My Life Story - Itchy Feet

My Personal Pages

1969-70: A Year of Living Restlessly







Back to the Bank


Shortly after I left the army a friend got me interested in a direct marketing scheme. I tried it for a while, but eventually decided that it wasn't going to work for me. I was temperamentally unsuited to selling to my friends. At this stage I had moved into my parents' house, so that is 6 jobs, 10 changes of address.


Next I decided to go back to my old employer, the Bank of New South Wales. This is the beginning of a long period of inner turmoil in my life, in which I feel like I am being pulled in two different and opposite directions. Whenever I am doing something a little unorthodox with my life, such as I had been for a few months, hitch-hiking interstate, fruit picking, direct marketing, I long for a safe, conventional life, with a "normal" job. Whenever I have a conventional life and a normal job, I yearn for a life of freedom, travel and adventure.


I worked at the Strathfield branch for a few months, and then I was sent to a training school to be a teller. Everybody who was around in 1969 remembers where they were when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I was at that Bank of New South Wales training school in Sydney.

Going back to the bank makes it 7 jobs, 10 changes of address.


While I was at Strathfield, I worked alongside a young bloke who was on the internal relief staff. That means he moved around to branches where people were on leave, and filled in temporarily. He told me he had been robbed at his previous branch. This was at a time when there was a spate of bank robberies in Sydney's western suburbs. Shortly after he left Strathfield, I saw that young bloke's face in a newspaper. He and one of his mates had been arrested for the robberies. It seems they were both on relief staff, so they moved around a lot, and they were taking turns robbing each other.


After the training course, I was sent as a teller to the bank's Royal Exchange branch. This was one of the biggest branches of any bank in Australia, right in the financial heart of Sydney.


At first I was in the separate downstairs savings bank area, where an experiment was under way. In the teller's box next to mine was Australia's first female teller! This was 1969, and only a generation later you would be hard pressed to find a male teller in an Australian bank. But for some reason, for more than 150 years there had been a serious belief that women could not be tellers. 


Later I was moved to the main banking floor. This was an exciting time to be at this particular bank. It was the time of the nickel boom, and some of the country's biggest stock broking firms banked with us. The highlight of the nickel boom was a stock called Poseidon, which went from something like four cents to over $250. The first time I was offered Poseidon shares they were about $29. I turned down that offer, and about twenty more offers in the following weeks. One of the many decisions I have made in my life that have ensured that I will never be rich. 


In those days, all bank employees had to be trained in handling and firing a pistol. I was sent along with a number of others to the pistol range, even though it was only about six months since I had returned from Vietnam. The instructor was so surprised to find an employee who actually knew how to handle the weapon, that he instantly recruited me to the bank's pistol shooting team for an upcoming shooting match against the police. The match was held in a shooting range deep in the concrete foundations of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I don't remember anything about the match itself, except that there was a photographer there, and my face subsequently appeared in the bank's staff newspaper, The Etruscan. So that would suggest that we must have won and I must have done well.


While I was working at the bank I moved into a boarding house in Kirribilli. As I remember it, it was called Lynton Lodge. I shared a room with an Englishman who was typical of the residents at the lodge. They were mostly from Britain and other parts of Europe, and would have been called backpackers if the term had been invented at the time. Our room had a small window, which looked directly across Sydney harbour to Circular Quay. A million dollar view for what was actually a cheap boarding house.


That makes 7 jobs and 11 changes of address.








The Baroness


It was at Lynton Lodge that I met The Baroness, who would become my first serious long term girlfriend. Why do I call her The Baroness? I haven’t seen her for several years, and I haven’t spoken to her about using her real name in this story of my life. So I decided to give her a nickname. The Baroness seems apt, since she really is a Baroness. She wasn’t a Baroness when I met her, but she later married an Englishman who bought a title.


