Me too: a tale from 1981 – Part 3

August 22, 2019

Have you read Parts 1 & 2 yet?

Me Too – a tale from 1981 – Part 3 is the final part in my story.  Over the last couple of weeks I have published Parts 1 & 2 of a true story from a time when I was 17 years of age.  If you haven’t read them yet, it’s probably best if you go and read those first before reading this post.  Part 1 sets the scene and provides some background.  Part 2 outlines some memories and evidence of what happened to me in my very first ‘proper job’.  Here’s links to those posts below:

Me Too: a tale from 1981 – Part 1 

Me Too: a tale from 1981 – Part 2

As I said in Part 2 – the reason I am telling this story is not for attention or sympathy or revenge but purely because I want to get this out from under the carpet where too often these things are conveniently parked.  I want it out there in the world – joining the voices speaking up about sexual harassment and showing it for what it is (in its various forms).  Girls and women have endured this kind of treatment for far too long.  I hope that by telling this story from my past it will contribute to the campaign to make Australian workplaces (& those across the world) safer and hopefully one day free of sexual harassment.  I hope that one day there is ZERO tolerance for this kind of behaviour in the workplace or anywhere, and that the consequences of such actions are severe enough to be a deterrent to anyone ever even contemplating it.

Assuming you’ve read Parts 1 & 2, I’ll move on now to when I took some action to seek some help and try and put an end to a situation that was very wrong.  You’ll also find out in this post what the outcome was for me, and for him.

A complaint was lodged and action was swift

The sequence of events from back then are a bit sketchy in my mind. It was after all 37-38 years ago and at 17 years of age, so much stuff went over my head.  Thankfully though, the documents I have uncovered provide a good guide of what took place and when.   

I know that I gathered the courage to speak with my parents and filled them in on all that had been going on.  I took home a whole heap of letters and notes (some of which you saw in last week’s ‘Part 2’ post) that he had written me to show them.  

Looking back through all the paperwork in the large envelope that I recently came across, it seems that a decision was made to first lodge a complaint to Administration internally within the Department in which I was working.  This complaint was lodged approximately 6 months after I had started working in this position, so sometime in April 1982.  Action thereafter was very swift.

What happened to me

I was promptly moved from my stenographer position as Personal Secretary to a Senior Officer (he wasn’t just a senior officer – he was the boss/manager of an entire branch/unit), to a typing pool within the Department, and I had my probation extended by 6 months.  I was treated like I had done something wrong and was being penalised and punished.

What happened to him

Nothing really.  Apparently (or at least it is assumed) he got a ‘rap over the knuckles’ and was then issued a new girl.  One a little older than I was I think.  And yes, she sat at that desk in his office, the same desk I had sat at.  That did not change.  I still saw his head dart out from around corners when I was out at lunchtime.  He was still following and watching me.  I’m sure he was very angry at me.

HIS REPUTATION WAS PROTECTED.  MINE WAS DESTROYED!

Typing Pools of the 1980’s

I hated it in the typing pool.  I don’t know what the other girls had been told about me but they were not pleasant to me. I was treated  like I had been ‘naughty/bad’ and needed to be disciplined and brought into line.  The ‘head girl’ was quite nasty to me.  I did, however, find a couple of good friends there eventually.

Girls today probably would have no idea what a typing pool was, so here’s a bit of a 101 on ‘Typing Pools’.

They are a room full of girls at their typewriters.  We used manual typewriters in the very early 80’s.  Later electric typewriters came in and then electronic and before we knew it we had computers and typists were then called ‘word processor operators’. 

When I was in the typing pool it was still manual typewriters, though towards the end of my time there we were supplied electric ones (with golf balls) which was pretty exciting!  Here’s a video that shows you the magic of the electric typewriters with golf balls. The video is from the 1960’s but we didn’t get them till the 1980’s (so I’m not as old as this video might make you think!):

You would have to type everything with multiple layers of paper, all different colours for different purposes.  White for main copy, pink for file copy, yellow for something else etc.  You would have carbon paper between each sheet of paper.  If you made a mistake you used various colours of ‘Tippex‘ to correct on each different coloured sheet of paper.  

Nearby there was a very large room full of men at their big desks.  I think they were called ‘clerks’.  They would be responsible for responding to all the mail that came in.  They would call in a girl from the typing pool and we would go in with a pad and pencil and they would dictate their letter responses to us.  We would note it all down in shorthand.  They would do a whole bunch.  We could have 20 or so letters dictated to us.  We would then go back to our desks and begin typing up the letters from our notes.

We were also personal tea and coffee makers. Ugh!

