This is Part 1 of a three part series. Links to Part 2 and Part 3 are at the end of this post.
The uncovering of paperwork from a ‘difficult time’ back in 1981
On Saturday I finally decided to set aside some time to unpack and find a home for (or throw out) the contents of the last big box packed up during the period when our kitchen was renovated and soon after that, when we had painters in. It could have contained anything from the kitchen, dining room, or my study/office area. Yes I still had one last pesky box to deal with. It has been sitting in a corner of the house for probably close to a year now making me feel like such a lazy thing because so many months had passed and I’ve just been too busy to deal with it. Anyway – it’s been dealt with now! Hooray!
There was a lot of paperwork in this box, including stuff from my corporate life. Instead of just ‘shoving’ it somewhere, I decided it was time to do a proper job and meticulously go through it all. It was while I was doing this that I discovered a large envelope filled with some papers from a time when I was a 17 year old girl working in my very first full time ¹’proper’ job.
When I joined the #MeToo movement … but didn’t know it at the time
In my very first ‘proper’ job I became a member of the ²#metoo movement though I didn’t know it at the time. I wasn’t sexually assaulted but I was sexually harassed. Reading through all these documents as a women in her 50’s made me feel rage. I am enraged at what happened to that innocent 17 year old girl and how poorly she was treated when she decided to speak up and seek help. Man, they are lucky this didn’t happen to me today, and they were not dealing with my adult self. Hell hath no fury like …. anyway … you get the picture!
I’m well aware though that holding rage in ones body is not good for us, so I’ve decided to write about this to help defuse my rage and besides – it’s time! I want to show the subtleties and variety of acts that can make up sexual harassment. I want to show how heinous it is to take advantage (in this case) of a young naive girl just wanting to do a good job. I don’t want this conveniently swept under the carpet anymore. I want it out there in the universe in all its ugly truth! I believe you will be shocked and horrified at what I reveal. I will however tell the tale without revealing the name of the person responsible, or my exact workplace at the time, to protect myself and also his family/descendants. As ‘he’ was a man in his 50’s in 1981, he could very well be deceased by now, or he would be a man in his late 80’s or early to mid 90’s.
I’m usually one to avoid anything political or controversial here on the blog. I’m a highly sensitive person and do not have a thick skin, but on this occasion, the discovery of these papers felt like a sign that it was time to speak up for my younger self and show support for all those girls and women still suffering this crap (Is there a better word? I think not!). It is time!
Life after high school
Before I tell the tale though, let me set the scene. I was 17 years of age. I had left school half way through Year 12 (in May from memory). Yes I know that seems so silly now doesn’t it?! I was nearly there! But you see, I was restless, I was in a hurry to get out into the real world. I wanted independence and I wanted to start earning money. At that stage of my life I had no interest much in the subjects they were teaching us (maths, science, accounting etc), except for Secretarial Studies – I was very good at that and topped the class in both shorthand and typing. I could touch type at a very fast speed and shorthand was effortless to me and I was fast at that also. It was all easy for me. If I’d stayed to complete Year 12, I don’t think my TE score (which is what it was called then ‘Tertiary Entrance’) would have been very good and besides I never really needed one as it turned out.
For younger readers: In those days girls were encouraged to be either teachers, nurses or secretaries and that was about it! I didn’t want to be a teacher and continue on in the school environment. I didn’t want to be a nurse and have to deal with sickness, sadness and death. The obvious choice was to be a secretary, because I was good at that stuff! By the way, there was one girl in my class who went on to do science and become a scientist. We were all in absolute awe of her! How times have changed since then.
As a side note I have to tell a little story about that girl. Many years later when I was working as a Policy Officer in Government we found ourselves in the same meeting. I was working in Sustainable Agriculture and so was she. Same Department, different roles. Me – policy. She – science. Isn’t that an amazing turn of events?!
So, my parents agreed for me to leave school and I then went on to a commercial college and completed a Legal Secretarial course, receiving Distinctions in every subject. When I graduated, my Shorthand speed was 120 wpm and my typing speed was 70wpm (that was on a manual typewriter!). I absolutely loved doing this course. The College was in the city and I finally felt a part of the real world, and I was doing what I was good at and surrounded with like-minded people. I was feeling more me than I’d ever felt at school, and so much happier.
After I graduated from the Legal Secretarial course, I had been attending classes at the law courts with the intention to become a Court Reporter (recording court proceedings in shorthand). The courts were very keen to have me on board because I was very fast and efficient (my speeds were now quite a bit higher than when I graduated from the college). However, you had to be 18 and I was still 17, so I applied to the Queensland State Government (the Public Service) for a job (at least until I was 18 I thought) because I needed to be earning some money. My parents had told me I needed to get a good stable job and the Public Service is where you found that (back then anyway).
It was so much easier back then to get a job in the Public Service. From memory, I filled in some forms putting a list of preferences for what Departments I’d like to work at. I sat a couple of tests – typing, shorthand, and maybe another (I can’t quite remember). I was applying to be a Stenographer. I don’t recall all the Departments I listed but I remember that top of the list was ‘Tourism’ as I thought I might be lucky enough to score some travel with that one!
My first ‘proper’ job
So the day came where I received a letter in the mail which basically said that I’d passed all tests with flying colours and had been accepted as an employee of the Queensland State Government. I was instructed to report to the Public Service Board on a certain date, at a certain time, to find out where I would be working and then I would be commencing in my new position on that day.
As it turned out, I didn’t get any of the Departments I had listed. Without giving away exactly which Department I had been assigned to, let’s just say it was an important one. As a Stenographer, I was to report as Personal Secretary to a Senior Officer in the very same building in which I stood. I was nervous but very excited!
I recall participating in my first ever Melbourne Cup sweep (and winning mind you!) soon after starting in this job, so I’m thinking it might have been late October or early November 1981 when I started.
I was 17. I was naive and innocent, and I was super excited to be starting my new job!
Come back next week to read how things went from here.
Ciao for now,
¹ ‘Proper job’ means my first full-time adult job. Previous jobs had been casual part-time teen roles, eg. checkout chick at Coles.
² The #MeToo movement, with a large variety of local and international alternative names, is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault.