Mum had shot through finally, and Dad was sick of doing my washing and stuff, so when I was fifteen he said I couldn’t go on and do the Leaving – I had to go to work. He said I should go get a job on the Railways but not as a porter where he started, because porters progressed to shunters and he had seen too many of his shunting mates get squashed between the buffers when they didn’t duck under when they should have.
Mind you, they were all drunk most of the time, and accidents will happen.
So I made my way to Sydney where I found the Railway recruitment office at Wynyard. Talked to Mr Brown and told him I wanted to be a Junior Clerk. He told me I had to do two tests, one English and the other arithmetic.
So he put me in a room and said I had two hours. Well The English was easy, but the arithmetic was a cow:
Question 1: Multiply 3628956268594 by 567981213956.
Question 2: A train leaves Werris Creek at 3:40pm loaded with 389 tons, while another train leaves Glen Innes at 2:19 am loaded with 456tons. Train One drops two S trucks at Uralla. Train two picks up 2 LLV’s at Glencoe. How old is the train one driver at Glencoe? Or something totally incomprehensible.
Eighteen more questions like this.
I was never very good at arithmetic. I think John Lane didn’t teach me any of the basic rules when I was one of the eleven kids at Bolivia Public School.
So I took my completed papers back to Mr Brown who gave me 20 out of 20 for English, but unfortunately only 2 out 20 for the arithmetic. After some discussion he agreed that I could have another go at the arithmetic…and that I should go and buy an exercise book and study the back of it where there were in those days a lot of arithmetic examples.
“Look son, you better be a porter”, Mr Brown said. “You can’t be a Junior Clerk having such poor arithmetic.”
“I can’t be a Porter Mr.Brown” I moaned. “My Dad told me I had to be a Clerk because Portering is too dangerous.”
“Well, you can’t be a Clerk…wait who is your Dad?”
“He’s ASM at Bolivia.”
“Is he Eddie Barrass?”
“Was he a shunter at Enfield years ago?”
“Well blow me down, I know Eddie!” he exclaimed. “Here let me show you where you went wrong…see here you didn’t carry the 2…and here………”
I finished up with 11 right out of 20 and was told to start as a Junior Clerk at the Station Master Sydney’s Office on No 1 Platform Central, next Monday. A wise decision by Mr Brown because he knew I would do no arithmetic there, I just ran around delivering stuff and wrote labels for Reserved Carriages. I was good at that because I got 20 out of 20 for English.