First Job Memories

“When you are asked if you can do a job, tell ‘em “Certainly I can!”                                                                                   

Then get busy and find out how to do it.” Theodore Roosevelt, US President

Do you recall your initial work? Many of us had duties to perform at home while we were kids and teenagers such as washing the car or mowing the backyard. Teens progressed on to before, or after, school activities such as delivering the paper, working in a supermarket or babysitting for which we earned a modest wage. 

I remember, in Grade 7, our final year of Primary School, being urged to choose on the work or career we wanted when we quit school? We had three streams in Secondary School. Our career choice meant we’d study academic subjects, commercial or move into the nursing/teaching stream. I spent five years in that stream before commencing my general nursing training at nearly seventeen.

Twelve probationer nurses, with their parents, crowded together in the Nurses’ Sitting Room that Sunday afternoon, many years ago. Afternoon tea was hosted by Matron, the Nurses’ Home Sister and Tutor Sister Smith, a huge and commanding woman who controlled our lives with an iron hand. Parents watched on as the three senior women, who inspected our lives for the next four years, received us into the career of nursing. 

So started my unusual life ‘living in’ in the Nurses’ Home; of ‘early’s’, ‘late’s’ and ‘night’s’ as we called our eight-hour shifts. A unique world of pristine starched aprons and caps; bedpans and bed baths became our new way of life. Learning the only time a nurse runs is for fire or haemorrhage. We studied deep into the night and struggled to remain awake during lectures in study block, during the daytime, while working on night duty.  A new code was instilled, treating every patient with dignity, care and kindness whoever they were. 

Some prompts to encourage you gather, organise and preserve your memories of your original job: 

  • Open a new file for this task. Start by noting the primary information and then the year you started the job and the individual to whom you were accountable. 
  • What was your job title? Were you apprenticed, or did you receive ‘on the job’ training? 
  • Could you still remain at home or did you need to move into accommodation near your job? 
  • Did you have to get into a uniform, cape, appropriate footwear, an apron or a hat at work? 
  • Did you need to carry specific items on your person to manage your everyday work. As a junior nurse I was required to carry a watch with a second hand (for counting patient’s pulses), a red and a blue pen and a pair of surgical scissors as I used them every day on a ward. 
  • What hours did you face—9am—5pm or shift work? Did you work Monday to Friday or were you rostered over a seven-day week? How did you feel, working different times to your friends? 
  • What were you paid weekly and what did you do your wage? Did you save any money? 
  • How did you pick up the techniques linked with the job? 
  • What new skills did you assimilate while studying your trade or profession? I learned to remain calm during an emergency and not to panic at the sight of blood. We were trained to shave a lather-coated balloon with a cut-throat razor, without becoming covered in froth, along with many diverse ‘professional’ nursing skills! 

Enhance your memories by including the digitised images, diplomas, badges or degrees to the histories of your early working years. Family and friends will receive lessons to aid them through their own working choices after viewing your actual life examples.

Annie Payne, Personal Historian,

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