moment. It was all part of the game, I suppose. We got on pretty well with the ladies but I am sure we exasperated them at times. The people that I remember from there are Miss Smith, Cath Herlihy, whose brother was well up in the Accounts Branch, and Kath Waldron, who was supervisor.

We found it better when we worked on the weekends for there were few outcalls and more time to take down phonograms. We had time to talk to the girls who manned the outer telephone exchanges at places like Kalamunda. My friend, Les Barnes, often rode with me up to some of these places on our weekends off to meet several of these girls. I must say we got some shocks when we did this, as we were able to match people physically to the voices we had come to know so well over the telephone. Still, it was all good fun and I never regret a moment of it. I am sorry Les Barnes is not here not to read this little piece about those days.

West Australian, Thursday 24 October 1929, page 15 – Billy Thomas Sandover Medal – Source: Trove

 

Back on the job I was now being paid a H.D. (Higher Duties) allowance of 7/- (70c) a week and the extra money was handy. I was acting in place of a chap named Len Richards, who went up to Bassendean. This extra pay was to last till September, as I substituted later on for men temporarily moving up the ladder, or going on leave. One of them was Frank (Shorty) Blackwell, a popular fellow in our section. Later in the year, on 1 July, I was to receive my annual salary increment which would take my pay to sixty three pounds ($126) per year. Such good news is always welcome ahead of time.

I was transferred into what was known as the “29 Room” somewhere about this time. Why it was so called was a mystery to me. Here we handled many queries about telegrams, particularly non-delivery which could occur in busy periods. On a hot, humid day a couple of telegrams could stick together and only one be signed off. Errors might not show up till all telegrams for the day were checked for the operators’ “message sent” signatures. When a signature was missing, standard procedures required a check right through to the addressee with a suitable apology verbally and by letter. If the telegram had been received it showed that the operator had simply been forgetful in leaving off his “message sent’ initials.

In the 29 room my boss was W C G (Billy) Thomas, winner of the Sandover Medal in 1929 when playing as rover with East Perth. Well, that may be it! After Bill won the Sandover, the boys may have tagged his section the 29 Room. A better reason somewhere? My friendship with Bill started in the 29 room and firmed when he took an interest in my football career, as far as it went.

Work – Tax Perth (March-May 1936)

In March 1936 I was appointed as Messenger, Taxation Department, Perth, after applying for the position. The attraction here was a five-day week without weekend shifts. Regular hours were far better for football training and playing. In Tax I met new people when I became part of a group which monitored the circulation of taxation files within the Department which was located on the fourth floor of the GPO building. The section maintained a central register at a sorting table where the next destination of each file was recorded before its handing on to that person or office position. Files could go astray now and then, as far as the central registry was concerned, through hand-to-hand passing between officers or errors at the registry. My job was to find the missing files which were listed by their file numbers in sequence. I was provided with a long blue apron, as were all the men in our section. The aprons were needed to protect our clothes from damage by the files and their fasteners.

Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, National, Thursday 19 March 1936 (No.30), page 491 – Promotion – Source: Trove

 

It was possibly a job for the new boys but no worry to me. It kept me on walkabout and I had access to every office and place where files were being processed by assessors and others. The whole floor had to be covered in a systematic way with no later backtracking if someone was busy. I remember knocking on the door of the Deputy Commissioner’s office on one occasion and going in to find him busy with a visitor. He knew what I wanted and showed me where his files were, and gave me the time to quickly check his desk trays and then I was off.

The girls I remember from our section include Beryl Croxon, Nell Goddard, and the prettiest one, Roly Miller, who lived in the big house on the corner of Hay Street and Harvest Terrace, opposite Parliament House. There was a very large tree in the front of the house and it is still there. We did not know then that in much later years I would spend a fair bit of time at Parliament House. The boss of our section was Mr Bray and I do not remember his first name, if I ever knew it, for your boss was Mister, and that was that. The chaps I worked with included Trevor Perry, Ron Hart who I remember as a great South Fremantle man, and Joe Slattery and Maurie Healy who both joined as telegraph messengers a year before me. Both these young men went on to the highest tax office job in Western Australia, that of Deputy Commissioner, Taxation.

Work – PMG Perth (June 1936-April 1937)

I stayed at the Taxation Department till a promotion opportunity came up late in June. The Commonwealth Government Gazette listed a vacancy for a Junior Assistant in the Telegraph Accounts Branch and my application was successful. I moved from the fourth floor of the GPO down to the second floor and was then back in the PMG’s Department, for in those days everybody was in the same building. Fifty years on what to use it for now is the problem (NOTE: the building has since been mostly taken over by fashion brand H&M).

Our section handled all telegrams lodged at Perth, and all those telegrams from suburban and country post offices which had to be re-transmitted to any destination office elsewhere than Perth. The job of the junior assistants was to check the telegrams to ensure that they had been marked off as sent by the operators. A signature and time needed to be shown but we would only refer telegrams back to “telegraphs” on the third floor when a signature was missing. A recheck process then double-checked delivery right through to the addressee before the telegram was refiled in the tied-up bundles for each day or week. My work in the 29 room had often brought me down to the section when Billy Thomas had rush queries on telegram deliveries and it was easy for me to fit into my new job.

My pay was 69 pounds ($138) per annum, a little more than in the tax, and it jumped to 81 pounds ($162) when I turned 17 in July. Three months later I was made Acting Assistant, Grade 1, without higher duty allowance and then a month later I went up to Acting Grade 2 with a Higher Duties Allowance (HDA) of 40 pounds ($80) per annum. The HDA was equal to half my normal pay and made me feel like a millionaire. It was not continuous however, but one month on and one month off moving from grade one to grade two as the higher duty was related to the leave periods of the senior staff. My work followed that pattern till I took an appointment on the goldfields much later. I worked with some great people in the Telegraph Accounts and had happy days there.

Mr Frank Kennedy was the section head and his second in command was good old Harry Thomas. When I was 17 anybody over thirty was getting on a bit and forty or fifty was ancient. When you reach those ages yourself you take a different view. Other co-workers were Harry Clarke, Harry Stone, Eric Graham, a one-legged veteran of the Great War, Tom Eastman, Frank Lobb, and Alf Pix who worked on the same job as me. Tom and Frank were always worth a smile with their dry wit easing the tensions that crop up occasionally when nine people work in a small space. 

We were part of the main Accounts Branch which included the Telephone Accounts Section. Mr Thornber was the head, and then came Mr Herlihy whose sister Catherine worked upstairs in the phonogram section. My sister Blanche (Alice), helped by having her Leaving Certificate from Modern School, joined the Public Service and worked in the same area as Herlihy, Bill Outtrim, and Bert Geary. Except for the Head Accountant, everybody worked in one big open space. There must have been fifty people and their tables in the one area but there never seemed to be any serious problems. Everybody did their job the best they could and there were never strikes or RSI claims when someone got typist or writer’s cramp.

Postmaster General’s Department, 1934 (possibly a display at the Perth Royal Show). Source: SLWA

 

Life went along steadily for me in the first few months of 1937 with football being my main sporting interest. I was kept busy attending a Postal Institute typing class which I went to on late afternoons or early evenings. My training there has been of great value to me over many years, although cut short by a job change. 

Work – PMG Coolgardie (April 1937-Mach 1938)

I was quietly working away in the Telegraph Accounts one day when someone from the Public Service Office came down to see me. In a preamble he told me there was always a need for young fellows to go out to the country post offices and see the rest of the world. He said it was part of the job. I listened quietly and by then having worked out that there was really no choice, and it might be fun anyway, I said that I would go. When I asked what were my options, he told me that I had first choice of Wiluna, Meekatharra, Mount Magnet, Cue, Coolgardie, Norseman, or Kalgoorlie. The appointment was to the position of Postal Assistant, Grade 1. When I asked him which was the nearest to Perth he said, “Coolgardie”, so Coolgardie it was. I have never regretted that decision in any way at any time. It changed my whole life pattern from what it might have been.

The appointment dated from 19 April 1937 and there was a waiting period till it was confirmed in the Commonwealth Gazette. I had to take any recreation leave due to me so I had three weeks holidays to cut out. I started these on Monday 24 May which meant I had to say goodbye to my workmates on the previous Friday. I got plenty of humorous advice from Frank Lobb, Tom Eastman and Billy Thomas, my old boss in the 29 Room, and some of the telegraphists, many of whom had served in the bush. 

(On 14 June 1937 on arrival in Coolgardie) I was met by the Postmaster, George Mardon, who welcomed me and explained the layout of the town as we walked to the Post Office. He introduced me to the other members of the staff who were Fred Walker, the Senior Postal Clerk, and John Cockburn, the Telegraph Messenger, and the three telephonists Vi Lathrope, Rosie Veale and Rona Gardiner. I was not due to start till the Wednesday morning so I spent two days getting settled in and looking over the town.

My job was coming along fine for I had now learned all the duties associated with the position of a Postal Assistant. I had been given a cashbox and a stamps allocation for selling stamps and special envelopes over the counter, and instructed in the methods used for handling inward and outward mail. 

Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, National, Friday 2 January 1948 (No.1), page 713 – Source: Trove

 

There was no mail delivery in the town and everybody called at the counter for their mail if they did not have a private box. Mailbags had to be made up for Perth and Kalgoorlie, and for Norseman and Esperance, and for some of the nearer in-between stations. The mail was transported to the railway station by two-leg power in the form of a cart fitted with two cycle wheels and two shafts joined by a hand bar for me to do the pushing. There were no problems as the mail bags were never heavy which was just as well as the trip had to be made rain, hail, or shine. The mail must go through on time and on the right train. I had to break into a gallop a couple of times to save letting the side down.

Once the mail was delivered to the Stationmaster I was able to put certain late letters into a special bag in the guard’s van which was cleared by my opposite number at the other end of the train journey. I could then talk around a bit with the station people, particularly Jim McKerrow the ASM who moved well up the ladder in the WAGR administration in much later years. The mail coming in was taken off the train quickly and then pushed to the post office as fast as I could walk without actually running. Some people always knew when special mail or parcels were arriving in the post for them, and they would be there waiting for me. Other people in the town would see me turning into Bayley Street, the main street, out of the little road that led from the station, and as I appeared between the two Coolgardie hotels, Arthur Dunstan’s Denver City and George Gear’s Railway Hotel. They then would move down towards the Post Office where they would chat while the mail was sorted into their private boxes or the counter delivery. 

These people would be in and out of the Post Office every day and I came to know them well for when you work on the public counter you build up friendly relationships with most people. There was no delivery of mail in this small town of about 1,500 people and all mail was sent care of the Post Office or to private boxes. It was usually a rush to get the mailbags back to the office and sort the letters into the boxes and into the A-Z pigeonholes at the counter. Sorting done, the crowd would move forward eager for mail from home, or somewhere else, or anywhere for that matter.

A letter helped them start the day off well. I saw Harry Jebb there I would reach for the J’s, sorting through them as I moved. One letter for Harry, and one here for Jones E, and for James T, both spotted when I flicked my eyes across the crowd as they were patiently waiting. Other staff helped out as we went back and forth through the alphabet as strangers called out their names. A hold-up here, “Please I’ve left my key home. Could I have my mail from my box, please”. No Problems! It was quicker to do it then to talk about the rules and hold everybody up. Repeats by the same person were frowned on if they were town people who only had to walk fifty yards for their forgotten key. Sometimes miner’s wives from the many small mining shows keys and we helped out.