Letters written seeking assistance 

My parents and I were were understandably not happy about the unfairness of my treatment.  Not only had I been moved to a less appealing position, but I was being penalised by having my probation extended, and being treated by staff in my new position as if I had done something wrong.  So, we wrote to the Ombudsman (this is the organisation suggested to me by my work colleagues) appealing for their assistance and investigation into the matter.  My parents wrote to him, and I wrote to him (with my parents help).  Two separate letters.  With my letter I sent samples (evidence such as you’ve seen in Part 2) of the notes and letters he sent me and gave examples within my letter of what I endured while working with him.  I also advised within the letter that I had the full support of other staff members in the workplace and that they were happy to be contacted and answer any questions.

Queensland’s first ombudsman was appointed in 1974.  Known as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administrative Investigations, he was tasked with investigating the administrative actions of government departments and authorities.  Here’s where you can see what the ‘role’ of the Queensland Ombudsman (standing for fairness) is.  I assume its role was much the same back in 1981/1982.

The outcome from writing to the Ombudsman

  • I’m estimating that the letters written to the Ombudsman were written sometime in late May 1982
  • On 31 May 1982 I would have turned 18. 
  • A letter to my parents dated 8 July 1982 was received from the Parliamentary Commissioner acknowledging receipt of their letter and that “this matter is receiving close consideration and I shall advise you again as soon as possible.”
  • A letter to me dated 2 August 1982 was received from the Acting Parliamentary Commissioner advising that “unfortunately my inquiries into the matter are not yet complete. However, I hope to be able to advise you in more detail in the near future.”
  • A letter to my parents dated 23 November 1982 was received from the Parliamentary Commissioner advising that “the matter has been examined in detail and advice forwarded to your daughter concerning the outcome of my investigation. As that advice is confidential I trust you will appreciate that I cannot convey it to you.  Nevertheless, you may be assured that your submissions were taken into account in my consideration of the matter.”
  • A letter to me dated 23 November 1982 was received from the Parliamentary Commissioner. You can read it at the link below. Obviously I have needed to cover some details before scanning.

Letter to me from Parliamentary Commission for Administrative Investigations – 23 November 1982

As you’ll see, they said that “the actions of ‘he the boss’ were foolish” and that they “consider that insufficient evidence exists to take disciplinary action”.  They advised that I “put the past behind me and make the most of my present position, notwithstanding that I might find it less rewarding than my previous one.”

They also noted that “it is most unusual for someone of your age to have been appointed as a personal secretary at such an early stage of her career”.  So what has that got to do with anything?  Is that justification for shuffling me into another position, let alone a less satisfying position?  I did not choose the position to which I was appointed.  I had assumed I was appointed to it based on my skills and examination results.  However, ‘He the Boss’ always said he ‘chose’ me.  I’ve always wondered if he truly did have that ability?  Had he seen me?  Had he seen my examination results?  Had he seen my resume?  On what basis did he ‘choose’ me?  

So it took seven (7) months (from date of writing to the Ombudsman to date of letter above) to find out the following:

  • It seems that the welfare and reputation of a 17/18 year old girl is not as important as protecting the reputation of a senior officer in his 50’s.
  • There was no mention of my extended probation in the letter.  It was conveniently ignored.  What reason or justification could there be for extending my probation?
  • The ‘mens club’ culture was alive and well then.  Is it still?  What do you think?
  • My situation was not going to change. Justice would not be done.

Someone went to the Media

I found this newspaper clipping amongst the paperwork. It’s referring to my case (though they got my age wrong).  I think it was one of the staff from where I worked that was behind this.  They were all outraged at what happened to me.

What happened next?

I’m not sure of timeframes, but I continued in the typing pool until there were Machinery of Government (MoG) changes after an election and change of Government.  This meant that another Department amalgamated with the Department in which I was working and there were structural changes that saw me moved to a receptionist position.  It was a very lonely and boring job.  I sat out in an area where there were no other people.  I barely spoke to another soul all day, and I did not have enough work to keep me busy or satisfied.  I applied for a transfer to another Department. 

The Department I moved to was very different to the one I had been in, but I was happy there.  I met some wonderful people, some of whom I am still friends with today.  In fact, I went back to work in that Department again after having my children.

I never did become a court reporter.  I was a young girl and very social back then.  I thought the role of ‘court reporter’ would be too boring and not social enough for me.  I’d made some wonderful friends at work and was enjoying a healthy and fun social life and enjoyed the companionship of my workmates in the workplace.

My probation was never extended again and I never again experienced harassment at that level again.  

