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Part Two: P&O Orient – Ticketing and Sales

April 26, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email
Beer and Pickled Onion Nights
The first Monday of every month P&O would entertain a small (20/25) group of travel agents to drinks and “nibbles” in the fourth floor training room from 5.30 to 7.00pm.  It was my task to organise these events which had a definite sameness about them. Four dozen bottles of beer (Melbourne Bitter) one of Gin and one of Scotch; plus splits of tonic and soda were purchased from the London Hotel and bought back to the office by YT.  They were usually in place by 4.30pm cooling in a couple of bags of ice – which meant that by 5.30 they were (only) just at drinking temperature.

Then it was off to Wilsons the grocer in Elizabeth Street – near Flinders Street – where a large (very large) jar of pickled onions, one pound of cheddar, half a pound of blue cheese plus biscuits were purchased and – once again delivered by YT to 356 Collins Street.  I would then proceed to cut the cheese into small bite size pieces – first the cheddar, then the blue – and place on paper plates.  I used to loathe cutting the blue cheese (due to the smell and texture) and indeed it took me almost 25 years to even stomach it as a cheese choice.  Now I love it.
Putting it simply the evenings were, for a junior clerk – dead boring; I was allowed one beer – plus nibbles and was expected to make sure glasses were filled – cheese plates replenished and pickled onions dished out, whilst senior members chatted and made small talk before David H delivered that months message on P&O.
The Basement 
After twelve months with ASP I moved on – graduated if you like – to the world of Documentation and Ticketing which was located in the basement at 356 Collins Street.  The basement was a bit like a dungeon and housed the Berthing and  Correspondence Departments, the Typing Pool and the Documentation and Ticketing team, of which I became a member – working in the Ticketing section.  We issued the tickets on behalf of the passenger department and all of the travel agents who made booking’s with P&O.  It was a very manual and labour intensive system in those days and also had it’s own hierarchy both within and between departments.
Berthing – was run by Doug Bigg and consisted of R W R (Dick) Rayson (Dick was a mild mannered carrier – who you would not have thought would hurt a fly; BUT he was a WW2 fighter pilot ace – with 15 + kills in Spitfires and Hurricanes during the battle of Britain) handling first class Suez/Indian Ocean and his offsider Laurie (the Fireman) Plummer handling tourist class.  In front of them sat W W Hall (Warwick Winsall) – first class Pacific and Nigel (Nigger – would not be allowed these days) Raymond who looked after tourist class.
There was also Richard Cruise – one class berthing, John Spiden – cruising, Michael Hill – other lines and Patricia Hurst who looked after ex UK berthing, in other words Aussie passengers who were booking trips home from the UK.  Berthing was the engine room of P&O in those days and the berthing team controlled the activities of the basement as the “senior” division – Ticketing could not ticket until berthing passed over the sailing file (A box of cards – one for each passenger or group of passengers) about six weeks out from departure.
Our Ticketing Group was headed by David McPherson (a close friend of the family and the one who influenced me to try out for P&O in the first place) as Supervisor.  David had two deputies Bernard Ellis – Ticketing and Charles Rivet-Carnac – Documentation; then came the Ticketing Team – Gerald (Gerry) Weston, Brian (BJ) Nicholson, Graeme (Tex) Carr, John (Carpy) Carpenter, YT and Michael Kevin Patrick O’Leary Quinn a English gentleman who had worked at P&O London.
Michael used to tell us tales of head office (as he liked to call it) and was not too keen on our Australian methodology – but he and I became quite good mates over time and enjoyed a few events together.
Rats in the Cupboard
The problem with the basement was that it was plagued with rats (yes I said rats) of all shapes and sizes.  At least once or twice a week we would arrive for work to the smell of a decaying rat that had clearly taken a rat bait in the proceeding 24/48 hours and needed to be cleaned out.  This was a task for the “junior” team members – like me and I participated in many a dead rat hunt.  Occasionally we would spot a “live one” and a spectacular chase would ensue – with all sorts of solid objects being thrown at the rocketing rodent – this would continue in riotous confusion until the rat either escaped or was battered to death.