I happened to be in the Coolgardie Post Office in October 1987 talking to Glyn Waterton, the postmaster, when a lady came in and bought a few stamps and then said to Glyn, “I have forgotten the key to my mailbox”. I nearly burst out laughing as I realised that nothing had changed after fifty years. Glyn got the letters. Glyn was on friendly terms with most customers and this was borne out by two awards pinned to a notice board. Both certificates honoured Glyn Waterton; one State award recognised his excellent service to the community and the other was a silver plaque which he received as a nationwide award. The follow-up to these awards was the later invitation to Glyn to attend the 1988 Bicentennial New Year’s Day dinner at the Prime Minister’s Lodge in Canberra, as the representative of Australia’s public service sector. There had been a modern change in the location of the PO within the old original building. It was moved to the ground floor area of the two-storey section of the corner building, which formerly housed the old telegraph office and upstairs residential quarters.

Well, so much for gold and good fortune (Jim Larcombe and his gold find). The mail still had to go through. The Post Office was kept fairly busy although the fortunes of the mining companies and the miners fluctuated from time to time. Coolgardie had daily mail services to Perth and to Kalgoorlie with both closing at 5.45pm on weekdays and noon on Saturdays. The registered mail was put in the bags which were then closed off and the lead seals imprinted. The mailbags had then to be taken to the station to be put in the care of the Stationmaster till the trains arrived. We bagged mail for the Coolgardie-Norseman line. Stops like Higginsville, Widgiemooltha, Pioneer, Kumarl, Gibson, Speddingup, Daniels, Bromus, Logan’s Find, Crescent Gold Mine and Norseman were serviced twice a week, and Fleming Grove and Larkinville once a week. Weekly road services were provided for Carbine and Kunanalling

Coolgardie Streetscape with Post Office, 1982 (The Post Office was badly damaged by fire in late 2021). Source:  StateHeritageWA

 

In case of an unusual emergency arising, the Postmaster was always handy for he lived on the premises in comfortable quarters that went with the job. The police station (built in 1896) was handily placed next door. It was in the control of Constable A K (Slom) Sunter who had his married accommodation there. Slom was a real outgoing bloke and a bit of a hard doer but flexible. He had an Alsatian called Lobo who went everywhere with him. Chris Tormey was the other constable but he was younger and quieter.

Back at work we had the acting Postmaster, Perc McConville, who was on the relieving staff based in Kalgoorlie. He was with us for three weeks while George Mardon took his holidays in Perth. Perc was easy to get on with and we became good friends later on.

At the Post Office the overseas mail had been keeping us busy as it went by ship from Fremantle and so had to be posted early. The customers had to allow up to eight weeks if they wanted their Christmas mail delivered to the UK and Europe before 25 December. Once we were into December the pressure really came on as people started sending their Xmas presents all over Australia for a cost of two shillings (20c). Mail was coming in from all directions: over the counter, in the posting boxes, and out of the incoming mailbags. “Seasons Greetings” telegrams were the “in” things in the 1930s and we were flooded with them. Some cards were sent.

Work – PMG Norseman (March 1938-January 1939)

Someone had to take six weeks sick leave at the Norseman Post Office and the District Inspector’s Office at Kalgoorlie wanted me sent down to relieve for the six weeks. So it was a case of pack up that night and catch the train next day. There was just time for a few goodbyes but I did miss out on saying goodbye to Postal Clerk Fred Walker from the PO who was away on sick leave. He had been relieved by a postal clerk named Jack McCann who had been sent down from Kalgoorlie.

Norseman was booming when I arrived and there were more than 3,000 people there, many more than at Coolgardie. I was soon to see most of them when they called in for their mail. Like Coolgardie, there was no mail delivery. It was a case of call at the counter, or clear their private boxes which still brought them inside as there were always registered letters or parcels to collect. The mail from Perth and Kalgoorlie was on the train that I travelled down on and when I went to the office with Horrie Barry I had to pitch in and help straight away. My job was to be responsible for all the incoming and outgoing mail. The mail coming in had to be checked for registered or other special bags inside the big mailbags and these had to be handed to the Postmaster. The letters had to be sorted for counter or private box delivery which meant that I had to learn off by heart the box holder names. 