It’s disappointing that this happened to me, because it had an effect on my self confidence and belief in myself back then.  One moment I was a much sought after future court reporter with excellent skills and reputation with a great future ahead, the next I was left feeling dirty, bad, ashamed and that I was in trouble and being reprimanded and punished, despite always doing my job efficiently.

Thank you for bearing with me as I’ve told this story.  It feels good to get it out there.  It’s not the usual thing I talk about here on the blog but when I uncovered the documents, I felt very strongly that the story needed to be told, for reasons I have outlined at the start of this post.

What are you thoughts on this experience I had as a 17/18 year old girl? Is the outcome from my complaint what you expected? Do you think I was treated fairly or unfairly? Do you think he was simply ‘foolish’ or that he deserved some disciplinary action?

Ciao for now,

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20 Comments

  • Reply Joanne Tracey August 22, 2019 at 6:50 am

    What happened to you was beyond unfair, although sadly all too common back in those days. The men were protected & the girls disposable – after all, girls were only expected to work until they had kids. Absolutely appalling. I was working in a male dominated industry – banking – but was lucky I didn’t come across it until I was in my mid 20s and, I think, more equipped to deal with it…not that I should have had to deal with it, but I was better equipped to do so. Disgraceful. Thanks for telling this story – too often these things get swept under the carpet and forgotten about.

    • Reply Min August 22, 2019 at 4:55 pm

      Thanks Jo – Yes I think it was unfair too … but it’s what happened all the time back then as you point out. It is appalling isn’t it. I came across more similar stuff like this in years to follow (not at this level though) but, like you, I was older and wiser and better able to deal with it. It’s been kinda a mixed bag of feelings telling this story. I felt strongly that it needed to be told but also felt very anxious about it. I think I did the right thing telling it and I’m glad it’s out there in the world now so people can see how ugly and damaging this stuff is.

  • Reply Erica/Erika August 22, 2019 at 7:01 am

    Very sad, Min, about being penalized and as if you had done something wrong. I feel like crying when reading about how supportive your parents were. Many parents would have wanted to shove this under the carpet and minimize attention. The surprising thing about your story, Min, is unfortunately it does not surprise me, having lived in that era. I hope things are changing, although, I know it is taking a long time. Thank you for sharing a very difficult story.

    • Reply Min August 22, 2019 at 4:58 pm

      Yes that was the hard part Erica/Erika. If they’d have moved me elsewhere and treated me with kindness and empathy and NOT extended my probation it might have felt very different … but I was treated like I had done something wrong and needed to be reprimanded and punished which was very upsetting and confusing to me as a young girl who was just trying to do my job well. My parents have always been very supportive. I have a copy here of Dad’s rough draft of the letter I was to write to the Ombudsman. I lost my Dad not long ago so it’s very special actually to have this letter in his handwriting. I guess that is one good thing to come of all this! Thank you for taking the time to comment. xo

  • Reply Natalie August 22, 2019 at 8:54 am

    The optimist in me was hoping for a fair outcome for you, Min. What happened to you was unfair. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad after your transfer, your work situation improved and you made many good friends. #lovin’lifelinky

    • Reply Min August 22, 2019 at 5:00 pm

      Sorry to disappoint the optimist in you Natalie! It was unfair .. but it was a long time ago and I did ok regardless. I’m glad to get the story out though, because it needed out from under that carpet after all these years!

  • Reply Deborah August 22, 2019 at 8:58 am

    It’s horrible Min but I’m definitely not surprised by the response and outcome. I know there’s still a long way to go in terms of equality etc but things have thankfully changed a lot. I wonder if some of the colleagues from back then (including the other women in the typing pool) reflect back upon that and feel some level of guilt or remorse.

    • Reply Min August 22, 2019 at 5:02 pm

      Yeah – sad that it’s not surprising isn’t it? I think things have improved in the last 38 years but yes there is still a long way to go. I too wonder what some of those girls from the typing pool feel now, particularly the head girl, when they reflect back on that time and the treatment of me. I wonder what they were told about me? Oh well, I’ll never know! lol

  • Reply Vanessa August 22, 2019 at 9:43 am

    Ah well BLEEP doesn’t that reply stink (insert lots of words that I assume you don’t want me typing on your website). Has anything changed?!?!!? It seems like the same BS I’ve heard these days.

    • Reply Min August 22, 2019 at 5:04 pm

      Yep it wasn’t a fair outcome but pretty typical of the day! I’m sure the way these things are handled these days has improved and is more fair (I hope so) but I bet there’s still a long way to go.

