ONE CLERK'S STORY, 1965-1989
Corrections, comments, anecdotes, photos and additions are welcome.
Please email John or write to the address below; end of page.
Page submitted for approval 18th December, 2011, updated 4th April, 2012.


Christian names and nicknames shown are those used at the time.

Joining the DMR wasn’t my first option back in early 1965. I’d left Punchbowl Boys High at the end of 1964 with no idea of what to do next. Dad suggested getting a government job which seemed a good idea, as it was, in those days, “a job for life”. Mum had passed away not many months before and we were both feeling the loss.

Andy Ellis of 420 Pitt St provided my first (and only) suit. It still hangs in my wardrobe, all neat and tidy, though I’d have trouble fitting into it these days. In the 1960s, it was still “the thing” to enshrine oneself in a dark-coloured business suit when applying for a job. Looking at the suit label recently revealed that Andy also had a shop at 80 Ebley St, Bondi Junction. No doubt that’s also long-gone.

The Water Board (in those days, Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board) paid less money for junior clerical officers but it was there I first applied for a job. The fact that their building was at Town Hall station may have been the reason. The interviewing chap was extremely friendly and courteous, but I’d already applied for the similar Junior Clerical Officer job at the DMR. At the time, jobs outnumbered applicants, something young people these days would find hard to believe! 

Knowing I had the Water Board job in the bag, I arrived at 309 Castlereagh Street feeling reasonably relaxed. The entrance wasn’t as imposing as that of the Water Board. Once I’d passed through the doors, the shiny stainless steel doors of the two automatic lifts contrasted sharply with the two older open frame doors of the manual lifts to the left in the older (as I’d learn later) building. 

The memory is hazy at this point. Perhaps the friendly, cheerful face of Jim, hopping around on one leg and an ancient wooden crutch, welcomed me into his immaculate lift cage. Arriving on the second floor, he probably directed me to the Staff counter to the right, past Larry Coutts’ cashier’s cage. As I would discover later when I worked in Pay, Larry’s bark was worse than his bite. 

Phil in 1978 at 309 desk.
bc The Staff counter was manned by another cheerful, friendly and immaculately attired bloke, Phil Hore. I can still picture Phil greeting me, as he no doubt greeted many others arriving for interviews over his 21 years in the DMR. Phil directed me to a bench, hard and highly lacquered solid timber, totally unlike the comfortable easy chairs in the Water Board! 

Eventually I was conducted into a room and confronted by two serious-looking men, who were somewhat offhand in their attitude. Perhaps I was their final interviewee for the day! As they went through my application form, my thoughts turned back to the Water Board. But the DMR paid another 70 quid ($140) a year, and we, my Dad and I, could certainly use the money. There was one question I hedged around on the application form. Would I serve in the country? My response was not at the moment but perhaps later. It took some doing at times, but I managed to avoid working outside HO for almost 20 years. 


Following the interview, a letter of appointment arrived, directing me to report for duty on the 22nd of February, 1965. Highways Section was situated nicely out of the way, at the rear of the annex on the fourth floor. For those not familiar with the layout of HO, you can consult the plan via the link at the end of the page. The senior clerk to whom I presented myself was Maurie Butler, a cheerful and friendly boss. His desk was positioned in front of the office of the Highways Engineer, Mr Kemp. 

The office had an air of friendliness and the staff were generally laid back. Two clerks I remember were Noel Gurney Jnr, and Dennis Thibou. Dennis was the fashion king of the section, always immaculately attired. Noel and I had an almost instant falling out. New arrivals generally took over the most onerous tasks, one of which was fetching the morning tea and lunch orders after taking them from all section members. 

The cafeteria was located two floors below, and easily accessible via the rear fire stairs, so it wasn’t the actual ordering which irritated me. Chasing down those wanting to order finger buns, etc., was the annoying bit. Although staff members were supposed to write their order on a list, few bothered to. Should you miss someone who’d either stepped out, or forgotten to put down their order, you never heard the end of it! As I didn’t use the cafeteria, my argument was that unless Noel was away, I shouldn’t have to do the job. Fortunately, I only spent a coupe of weeks in Highways before having to fill a gap in the Engineer-in-Chief’s section, next door in the old building.

EIC, as it was called, was a high-pressure location, and the only clerk I recall was Dennis Whitton. Dennis seemed able to handle any situation that came up, thrown at him regularly by the array of senior engineering staff in the large offices that often seemed empty. 

During this period I was familiarizing myself with the files, records thereof, and the vast array of staff that kept the files moving from section to section, and floor to floor. Perhaps the dirtiest job was using the photocopiers. Totally unlike the streamlined office equipment of today, these units used wet toner, positive and negative paper and mechanized rollers to produce foolscap-sized copies, if you were lucky. Despite what I’ve read about short life spans for such copies, I still have examples over 40 years old that are readable. Loading them was a nasty job and the possibly toxic fumes put me off many a meal! 


bc In the mid-1960s, each floor of the old/annex building had a small records section. Before the advent of the mechanized Cardveyor, large timber boxes about 50cm square held record cards, upon which were inscribed details of files which passed through the floor or section. 

