I suppose it was my jobs in journalism that had the biggest impact on me but the incidental jobs, those with the sole purpose of keeping me liquid, would have to be at least on the scale. For decades I was Jeff Corbett the journalist, never for a moment Jeff Corbett the paper boy or Jeff Corbett the builder's labourer, but somehow those incidental jobs are with me still.
A few days ago I found myself looking at a house on my old Sunday morning paper route in Adamstown Heights, and I didn't know why I was looking at it. Something was there, something, then it came to me as a moving picture bursting through the fog, a woman with a strong European accent scurrying up the path by the side of the house calling "Boy! Boy!".
She'd cup my face in her hands, tell me I was a beautiful boy and use both her hands to press a wrapped barley sugar into my hand, and the entire performance was agony for a 13-year-old. Had the old fellow next door to her not been a very good tipper I'd have stopped blowing my whistle in her street.
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One Sunday morning she didn't come scurrying up the path, and the old tipper told me she'd collapsed and died hanging out the washing a few days earlier. She'd never bought a paper, by the way.
Can there be a value in such an experience? Or even the job?
It was my first regular job, pushing a cart with steel wheels and loaded with Sunday newspapers about five kilometres, none of which were flat. I was reassured after my first week that I would progress to an easier and more tip-lucrative run and a cart with blow-up tyres, and I never did, which was a first taste of employer promises.
When we moved to Mayfield I scored an after-school job at one of the two fruit-and-veg shops in the main street, and I learnt on my first day that rotting potatoes are foul and rotting pumpkins are worse. The owner would talk to me about the struggle to create a profit, and I came to realise that people in shops were not all rich.
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Later, there were weeks each year picking potatoes at Morpeth during school holidays, camping in an old barn with rats the size of cats, and I remember the humour and kindness of the farmer and the people who worked for him.
There were stints as a builder's labourer, and I found a new bonhomie in the men-only community of a building site. A few years later I returned from overseas with a plan to start an apprenticeship as a cottage-building carpenter only to learn that apprenticeships were not available to those over the age of 21.
BHP seemed then to give a job to anyone who asked for one, and I worked at the Newcastle steelworks three times while looking for a start with a newspaper and in between newspaper jobs. The hardest thing about the work was the tedium, and in my last stint I left after three or four days of staying out of sight as instructed by the foreman. Doing nothing was the hardest work I'd done.
When I think work I think journalism, but there was another world of work, one more varied and sometimes as colourful.
One of my jobs in my first or second time at the steelworks was to clean out a big horizontal cylinder by climbing into it with a hose and a broom, a job an old fellow referred to by others as The White Russian insisted on doing for me every shift because he said it was dangerous and I was too young.
I'd heard that this kindly old fellow drank middies of vodka as others drank beer, and a couple of years later when I happened upon him at a soccer club at Wallsend he was drinking a middy of vodka. I drove him home that night, to Islington, and I never saw him again.
My next round of fill-in jobs was in London, and for the first I had to wear a three-piece pin-striped suit that was meant to convince people arriving through the doors of the employment agency that I had only their interests in mind. Every step of the process involved deception and I hadn't earnt enough to pay for the suit when I left.
For two nights I was employed to sell ski trips to young travellers, which was a challenge in view of the fact that I had never so much as slid down a snowy slope on my bum.
Roustabout on an oil rig in the North Sea was next, and you've not seen Americans in full flight until you've seen 50 of their biggest white specimens trying to walk and talk like John Wayne. At the end of each shift they'd crowd into the rig's small movie room to watch John Wayne movies on loop. I left a few days after I came very close to being killed in an accident with a winch.
The King's Head pub in London's Earl's Court was my next employer, as a barman with a pound or two extra each week to serve as the pub bouncer. All 65kg of me, although my role was merely to persuade the combatants, usually Australians, to adjourn to the footpath.
Worked well until the visiting Tongan Army rugby team adopted the King's Head as their pub. They only ever fought among themselves but there was no persuading them to adjourn anywhere. I couldn't quit fast enough.
Back in Australia throwing a handful of loam into the depression left by a horse's every footfall at Newcastle Racecourse was my last job outside journalism. I was going to university at night and soon enough I was picked up hitch hiking to uni by an editor of this paper and the rest is history.
When I think work I think journalism, but there was another world of work, one more varied and sometimes as colourful. I remember people and life lessons from every one of what I see as my other jobs. Stepping out of career isn't such a bad thing to do.