I stayed packing socks for about two weeks. Then, one day, a girl at a nearby work table had an epileptic fit. She had to be held down until she relaxed and was carried out to the sick bay. I worked until the end of the week and, again left.
My next job was at a small leather goods factory, where we made leather belts and handbags and other small leather goods. One day, I was sitting beside the girl sewing on buckles, when she gave a small yelp and stopped. She had run the needle right through her finger and couldn’t get free. She fainted and had to be held in place while the front of the machine was dismantled.
I stayed on at this factory for about six months, then again left and went to work in an embroidery workroom belonging to a large drapery and clothing shop. They had a special department where customers could leave materials to be made into covered buttons or embroidered to a pattern of their choice. These orders would be sent from the shop to the workroom where we filled them. There were several machines for embroidery such as satin stitching, chain stitching and badge making. We also made covered buttons of all sizes. The badge making machine made twenty to thirty badges at a time and had double-ended needles, each threaded with its own cottons. The machine was guided by a lever at one end following the pattern of the badge. The hardest part was making sure all needles were threaded the whole time because one broken thread ruined the pattern on that particular badge and had to be mended by hand.
We also made permanently pleated skirts in various styles. I tried to watch the embroidery machinists as much as possible as I was longing to work them but didn’t have any opportunities as I was kept busy making buttons. I stayed at this factory for two-and-a-half years.
By now I am 13 years old and go to the convent primary school at Northcote. As I had missed so much schooling over the years, I was kept back for a second year in standard 5. I hated it so much that as soon as I turned 14 I left school and got my first real job. I had had a few casual jobs, like lawn mowing or baby sitting, but was lucky if I ever got paid for it. If I did it was no more than one shilling.
One day I was asked to mind a young baby about six months old and her brother, who was not quite two, while their parents had a day at the races. So I arrived at the house at nine o clock and found myself with not two, but four babies to care for all day. The woman had invited a friend to leave her two kids with me as well and join her for a day out. The other two kids were 1 and 3 years old, and I spent the day trying to feed them, change nappies and pacify howling little strangers. It was about 6 30 before the two women came home and claimed their offspring, and gave me 2 shillings for my day’s efforts. When I got home Mum was furious with the women for leaving me with such a responsibility.
My first real job was at a stocking factory, where I spent all day at a little table with my back to the rest of the room, examining stockings for faults and marking them with coloured wax crayon. During my first week the police were called to catch a thief. Someone had been stealing money from the cloakroom, and the police had planted a marked note. It had been stolen and they were checking everyone’s hands for tell tale marks, and I had to explain the red crayon marks on my fingers. I had only been there a few days and felt like a criminal, so worked to the end of the week and refused to go back. I did not want to go back for my pay so on the Monday mum took me in and explained what had happened. They offered me a job in the packing room and I was packing six pairs of little white ankle socks in to cardboard boxes.