The delivery of the “Poste Restante”, or “over the counter”, mail was an event in itself. It was not quite like a Calgary Stampede but it was a rush. The mail would arrive on Tuesdays and Fridays and be sorted and ready for delivery around 4.30 pm. When the train whistle was heard people would start thinking about letters and parcels and well before we had the mail sorted the townsfolk would start to gather. Some would stand outside and talk, others would come in and buy stamps and postal notes and then the quick question, “Is the mail sorted yet?”, “Not yet”, would say Charlie Smith, one of the postal clerks, who was a man of few words. Then the second query, “Will it be long?” “Not long”, would say the man of a few words. Charlie had his own style of dry humour.

Three of us would be sorting the letters into the pigeon-holes of the mail rack behind the counter and no deliveries were made till we were finished sorting. We tried to attend to the early birds first and watched out for latecomers who might use their weight to push through the crowd. Overall the customers were pretty good and it was a pleasure to do business with most of them. The Post Office is the hub of a small town’s activities and it was not long before I knew all the young people who worked in the many shops and offices, as well as their employers. 

I had arrived on the Tuesday before Easter so the mail that came down on the Good Friday train had to be all sorted before the PO opened the door for business on Easter Saturday from 9am to 10am. No closed days except Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas Day. All other public holidays were 9-10 for us. There were no political decisions to manipulate the system to turn short weekends into three or four-day breaks, and none were asked for. The one hour opening on Easter Saturday was pretty hectic because the town had to get its mail so that any replies could go out on the next train to Coolgardie. We opened again on the Monday but it was quieter. 

Later I spent a couple of Sunday hours at the office every week, as with my job went the chance to clean the wooden floors of the office for five shillings (50c). I had to sweep the floors clean and polish the counters till they shone. I then had to get the mop and a bucket full of a mixture of oil and kerosene and work it into the floors till it looked something like new. It was a smelly and messy job but I volunteered. A dollar a fortnight. 

One of my jobs at the office was to deliver the urgent telegrams when the messenger was off for lunch. The problem here was that most of the telegrams for the mines management were always sent urgent. Both mines were on the hills at the top of Mine Road and I would take the old heavy PMG bike fitted with thornproof tyres, and pedal up the long hill to the Central or the Norseman Mine

Sometimes I had to go up Battery Road to the State Battery run by Jim Halligan if his telegram was urgent. It was no easy task on a hot day or against an easterly. Riding back down the hill was a breeze but no joy if I had to go straight up again, as sometimes happened. When I first went up there I used to have a quick look around to see what was going on, or have a chat to the office people, before going back down the hill.

My six weeks transfer period was now heading towards the eventual final days when advice was received that the officer I was stand­ing in for would not be coming back to Norseman. The Postmaster, after consulting with his senior staff, had a talk with me about staying in Norseman, and applying for appointment to the vacancy. I jumped at the chance for I was now well-settled in my new town where I had made a lot of friends in the football and cycling clubs, and in my job. My application was successful.

The Post Office staff stood up to the Christmas rush pretty well. Season’s Greetings telegrams were a big part of the rush and the telegraphists were kept flat out. Xmas cards were not as much in vogue as they are now but there were still plenty of letters and gift packages. People ordered a lot of presents from mail-order catalogues and newspaper advertisements and they would arrive as prepaid or COD parcels. My presents were often books or socks. Dot (Kevan) gave me a leather shaving set and I gave her a writing case.

Once we closed the doors on the Saturday morning of Christmas Eve that year I was able to turn my attention to presents and parties and go visiting over at the Kevan’s to see how they were making out with their Christmas Day preparations. On the Sunday I must have been at two Xmas parties, one at Senior’s and another at Kevan’s.

As the January 1939 clock ticked on I started to look ahead to my taking the three weeks leave due to me during February/March. I was soon making a few plans on how it would be spent and where. These were upset when my job was reclassified to a Grade 2 and a senior officer from Kalgoorlie was appointed to the position. The upgrading meant that I would be transferred to Kalgoorlie from 26 January.