  • Reply Lydia C. Lee August 22, 2019 at 10:14 am

    I hope you feel better about it all. I think when you are young you doubt yourself and now, you’d just rip their head off. On the plus, I think a lot of young men have changed their world view of women and would speak out (not just the older women like back then). Unfortunately, I don’t think a lot has changed in the legal/complaints process. Just being young and pretty is asking for it…but I hope I’m wrong. I think men don’t understand what they steal from women when they do this. As you point out, the self belief and self confidence end in tatters. One of the best bits of advice came from a comedian (and I forget who, sorry) who was sexually abused as a child and was speaking out about and the interviewer said “You’re very brave to tell people about this. A lot of people would be too embarassed.” He quickly cut him off and said “This was done to me. I had nothing to do with it. Why would I be embarrassed? I was a kid and an adult did a very bad thing. He should be embarrassed, not me.” And I just thought to myself ‘That’s 100% it. We’ve been getting it wrong in our thinking. It was done to you; you play no part in the experience, other than having it forced on you.’ It’s really changed how I view these things.

    • Reply Min August 22, 2019 at 5:09 pm

      I felt rage when I rediscovered and read through all these papers after so many years but the rage has gone now and there’s just a sadness for that young girl and the unfortunate circumstances she found herself in, and how it affected her. If I were in the workplace now and a man tried that crap with me … yep … he’d wish he didn’t! LOL I’m not afraid to speak my mind nowadays and I have the wisdom and confidence of many decades behind me now. I loved reading that story and advice from the comedian. I was anxious and worried what people would think of me for sharing this story but you’re right – why should I be worried – it happened TO me. It’s not something I did. Thanks Lydia! x

  • Reply Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au August 22, 2019 at 11:18 am

    Things have changed so much haven’t they Min? I think there needed to be something absolutely in-your-face horrendous before any real action was taken against senior staff. They mostly relied on people keeping their mouths shut or moving on. I wonder how things went with his other secretaries? Good that you could move on and put it all behind you (not that you had any choice in the matter!) Sometimes life is just very unfair and we deal with it and learn from it.

    • Reply Min August 22, 2019 at 5:11 pm

      Incredible that he got away with it and I was the one made suffer because of it but that was how it was back then (so it seems). I hope things have improved in the way these situations are managed now. He did it again Leanne (with other secretaries) and he had done it before me. I recall being told this but can’t remember details.

  • Reply Christine August 22, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    What a crappy outcome for you! Very unfair indeed. I do think things have changed now in workplaces, certainly in terms of reporting and actions taken to deal with that rubbish sort of behaviour, though of course some people remain badly behaved, which of course doesn’t help in retrospect. We have changed as well in terms of what we expect and demand from others in the workplace, which is a good thing. Extra probation!

    • Reply Min August 22, 2019 at 5:14 pm

      Yes a very crappy outcome Christine. I do believe things have changed for the better now in workplaces in the way these kinds of situations are handled. It still happens though and there are still ‘senior officers’ whose bad behaviour is protected when really they ought to be on the receiving end of disciplinary action. Still a way to go but certainly better than back in 1981/82!

  • Reply Denyse Whelan August 22, 2019 at 6:57 pm

    Oh Min, it is and was so wrong. YOU became the disadvantaged person. Says so much about workplaces ‘back then’ and I am daring to say it, still today in many. Where women are in the minority and men ‘in charge’ I know it still happens that women are given subordinate and additional roles.. Sadly. Yes I know typing pools. I remember when I went to work at Dad’s office as a mail girl, I would hear those typists going ‘clack clack’ ….
    I am so sorry this happened to you and even though you did go on a rise above it career wise, it never leaves your memory – the internal one. So, give yourself some congratulations (not a good word) for writing about it now. I think you did well and hope a sense of ‘getting it out there’ is helpful.

    Denyse x

    • Reply Min August 23, 2019 at 7:12 am

      Thanks Denyse, and you’re so right – it never leaves that ‘internal memory’. Amazing isn’t it … how certain incidents throughout life stick! It was a bit scary to share this story but it has been good for me to hear the thoughts of others and know that it wasn’t just myself and my parents that thought my treatment was unfair and that he was a creepy man! I did rise above it all and went on eventually to have a varied and interesting career – personal assistant, policy, project management, strategic planning, corporate governance etc. xo

  • Reply Candi Randolph August 22, 2019 at 8:33 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Min. It was outrageously unfair and as you stated, would be handled far differently today. I hope that putting it all in words and allowing us to share a bit with you have been healing and helpful. #MLSTL

    • Reply Min August 23, 2019 at 7:14 am

      Thank you Candi – it has been healing and helpful to share the story and yes I think it would be handled much better today (at least I would hope so)! For one thing, surely these days no-one would put a young girl alone in an office with a 50+ year old man like that!

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