My First Job

November 1953 I wrote my last High School tests, cleared my desk and headed home to await results published February 1954 by Queensland University, Brisbane, Australia. I can still remember rushing to the corner grocery store to purchase the Courier Mail newspaper and scan insert lists for results. I’d passed! My Father Eric who loved formality made an official presentation to me as soon as we’d all confirmed my pass. After Eric’s long speech expressing pride in his eldest son’s rite of passage a little package emerged which I quickly opened. My first watch! Now watches were not a dime a dozen in those days, so it was a prized possession indeed. At night the hands and numbers glowed in the dark, so I spent several nights after that sleepless, examining my treasure for the duration of the night.

However Eric had made some disturbing comments in his official presentation. Through the glow of achievement I heard those fateful words. “You can now look for a job!” If it were not for rapidly approaching Christmas, and the expectation of further gifts that ominous statement could have sent me into the depths of depression.

Those were the days when industry and government beat a path to High Schools about the time of final exams and set up little booths to promote their particular job opportunities. Eat your heart out those of you desperately seeking work in this day and age. My friends were mulling over the relative merits of slothfulness in a government job and a career with the banks. Most of them went into banking but I couldn’t make up my mind.

Eric never sat around waiting for decisions to be made. He had an entrepreneurial bent and had been nurtured by the depression when you had to fight for any opportunity to survive. Soon after my results were published he arrived home with the news I was to commence work with the CPA accounting firm A H Leitch & Son. That seemed a much more interesting career than reports I was getting from friends already in the banking orbit. Tramping between banks with loads of paperwork in the daily “exchange” didn’t sound cool at all. Of course it’s all done electronically today. While I was resentful Eric had made the arrangement without consulting me, I had to privately concede I’d be better off than my friends.

Now the first weekly wage was a bit of a shocker, Five pounds, two shillings and sixpence; equivalent to a bit over ten Aussie dollars in 1954 values. That was a notch below my banking friend’s wages, and a cause for intense jealousy over the next two years until my weekly wage raced ahead of theirs substantially. Food and personal effects were inexpensive in those days so we were not badly treated.

My first duty on the job was to clean out old records dating back to gold rush days. I think that’s where my interest in history was first sparked. The records were extremely interesting. I remember copies of tax returns passed on to the IRS showing a calculated tax of seven shillings and sixpence for a year’s activities. That was less than a dollar in the currency value of the time. The room was a historical treasure house, and it was my job to systematically load it all into the furnace at the back of the office. In hindsight that was a crime of major significance.

After that act of wanton destruction I was assigned to one of the senior accountants to be his slave for the next two years. My job was to examine each piece of accounting evidence minutely, and when satisfied it met the long list of criteria given me I was to place an upside down green tick on the paper. At the end of audits we’d stamp each binder with the required green stamp of approval. The senior accountant would then make his written report and we’d move on to the next mind numbing assignment.

Along with the meaningless exercise just described I was given the job of typing client’s tax returns from a senior’s notes to be mailed to the IRS. These days that’s also done electronically. Computers were one of those futuristic Dick Tracy gadgets, and lodgment through the internet was not even on anyone’s horizon in those days. Accounting machines were of the ilk of Smithsonian relics, and our adding machines were in a position of pride in the office. Considering the sophistication of today’s CPA offices we were in the age of the Neanderthals.

Rita the redhead took me under her wing and up-skilled me on office machines. Down in the basement was a brand new copy machine which required an enormous amount of effort to produce one copy. First you made negatives through a scanning process similar to the way we scan on printer combos today, then negative was processed the same way a photographer develops film. I hated my struggles with the copy machine.

Our office was on one of those San Francisco style streets that dipped sharply and leveled out in time to greet the Town Hall at the other end. That was where Eric spent a lot of time, particularly in the evenings as Deputy Mayor for the city of Gympie. I being the junior worker it was my job to dash to the food outlets down the street and get lunch orders for whoever wanted to snack while working. My progress would be watched from the balcony by the entire staff who’d heard I’d taken a spill after some heavy rain. They were always hopeful for a repeat performance.

The Senior Partner Alfred, after whom the firm was named had been crippled by polio and was confined to a wheel chair. My first call of duty was to pick him up from home in the morning and deliver him to work. This involved removing him physically from the car and carrying him up the stairs to his office, then whizzing back to pick up his chair and deliver it to the office. He was never satisfied with my speed in accomplishing these tasks and referred to me as “Speedy Gonzales.” The name stuck!

I determined to do better and went into training. One fateful day I retrieved Alfred from the car with a speed he was not accustomed to, trying simultaneously to retrieve his chair. I thought he’d be impressed. Instead he delivered some powerful blows of disapproval on my back, which dislodged his chair and sent it hurtling down the hill to the amazement of reporters of the Gympie Times who grabbed their pencils and raced out sensing a good story. It was not reported.

After two years of slave labor I was given a nod of approval and slowly entrusted with more useful pursuits. My salary whizzed up above my banker friends in a spectacular climb, and I had the advantage of staying put while one by one my friends were transferred to remote branches of their banks way out in the bush to begin their own climb up the ladder. They envied me my well paid advancing career.

But I was finding it difficult to continue night studies as more responsibilities were assigned. A public accountant’s office does not close at 5 pm, nor are weekends predictable. You pay a penalty for keeping a high paying job.

So after seven years of practical experience I decided to go back to school and get my degree behind me. I’ll always remember with fondness lessons learned in those seven years with the CPA firm A H Leitch & Son.

“© Copyright Ian Grice 2012, all rights reserved”

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