Work – PMG Kalgoorlie (January 1939-December 1940)

I arrived in Kalgoorlie on Thursday 26 January 1939. I was met at the station by the Post Office mailroom supervisor, “Paddy” McMorrow, who had come to the station with the mail contractor, Jack Lay. Once the mail from Perth was loaded, with our help, we piled into the ute and headed back to the Post Office in Hannan Street. In the mailroom introductions were made as the mailbags were brought in and opened. After Coolgardie and Norseman there seemed to be no end to them. As the bags were opened they were checked for the separate bags of registered articles which had to be checked into the Registration Section. Later I was to take on running that section after I passed my Postal Assistant Grade 2 examinations.

Kalgoorlie Post Office, 1938. Source: SLWA

On the Monday I went on to the public counters in charge of the Poste Restante, defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “a department in a post office where letters are kept until called for”, but left out of the new Macquarie Dictionary. The job was more than that for it was also the stamp sales counter for both the general public and business people. Tax stamps were sold and great care had to be taken with them. Some were high pound value stamps, and being made small for easier sticking on to the income tax sheets, they could get lost on either side of the counter. Our cash box advance and stamp stocks were snap-checked regularly by a senior officer and any deficiency meant a “blister” for an explanation and the deduction of the amount from our pay. My cash drawer was only short twice, 10/9 ($1.10) and 17/11 ($1.80). An error in the counting of stamps or giving change could have caused these.

WA 1898 Internal Revenue £1 Swan stamp. Source: Wiki

 

The stamp counter was very busy at peak periods but during the day business would ease up giving me the chance to have a word or two with customers. Many of them were the young people from the many offices and shops in the town. Frank Davies from the office of the Palace Hotel was a regular customer and our friendship was renewed in the RAAF at Pearce and later in business in Perth. Pat Davies, no relation of Frank, worked at Corot’s and she and Frank were friends. I can recall Frank sending pm express delivery letters (6d fee) to her with their meeting time for the pictures. Some years later they were married. We now see or phone them often in Perth these days.

Many locals could be seen in the Post Office two or three times a day, and many more at least once. Others came to see us two or three times a week. The names of some of these people are given later. The Post Office was the town meeting place. The colonnaded front verandah which provided shelter in all weathers, the big entrance lobby and the main hall all provided plenty of space for people to meet and talk. The customer area was a big open space with one long counter running west to east from the Money Order and Postal Note sections along to the Parcels section. Then you crossed the hall past the mailroom window to the south side. There we had the Registration Section, and next to it the Poste Restante and its stamp counter on the eastern side of the front door lobby. The Telegram Counter was on the other side of the lobby next to the telegraph room, and past it the doors leading to the offices of the Postmaster, and upstairs to the District Inspector’s office.

Back at the Post Office there had been a change or two. Eugene Egan, the new Postmaster, had taken over from Bill Halvorsen who had been promoted to District Inspector. Mr Egan had returned to duty after taking leave when he was appointed to Kalgoorlie from Wiluna. He had previously been the Postmaster at several offices. They were Midland Junction, Guildford, Broome, Mount Lawley, and Marble Bar. Mr Egan was a smallish grey-haired older man firmly committed to the regulations and rules of the Public Service, and rigid in interpretation of them, as I found out later that year.

Back at work (after being sick with the mumps in late 1938) we were starting to get the early Xmas trade which came with the earlier closing of the mails for overseas. Surface mail by steamship was the way to send most letters and parcels to overseas destinations and they had to be posted weeks earlier for Christmas delivery. Now that war had been declared there could be unexpected delays with ship mails so there was plenty to do at the stamp counter with people posting their “home” mail early. 

There was doubt in many minds as to how long normal steamship mails to the United Kingdom and elsewhere would continue now that we were at war. The P&O line and the Orient Line were still taking passengers and many people were booking passages on the ships leaving Fremantle. Some were simply continuing holiday plans already made and others wanted to be home in the UK with their families in any critical days that might lay ahead. 