Although files were supposed to be marked off each time they went from person to person, even within a section, this rarely happened, especially on the fourth floor. Engineers had better things to do with their time! 

We clerks were always digging through mountains of files in offices. It was usual to find out who was away, take your always-long list of wanted files and search that person’s office. 

Occasional cheers would go up when a long-lost file was unearthed. One always had a pile of file attachments sitting around looking for a home. As I became friendly with the records lads, we’d help each other out looking for files. 


Even in the mid-1960s, the only positions available to females in the DMR were as typists, “comp” operators, office assistants and librarians. There was one female clerk in Voucher Examining when I arrived for my second tour of duty, the only female clerk in Head Office! 

Typists were located in “pools”. The size of such pools depended upon the section or workload. EIC had a large pool but the largest was to be found in Survey and Property on the first floor of the old building, between the lift foyer and Central Records. At least 20 ladies were under the control of the Senior Typist, who often had an unenviable task keeping her girls in order. A good Senior Typist would often be the most powerful person in her section. She could make or break the senior officers, if she so pleased. 

The “comp” operators worked over-sized adding machines with inbuilt calculation abilities. In later years they were located within Wages Examining. During the late 1960s, they could be found on the ground floor in a dedicated section. In the early 1960s, the girls were located in Examining Section at the northern end of the rear annex on the second floor. The Contracts Clerk was next to their room, as that particular job, held by my pal George Fairbairn, required their labour constantly.


Who decided when and who to send to what sections in Head Office? Although I spent a couple of weeks in Personnel while on HO Relief, I never found out! It was a memorable day when I was directed past the Rec Room (used for staff events, both official and recreational) and up a short flight of steps to Examining. 

Two events are etched in my mind in memories of that 10 days. I was greeted by the awesome sight of Kevin Wicks and Terry Hopkins having a shouting argument across the room which looked like it was on the point of coming to blows. 

The second event concerned Eric, the young, likable office assistant who cheerfully did the lunch and morning tea orders. In those days before plastic containers, soft drinks and of course milk came in glass bottles. Eric had a small timber box into which he crammed as many bottles as possible before taking them to the cafeteria for deposit refunds. One morning he tripped on the top step and the box and contents went flying. Shattered shards of glass littered the hall past the Rec Room. He picked himself up and calmly collected all the pieces while being derided by various fellow workers.


Paymaster Frank “Chooky” Fowler was a memorable character who gave me a pep talk upon my arrival in Pay Section, then located on the second floor of the Nanking Building on Campbell Street. Fortunately Col Perry, senior clerk at the time and another all-round nice guy, gave me a short explanation as to what to expect! 

bc The section itself was long and narrow. The tea room was opposite the entrance off the passage from the old building fire stairs. Once inside, the typists’ pool was to your left, the windows overlooking the basketball court and garage entrance ahead, and the main section was to your right. Frank’s office overlooked Campbell Street and the Tivoli Theatre across the road, well before the construction of Central Square. 

During the week one could watch signwriters in the Tivoli, climbing in and out of the first floor windows and onto the canopy, assembling one-sheet posters for delivery to the various city movie theatres. These would be lowered onto special lorries. The old Hotel Sydney, long abandoned, and boarded up, filled the Campbell Street / Pitt Street corner, now occupied by a car park.

Next to Paymaster Frank’s office was the Pay Clerk’s office. Wally, one of the jovial ex-police who served as pay escorts, and his chums, could be found within. My time in Pay Section included the changeover from pounds, shillings and pence to dollars and cents. Despite this, it caused few problems at the time. 

Before electronic transfers, the majority of the work force was paid in cash, personally delivered to your office or directly to employees working out on the road. The bank given the job of supplying DMR HO with cash was the Bank of NSW, later Westpac, on the corner of Castlereagh and Liverpool Streets. The cash would be picked up by one of the section clerks, usually a (then) grade 2, accompanied by a junior grade 1. Each would carry a hand gun, usually a small revolver. 

It was quite a thrill to handle guns for the first time. The guns were kept in a large, ancient safe in one corner of the Pay Clerk’s office. Jim Hardie was the Pay Clerk during most of my stint in the section. Some were in a shocking even rusted condition, but the paperwork in disposing of them apparently precluded their disposal via the police department. A car would usually be ordered from the garage, though some days we’d walk the two blocks to the bank, guns dragging down our trousers. Often the guns would be carried in the case. This became a banned practice after a holdup at the bank years later after I’d moved to the Colony. The bag was snatched and the police weren’t pleased to hear that two guns had been “lost”.

Pay Section, 1968.
Above: We sign off above at 4.30; note the in-style thin ties!

Right - The Mystery man is Peter Hackshall!

Higher resolution images are available to ex-DMR staff,
family members and authorised researchers.

