My sister, Zandra, worked in advertising and I decided I should work in advertising too. I had passed the leaving certificate with flying colours but, because of my poor maths result (failed the lowest level), I didn’t matriculate which meant I couldn’t attend university. In retrospect it was a godsend as I found advertising the perfect training ground for what I really wanted to be (not that I knew it at the time). Getting into advertising wasn’t easy. I was too old as most starters came from Intermediate rather than Leaving Certificate. I had to get a job so I started as a trainee teller at the Commonwealth Bank, Ramsgate. Yes, a banker who couldn’t pass basic maths at school. What were they thinking! I only lasted six months
My first ‘real’ job was as a despatch boy at Jackson Wain Advertising. In those days, the early sixties, advertising used matrices made from handset ‘hot type’. There were no electronic ways to send copy, collect printing parts etc so we were ‘shank’s ponies’. I knew every short cut through the city and I got to know old Sydney town before the bastard developers cut through in the seventies. Building after building, business after business closed – Anthony Hordens, Beard Watson, Nock & Kirby, Peapes, Mark Foys, Hoffnungs the list is far too depressing. Timber and stone facades fell to be replaced with steel, glass and aluminium. The grand hotels fell too including the Australia in Rowe Street.
After Jackson Wain I went to Hansen Rubensohn McCann & Erickson where I managed the radio and television department and its team of highly talented producers including Bryan Westwood (later a celebrated painter), David Elledge (later to own Patrick’s Restaurant), George Pugh (later to become senior producer ABCTV Arts) and Hans Von Alderstein (Marion’s husband). By this stage I had already started writing and presenting ABC radio programs on a regular basis. Working in advertising had given me a great slab of confidence plus experience in sound production. I had always loved radio and here I was on it!
The rest of my business life rolled out hand-in-hand with my real passion, folklore and music. I jumped out of advertising to work a short stint in film studios (Fontana and then Royce Smeal Films) before being headhunted to join the Harry M Miller Group of Companies (and he had a lot in those heady days) as Advertising Manager of the group. I produced campaigns for Hepburn Spa water, Artificial Insemination for cows (Harry’s wife Wendy was a veterinarian) and all manner of show attractions – Senegal Ballet, Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, No Sex Please, We’re British, David Cassidy on Tour, On The Buses with Reg Varney and some too weird to mention. My biggest involvement was as associate producer on Rocky Horror and the opening series for the Opera House, ‘Sunday Nights At The Opera House’. Crazy times.
When Harry started to fold down his tent I went out full time folklore collecting. On my return after thirteen month’s on the road I opened Folkways Music (with all the money I had in the world – $4000) and, as they say, the rest in history. Larrikin started a year later in 1974.
Truth is I never really wanted to be a businessman. It all happened organically, which, I am assured, is the best way. There is something about running in the business world that never quite satisfied me and that’s why I also had my performing life and book writing life and research life – on the side. I discovered that it was possible to do several things at once but the usual traps remained.
One important area of my early years – from 1963 to around 1980 – was my involvement in the Youth Hostel Association of NSW. I was an active bushwalker, possibly a legacy from y years as a cadet. I bushwalked every possible weekend staying either in a pup tent or, more often than not, at a YHA hostel. I became the Chairman of the Cumberland Region (Sydney) YHA and then a Director of the national body. We obtained old school houses, fire stations, churches etc and converted them to hostels. It was all very impressive and, later when I purchased my first motor scooter, I travelled further a-field. My YHA card, recently deposited along with my manuscript collection at the National Library of Australia, is a road map to where I stayed including hostels all over the east coast and inland. Bushwalking and hostelling also played an important role in my growing interest in folk song and lore. I could write a book about my early experiences as a hosteller and hiker.
[ end ]