The Strathnaver, a P&O ship of 22,000 tons, regularly made the run from Fremantle to Plymouth via Colombo, Bombay, Aden, Egypt, through the Suez Canal, Marseilles, Gibraltar, and Tangier. I made this trip on the same ship in 1950 but did not see Marseilles or Tangier and had to settle for a “binocular” view of “The Rock”. The war declaration brought changes to the “ports of call” lists. The 1939 fares on the Strathnaver, which had two classes, First and Tourist, were 82 pounds ($164) for First and 39 pounds ($78 or approximately $3,500 in 2022) for Tourist Class. The trip took about three weeks or more.

I now had a few more shillings a week in my pocket because early in March I had passed the examination for promotion to Postal Assistant Grade 2. As senior PA2 officers were assigned to other duties, or to relieve at other offices, or went on leave, I moved from section to section relieving them. Men that I stood in for at different times were Tim Shaw, Bert Butcher (of East Fremantle football fame) and Wally Dawes (who was still going well in 1988). When I took Wally’s job I was moved from Parcels to Postal Notes where it was busy and more money was handled. Postal Notes were easily cashable by the receivers and for this reason they were more convenient in many circumstances than Money Orders. The extra 16 shillings ($1.60) per week I was now getting by way of a higher duty allowance seemed like a small fortune at the time. We had one advantage in those days. No credit cards or bank loans to “buy a boat”, or things we did not need. No cash, then do without.

Well! Tuesday 10 December (1940) saw me back on the job (after army training) on the stamp counter and Poste Restante. There were no acting Grade 2 jobs at that time so no extra pay for me, so I was a pound ($2) worse off when I came back from camp after nothing saved on 5/- (50c) a day.

Work – PMG  Kalgoorlie (June-November 1946)

“Back to work” day came on 17 June (1946). I had been into the office earlier to look over my new work area, the Registration Counter section. My classification was Postal Assistant, Grade 2, having passed the examination before I joined up. It may seem an easy job when a customer sends or picks up a registered letter but nothing is that easy. Tim (Hedley E) Shaw had the job when he enlisted but he was still in the services. He later worked with the postal investigation branch. He passed away sometime in 1990.

Registered mail comes in or goes to many other offices located in the Kalgoorlie districts. Such mail is listed in special despatch books, one carbon copy and the original in the outgoing bag. The same with incoming registered mail when you check the seal and locate the despatch list. At the end of the day you had to check all the incoming and outgoing lists and total them, and add the number of articles on hand when you started work that day. During lunch someone filled in for the hour. A balance had to be made before going home at 6pm when the office closed. I soon found out why Tim used to get frustrated towards the end of the day.

It was sometimes hard to balance. Someone else standing in while you had your lunch or while you slipped out for a nature call occasionally created a problem. The worst that could happen was the posting in the main post office mail receivers of wrongly addressed, or unwanted official (Tax Dept?) registered letters. A mail officer could put the letter on my work table and forget to tell you about it, particularly on busy days. It took me a week or so to get used to it all but the boss of the mail room sections, Paddy McMorrow, showed me what to watch out for. The counter was always busy as the office handled a lot of registered mail. The lawyers always had documents going up and down to Perth and the banks gave us a lot of business. Government departments were good customers. In handling all that mail I came to meet a lot of old friends who were like me six years older than when I left. Some were married, some were still single. Many I had not seen before.

Back at the post office some news that I was not wrapped up in. A position change was in the wind as someone else returned from the war. The registration section position was to be taken over by a chap who was senior to me, and this meant a possible change all around in my grade and for one or two in the grade below. The easy way was adopted as I had only been back a few months after a wartime absence of six years. I was asked to go to Leonora where someone was leaving and I never blamed him.

Leonora was just over 200km north-east of Kalgoorlie. You passed through Broad Arrow, and then Menzies, to get there. Nearby were the smaller towns of Gwalia and Malcolm. Another 100km or so to the west was Laverton which was right on the edge of the Great Victoria Desert. Leonora had a few shops, a couple of banks, two hotels and not much more. Just started on married life and our baby on the way I knew our future did not lie in the back of beyond at Leonora. “No! No!”, I said. “I’m afraid you must go”, I was told. “Must”, not the best word to use at the time. An impasse result so I said that I would prefer to resign. On 22nd November 1946 I did that down in Perth.

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