PAPERBOYS AT A CANBERRA NEWSAGENCY IN 1967
By Ron "Slacky" Baxter
In 1967 I was a 14 or 15 year old schoolboy attending Dickson High and working after school for a bloke I will call Ray McGillicutty who owned the newsagency at a local shopping centre. Why I know it was 1967 is because I can recall seeing headlines in the papers about the 6 day war in Israel for some time. I worked with two other paperboys, Brownie (Owen Brown) and Tag (Doug McTaggart), who were also in my year at Dickson High.
We were not really paid by the hour. We were paid $2.00 for a 5 day week in which we worked for a minimum of 2 hours every afternoon. This came to 20 cents an hour if we worked two hour days, but we usually worked in excess of the 2 hours. Even though $2.00 could obviously buy far more than it can today it was still appalling money for the time, even at kid's rates. We had to supply our own bikes and got no allowance for it. The two dollars per week wage had apparently remained unchanged for several years.
Our job entailed first making sure the papers had come in from Sydney. When they were late we had to sit around waiting for them, realising we were not earning extra money for our time and that we had to wait that much longer before we could knock off and go to the Dickson Pool. My run was the longest and hilliest. The other two runs were less difficult but by no means easy.
The papers we had to deliver were the Mirror, and at a later stage the Sun, although it may have been the other way around. Things were manageable when we only had the one paper to deliver, but when we were given the extra paper it increased our workload by about 50%, and on Wednesdays, when the editions were extra thick, I had to go back to the newsagency to pick up a second load. I did not have the strength to take them all in one go. I did try once, but after going arse-up I did not try again. Having to go back of course delayed my knock-off time.
If I was asked to give my opinion of our boss at the time, Ray McGillicutty, I would say he was a BLANK and a BLANK. He looked to be middle aged, and if he is alive today I would not be surprised if he still has his lunch money from preschool. When his wife came in to assist in the busier times she would not talk to him. I don’t know if this was because they had a close marriage and she was busy and entirely committed to staying focused or if it was because she also believed he was a BLANK and BLANK.
We did not like the fact that we had to deliver the extra newspapers, as it meant more time on the job without any financial reward, so the three of us discussed our situation on the back landing.
Brownie and Tag decided that because our workload had increased by 50% we should hit McGillicutty for a raise of $1 per week, which would bring our wage up to a whole $3.00 per week, or 30 cents per hour. I agreed.
We decided to draw straws to see who would approach him to ask for the wage rise. To do this Brownie got hold of some matches, and I drew the shortest match. It was only recently I found out Brownie had sneakily done something with the matches to ensure I got the shortest one.
After accepting what I thought was my bad luck I went back into the store and sheepishly approached McGillicutty while the other boys stayed outside. I asked him for the raise, explaining to him that we thought it was only fair that we should be paid 50% more considering our workload had increased by 50%. McGillicutty probably thought our request was exorbitant but decided he would give some ground and offer us instead a rise of a whole 20 cents per week, or 2 cents per hour. He said it was a case of take it or leave it.
I went back and told Brownie and Tag what his offer was, and I could see by Brownie’s face he was feeling a surge of rage after realising how much he thought he was being exploited and how powerless he was to do anything about it. After deciding we should all resign rather than take it Brownie was very keen to tell him the three of us were quitting, so he marched into his office and gave him the news.
Rather than be dictated to by bolshie kids he told us we could finish up after our shift. We agreed, but it was a big mistake on his part because we caused havoc by giving people the wrong papers or throwing them into neighbour’s houses.
McGillicutty confronted us when we came in after finishing our final shift and told us of the complaints he had received. He would probably have received many more after we left as his customers discovered their papers were missing. It was my first effort at industrial sabotage and it made me feel really good.
After we had finished up we let people know what we thought of him and how badly we believed we had been exploited. I am unsure if he found any replacement paperboys after we left because for some time we saw him delivering the papers by himself in his convertible.
We laughed when we saw him. I would give him the traditional two fingers; not the single American finger kids of today use.
If I am to reflect on the incident I believe that McGillicutty was not just a BLANK; I believe he was a stupid BLANK. His actions provided me with a very valuable lesson, particularly since I have been self-employed for most of my working life. I firmly believe that if employers are not prepared to pay their staff what they are worth they will usually be shooting themselves in the foot.
Footnote- Our mate, Brownie, who appeared in this story died in October 2013. He was a good bloke.
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