The Baroness was English, but had been living in Western Australia for about five years. She moved across to the east coast because she was engaged to be married, and her intended future husband was at a teachers training college in Sydney. We went out a few times, and one of our dates was to the musical Hair, at the Metro Theatre in Kings Cross. I was so impressed with the show that I went again with my younger brother just a few nights later. It was when I returned to Lynton Lodge that night that The Baroness told me she had broken off her engagement. Thus began a relationship that would continue for the next five years.



This is The Baroness and me bushwalking in the Blue Mountains, Easter 1972. The picture was taken at the old Glen Davis shale mine. When we broke up in 1974, The Baroness kept all of our photos. I found this one among my parents’ possessions when clearing out the family home after my father died.  







Itchy Feet


While I was working at the bank, a young woman put the seeds of an idea into my mind. She did the banking for a stockbroking firm, but she was also a part-time model, and she suggested this was something I might also think about trying. I didn't think much about it at first, but then the bank gave me a promotion, which took me away from the front counter and put me into an office in the foreign exchange section. I found the job dreadfully boring after months of dealing directly with the public as a teller. So I decided to give modelling a try. I found an agency, had some photos taken, and the work started to come in. The Baroness and I had planned a holiday in Western Australia for Christmas, so I decided to quit the bank and try modelling full time when we came back to Sydney.


That is 8 jobs, 11 changes of address.


In addition to the modeling, one of my first jobs of 1970 was as an extra on a feature film called Wake In Fright. Little did I know it at the time, but this would later be acknowledged as an important milestone in the reawakening of the Australian movie industry. My modest contribution was to turn up to Ajax film studios in Bondi Junction and be a part of a crowd in a pub. Unfortunately, after only a couple of days the film-makers decided these scenes did not look sufficiently authentic, so they took the film on location to Broken Hill. I have since watched the film closely, looking for any sign of the scenes I took part in, but sadly it seems that all of those Ajax studio scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.


Ajax film studios did not last much longer, at least not in Bondi Junction. In the late seventies and early eighties I went to a lot of rock music gigs at a venue called the Bondi Lifesaver, and I'm pretty sure it was the same building as the old film studios.


That is 9 jobs, 11 changes of address.


It took me only about five minutes as a model to realise that this was a world into which I would never fit. Although I enjoyed the work, the people I met were not the kind I would normally associate with. To me they seemed too self-centred and phoney. On the movie set however, I met another extra who also worked as a stunt man, and that appealed to me. So I joined his group, which was run by an American whose name, if my memory is correct, was Karl Avis. We were known as the Karl Avis Action Men.


That makes 10 jobs, 11 changes of address. 


As a stuntman, my tasks included staging fights, falling off cliffs and buildings, and being hit by moving cars. It was great fun, but there was never going to be enough work to make it viable as a fulltime job. I soon started looking around for other options.


Around this time I rented a terrace house in Brougham Street Woolloomoolloo. This was the first home that I could really call my own. Previously I had shared or boarded.


That makes 10 jobs, 12 changes of address.










Sell! Sell! Sell!


For reasons I cannot fathom with the wisdom of hindsight, I decided that I should try sales as a way to earn some real money. The first job I found as a salesman was working for yet another American entrepreneur (my bosses when I was a model and a stuntman were both young Americans who fancied themselves as entrepreneurs). It was a somewhat dodgy form of selling, whereby door-to-door canvassers would go out and make appointments for salesmen to visit people in their homes in the evening to sell them bonded brick veneer, which was supposed to add value to the customer's home. This system could only work if the householders did not understand what they were letting themselves in for when they said yes to the canvassers, so a very persuasive subterfuge was devised to con people into thinking they actually had something to gain by allowing the salesmen into their homes.


After a couple of successes, including one in which I sold a couple of thousand dollars of debt to a migrant family who, to this day, probably don't know what it was that they signed up for, I started to have serious problems with my conscience. So I went to the boss and told him about my problems. He came up with a suggestion which led to an extraordinary twist in my love life.


