My government job was insanely boring. Thankfully, it was the peak of World Series Cricket

This article is part of The Age’s My First Job series, where Age writers and columnists share their humorous, poignant tales of finding their feet and receiving their first paychecks.

I’d earned money before – gardening for loose change, odd jobs with the Cubs, as a check-out chick at Woolies – but my first real job was in the Queensland Public Service straight out of school.

God help me, I was only 17, but it was here that I learnt two invaluable truths about government red tape: One, it actually exists, and two, it makes for excellent cricket balls.

Writer Karl Quinn around the time he worked in the Queensland Public Service.  
Writer Karl Quinn around the time he worked in the Queensland Public Service.  

I was a clerk in the Records Office of the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations. It used to be called Labour Relations, but Joh Bjelke Petersen – one of the most corrupt premiers this country has ever seen – was so rabidly anti-union that he changed the name just to excise any hint of red.

The tape, though, escaped his purge.

It was made of cotton, and came in endless centimetre-wide strips spooled on cardboard.

My job as a records clerk largely consisted of retrieving paper files from a giant compactus, inside of which my alcohol-addicted colleague Paul K frequently crawled to sleep off his hangover, and to prepare for the next one. I would then remove the cardboard cover from said file, punch a hole in the top-left corner of whatever document needed to be filed away using a sharp metal spike known as a pig stabber, reattach the cover, and file the whole thing back in the compactus (taking care not to wake Paul, of course).

If the file was deemed dead, or was overly stuffed with correspondence, I would cut a metre or so from the cotton spool and wrap it around the file. The file would then be, quite literally, bound in government red tape.

The job, as you may have gathered by now, was insanely boring. Thankfully, there was a distraction.
This was the peak of World Series Cricket, and amid the debris of the office we had everything we needed to stage our own limited-over tournament. A 2 x 2-inch desk leg for a bat? Check. Masking tape for stumps? Check. The cardboard backing of those files for pads and a helmet? Check. (The helmet was soon abandoned, though, because it tended to slide around on the skull, obscure the batsman’s vision, and more often than not lead to injury.)

Writer Karl Quinn around the time he worked in the Queensland Public Service.
Writer Karl Quinn around the time he worked in the Queensland Public Service.

The piece de resistance was the ball. Painstakingly manufactured by a team of skilled (i.e. bored) craftsmen (i.e. public servants) in a dedicated workshop (the office), it had a core of rubber bands, a layer of sticky tape, the government red tape, then more of the same until it looked, weighed and felt much like a real Kookaburra.

For a while, we contented ourselves with bashing the thing around the office whenever we had an officially sanctioned break, which was basically whenever a real cricket match would stop play (morning tea, afternoon tea, lunch). But the sound of cotton-rubber-sticky tape on wood was so intoxicating we soon wanted more.

One day, my colleague David P and I set off to explore the building. We’d heard rumours of a vacant floor on level 18. Nervously, we got out of the lift, delighted to find there was no barrier to entry. And it was, as promised, empty. We dubbed it The Oval and headed back upstairs for bat and ball and masking tape.

We took it in turns to bat, with a two-metre-wide concrete pillar as wickets, keeper and slips cordon. We marked out a full-length wicket, and took as long a run-up as our delusions of fearsomeness warranted. And we let rip.

Oh, it was paradise, and soon the word spread. Every chance we got, we were down there, letting fly with bat and ball. Finally, work had meaning.

Of course, it couldn’t last.

One afternoon I let rip with a quick ball that zipped off the carpet, veered to the left at around head height, and hit with a sickening sound. I had missed the concrete pillar entirely oh, all right, it was a wide – and the ball had smashed a hole in a window. Eighteen floors above street level.

I was terrified. David was terrified. We waited in horror to see if the glass would fall, wreaking who knew what havoc. Only gradually did it dawn on us that the window was double-glazed, and the ball hadn’t done any damage to the outer pane. We were safe, and so were the people below, but the cricket, alas, was finished.

Belatedly, you might say, brain had stopped play.

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