In this day and age O H & S would have a fit but in the late 60’s rats in the cupboard were commonplace and in fact provided a sort of escape mechanism to the basement team.
Lunch Vouchers – Lunch and Drink Breaks
P&O used the English system of “lunch vouchers” so that every staff member got 5 lunch vouchers per week; these were worth 5/- (five shillings) each and could be used at a list of restaurants and sandwich bars nearby .  The idea was to use one per day to supplement your lunch expenses but pretty early on I caught on that Betty Rainsford (back bar London Hotel) would in return for one beer cash all five vouchers  as change on a Monday and that solved the problem for the week.
I used to occasionally (usually early in the week) bring my own lunch so I figured I finished in front.
Later in the week I used to shop around especially on Friday’s when it was beer, steak and chips day for the boys.  Connell’s Tavern was the favourite and the Ticketing team took it in turns to have “extended lunch breaks” on alternate Fridays – so that we could all come back suitably well fuelled.  Those of us on the first lunch 1200-1300 had to be particularly careful as if we got it wrong the Ticketing section would be deserted at around 1330 – which was not a good look.
Friday afternoons were often quite riotous, usually in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed in order to wash down the steak and chips.  Friday nights were also drink nights – when at 5.30pm (work finished at 5.15) the team would gather at Betty’s back bar and try to consume s much alcohol as possible in the 45 minutes before closing time.  Note to readers – these were the days of 6.00 O’clock closing and the infamous 6.00 O’clock swill.  It was nothing to have 3/4 beers lined up at 6.00pm – when pouring stopped – and to consume them in the next 15 minutes before heading for Flinders Street Station and the train home.
The basement at 356 Collins Street was a special place to work – the antics that we got up to would most certainly not be tolerated in today’s work place – but the work ethic was good, the output efficient and effective and we all had a good time “at work”.
I left P&O in 1969 (after I got married) for a two year stint at Rothmans – principally because I wanted to get into sales and P&O could not offer me that sort of role.
Rothmans – A Start in Sales 
My career at Rothmans was unspectacular  lasted two years of which twelve months was spent in Albury as a country zone sales rep; the highlight was (perhaps) a Rothmans versus ABC “social” cricket match in which I opened the batting with a feller called Keith Stackpole (you may heard of him as he played for Australia at the time).  The opening bowler for the ABC was another reasonably well known cricketer called Frank (Typhoon) Tyson, if I say the whole day was an experience it would be an understatement.  The highlight for me was hitting Frank Tyson for four – through the covers; that prompted the days lowlights.  First Stacky wandered down the pitch and said I am not sure you should have done that – watch out for the next couple; watch out I did not even see any of the next three balls – the first two went past my nose at pace and the third took out my middle stump.  Watson – out – bowled Tyson for (just) 4! Ah well.
Seriously – I enjoyed my career at Rothmans but it was nought but a stepping stone to a sales career and (after the two years) in July 1971 I returned to P&O Orient – after a chat with Peter (Scratchy) Kimber and spent two more years there working in sales.  As is often the case  it was not quite the same and after those two years -where I renewed acquaintances with old friends (Rex Cathcart and John Falk in principal) and made some new ones (Peter Coss, then my boss and now a Cabin member) – I moved on – first into (would you believe) taxi driving – but then into retail travel – yes folks I became a “travel agent”!
So that was my time at P&O Orient line with a brief stint at Rothmans (of Pall Mall) throw in for good measure.  P&O was a great first job and it gave me a taste of the travel industry and the travelling life style – a taste that has stayed with me right through to today.  What a start to a working life!
Next instalment – Characters in the Room – some of the people I met along the way during my  P&O journey.
Written by: Peter Watson

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