Once a year, staff involved in pay and escort duty would be given firearm “training” at Martin Place. Westpac had a firing range on the roof of their headquarters building. This event required a cursory examination of all available guns. We, the clerks, escorts and a bag of guns, were deposited at the side entrance of the imposing bank building. Wally and his pal (lovely old bloke whose name I’ve long-forgotten) would carefully take us through the safety aspects of loading and unloading. We then unleashed various fire power onto the short range, wondering how many bullets actually went sailing over the high wall and down onto Martin Place! 

In later years, we used the police firing range on Campbell Street East. Police it seemed were and possibly still are bad shots. The air conditioning duct, not far from where one stood to load and fire, was peppered with hundreds of holes. I was pretty useless with a gun and didn’t particularly enjoy firing same. 

Occasionally I went out as escort with the boys when they paid Sydney Harbour Bridge maintenance workers. This was interesting as it involved visiting spots around The Rocks and the harbour. At this time I was a non-drinker, which was appreciated by the old hands. They would hand over their firearms to avoid having to carry the weight while downing one or two. One day I sat outside a pub near Millers Point unable to move very far. Within my pockets resided more than half a dozen pistols of one sort or another. Sydney was a friendlier and more law-abiding place in the 1960s!

The best job in Pay was banking; delivering cheques and documentation to the banks. Divisional and works offices had money credited to their accounts via telegraphic transfers which usually had to be hand-delivered to the head offices, most of which were located in Martin Place. Travel tokens had to be collected from Personnel Section. These were handed over to bus conductors who still existed in the 1960s. Often I'd walk rather than take the bus. There was always something to see. The city landscape was changing rapidly. Great holes were appearing as the past bit the dust. George Greenwood's secondhand bookshop was always worth a visit on the way down Castlereagh St. George later moved around the corner into Elizabeth Street. The many arcades had dozens of interesting shops which are now long gone.

The Commonwealth Bank was usually my first port of call. Often I'd arrive in the area at 2.30 so would have enough time to visit the local hobby and bookshops. Fantastic Hobby Shop was located in a nearby (the White?) arcade not far from Swain's bookshop near Wynyard. Australia Square was still under construction and it was possible to take a lift to the incomplete upper floors. The views, unencumbered by windows or even walls for the most part, were fabulous. The Bank of NSW (later Westpac, previously mentioned) had its telegraphic transfer office in an upper floor that initially took some finding. The upper floors were reached via the manually operated lifts just inside the George Street entrance. The lift drivers took great delight in dropping their lifts so quickly that one felt as though one's stomach had been left behind. The CBS or Commercial Banking Company of Sydney was next door and thankfully had its telegraphic transfer section on the ground floor.

Both buildings, then as now, had magnificent ground floors with marbled floors, walls and high ceilings. I hired a safety deposit box for some years in the Bank of NSW, one reason for visiting the beautiful basement with its imposing grilling, chairs and tables and of course the huge safe door, like something out of a Hollywood movie. The bank had a 2-tier staffing order somewhat like the DMR. There were bank officers, and messengers. The latter approximated employees like our own Phil Hore and pay escorts. I recall two I got to know over the years; both were unfailingly courteous, friendly and helpful. Sadly, in later years Westpac must have done away with these faithful employees with regular bank officers taking over their work with a loss of actual personal service.

The return walk to the office was often taken via Dymock's book arcade and the Queen Victoria Building. So long as I arrived through the office door by 4, it was okay by the powers in charge, apparently.


Perhaps any large office has its share of characters. Lindsay Jam[i?]eson was a University of NSW student on the staff of Tharunka, the student newspaper. He had "Playboy" shipped in from New Zealand, in the days when it was a restricted publication in NSW. The lads would gather around each month in eager expectation of the latest issue. Phil H it was who developed an interesting mix of crushed biscuits which resembled vomit. This he'd deposit in various areas of the office or tea room, gaining an early mark and occasionally, days off!

Memorable characters - SID, the 44 Campbell Street Attendant - Sid, like all counter attendants, was an ex-serviceman. He'd served in the South Pacific and carried around a wad of tattered photographs depicting native girls in their grass skirts and little else. Sid drove a large black American auto, possibly a Dodge, which he parked in the garage behind the Campbell Street motorcycle shop. As he needed a stick and would be tired at the end of his working day that finished at 4, several of us took it in turns to pick the car up and drive it around the block to which ever entrance he was closer to. He bore a resemblance to Captain Peacock in "Are You Being Served", though with a far more down to earth sense of humour. The only person who experienced his driving was Alan Beer who lived near Sid's home somewhere near Five Dock. He reported that Sid's driving was "unforgettable".

To be continued.

Photos page from the 1970s.
Department of Main Roads, Voucher Examining Section in H.O., was affectionately known as 'The Colony'.
Red on Yellow ACTION tags were attached to paperwork indicating ACTION had to be taken on the contents.
Pinkish-red IMMEDIATE tags were attached to anything requiring IMMEDIATE ACTION!