Finding a job in the '50s and '60s was easier

WHENEVER there is an item of news about people having difficulties finding work, especially young people, one is reminded of other times when jobs seemed to be there just for the taking.

For some years following World War II there was a great demand for labour. As well, there were also plenty of opportunities for study whether at TAFE or university. There was great encouragement from most employers for their staff to improve themselves and to gain higher qualifications and experience. There were scholarships, cadetships, and apprenticeships available, and there were plenty of government department jobs.

Many young people flocked to the cities looking for work including one young lady who left the Richmond River in the late 1950s and found no trouble in obtaining work in Sydney. She had never been to the city before but had taught herself to type through the International Correspondence School and so had great confidence in her abilities. She found board and lodging with a family friend and set about trying to find a job by "phoning and asking”. After a few failures a nice male voice answered her enquiry. She was as surprised as he was when it became clear what she wanted. She had a crossed line or had keyed in a wrong digit. She had already told him what she wanted by the time he realised the mistake. However, he said he actually did have a job available. He had a small importing business and his office was in Challis House, Martin Place. His name was Mr Crook.

Obviously her family friend-cum-landlady, feeling some kind of responsibility, tried to dissuade her from going to see him. She was now in the big city, there were nasty men around. Not deterred the girl went to see Mr Crook and found him just as pleasant as his voice. He shared an office with his sister, Miss Ida Crook, who was a public typist, semi-retired. All he wanted was someone to mind the telephone while they were both out, type a few invoices for him, run a few messages like going to the bank and the post office, and, if Miss Crook was not there, to take her messages. She was allowed to use any of the typewriters or other equipment there if she wished. She remained there for 12 months and, during that time, she was able to improve her typing speed as well as learn about other office equipment. It was a great job.

When she became bored, however, she looked elsewhere. She also wanted to start a university degree and for that needed a better salary.

She tried the A.B.C. and was taken on straight away, largely because of her typing speed. At that time the A.B.C. leased buildings all over the city - radio studios in Forbes St, television studios and technical backup at Gore Hill, radio news, libraries, statistics, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in the Woolworths Building between Darlinghurst Rd and Kellett St, Kings Cross. The Woolworths Building had been the original "home” of the A.B.C. and Kellett St had seen many of its successes including the first television broadcast.

Our girl worked in a couple of departments in the Woolworths Building but to get there one had to walk down Kellett St and go up the stairs or take the rocky old lift, often accompanied by a garbage bin or two belonging to Woolworths. It was a great place to work, however, and she spent many years there.

At night Kellett St took on another image - nightclubs and strip joints - but in the daytime it was very docile.

Working late hours could be interesting of course, but then it had been there that the Razor Gangs flourished in the 1920s.

Photograph: Kings Cross, Sydney, in the 1950s.

Prepared by Geoff and Margaret Henderson for Richmond River Historical Society, Lismore.

Telephone: 66219993. Email:

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