This

Life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Paul Car­pen­ter

IT’S the smell of the ink I re­mem­ber most. The agency I worked from was in the heart of Wool­loongabba — less than a minute’s bike ride from school. Just enough time to lose the lessons of the day — the thoughts of maths and 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 ’til you’d sold out or 5.30pm ar­rived (six in the sum­mer), which­ever came sooner.

Rain and wind were my big en­e­mies. P-platers too. Peak-hour traf­fic and the red light my best friends. Tradies and 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 and speedy cus­tomer ser­vice learned early. Fri­days were payday. You could bank on $12 for the week. Twenty if you’d worked your way up the cor­ners to Leop­ard and 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 away 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 boy’s favourite, Pent­house. Route one ran through the panel shops, print­ers, lock­smiths and car yards to the south. Route two took in the of­fice blocks to the north, in­clud­ing the head­quar­ters of the (then new) Bris­bane Bears Football Club. A twohour jour­ney door-to-door, the de­liv­ery runs were the place to be. In and out of air­con­di­tioned re­cep­tions com­plete with cold wa­ter foun­tains and at­trac­tive of­fice girls: an oa­sis from the hu­mid­ity of a Bris­bane sum­mer.

In the end I out­lasted my co­hort and was pro­moted to the prime of­fice run on the north. 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 and been re­warded in re­turn. I’d not taken a sin­gle day’s leave (sick or hol­i­day) for more than 12 months. I’d saved more than $600 — 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 and learn­ing from it. It was about set­ting a goal and achiev­ing it. It was about risk and re­ward. It was a les­son in the cul­ture of sales and peo­ple man­age­ment. It taught me about the im­por­tance of con­tribut­ing to my fam­ily, valu­ing my role, my work, my col­leagues and my­self. Who would have thought an af­ter­noon tabloid could teach me so much?

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