In to this world, wearing my ‘tasteful’ mauve suit including tailored flared trouser, matched to a cotton body shirt offset with a 4-inch-wide polyester tie and a pair of platform shoes separating my socks from the ground, entered this falsely brash know it all 18-year-old.
Occasionally, only occasionally, a fire would break out in a rubbish bin as the still hot ash from a cigarette made contact with a discarded piece of carbon paper resulting in instant combustion. Fortunately, it was a time before ceiling fire extinguishers so no real harm done.
Air conditioning was a thing of the future. It was cold in the winter and hellishly hot in summer.
The heat of summer meant open windows. Seeping through these windows the heat fused with the rancid stench of the much used, re -used and used again cooking oil from the next-door café. It was a sickening odour that would infiltrate clothing, nostrils and skin and stay with you after each day concluded. I often thought it was the stench of the cigarette smoke diluting the food smell that made the place habitable in summer.
I could never, ever consume food from that café, although I did buy cigarettes there, daily.
A large wooden counter and a swinging barn like door separated the area from the customer.
On the work side of the counter was an almost random arrangement of desks. In the 4 years I spent there, some 4 additional desks were added to an already ‘snug’ space; it was a time before work place health and safety.
Energy levels would begin to rise from 10.30 am each morning reaching a crescendo at around 3.30pm before tailoring off again. Phones were abundant, many desks had two, one had three, and they were constantly ringing, and being rung from.
It was a pressure cooker environment of deadlines and close offs. It was an amphitheatre of Dollars and Pounds, Francs of both a Swiss and French origin, Kroners, Drachmas, Yen, Renminbi and many more.
We could all multiply and divide to 4 decimal points accurately in our head. Of course, calculators were used to confirm but it was a skill we all needed to survive.
This was the world I entered as an 18-year-old starting my first financial services job.
And oh, what a 4-year journey had begun. I loved the cut and thrust of foreign currency payments and dealing with some of the major corporates of the time, Henry Jones, Hawker Siddeley to name two.
The buzz that was those hours from 10.30am to 3.30 pm, every day and later on Friday was addictive.
I was obtaining a geography lesson of the world in a period before the Euro, an open China and where the USSR was not yet assigned to the history books.
I learned more about Corporate Life, working with colleagues and dealing with a wide variety of people in those 4 years than in the following 35 years.
You could be dealing with a senior executive of a Multi-National one moment and a ‘hippie’ heading to Indonesia the next. The first was a multimillion US Dollar transaction while the later a payment of 100 baht; for both, the transaction was of critical importance.
We called the senior males “Mr”. The Ladies typed for us males and wore uniforms. The stereotyping of roles based on gender is shameful when looked through the lens of today. It makes me shudder to think about it.
I joined an odd ball bunch and just loved it.
I absolutely believe the career success I subsequently enjoyed was due to the experience and experiences I gained in this first job and the incredible group of people I was blessed to meet.
To the staff of the Commercial Bank of Australia* Melbourne Office Draft Department from February 1977 to July 1981, I thank each and every one of you