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?