The door-to-door canvassers were all young women, and because it was a pretty lousy job, they tended not to stay long. The boss suggested making me their supervisor. He would give me a company car, and I would pick up those girls who didn't have their own transport, take them to the suburb we were canvassing, organise their day's work, drive them home after work, and, to use my boss's exact words, "do whatever it takes to keep the girls happy."


So here is how my typical evening would turn out. If there was a girl I particularly fancied, I would organise the roster so that she was the last one I drove home. If things worked out, I would stay with her for a couple of hours.  One of the girls later confessed to me that I was not controlling the roster as much as I thought. In fact, the girls themselves were manipulating the roster and playing games with me. I would then leave that girl's home and spend some time with The Baroness, who was my steady girlfriend at this time. She still shared a room at Lynton Lodge, so I could only be with her while her roommate was out.  After leaving The Baroness, I would go to the home of a young woman who had previously been a canvasser with the firm I was working for, but had gone back to her old profession of psychiatric nursing. Most nights I would stay with her until the morning, when I would go home for a quick shower and change of clothes and be off to work again.


This was a lifestyle that clearly could not be sustained. Besides which, I did not enjoy the work, and I still wanted to try my hand at "legitimate" selling. So, once again, I moved on.


That makes 11 jobs, 12 changes of address.


I just remembered the Whale Car Wash. I worked there on several occasions in these early months of 1970. It was a walk-up start, so it was a handy option for those times when I was between jobs.


So that makes 12 jobs, 12 changes of address.


My next job was as a travelling sales representative for Kennard Brothers. My territory covered about half of the state of New South Wales.


I remember a particularly good day on my first week. It was the day of the Captain Cook Bicentennial, in May 1970. It was a public holiday, and I spent the day in a club in Junee. I forget whether it was an RSL or a sporting club, but it was on my list of customers, and I decided while I was there I might as well introduce myself to the club's buyer. By the time I left that afternoon I had exceeded my quota of sales for the entire month.


In spite of that great start, the rest of my time with Kennards only served to convince me that I didn't want to be a sales rep.


That makes 13 jobs and 12 changes of address.


Next I took a job with the euphemistic title of Trainee Branch Manager with Kays Rent-A-Car. In fact my job consisted amost exclusively of cleaning cars. I also had to pick up cars from the various places customers would leave them, and deliver cars to airports and other places where they were needed. The only lasting memory I have of this job is the day I went down to Wollongong to take a replacement car to a customer who had a flat tyre and didn't know how to change it. I thought that seemed a bit strange until I tried to change the tyre myself. The car was a Renault, and, as anyone who has owned a Renault would understand, the spare tyre and jack were remarkably well hidden.


That makes 14 jobs and 12 changes of address.


Around this time I applied for a job as a radio operator in Antarctica, but I will never know if I got the job, because I didn't stay at my Wolloomoolloo address long enough to get a reply to my application.


It was somewhere around this time that I paid a visit to the sister of a friend of mine, who was living in Paddington. She shared a house with two other young women. While I was there, they received an invitation from a neighbour to come next door for a visit. The neighbour was Stevie Wright, lead singer of the Easybeats, who had left the band in England and returned to Australia. We all went next door and spent an enjoyable afternoon which, as I recall, included a game of strip poker. My main memory of that afternoon is of seeing Stevie Wright frequently leave the rest of us and go over to an electric piano in the corner of the room. There he would put on a set of headphones and play a piece of music that only he could hear. This may seem like a commonplace occurrence today, but way back then, a bloke bouncing up and down while playing what looked like a silent keyboard was a strange sight to see. I mention this encounter with Stevie Wright because of something that happens later.






At this stage of my story it is the winter of 1970. It is five and a half years since I left school, and I have had 15 jobs and 13 homes. To read the next chapter, in which I hitch-hike across Central Australia, work for the Australian Inland Mission in Alice Springs, and make an important career decision that would shape the next 10 years of my life, click on the link below.



My Life Story - On The Road Again

My Life Story - London, QPR and the North Sea

My Life Story: Vietnam Veterans

My Life Story - The Welcome Home Parade

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