It’s the smell of the ink that I remember most. The agency I worked from was in the heart of Woolloongabba - less than a minutes bike ride from school.
Just enough time to lose the lessons of the day - the thoughts of maths & science - and gain the attention of the task that lay ahead.
A mate, Mark, had recommended me for the job. He’d been there for six months or more and had bought a second-hand BMX with his savings. Boss hired me without an interview. None of the boys knew his name – he was simply known and always addressed as ‘Boss’.
It was the same routine five days a week. Arrive. Take a drag on a low tar cigarette in the alley (if you were so inclined). Collect your stack of stock that Boss had tied with used twine. Grab your well-worn leather satchel. Check your float. Out to your corner. Secure your stock – a brick or rock the best deterrent to the wind. Walk the line till you’d sold out or 5.30pm arrived (6 in the summer) – whichever came sooner.
Rain & wind were my big enemies. P platters too. Peak hour traffic & the red light my best friends.
Tradies & office men heading south or east were the core clientele.
Sometimes Dad would pass through on his way home from the pub. He’d take a copy, hand over a note and drive off before I could fumble the change.
Tips could double your wage. A lesson in politeness, courtesy & speedy customer service learnt early.
Fridays were payday. You could bank on twelve dollars for the week. Twenty if you’d worked your way up the corners to Leopard & Stanley – just before the freeway on-ramp. Twenty-five if you’d snared one of the two delivery runs.
The Delivery Runs were a world a way from walking the bitumen. Besides being safer the key difference was the stock. The street corners were confined to the daily rag. The Delivery Runs provided the opportunity to sell magazines – the most popular being the Australian Women’s Weekly, the Turf Guide and every teen-boys’ favourite: Penthouse.
Route 1 ran through the panel shops, printers, locksmiths and car yards to the south. Route 2 took in the office blocks to the north including the headquarters of the (then new) Brisbane Bears Football Club.
A two-hour journey door-to-door the delivery runs were the place to be. In and out of air-conditioned receptions complete with cold water fountains & attractive office girls: an oasis from the humidity of a Brisbane summer.
In the end I’d outlasted my cohort. Promoted to the prime office run on the north, Boss had upgraded my cart & satchel. I’d earned the first-right of refusal to work the Thursday night dogs and the one-day Internationals at the Gabba.
I’d worked hard & been rewarded in return. I’d not taken a single day’s leave (sick or holiday) for more than 12 months. I’d saved over six hundred dollars – all coins – kept in a blue bucket at the bottom of my wardrobe. For me it was never about the money: Mum used it to pay the rent for a month when things got really tight.
No, being a paperboy was about keeping busy and having something to do. It gave me a purpose. It was about doing something I hadn’t done before & learning from it. It was about setting a goal and achieving it. It was about risk & reward. It was a lesson in the culture of sales & people management. It taught me about the importance of contributing to my family, valuing my role, my work, my colleagues and my self.
Who would have thought that an afternoon tabloid could teach me so much?
[First published in "Review", The Weekend Australian (13-14 October 2012)]